The Derma Sucker

I had a week off, gang. A week of real vacation time, which is unusual for us authorly folk. We usually have writing, editing, revisions, promotion—sometimes all at once. Then there’s social media, which is always delightful, but can be a rabbit hole, too, sucking up the hours.

This time, I took a real vacation. No social media, no new book to get started, appearances and interviews for PACK UP THE MOON officially finished. So what was a woman, alone for four days with her dog, to do?

Obviously, the answer is buy a weird skin care product. Yes, it is a skin care product, no matter what else it might remind you of (dirty minds, all of you). Derma Suction! It was in the As Seen on TV aisle of my local Walgreens, and its price had been cut from $20 to $1.99 (which should have told me something right there). I had to have it.

And so, I texted a photo of it to the Princess, who shares my love of weird skin care products. She said, “You have to get it!” and I responded with “Oh, I did.”

Clearly, this thing would work, because A) look at the woman in the photo. She has beautiful skin. And B), well…it would suck the gunk out of my pores! It was battery powered, so you knew it was legit. Also, C) look at the cartoon woman! She also has flawless skin.

Thus, I began my process with great joy and excitement, ready to suck the yuck out of my skin, as advertised. First step, open those pores with a warm face cloth. I dozed off and woke up to a cold face cloth, but hey. Then, onto the deep clean the brochure promised. See that plastic well? Soon, it would be filled with impurities, which I could then photograph and send to my children and sister as torture.

I began.

The Derma Suction did suck my skin. It was like having a tiny vampire clamp onto my face. Then I’d pull it off, and move it. I kept yelping in surprise, which made Luther come into the bathroom to check on my wellbeing.

I used as directed, waiting for the yuck holder to fill up with impurities. After a half hour or so, I checked the results. The plastic well was tragically empty.

Aside from looking like I’d been in a fight with a small octopus, my skin was—shocker—not noticeably different. I had no nasty chunks of…I don’t know…pine sap or salt from the ocean in the Derma Sucker. Just small rings of red dotting my face.

Totally worth those two dollars. I can’t wait to make the Princess give it a whirl.

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The Aftermath

Last week, I finished my twenty-second novel. This one was a tough one to write for good and bad reasons. On the happy front, I was busy planning the Princess’s wedding, which was worth every second I spent on it, to see those two so happy, having so much fun, so in love, so perfect
together.

On the difficult front, it’s hard to be creative when the world seemed to be falling apart in great chunks—the storms, the politics, the pandemic. My wonderful, kind “other dad” endured a long, long sickness, and while I knew the end was coming, I was crushed just the same when I got the call. It made those last couple of days of writing all the harder.

But then, I was finally finished. The book is with my editor now, and I will admit I have never been so relieved to pass in a book in my career thus far. I hope it takes her a long, long time to edit.

So what does this author do once she’s finished?

Well, the first thing was to attend to the family, since our dear Hank had died. This entailed making sure Nana was okay (you know her as one of the Flower Grammies). I went over, brought her some top-shelf gin instead of flowers and had her over for dinner the next night. My job is to make her laugh, something that’s easy, because she’s so wonderful. My son came home from graduate school to see her, and we had a spontaneously full and wonderful weekend.

The next thing was to sleep. There is a mental exhaustion that goes along with book writing, at least for me. Soggy brain, I call it. I really believe it’s like recovering from a sickness. So lots of naps for me.

I also cooked and baked. I love doing those things, but when I’m closing in on an deadline, they get pushed to the back burner.

Then there’s the house renovation, which I’ve been ignoring, since I had to do my job. Yesterday, McIrish and I picked out tiles and flooring, looked at paint colors, put down a deposit on countertops. I had to introduce myself to one of our carpenters, because though he’s been working here steadily, I’ve been a ghost with a laptop.

I’m calling my various and sundry doctors, making the appointments I missed. Neuro, GI, ortho…all the fun specialties. I hope to get the hardware in my wrist taken out and have full range of motion back.

Friendship…all those friends who’ve put up with my silence, postponed visits or outings. It’s awfully nice to see them again. One of my besties had a few of us over for a feast of snack foods…nachos and fried mozzarella sticks, and just sitting there without this book hanging over my head, it was wicked pissah!

