Sharing the love this February

My posts here, so far, have been focused on my books and my writing life; and while anyone who knows an author will also know that he or she can usually speak quite fluently about their work and interests, sometimes it’s worth taking a step back for a bit. That’s what I’m going to do this week, and to be honest I’m having a tough time deciding where to start, because the subject I’m about to tackle is so bittersweet for me. Before I dive in, though, I want to warn anyone who is sensitive to issues of pregnancy loss to proceed with caution, as you may find the rest of this post emotionally upsetting.

I’ve made a point, over the past few years, of not speaking publicly about my children, and to a lesser degree about my husband—not because I fancy myself some sort of celebrity, because I’m not, and certainly not because I don’t find them interesting—my friends will bear testament to how voluble I can be on the subject of my family. It’s just that I’ve always felt that talking about my family, no matter how warmly, leads to my opening a door that, once opened, can’t be closed. As my kids get older, they may decide they’re okay with my posting pictures or telling stories about them, but for the moment I’m keeping a closed-door policy—and that’s why my Facebook page and Instagram feed are awash in pictures of my cat and dog, who tell me (!) they just love to see their misdeeds reported on social media.

Today I’m going to side-step my rule, but I think—I hope—you’ll understand by the time I’m done.

On March 13, 2003, my husband and I found out that the baby we were expecting, our first, had Down Syndrome, as well as a host of other health problems. I was in the 19th week of my pregnancy and, apart from some trouble with hypertension, had been feeling fine. We were further devastated when our doctors told us, carefully and kindly and oh-so-gently, that our baby would die in utero in a matter of days. In the meantime, I would have to be monitored very carefully, as my blood pressure had become dangerously high.

FootprintBaby Nathaniel surprised us all by living for nearly another month, and, after a scan revealed that his heart had stopped beating in early April, labor was induced and he was born a day later. He was tiny and perfect and we will always, always love him. Perhaps my most treasured possession is his footprint, which I keep in a little frame on my bedside table.

Later that year we tried again, and were heartbroken when I had an early miscarriage. Our doctors told us not to give up, however, and by early 2004 I was pregnant. My son was born at the end of the summer, and then, in early 2007 we had a beautiful little girl.

In all four of my pregnancies I experienced serious problems because of high blood pressure. I was a patient at the high-risk unit at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, and the arrivals of both my son and daughter were induced early because I developed pre-eclampsia. Were it not for the specialist care I received from the wonderful clinicians at Mount Sinai, it is no exaggeration to say that I would not be alive today.

Access to safe and relatively affordable perinatal care is something we tend to take for granted in North America and western Europe. By virtue of living in Toronto, with its abundance of world-class hospitals, I was confident that I would receive the best possible care during and after my pregnancies. I simply accepted that I would be safe, or as safe as modern medicine could ensure.

Women in the developing world, however, have no such assurances during their pregnancies and deliveries. They often receive little or no medical care while pregnant, and are forced to give birth in unsanitary and frankly dangerous conditions. If they give birth early, they and their babies are at particularly high risk of developing complications or dying in the postpartum period.

Now, one family member I do talk about publicly, because she herself speaks openly about her experiences, is my sister Kate Robson. Both of Kate’s daughters were born early—at 25 weeks and 33 weeks respectively—and in the course of her work at Sunnybrook Hospital’s NICU she daily sees the sort of miracles that can be wrought by modern medicine. At the same time, she has become increasingly troubled by the lack of such perinatal care in the developing world.

Kate being Kate, she has decided to do something about it. Here, in her words, is the message she sent out a few days ago:

“Have any of you read the ‘Born Too Soon’ report by the World Health Organization? The picture it paints of which babies in the world get a reasonable shot at life is pretty sobering. For example, in Canada the vast majority of babies who are born at 25 weeks live and thrive. In many other countries, being born early at all is a death sentence. So instead of feeling guilty and terrible about it, I (and some lovely friends) have decided to follow the wise advice of Fred Rogers and “look for the helpers.” We didn’t have to look too far—the fabulous folks at MSF (Doctors Without Borders) have built an obstetrical facility and NICU in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and they could use our help.”

Share the Love

I hope you will consider clicking through on the link above to read more about Kate’s campaign to “Share the Love” this Valentine’s Day, and I would be exceedingly grateful if you are able to make a donation—even a few dollars can make a real difference in the lives of mothers and babies in Haiti.

Thank you so much for reading this far, and I promise I will keep things light in my next blog post—I’ll be getting ready for my trip to British Columbia, and I may (fingers crossed) have some good news about bestseller lists, ahem, as well as some updates on my work-in-progress. I may even have some new pictures of Sam and Ellie to share (with their permission of course). Until then, have a wonderful week!

