My new novel, THE WRONG SIDE OF NIGHT, was born on a drizzly afternoon when I was walking my dog Gracie. I had been working on my mother’s eulogy; her health was declining, she was well into her nineties, and the subject of death had come up on several occasions. I didn’t want to wait until the inevitable end to start composing what I knew would be a challenging piece to write. I wanted time to stretch out into the landscape of what I wanted to say. In that frame of mind, the first line of what would become my next novel was born: ‘On the first day of autumn rain, my mother died.’

As soon as the line came to me, I felt a pang of nervousness. Was I really going to venture into this territory in a novel? People would assume I was writing about my mother and might not think beyond that. But here’s the thing about fiction — you can explore truths more easily, with more freedom, than you can in straight non-fiction. The reality of not being bound by facts and experience allows you more room. You have wide open territory instead of a walled-in structure. There were things I was curious about, that I wanted my fictional characters to wrestle with. Like a daughter being afraid of her mother — something I do know from my own life, but something that is not that uncommon among women whose mothers stood apart from them, leveling judgements and seeming to not possess an affinity for tenderness.

I never know when I start a novel where it’s going to take me. It’s an adventure from start to finish. At a certain point the pieces come together, but particularly at first I allow myself to be led by some mysterious inner voice. In THE WRONG SIDE OF NIGHT, 9/11 pushed its way in very early on. I think I had wanted to write about that horrible time ever since I met a man who worked in the North Tower, on a high floor, who would have died that day if he hadn’t decided early in the morning to take a personal day.

Tilly Austin, my main character, lost her father and brother on 9/11. No remains of either man were ever found. A few years later she and her mother moved to Los Angeles. Tilly’s decision to follow her mother to the west coast came from a still-burning wish that they could somehow, someday, figure out how to be a family. When her mother dies, she has to accept that she is now an orphan.

But then she starts seeing the same car following her, and the man driving looks so much like her brother. It seems crazy, he’s dead, but late one night he is waiting for her outside her house.

THE WRONG SIDE OF NIGHT is about the broken threads of a family that never figured out how to be one. It’s about the weight of the past crashing into the present and throwing the future into chaos. Tilly’s brother lived with secrets for eighteen years, not only the secret of his faked death, but the reasons that he decided to walk away from the ash and rubble and become someone else. It’s a novel about choosing who you want to be in this life, and accepting all the sorrows, joys and mysteries that led you to the place you are now. Most novelists will tell you that they fall in love with their characters and miss them when they book is finished. That is definitely the case for me. I learned so much from these characters, and my hope is that readers will go on this adventure and come away with insights they didn’t have before.

(THE WRONG SIDE OF NIGHT is available on Amazon.)


  1. Edward Jenny says:

    sounds like another collection of very important points, my wife, Sabra and her lifelong onagain-offagain friend Victoria Leanes, had the same distant mother unit issues as your describing, no one i know gets through life without tripping on broken family threads. Really well done concept, thanks

  2. Carli Steers says:

    I too experienced a distant Mother growing up. She was brilliant and busy doing things that brilliant people do. She is the first to admit that she was
    an unavailable mother. She has tried her best to change. Especially, since her grandchildren were born. Patti, I am so glad you were able to describe the feelings that have haunted me for so long. Yes, you do know me as Andrea’s Mother.

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