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Write, don't talk. A blank page listens.

I write both fiction and nonfiction. There's a certain overlap. I try to weed personal and subjective stuff from my nonfiction. With fiction, I stick to the truth.

I've helped write building codes and technical works on historic preservation. That was a lot better than silence, but it wasn't as good as inventing my own world, so I wrote a novel. And another. And finally, two animal stories for children and imaginative grown-ups as well.


Katie Mouse and the Perfect Wedding

Katie Mouse's Cousin Matilda is getting married! A big wedding has been planned in Mouse Town's public park, and everyone in town is invited. Best of all, Katie will be Matilda's flower mouse, and her little brother Dylan will be the ring bearer.

There's just one problem: The Games Day at Katie's school has been changed to the same day as the wedding! And Katie's the captain of her class's relay race team! Will she really have to miss it?

As Katie struggles with her feelings, a mix-up with the wedding rings threatens to ruin the entire wedding. It's then that Katie discovers that only she knows how to save the day and make the wedding perfect after all.

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Katie Mouse and the Christmas Door

Christmas is coming for Katie Mouse and the rest of the Mouse family! Papa strings lights on the house and takes Katie and her little brother, Dylan, to get a tree, while Mama puts up decorations and bakes cookies for Santa Mouse. Now, if only Katie could decide what she really wants for Christmas, so she can let Santa Mouse know!

On Christmas Eve, Santa Mouse and his mouse elves arrive to leave gifts for Katie and Dylan. But Alvar, the newest elf on the sleigh, wanders off to explore, and winds up meeting the Mouse children face to face. From the elf, they hear all about the North Pole and the magical Christmas Door, which shows you what you want and need the most.

Can Alvar help Katie discover her deepest Christmas wish? And can Katie help Alvar, when Santa Mouse accidentally leaves him behind?


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The Secret of Gingerbread Village

When Coco the mouse slips under a young spruce tree on his morning walk through the forest, he discovers a village of gingerbread houses and "Gingers" -- ginerbread men and women brought to life by magic. But all is not well in Gingerbread Village. The Magic that built the village and protects it from outsiders seems to be fading, and the Gingers don't know how to revive it.

Can Coco find a way to help the Gingers? And even if he does, can they trust him enough to let him?

A magical tale of friendship offered, rebuffed, but finally rewarded.

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On Christmas Eve

It’s Christmas Eve, and Coco the mouse stands beneath a tall fir tree in the forest. On this night, he tells himself, the forest needs a star for the tree top. If he climbs the tree, he can reach up and fetch one from the sky! But it’s a long climb for a little mouse, and along the way, he’s sure to meet other forest creatures who help or hinder him.

A magical fable of hope, determination, the kindness of strangers, and the wonder of Creation.


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If Wishes Were Fishes

There’s an old saying: “If wishes were horses, we’d all get a ride.” But what if wishes were schools of fish? What if they were prides of lions, or pods of dolphins? What kinds of wish could you get from those? Find out in this celebration of animal group names.

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“If cats wore bumper stickers, Skeeter’s would read ‘Question Authority.’ He’s everywhere, expressing his opinions, giving and demanding affection, and bending the rules. More than once, I’ve decided there must be two of him.”

 When a stray kitten romps into Lynne’s life, she has no idea what she’s getting into. As Lynne describes in letters to her friend Angie, Skeeter is all cat—high-spirited, contrary, and inventive. He’s so goofy that he reminds Lynne of her own nuttiest escapades; so irrepressible that even Lynne’s neighbor, Mark, gets wound around his paw.

 Angie pays Lynne a visit to see Skeeter for herself, and the story reaches its comic finale. No one who meets Skeeter will ever be quite the same again.

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Pacific Avenue

  Even though I enjoyed my comic stint, my next novel, Pacific Avenue, turned out to be serious. It's a story about young people in the early 1970s, the time of the war in Vietnam. It isn't the story of anyone I knew. The places are real, though--New Orleans and San Pedro, California, both places I've lived in and loved.