So here I am, waiting for my daughter to take me to the doctor for a little procedure that I was supposed to have sometime last year, doing nothing, and man, it feels good.

 

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The not-so-great outdoors

Oh, sure, I love the great outdoors as much as anyone! As long as I can go back to a comfy room with hot water and plumbing and a mattress, that is.

Maybe I’m scarred by my childhood memories of camping, five of us in one canvas tent, the rain dripping on my head at night, our sleeping bags fetid and moldy. There was my mother hunched over a smoky fire not quite hot enough to cook our hamburgers all the way through. There was my father, insisting that we were having the best time ever.

Mom still has nightmares about this item.

Maybe it was the portable toilet seat/garbage bag my father gave to Mom as a birthday present (his next gift came in a small velvet box, I can assure you). Maybe it’s because I’m a blood bank where mosquitoes are concerned. Maybe it’s because my sister, then four, fell out of our pop-up camper while asleep, and when I heard the pathetic mewls and scratching in the leaves, I thought it was a wolf and started crying myself.

Whatever the case, I vowed never to go camping as an adult, a promise I broke only once. There was a young man involved—not McIrish, who knows better than to offer this as ‘fun,’ but another young man, who preceded McIrish and was subsequently not in the running to be my husband.

But at the time, I wanted to be seen as one of those “I’m up for anything!” types (a lie), and so when this young man proposed camping, I said, “Sure!” and tried not to let the dismay show on my face.

I did my part, readers. I marinated chicken and made potato salad. I brought a Stephen King book to read aloud around the campfire. I made brownies or something, and bought eggs and bread for breakfast. He brought a frisbee and the tent.

Once we’d set up, we found that we had very little to do. We tossed the frisbee a few times until it sailed off the mountaintop where we camped. We ate at five, since we were bored, and it was then I realized I’d forgotten utensils. “Let’s eat with our hands,” said Young Man, and so we did. Being sticky is the worst feeling there is for me. I’d rather have stitches in my head than sticky hands. But I soldiered through, counting the hours until I could return to my apartment.

When the mosquitoes had drained me of a couple pints of blood, we retired to the tent. I attempted to read a story by Mr. King, but the flashlight batteries died. We decided to go to sleep, and sleep we did…for maybe ten minutes, until a racoon tried to get inside with us. You think they’re cute? They’re not cute when they’re an inch from your face, my friends. And looking for food. Young Man was not the type to get out of the tent and scare it away, so we huddled in terror as it scritch-scratched on our tent, me reconsidering so many decisions.

Many, many hours later, when dawn broke, I got out of the tent, damp, exhausted, aching from sleeping on acorns and rocks, smelling of smoke and barbeque sauce. Shower? Yes, please! This campsite had showers with running water and everything.

Or so they said. Into the urine-smelling “ladies room” I went. Toilets were essentially props over sewage holes. The showers were prison-style, rows of broken faucets in a cement wall, all sorts of algae and mold growing in great abundance.

I passed on the shower. Young Man was still asleep, so I packed the car with everything else—the cooler, my sleeping bag, the backpacks. When I started breaking down the tent, Young Man awoke. “Time to go!” I announced in a steely tone, and while he wanted to stay another night, I like to think he was rightfully afraid of that look in my eyes.

Today, I tell McIrish that I’d be willing to “camp” for 12 hours only, in either the North Pole or the South Pole, and only to see the stars and Northern Lights. I’ll take my chances with polar bears and freezing to death, but I must be able to have coffee and a hearty breakfast afterward, followed by a drive to a hotel. Otherwise, don’t even think about it.

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Talking with myself

As you may know, I’ve been alone quite a bit this summer, working away. I love solitude.  I always have. As a kid, I’d hide in the cellar and read. When I babysat, I loved that magical hour when the little ones would be tucked in, and I’d be alone in the house, pretending it was mine.

As Sainted Mother is fond of saying, expiration dates are for the weak.

But I seem to be crossing a certain sanity checkpoint these days. Maybe it was because I was alone during the first five or six weeks of the pandemic, but I have learned to be alone as in “The zombie apocalypse finally came, and this is it forever.” I can forage food like a boss—and by forage, I mean open the fridge and wonder how old these hotdogs/vegetable patty/frozen mac and cheese are and yes, summon my courage
and take that chance. So far, only one case of mild food poisoning.

