No April Fool’s Joke: FREE “After the War” and Extra Chapter!

It’s free, it’s free — again! I’m offering a two-day giveaway at Amazon Kindle of my 1955 family saga After the War. Mark your calendar and download it, Friday, March 31 and Saturday, April 1. 

And, if you’ve already downloaded and read this book, here’s an extra: I’ve penned an extra chapter for it that tells you what happens to some of the characters in the book more than ten years later! If you’d like a copy of this chapter, just email me at Libby488 (at) yahoo (dot) com, and put “extra chapter ATW” in the subject. I’ll send as a PDF!

After_the_War_Cover_for_KindleHere’s what’s new with this book: I redid the cover, and I tweaked the prose a bit, getting rid of a few phrases here and there that were either repetitious or clunky. Let me tell you, it’s a humbling experience to reread one’s work after it’s been published. Ask any author. We cringe when we crack open the spine of an ARC (advance reader copy) to proofread one last time before printing.

I’m excited to offer this book for free again because it has something in common with my new release coming out this fall, Fall from Grace (Bancroft Press, September 2017). While After the War is a historical and Fall from Grace a contemporary, they both share faith elements, where religious faith plays an integral part of the story, motivating characters to do both good and…not so good things.

So, get crackin’! Head on over to Amazon on the free dates (March 31 and April 1) and get your free Kindle editions of After the War. When you’re finished, email me for the extra chapter!




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FREE for a short time: After the War

Three and a half years ago, I self-published the novel After the War. You can download it to your Kindle for a short time for free. Go here to grab a copy.

After the War was the first story I’d ever thought of writing. It just took me years–a decade?–and many published books to get this first tale into print.


Maybe the new cover? Maybe not?

I’m offering it for free for several reasons: first, I hope readers will grab it, read it, like it and post a review; second, I’m getting ready to redo its cover and even go through the novel to see if I want to make any refinements, so think of this as a going-out-of-print (temporarily) sale; and third, it is a story with faith elements, and I’m getting ready to have another book with faith elements, Fall From Grace, released this fall by Bancroft Press.

The faith elements in After the War center on the characters of Margaret, a nun, and her sister-in-law, Paula–their struggles with religious rules and with love, both Christian and romantic, ten years after the end of World War II. Margaret (Sister Francis Marie) suffers a nervous breakdown that puts her in the psychiatric wing of Johns Hopkins, while Paula looks for ways to start pre-baptismal counseling so she can convert to Catholicism before her husband discovers she’s not Catholic, after all.


Maybe the new cover? Maybe not?

When I first wrote After the War, I had a different title in mind: The Conversion of Paula. Pretty clever, huh? Luckily, I dropped that and focused instead on a simpler title: Margaret. That changed, too.

As I pondered how to tell you more about the story, I thought maybe just sharing my note to readers at the end of it would sum it all up best. I’ve added a few details to help explain the story and left out some spoilers. After you read it, let me know which cover design you like best. Thanks in advance!

Dear Reader,

When I first penned this story, it focused exclusively on Paula and Margaret, two women whose approach to life and whose histories were almost direct opposites. Paula, despite her good upbringing, was to be a Mary Magdalene character, while Sister was something of a zealot for whom faith and religion meant rigid adherence to a set of rules. I wanted the book to be an exploration of their approach to faith, Paula’s springing from a desire to be loved and love in return, and Margaret’s coming from a desire to feel safe.

But as I wrote it and rewrote it—I started it years ago and returned to it over time—other characters called out to me to tell their stories. The nurse Kate, who ministers to Sister in Hopkins, for example, had always been a part of my tale but way in the background, her struggle with what to do with her life after accepting widowhood playing out only in relation to Sister Francis Marie’s travails.


The old cover: I’m not sure the nun picture works so well.

Dr. Kaplan’s point of view as Sister’s psychiatrist hadn’t been in early iterations of the novel, and Father Al, the priest whom Paula consults with, hadn’t made an appearance at all.

As I included more about Kate, however, I realized I had to share more about Dr. Kaplan. And I also realized I couldn’t very well write a book that touched on faith issues and not include something about the priest to whom Paula goes for baptismal instruction.

This is when the book’s overarching theme deepened and diverged from my original goal. My initial objective, in fact, became less attainable for me as I realized I didn’t want to write a theological discussion on faith and certainly didn’t feel qualified to pen one even if my inclination was there. I wanted to show how ordinary people dealt with the doubts and assumptions about their faith, if they had any at all. I wanted to show them wrestling with their beliefs as many do today.

Each had had their faith tested, in large and small ways. But in some way, each test was related to…the war.

All the characters had, in some significant way, been affected by the war. As I wrote their stories, the book became about that effect and their reactions, their accommodations to life after the war. Intertwined is the story of faith, but binding it all together is that “after the war” theme.

When I realized this was what I was writing, I thought, “of course.” As a Baby Boomer, I grew up in the late 1950s and 1960s. World War II was still a tangible event, still something that hung over my parents’ lives and that of my friends’ parents, as well. My father’s army uniform (he served in the Philippines after the bombs were dropped) hung in our basement. He’d met my mother when he was stationed at a camp near her Indiana home. My friends’ fathers had served, some in combat. I often felt, in fact, that those years were like a long, warm summer after a bitter cold—and deadly—winter. I might not have experienced the war, but I lived through the collective sigh of relief afterward.