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Happy January!

Happy January, everyone! As I write this, I’m sitting in my favorite hotel in the world – The Marlton in New York City – making the most of a few minutes to myself before I hop on the subway and head down to HarperCollins for lunch with my editor, publicist and the rest of the team who do so much for me. (They don’t know it yet, but I’m bringing treats – a box of macarons!)

Yesterday was my birthday (north of forty, but a few years short of a another significant landmark, ahem) and I celebrated in fine style with my husband and children: we spent most of the day at the American Museum of Natural History, which anyone with kids will remember as the setting for A Night at the Museum), had an early dinner at Max Brenner’s near Union Square (chocolate fondue for dessert!), and then took the kids to their first Broadway show. Since tickets for Hamilton are worth more than uncut diamonds, we saw An American in Paris, which I loved when I went last year with my sister. The music! The dancing! It was just heavenly.

I’ve a few bits and pieces of news to share this week – actually a lot of news if compared to the average week for me. Here goes:

– some of my favorite authors have been kind enough to offer endorsements for Moonlight Over Paris. I hope it doesn’t seem boastful that I’m sharing them here – I am just so thrilled!

“Meticulously researched and richly detailed, Moonlight Over Paris paints an enchanting picture of the City of Light in the 1920s. The elegance of Robson’s prose flows through every page, sweeping the reader from London’s aristocracy to the Parisian art scene and beyond. This is a heartwarming love story that left me aching for a journey back in time.”
–Kristina McMorris, New York Times bestselling author of The Edge of Lost

“A near-fatal bout of scarlet fever quickly unfolds into one girl’s second chance to live. With the help of her eccentric aunt and her free-spirited artist friends, Helena takes us on a journey filled with American expatriates and historical morsels that will send you Googling to learn more. Robson is a master of evoking atmospheric detail that transports readers back in time and place. I loved every page!
–Renée Rosen, New York Times bestselling author of White Collar Girl

“Robson gives the concept of self-discovery amid the enchanting streets of Paris a fresh spin in Moonlight Over Paris. Lady Helena, an adventurous young English woman, throws off the bounds of her family’s expectations to blossom as an artist in the Bohemian lifestyle of the Lost Generation, and does so with spirit. Delightful and romantic, readers will devour Robson’s latest work.”
–Heather Webb, acclaimed author of Rodin’s Lover

– I’ve an early preview of the audiobook for Moonlight Over Paris to share. It’s narrated by Jane Copland, who captured all the characters’ voices exactly as I imagined them, and – this will thrill those of you who are eagerly waiting for January 19th – it features an all-new excerpt from Chapter One (print excerpts have been taken only from the prologue so far). Here’s the link:

– I have more confirmed events on my calendar: I’ll be appearing with my friends Renée Rosen and Kate Hilton at Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, IL on Wednesday, January 20 at 7:00 p.m. Anderson’s has a well-deserved reputation as one of the best independent bookstores in the U.S. and I am really looking forward to my visit. Then, on Friday, January 22, I’ll be appearing with Renée at Women and Children First, the renowned bookstore in Chicago, for a conversation revolving around historical fiction and women’s history. It starts at 7:30 p.m. These events are in addition to my visit to the Lynden Sculpture Garden in Milwaukee, WI on January 21st; for more information please click here. I’m making a quick trip to British Columbia in mid-February and will be visiting Munro’s Books in Victoria, B.C. on Monday, February 15 (details to be confirmed). On February 25, I’ll be doing a workshop at the YWCA in Greenwich, CT, with Kate Hilton; the subject is Midlife 101: Unlocking Your Creativity. Last of all (for now!), I’ll be appearing with some of my fellow Fall of Poppies authors at events in the tri-state area: March 1 at 7 pm at the Wilton Library in Wilton, CT; March 2 at 7 pm at R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison, CT; and March 3 at 7 pm at Word Bookstore in Jersey City, NJ. Once the venues have the events posted to their websites I’ll add links to my calendar, so please check back soon.

– I just found out that Moonlight Over Paris is going to be translated into Dutch! The new edition for the Netherlands, which will be produced by the international wing of HarperCollins, is scheduled for release in early 2017. Another bit of fun news: a large-print edition of Somewhere in France is being produced now; it will be available in the fall of 2016. I’ll post links to both editions as soon as they are available.

I think that’s about it for now — whew! I’m finding out about new events almost daily, but as I add them to my calendar I will post details on my Facebook page — that’s always a good place to start if you’re looking for information on my whereabouts.