I talk to myself incessantly. “Where were we? Come on, Microsoft. Don’t be a jerk. Who’s hungry? I am! Great, let’s make dinner!” (see aforementioned hot dog).

I took a spill the other day, stepping on a rogue pine cone and scraping my knee against a stump. Quite nasty-looking, plus a bruise and swelling. “Be a hero, Higgins,” I said out loud. “Get into that house and patch yourself up.”

To self-amputate, or not self-amputate?

I obeyed myself and indeed, felt quite brave and noble. Texted a picture of my knee to the kids and McIrish to make sure I had my full share of sympathy. (The nurse in the family was underwhelmed, the ungrateful child, whereas the firefighter knew to ask if I had called 911 already).

Debates are common when I’m with myself.

Should I turn on the AC?

No, it’s too cool for that.

But it’s practically raining in here!

So? You’re a Yankee? Deal with it!

There is far less trash when I’m alone, since I eat like a raccoon on whatever’s been left behind by my sister or niece or uncle. Because I’m a neat sleeper (unlike my thrashing husband), making the bed takes five seconds. Far less laundry—staying in one’s pajamas for three days is good for Mother Earth, and if the neighbor’s feel like an insane women lives next door, dressed in tattered and colorful PJ bottoms and snarky t-shirts, muttering to herself on the deck, hey. We were here first. (They’re actually quite nice and have adorable grandkids…and they know what I do for a living).

If I write enough pages, I reward myself by going to the bay side to see the sunset, often in my PJs.

The reason I go away when I need to write lots is because I can focus only on the book. There are no friends to see, no spouse asking if I want food, no children coming in and out, no mother who can’t figure out how to view something online. This past time, I didn’t even have a dog, since Dearest Son is heading to graduate school soon, and I let him have custody of Luther. One day, I was talking to a friend, and she said, “What day is it?” There was a pause. Neither of us knew. “Sunday?” I guessed? It was Tuesday.

But gang, you know me. I love every minute.

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Ode to Providence

PACK UP THE MOON, my latest book, is set in Providence, Rhode Island, a small city with a lot going on. It’s home to eight colleges—Lauren and Josh both go to the Rhode Island School of Design (where the coolest people go), and Josh gets another degree at Brown University, which is one of the prettiest colleges I’ve ever seen.

I spent my first year of college at Providence College. I didn’t do a lot of college shopping back then…I was very attached to my family and didn’t want to go too far. (Advice for the youths reading this: go far.) I had gone to a Catholic girls school, so I figured I’d go to a Catholic college, too. PC was pretty, the Dominicans were very nice, and it was in a city that didn’t seem too intimidating to my young self.

Believe it or not, I was very shy once upon a time. For some reason, I got a single room, and I’d been kind of counting on my roommates being my first friends. I knew a couple girls from high school who’d also chosen Providence, and that was nice. But as far as making new friends, I wasn’t sure how to do that. I had missed orientation because my grandfather died, and for some reason, I didn’t get the flyer about signing up for things like chorus or the radio station or anything like that. I did make a friend—a great friend to do this day, my darling Catherine—and eventually, I felt comfortable on campus. It took quite a while, though.

But I had a bike, my graduation present from my parents. And so I rode throughout the city, out of the kind of sketchy area PC was in, downtown to the capitol area. The Rhode Island State House has the world’s fourth-largest floating dome in the world, the biggest being St. Peter’s Basilica. It’s wicked pretty. I’d ride up to the Hill, where Brown and RISD are, and look into the little shops and bars and restaurants, and I’d imagine what it would be like to live in such a neighborhood. The giant, graceful houses around the campuses, the walled-in gardens. I remember going past a beautiful old brick building, then empty, and thinking what a great place it would be for apartments or lofts. Almost forty years later, it is exactly that, and the place I chose for Josh and Lauren’s home. (If you’re interested, visit www.grantmill.com and see where they—and Creepy Charlotte—lived.)

Providence has the best Italian food, and also, an allegedly huge Mafia presence (I did go to college with a young man with a famous last name who was dropped off in a stretch limo and had his belongings carried to his dorm room by burly men, just saying). But the food on Federal Hill…my dad used to take me out for dinners there, and the eggplant parm…oh, man.