Here's the first chapter:


December 1974, Interstate 10, Westbound

I chose a window seat on the Greyhound, but I didn’t look out. For almost the whole trip, I stared at the rough tan upholstery of the seat in front of me. It had a rip on one side and three dark stains.

A woman settled into the aisle seat. She raised her footrest, but it clunked back down. When I glanced her way, she caught my eye and smiled.

“How do you make these things stay put?” she asked.

I meant to answer—the words were lined up in my mind. But before I could say them, they slipped apart like beads when the string breaks. I gave up and studied the seat cover again. Still tan, still ripped, still stained. The next time I looked, the woman was gone.



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I've always loved carousels, and restoring old things, and Northern California. So my third novel is about a carousel restorer in Oakland and San Francisco. It's a more upbeat story than Pacific Avenue--though some very strange things happen, most of them are a generation in the past, revealed through old letters and the musings of a woman who hasn't forgotten. In the present is a love story, and the story of bringing an antique carousel--and a young woman's hopes--back to their former beauty and harmony.

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Linda is seventeen years old. She has OK parents, a bratty little brother, an almost-boyfriend...and then her life gets turned upside-down. Flight is the story of how she makes it right again, and who she becomes by doing that.

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Some of Olympia’s alleys aren’t even paved. Just parallel tire tracks drifting through ruts and puddles, crowded by a patchwork line of back fences. I love those alleys, with their overhanging apple branches and tangles of blackberry canes. They’re like country roads stitched through the city. I walk ten alley miles for every one on the sidewalk, basking in the sense of peace. I laugh at the acrobatic squirrels and feed my curiosity with glimpses of the candid backs of houses. The alleys are part of my home.

Besides, someone might see me if I walk along the street.

So, I avoid the sidewalks as much as I can. It’s easy, since my front door is just off one of those shady alleys. And most of the places where I work are old houses, with gates in their backyards.

Some of my clients don’t get it. The second week I worked for Mrs. Clemens, she tried to set me straight.

“You don’t have to come to the back door, Lainie,” she said. “I never did hold with making the girl come to the back door.”

I stifled a laugh. Back in my other life, “girl” was a word Mom taught me not to let people use about me. But what she had in mind—what her whole generation had in mind, as far as I could tell—was men referring that way to women in general. While to Mrs. Clemens, “the girl” was a female servant. It would never have occurred to Mom I could be a “girl” in that sense.

Anyway, I didn’t mind. I liked Mrs. Clemens, and I was happy to have the job. Ninety-one was too old to learn to mince words.

“Thanks,” I told her. “I wasn’t thinking you expected me to come to the back door. But it’s a shortcut from my place. And I like to see what needs doing in the yard.”

She gave me a shrewd look as I served her breakfast—half a pink grapefruit and two pieces of raisin toast. An old teacher is hard to fool. Back in San Diego, I lied all the time at school, just for the fun of it. Those teachers probably didn’t believe me either, but I was too wrapped up in myself to see it. Now everything about me is a lie. My name isn’t even Lainie.

It isn’t fun anymore. But there’s no way to stop.



A Chambered Nautilus


Nita walked away from her family when she was seventeen years old, determined to never look back. But forty years later, when her mother died and her father descended into Alzheimer's, Nita returned to New Orleans to care for him in his final months.

Now her father has passed on, leaving Nita her childhood home as an inheritance. But she soon finds she isn't the only resident. The house is occupied by ghosts of her past, playing out scenes of the life she fled.

What are they trying to tell her? Will they ever leave her in peace? And are they really spirits, or only visions, emerging from sealed-off depths of memory as from the shell of a chambered nautilus?


Next were photos and negatives. For a while, Dad had a good camera, and he developed black-and-white negatives and prints at night in the bathroom. The camera was gone--probably he'd sold it at some point, when he needed money to pay creditors who couldn't be stiffed.