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A holiday recipe to share

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I’m a little late posting this Monday, because today I took some time off from writing and instead spent all day at my friend Jane’s house doing our Christmas baking. Together with two other friends (hi, Jane D and Denise!) we made nine different kinds of cookies (more than twenty dozen at a guess) and went through enough butter to make a cardiologist faint, but it’s only once a year and the cookies get shared between four families. That’s what I tell myself, anyway!

One cookie we didn’t make today (mainly because we ran out of time) was my chocolate and salted caramel thumbprint cookies. We made them last year and they were such a hit — chocolatey enough for the kids, but the salted caramel was a welcome change from the usual jam fillings. I think I may have to pull out my stand mixer tomorrow night and make up a batch!

I wish I could remember where I found this recipe — I think it may actually be a mash-up of recipes from Martha Stewart Living and Canadian Living. Feel free to sub in your own thumbprint cookie if you prefer — the caramel filling is delicious with plain vanilla cookies as well.

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Thumbprint Cookies

Cookie ingredients:
– 2 cups all-purpose flour
– 1 cup plus 1 tbsp unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
– 1 tsp kosher salt
– 8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
– 1-1/3 cups white sugar
– 2 large egg yolks
– 2 tbsp whipping cream
– 2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Salted caramel filling ingredients:
– 1/2 cup granulated sugar
– 1/4 cup light corn syrup
– 1/4 cup whipping cream
– 2 tbsp butter, softened
– 1 tsp vanilla
– 3/4 tsp flaked sea salt (such as Maldon or fleur de sel)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift flour, cocoa powder, and salt into a small bowl. Cream butter and sugar with a mixer until pale and fluffy. Reduce speed to medium, and add yolks, cream, and vanilla. Scrape sides of bowl. Beat in flour mixture until just combined.

Roll balls using 2 teaspoons dough for each. Place 1 inch apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. With the handle of a wooden spoon, press gently in the center of each to create an indentation. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until cookies are just set, about 10 minutes. (If indentations lose definition, press centers again.) Let cool slightly on baking sheets. Transfer cookies to wire racks, and let cool.

Meanwhile, in saucepan, bring sugar and corn syrup to boil over medium-high heat; boil, without stirring but brushing down side of pan with pastry brush dipped in water, until dark amber in color, 4 minutes.

Stir in cream, butter, vanilla and 1/4 tsp of the flaked salt; cook until thickened slightly, about 2 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes. Spoon into depression in each cookie; let stand until set, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining flaked salt. Will keep, refrigerated, for up to five days.

Some tour dates to share with you

Happy Monday, everyone!

I hope you’ve had a chance to explore my website a bit — what do you think? A number of you have been kind enough to let me know that you like its new look and layout. I’d love to take credit for it, but it really is the work of my web guru Jeremiah Tolbert of Clockpunk Studios — he’s the one who deserves the praise!

I’ve had some emails asking where and when I’ll be touring this winter, and the simple answer is that a lot of the details are still up in the air. If you click on the “Appearances” tab at the top of the page you’ll see that I’ve started to add in some dates; broadly speaking I’ll be traveling to Milwaukee, Chicago and (possibly) some other Midwest destinations in late January; in February I’ll be on the move again, this time to Vancouver, Victoria, Montreal and Ottawa, with additional appearances in Toronto and southern Ontario throughout February and March. In early March I will also be coming to New York and the tri-state area for a series of appearances with some of the other authors who are part of the Fall of Poppies anthology — more details to come.

If I’m not coming to your part of the world — I was really hoping that my tour would take me to Hawaii and California, but for some reason those locales have not made an appearance on my schedule! — I am happy to visit with your book club, library reading group or any other book-loving gathering via Skype. To get in touch, simply fill out the contact form here or send me a message via my Facebook page.

I hope you have a wonderful week and I promise to check in with more news next Monday.

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New website for a new book!

It’s early for resolutions, I know — it’s barely even December as I write this — but I firmly resolve to post more often to this blog. Over the past year or so, I’ve drifted toward Facebook as my default information-conveying medium, but now that I have a sparkly new website I am going to make a point of sitting down at least once a week and sharing my random thoughts (they’re nearly always random) with you, as well as whatever news has popped up since my last post.

I am feeling ridiculously pleased with this new incarnation of my website, which was designed and coded for me by Jeremiah Tolbert of Clockpunk Studios. Not only is his design beautiful, but he also made it incredibly intuitive and easy to navigate (and it’s also easy to maintain, thank goodness). Thanks so much, Jeremy!!

I’ve added new content, mainly in the Book Clubs section, and as we get closer to Official Publication Day for Moonlight over Paris (January 19, 2016) I will be adding more. In the meantime, please let me know what you think of the site — and if there is anything missing, do let me know.

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