Two winters ago, before the pandemic, the aforementioned Catherine and I met in
Providence. It had been a long time since I’d been there, and it was a bitter cold day. We walked through the neighborhoods my characters would, checked out the views, talked about the price of real estate. We had coffee and a huge cookie apiece. It was a lovely day.

Researching places is one of my favorite things to do as a writer. I try to infuse my books with local color…in the case of PACK UP THE MOON, I mentioned Del’s Lemonade, and coffee milk, something I have not seen in any other state. I think I used the world “bubbler.” I hope I did. (It’s a water fountain to us non-Rhode Islanders.) I mentioned Josh and Lauren’s love of Dunkin. In Rhode Island, there are more Dunkin Donuts per capita than any other place on earth. I love that fact. The Big Blue Bug is mentioned—Rhode Island’s most famous resident.

Definitely something Josh would order.

If you’re not familiar with Providence, check it out. It’s the unsung gem of New England cities. Go to the Eddy, where Josh and Radley would have drinks. Walk along the greenway or down Blackstone Boulevard. You’ll love it, I promise. And I’ll always be glad for that year of bike-riding and imagining what it would be like to live there.

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Movie irritants

Now that is some fresh flannel.

There are often details that jerk me right out of an otherwise satisfactory movie or television experience. Sweet Tooth, a post-apocalyptic show on Netflix, for example. I had no issue with the idea that there was a virus that wiped out civilization and all the babies born from then on out had animal characteristics…horns and wings, etc. HOWEVER, the show lost believability because the kid, living in the wilderness with his dad for the past 10 years, had clothes that fit him. These garments were not made from animal skins or woven fibers. He had jeans. He had shoes. He had  a spiffy new flannel shirt that looked like it came out of a box from LL Bean that very morning. How could that happen, huh? I stopped watching the show for that reason.

Another thing: movie toothbrushing. No foam. People can walk and talk for half an hour while brushing their teeth. Me, I look like a rabid dog after thirty seconds, as is recommended by the American Dental Association. But in the movies, there is no foaming, no trail of blueish spit down’s one chin, dripping onto the floor. “She’s not using toothpaste,” I might whisper to McIrish. “Irritating.” He ignores me and continues shoveling popcorn into his mouth.

I still love you, Tom Cruise. I always will.

Running. In the movies, people can run really, really far. And in real life, that can also be true (I hear). But there’s no gasping in the movies after the hero/heroine sprints six or seven miles. They’re slightly out of breath, perhaps dewy with a glaze of sweat, and recover in seconds. Listen. I watched 9 years of cross country meets. Where is the puking, the collapsing to the ground, the all-out sobbing that often accompanies running as fast as you possibly can for distances further than God meant you to, huh? I used to run. My face would stay red for hours afterward. Hours.

Foreplay. Two kisses, someone is picked up, and it’s multiple orgasm time. Also, her bra stays on. Please. I’d like to see a couple who’s a bit more invested, thank you very much. Take a little time, people. Show you mean it.

This fight lasted longer than the 2020 election.

Fighting. Despite our hero/heroine having all manner of weaponry skills, it all comes down to a slug fest. For the record, a skilled fighter can take someone out in one punch to the throat. Not being able to breathe tends to end a fight. This never happens in the movies. For two, these movie people can be punched repeatedly in the face, ribs, chest, kidneys, throat (see above) but they shake it off, ignore the knife /gun/ boxcutter/ spear/ crossbow/ lightsaber next to them and punch that villain for ten more minutes, by which time I’ve gone downstairs, gotten myself some ice cream, added rainbow shots, come back upstairs, and still the fight is raging. Yawn.

Giving a bad face to birthing women everywhere.

Rage-birthing babies. Many women have shared their birth stories with me because that’s what we mothers do when we get together. War stories. No one has ever mentioned screaming at top volume during labor. Why? Because we’re busy putting all our energy into pushing a human out of a very small orifice. There is no energy left over for screaming, cursing and punching spouses. Sure, we make noise. Just not screams of rage.

Hollywood, if you would like me to consult, I’m completely available.