The pictures were beautiful. He'd been talented, and had tried to go professional. But his photography business had failed just like every other one before it. Now, I looked with bewilderment at portraits of us as children. Somehow, he'd lost the love that shone from them, packed it away in a cardboard box, forgotten as old bank statements and unpaid bills.

I kept coming back to one set of photos of Manda, Lou, and me on Christmas morning. Sitting near the tree, opening our presents. Our smiles and shining eyes were captured forever. But Dad was gone, and the love that inspired those photos had died long before he did. How had he turned into a man who threw Christmas in the dump, every last elf and star, every last shred of tinsel?

I pushed the box of photos aside.

With two more empty boxes, I sorted for any records that had to do with Dad's last business venture, the successful one. After I'd left home, he'd invented several toys that caught on and made enormous amounts of money. Manda had told me about it at the time, but I'd dismissed it as ironic: How could a man who disliked children have invented amazing toys?

Now I remembered he had made that rocking horse. And bunny shadows on the wall, and a herd of charming animals he sculpted for us out of multicolored telephone wire. I remembered more and more. He hadn't started as a man who disliked children.

And Mom. When had she changed from the cake baker, the most beautiful woman in the world, to the one who screamed that she wished we didn't exist?

I remembered what the ghosts had shown me, and more. The miscarriage. The finally fulfilled longing for a son, followed by gut-level battles about what a son should be. Years of failure and scarcity, dinners of scraps, our filthy house, neighbors who shunned us. Anger feeding accusation in a vicious circle.

Beyond that, the truth was as tantalizing as a mirage. Why did their marriage go bad? Which of them had started it? Trying to figure that one out was like watching a tennis match. She did this because he said that, because she said that, because he did this . . . back and forth, back and forth . . .

I grinned suddenly, remembering Lou's description of tennis--"the kind of thing a cat would watch."

It was unsolvable. Whatever had gone wrong between Mom and Dad had gone disastrously wrong. War had been declared, and as in all wars, there was "collateral damage." Which was military-speak for what happens to innocent bystanders. Like kids.


The Island Women Trilogy

Cassie's Castaways

When Amy Bendbowe receives a call for help from her dying mother, Cassie, she rushes from Washington's San Juan Island to Mobile, Alabama, to see her. But Cassie has other ideas. Before letting Amy visit the hospital, she wants her to sell off or give away all the stock from Cassie's secondhand store. Is Cassie trying to keep the distance that has long separated her from her daughter? Or is this her way to help Amy finally understand her?


When I looked up from the book, I saw it was dark outside. Time to pay a visit to Lauren’s moon garden.

It was a good night for it. The moon was nearly full, and it outshone the weak streetlight at the end of the block like a light bulb against a candle. Lauren’s fence, dark in sunlight, was silver-washed. The gate creaked loudly as I opened it, and I saw a curtain flicker. I stood still, wondering if I should knock and say hello, but decided there was no need to.

A breeze rustled leaves, and a sultry perfume filled the air. I traced it to a bush with hanging white flowers like tassels. And farther on, another scent—white flowers climbing a trellis. Others close to the ground, and a shrub that smelled like apricots. Everything glistening, fragrant, white, ethereal.

I picked out the shape of a bench in a corner, and sat to take it all in. Tiny lights flickered here and there, and I realized I was seeing fireflies for the first time.

I imagined Cassie sitting beside me, thought of all the things I’d like to ask her. But I’d get no more answers from her than from the moonlight on the garden. Or if I did, I’d understand no better than I understood the far-off song of what I guessed must be a mockingbird: a phrase it repeated, elaborated, then discarded for another.

The bird went on and on, as if trying to tell me something in a hundred different ways. I stood, suddenly tired and stiff. I went back to Cassie’s run-down house, dropped my clothes on the floor, and fell into bed.

I dreamed I was home, sitting on the beach, with driftwood logs around me, white in the moonlight. I looked out across the bay toward a little island, and saw a dark line like a path along the surface of the water. I heard footsteps, and David’s voice behind me.

“Let’s go home, Amy,” he said. “It’s getting late.”

I woke with the smell of the cool sea dissolving into the reality of Cassie’s stuffy bedroom. I could no longer hear the mockingbird, but the chirping of other birds told me it was dawn.

Let’s go home. It’s getting late.



Willow's Crystal

Rai Ireland has built a respectable life for herself as a novice real-estate lawyer on Washington's San Juan Island. But when her hippie mother, Willow, comes to stay with her, Rai finds herself stretched between the Rachel she calls herself now and the Rainbow her mother thinks her to be. Besides, it hardly seems fair that Willow adjusts so easily to island life, while Rai still navigates the narrow straits of dating on a small island.


The island changed all the ideas I’d had before I saw it. It was nearly crime-free, gorgeous, and—mostly—welcoming, but the lack of choice could be maddening. Mom and I had lived in smallish towns before, and I’d thought I was prepared, but the island was so isolated, it was a whole different story. You ate what the grocery store had, unless you wanted to go to the mainland and fetch something else. If none of the stores had your favorite brand of shoes or shampoo, you figured out what else would do. And probably paid more for it, even if it wasn’t as good.

If you didn’t like any of the mechanics in town, or any of the doctors, you had to decide which one you disliked the least. On the up side, most business people really were nice, and more than honest. The prices were sort of eye-popping until you realized that everything had to be brought in by boat, and all the trash had to be hauled somewhere else. It was a logistic work of art that the place was there at all.

Even more than the problems of life on an island, though, I had personal complications. In college, I’d been too busy to even think about men—I’d either been studying or working, in a frenzied rush to get myself out of the poverty that Mom accepted so easily. Now I had time to date, and I knew a lot about what I wanted—and nothing about how to get it. For a twenty-five year old, I was seriously behind the curve.

I didn’t care about guys’ age or looks, at least within really wide bounds. I’d had ringside seats for a couple of awful relationships that girlfriends had had with sexy, “dangerous” men. As far as I was concerned, if a guy looked like the latest hot movie star, that was two strikes against him right there
What I did want was someone who was looking for a serious girlfriend, a partner. Maybe even a wife. If that was uncool—and I’d known plenty of people who thought it was—too bad. I wasn’t lying to myself—I wanted to meet a good guy and stay with him. The trick was to find a man who was looking for the other half of that equation.

Several men had asked me out from time to time, nothing serious. I guessed it was a sort of “new girl in town” thing—probably the choice in the dating world wasn’t a lot more extensive than what you got in the supermarket, to put it a bit crudely. I was taking it easy, not getting too close to anyone until I was sure it wasn’t just novelty they were after. And of course, in a small town, everyone knew what everyone else did, pretty much. It wasn’t like I could date here and there without everyone being in the picture.

Mom could easily throw a monkey wrench into the works, especially if she lived with me. It was dicey enough to be tiptoeing around “yes, no, maybe so” with the island men, but having a San Francisco wild woman mother underfoot was definitely going to make things interesting.


Benecia's Mirror

Susan Jarvin could hardly be more surprised when her elegant musician mother, Benecia, accepts her invitation to visit Washington's San Juan Island. But more surprises are in store, as Benecia shows a new, strong interest in Susan's young son, and then starts dating his diving instructor, a man more than a decade her junior. It's all a bit much to cope with, on top of dealing with an ex-husband that Susan never quite stopped loving.


When my father died—it was early summer in 1998—his fortune was divided among the family. Also, his lawyer sent a letter by registered mail. I assumed we all got one, but I didn’t ask

He laid out what he knew about all of us. The family was big, and he had lots of beans to spill. For instance, that his sister, who’d been her church’s treasurer, had “retired” because she’d embezzled from church accounts. She hadn’t been prosecuted because Dad had repaid them, plus a big contribution. Her husband had seduced their underage babysitter. Dad had bought the parents off.