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Dear Old Dads

In PACK UP THE MOON, Lauren is a self-described daddy’s girl. When her dad dies during Lauren’s sophomore year of college, she’s understandably wrecked. But being herself, she tries to make the best of it, to learn from her dear dad’s well-lived life and make him proud.

I know the feelings, because they’re mine. My dad died when I was 23 years old, and I’ve spent the past 33 years missing him. Here’s what Lauren says about Dave, her father.

No man was perfect, of course…except her dad. He was funny, corny, indulgent enough, strict enough, and went through life happily stunned at his great luck in marrying Donna, the love of his life. Daughters? What could be better than two perfect girls? Nothing! Lauren knew it was a rare dad who can make both his girls feel like they’re his favorite.

Daddy’s girl!

The only different between Lauren’s dad and mine is that mine (sadly) lacked the corny dad joke talent. My dad was a little on the smug side (my relatives reading this will snort and say, “A little?”). He grew up the overly worshiped only child/ son/ heir/ prince. My grandmother once said to me, “Your father was regarded as the Christ child in our house.” Okay, then! So you can see where it came from.

The other thing my dad was smug about was my mom. He married the prettiest, smartest, funniest woman in the world, a flashy redhead with a mischievous streak that

Sainted Mother is 25 here, clutching her sturdy middle child and either pregnant with or just past having my sister and she is SLAYING.

should’ve landed her in jail more than it did. The life of the party, the golden couple. By the time they were twenty-five, they had three kids and a mortgage, something that seems shocking by today’s standards.

Dad taught me to swim by towing me out over my head at Herring Pond, and then just letting me go, shouting that I just had to kick, and I’d be fine. I learned to ski by being chair-lifted to the top of a mountain, pointed downward and given a healthy shove. (Needless to say, this resulted in me drinking hot chocolate and reading Jane Eyre in the lodge for the rest of the day.)

The only one my horse would behave for was Dad.

When I rode my horse, he would smack her butt to make her gallop off, me clinging on in desperation, him laughing and telling me it built character. (Dad. Really?) He taught me to drive on a manual transmission, a skill I still lord over my tragic children, who lack this skill.

I’ve dreamt of my father dozens of times over the past three decades…that he’s visiting me, that he’s watching my kids, that he met McIrish. Like Lauren, I believe he’ll be waiting for me when I die, grinning, handsome, thrilled to have his older daughter with him again. Sometimes, I get a feeling that he’s right here with me. That, and the twenty-three years of solidly believing in my intelligence, kindness, teaching me to work hard, urging me to do something meaningful with my life, of showing me as much of the world as he could…that’s more than enough. Lauren and I were awfully lucky in the dad department.

Thanks, Dad. I wouldn’t be the person I am without you.

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there and in the Great Beyond. You are still so loved.

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Thoughts from the mother of the bride

Flannery is beaming! She is perfection. Look at that smile!

Aw. Mike is teary-eyed. Good.

What beautiful vows! They’re both so eloquent.

I’m so happy! Look at them! They love each other so much!

Look at his sisters. How lucky she is to marry into a family that adores and appreciates her. Ditto him.

Declan looks so handsome.

Great smooch! That’s the way to seal the deal!

I have a son-in-law! I’m a mother-in-law! I need a mug.

Why am I crying? I’m so happy!

Everyone seems to be having the best time! Hooray!

They’re here! They’re so beautiful. My heart is overflowing.

Speech time! I hope people cry. I’m crying, and they should, too!

How lucky she is to have such a daddy.

It’s so pretty! The flowers! The antiques! And it’s such a gorgeous evening. Oh, food! Yummy!

Is that my son, leading me onto the dance floor! Oh, Declan! You’re the best!

A mother-daughter dance for all of us mommies. We deserve it.

All this work for a few hours. Totally worth it.

My little girl found the person perfect for her.

My work here is done.

Time for bed.

We love you, Flannery and Mike!

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All grown up

My daughter, my lovely princess, is getting married on Saturday.

I am so happy.

They say that time flies by, that it seems like yesterday she was a tiny baby, but for me, that hasn’t been true. It doesfeel like she is 25, and that two and a half decades have passed, and every single day of those years, I have had the gift of utter joy at being her mother.