He and my mother had been divorced a long time, and he provided a great recap of the messy details—courtesy of a private detective he’d hired—of her supposed wild life in L.A. in later years.

There was more, a lot more. A cousin’s psychiatric hospitalization. A bankrupt shopaholic. A couple of DUIs. A flasher. A niece’s abortion. Every sin in the book, and several more crimes.

If anyone was spared, I couldn’t think who. Skeletons fell out of the closet like a load of bricks off a dump truck. It was a reenactment of Pandora’s box—or maybe bad daytime TV. He twisted the knife by declaring that anyone could claim innocence by refusing his money. No one did.



When Henry “wakes up,” he finds himself walking along an empty stretch of road on modern-day San Juan Island. He doesn’t remember much about himself, besides his name and the fact that he’s dead. How did he die? How long ago? What was his life? Did he have a family? Why is he still on the island? And most important, what is a ghost like him supposed to do now?

On Henry’s journey of discovery, he meets another ghost in the same predicament—a little girl named Charlotte. Together they navigate the byways of the island and of their own memories, in search of the keys that will finally free them for departure.

Part ghost story, part historical novel, part fable, Anne L. Watson’s latest weaves island lore, human insight, and spiritual wisdom into a magical tale of redemption and fulfillment.


I went down to the harbor, which was only a couple of blocks from the big shop. A little girl was sitting on a bench there, crying, and I knew she was a ghost, too.

She was a pretty little thing, maybe ten years old. She had on a fancy pink party dress, ribbons in her curly yellow hair, shiny black shoes. She looked like one of the rich children from my time. Or maybe a while later, I thought, studying her. She was like children I’d seen, but just a touch different.

Of course, I’d never have spoken to a rich man’s little girl when I was alive. But now that we were both dead, why not? So, I went to her and knelt on the ground.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

She sobbed. “I want my mother.”

I sighed. I didn’t really think I could help, but it tugged at me. I was sure I hadn’t had children, but somehow, a little girl crying for her mother was something I couldn’t ignore. “Where is she?”

“I don’t know!” she wailed.

“We could look for her,” I suggested. “But I don’t think she’s around here. At least, I haven’t seen any women likely to be her.”

I wanted to ask if her mother was dead. Or if she realized that she was. I thought she probably knew, but it didn’t seem polite to ask. I guess children don’t worry so much about that kind of thing, because the next words out of her mouth were, “You’re a ghost.”

I nodded. “So are you.”

She didn’t pipe up and agree with me, but she didn’t disagree, either. “Where are the others?” she asked.

“Which others?”

“The other ghosts. We can’t be the only ones.”

It was a good question. I didn’t know the answer.

“I haven’t seen anyone. Just live people. I don’t think they can see us.”

“Where should we go?” she asked. “To find Mother, I mean.”

I thought about it. “Maybe out to the cemetery? There might be more like us there.”

She looked me over carefully. “Mother told me to not go with strange men.”

“I’m not a man. Like you said, I’m a ghost.”

She looked at me even more doubtfully. “She didn’t say anything about that.”

“Well, she wouldn’t, would she,” I said. “Look, it’s all right. The rules are different now. Or maybe there aren’t any. I’m Henry. What’s your name?”


“That’s a pretty name. Charlotte. Where was your house when you were alive? We could go there.”

“I don’t know.”

She looked like she was about to cry again, so I said, “You know, if we walk out toward the cemetery, we might meet your mother on the way. Or maybe she’ll be out there, or someone else you know. We can try.”

She scrubbed her hand across her face, erasing the tears. She nodded without saying any more, and we both stood up. It was a long way from the harbor to the cemetery, but I didn’t think that was likely to matter.