In what is the biggest and most impactful decision a person can make, Flannery and Mike have chosen so well. They are both kind, hardworking, funny and smart. They have loved each other since their freshman year of college, and knew they’d get married shortly thereafter. Their time together has not been complicated or with its ups and downs or like a roller coaster—it’s been smooth sailing. They’ve grown up together in that last phase of childhood—college—and on Saturday, I’ll get to say, “my son-in-law” and “my daughter’s husband.”

We hope the weather will be gorgeous and her hair will stay up and no one twists an ankle. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. Her dress could be splattered with mud, and the flowers could all wilt, and it would still be wonderful. During this long, dark fall and winter, a time marked by isolation and loss and illness, ugly actions and attacks and hate crimes, this little wedding has been a ray of light. Two young adults—a nurse and a firefighter—two kids who met their first day of college, two kids who have never been in love with anyone but each other, have chosen commitment and service, family and hope.

As a parent, my goal was to raise my kids to be happy and responsible. I hoped they’d choose the kind of partner McIrish and I have been to each other these 30 years. I hoped they’d choose someone who was kind and hardworking, who’d be by their side during the hardest, saddest times of life and during the moments of utter joy…but also during those long, sweet days and weeks and years of simple, unremarkable contentment.

My daughter has done this. So has her fiancé.

The flowers will probably be gorgeous, and the food will probably be great. Keep your fingers crossed for sunshine.

But it doesn’t matter. Flannery and Mike are getting married, and that’s the most beautiful thing of all.

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Pack Up the Moon

coverOne of the things that might not be immediately obvious about PACK UP THE MOON is that it’s a book about marriage, and how to do it right. Josh and Lauren are happily married in the kind of easy, uncomplicated way that I think love should be. They are each other’s favorite person, immediately committed to each other. There’s no waffling for either of them, no “I’m not sure if I’m ready” or “He’ll change once we’re married” kind of thing. They know each other, enjoy the same things, accept each other’s flaws and are each other’s biggest fans. They love each other’s families. As it should be.

This year, of course, my daughter is getting married, just three days before PACK UP THE MOON is released. This year also, McIrish and I will celebrate thirty years of an overwhelmingly happy, solid marriage. And this year, I’ve written a book about a newlywed couple facing a terminal illness, determined to enjoy every drop of happiness they can possibly create, despite the knowledge that their marriage will be short.

yes pleaseBecause I’ve envisioned my own death daily since I was about seven, I gave Josh and Lauren all the things I’d want if I had a terminal disease. A supportive group of family and friends. Interesting, rewarding jobs. A great apartment and vibrant city to live in. Fabulous vacation spots. A rooftop garden.

Sure, there are those irritating people thrown in for fun—Mean Debbie, the gossiping “friend” who uses Lauren as inspiration porn. Lori Cantore, Lauren’s coworker who’s already vying for Lauren’s office. The mom who, upon hearing that her daughter has pulmonary fibrosis, says, “How can you do this to me?”

pebbles the puppyMostly, though, they have great friends and family—Lauren’s sister, Jen. Joshua’s mom and his “extra” parents. Josh and Lauren travel to beautiful places and do some exciting things—Lauren is a bit of a thrill-seeker, though Josh is not. They rent a house on the ocean on Cape Cod (my favorite place!), have lots of company and get a puppy. Lauren knows her illness is going to steal her future, but she’s sure as hell won’t let it steal her present.

When I had decided to write a book about this topic, I looked for documentaries about people living with a terminal illness. One of the shows I came upon was called My Last Days. It followed people who knew how they’d slip this mortal coil…people who were incredibly happy, positive and…fun. One couple in particular was so irreverent and so goofily adoring toward each other, I kind of fell in love with them. The show’s description says these people believe “a limited amount of time is not a barrier to making a positive impact on the world.”

How can they be so happy? Because they choose to be that way.

My kind of people.

SJ_LogoTaglineVert_RGBIf you preorder the book, I donate my proceeds to St. Jude Children’s Hospital. They ask for the donor name, and I put down “Kristan Higgins Readers.” Thank you for giving me this career, and the chance to give back to this very best of causes. No child is ever turned away from St. Jude’s because of an inability to pay. And for PACK UP THE MOON, it feels especially relevant to support kids facing a terminal illness. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

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