The town was awake now, the streets thronged with people, but we passed by everyone unseen. We walked along quietly together, and after a while, Charlotte slipped her hand into mine.

No child had ever held my hand before. I was sure of it. I couldn’t possibly have forgotten how it felt to be trusted like that.



Smart Soapmaking, Milk Soapmaking, and Smart Lotionmaking

I've also written two books on making soap and one on making lotions. For information about them, go to my soap and lotion making page.


Baking with Cookie Molds

Two more--Baking with Cookie Molds, and Cookie Molds Around the Year. For information about them, go to my cookie molds page.



Smart Housekeeping

Housekeeping has gotten a bad rap. Somehow, the subject has shrunk to discussions of clutter control and cleaning, a bit like when your mom told you to pick up your room.

But that's the dull part. Necessary, of course --My book, Smart Housekeeping, is mostly about getting to a state of order. But housekeeping is no more about clutter control than gardening is about weeding. Yes, you have to do some of both -- but why stop short of the interesting stuff?

The companion book, Smart Housekeeping around the Yea,r goes on to show how to make yourself comfortable in your home, whatever that takes. A lot of housekeeping is about what you do, and why you do it, after you've taken care of the obvious chores. How do you set up a guest room? Unclog a sink? Keep garbage odors out of the kitchen? Arrange toy storage so that the kids will use it on their own? What's the best way to wash a family quilt? To be safe on a ladder? To choose appliances?

Housekeeping isn't just housework -- it's setting the stage for your whole life at home -- which includes play, enjoyment, and creativity.





Living Apart Together

You hear many reasons why marriages and long-term relationships break up, but there's one that's seldom acknowledged: Many committed couples would get along better if only they weren't roommates.

But what can they do? They have to share a home, don't they?

What if they chose to defy expectations -- their own and everyone else's? What if they decided to live in separate apartments or houses, nearby or even side-by-side? Wouldn't they avoid many tensions that typically drag couples down? Wouldn't they gain richer and happier times together?

Anne L. Watson and her partner have lived this kind of life successfully for nearly two decades. In this groundbreaking book, she draws on personal experience to reveal the benefits of such an arrangement and tell how you might make it work for yourself. In the end, Anne helps you understand that not all couples need a common residence to live happily ever after.

Aaron and I met in 1998. He was the man of my dreams, but dreams are odd. Sometimes they start out joyfully and then turn into nightmares. Ours didn't, but it could have. "Living apart together" is the way we made things come out right for us.

We were both middle-aged when we found each other. We had a long-distance relationship for several months, and then decided to live together. Since he was moving to my town, I agreed to find us a place to live, and asked what kind of place he'd like.

He emailed me a staggeringly long list of requirements, right down to the carpet color. Trying to feel optimistic, I set out apartment hunting.

The only place I found that met our needs for space (let alone carpet color) was the whole top floor of an old fourplex apartment building. Both upper apartments were vacant, and they shared a utility room at the rear, so there were interior connecting doors. We decided to combine them into one unit.

I credit renting that place with saving our relationship. Because at the end of six months, we gave up. We could not live together. So we each took a unit, and barely spoke for the next month. Feelings were raw. It was obvious that one of us would move away before long, with an awkward goodbye, or none at all.

Neither of us wanted that. So we got together again, but this time, we didn't merge our apartments. At first, I felt disappointed. This was not what I had always imagined. I saw it as something he wanted, something I had to take or leave -- "my way or the highway."

Then I realized that, for most of my life, I'd made major sacrifices to keep from having to live with a roommate. I'd often paid half my salary in rent. I'd abandoned the idea of saving for a down payment on a house. I'd lived in less-desirable houses and neighborhoods. I'd done whatever I had to do to be able to live alone.

So Aaron wasn't the only one who needed his own place. I still had misgivings, but I decided to give living apart together a fair try.

It worked so well that we went on that way for another several years. In the summer of 2004, we married. And we've lived happily apart together ever since.





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