So the “after the war” theme felt natural and real to me, as much a part of this story as Paula’s struggles with love or Margaret’s wrestling with her vocation.

A few words about Margaret’s convent life: I researched the life of nuns in various convents as I wrote this story, and I’m very grateful to Sister Ann Marie Slavin, OSF, for her insights and help. My research provided me with bits and pieces of the convent life in which I wanted to place Margaret. But the Order of Sisters in my novel, as well as their specific Rule, is entirely fictional, and not based on any particular convent or its Rule.

Libby Sternberg

So, that’s the story! I hope you pick up a free copy and enjoy this story, the first one I ever contemplated writing.




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Favorite novels with faith elements

The Wall Street Journal’s Saturday book review section (which is excellent, by the way) runs a regular feature called “Five Best,” five one-paragraph reviews of books that aren’t new releases, all on one theme, chosen by a writer who might have a book coming out (or just released) that touches on the theme. For example, today, February 18th’s theme is “novels of political protest.”

I always enjoy that column and have ripped it out more than once to save for later book purchases.

Because I have a novel coming out this fall that deals with religious faith (Fall from Grace, Bancroft Press — you can read more about it here), I’ve been thinking of what I’d include in a list of favorite novels with faith elements. Here are three, for a start:

The first, and most recent, one that comes to mind is Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Gilead (2004). Like all the novels on my list, I’ve read this more than once, and it never fails to move me. Set in 1956 at the end of Rev. John Ames’s life, it consists of a letter he writes to his young son to explain his family, his history, his relationship with God. The climactic moment of this novel is a quiet scene that creeps up on you as you realize that you, too, might have had moments of singular grace such as this, but hectic schedules and the duties of daily living could keep you from recognizing them. One of the most profound scenes in the book, though, occurs fairly early in the story when John relates a tale of his abolitionist preacher grandfather being confronted by his son (the narrator’s father) about his activities. “I remember when you walked to the pulpit in that shot-up, bloody shirt with that pistol in your belt,” the father says, “And I had a thought as powerful and clear as any revelation. And it was, This has nothing to do with Jesus. Nothing. Nothing…” Keep in mind that the grandfather was on the right side of the Civil War battle, yet his son justifiably chastises him for using his pulpit to push for war.

Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited (1944) has been a go-to for john_15_12_love_one_another_poster-rac0d4c53566348458f59796e03c63b1a_au58_8byvr_512me over the years for quiet, even nostalgic introspection. You don’t have to be British to feel the bright sunny pre-war mood of the upper-class characters in this tale of an aristocratic Catholic family in Anglican England. Although I’ve reread the story many times, I still have trouble remembering plot points as the various Flyte family members marry, separate, marry again, and reconcile over the years. The climax is, as in Gilead, quiet, yet breathtaking in its impact as the estranged husband of Lady Marchmain returns to Brideshead to die and be reconciled with his faith.

J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey (1961) immediately appealed to me on the first reading, even though its characters were as removed from my own experience of life as the author’s most famous protagonist, Holden Caulfield of The Catcher in the Rye. Caulfield never grabbed my attention or sympathy, though, because he, with his upper-class New York wealth and advantages, seemed like, well, a spoiled ungrateful brat. But while both Franny and Zooey come from that same kind of background, they always appeared to me to be more humble about their place in life, more thankful. And Franny’s inner torment is universal. This book, originally two short stories printed in the New Yorker, is odd in that it consists mostly of long conversations between Franny and her brother Zooey, as he tries to coax her back to living when she suffers a breakdown of sorts as she confronts how empty her life is. While faith discussions are sprinkled throughout the novel, it is Zooey’s patient explanation of who an unattractive “Fat Lady” really was in their now-deceased brother Seymour’s life that lights up the tale: “And don’t you know — listen to me, now — don’t you know who that Fat Lady really is? . . . Ah, buddy. Ah, buddy. It’s Christ Himself. Christ Himself, buddy.”

Let me know your favorite novels with faith elements — I’d love to add to my list!


Fall from Grace by Libby Sternberg (Bancroft Press, Sept. 2017; ISBN: 9787-1-61088-205-7): When Eli Baine, son of celebrity evangelicals, is caught using a prostitution ring, he has to relearn early faith lessons to find his way back to family and true Christ-like love.


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Justice: A short story

“Justice” by Libby Sternberg

Five of us gathered around the holidays at a midtown restaurant. We’d met each other ten years ago at a conference and hit it off, getting together for drinks and meals during the three-day event, discovering we shared an outlook on life, something ill-defined, maybe just a general happy-warrior skepticism.

We were a mixed group of friends, some married, others not, two in arts-related fields, one a lawyer, myself a financial manager, a fifth an executive suite member of a large conglomerate. Not spring chickens—at least one of us was near retirement age, others creeping there.

Tina, the director of a small arts consortium, always played major domo for these holiday festivities. She’d put the first one together after discovering we were all living in the same city or near it—not New York, but cosmopolitan enough. We’d considered asking spouses, and actually did an evening get-together one year to accommodate their schedules. It had been a stilted party, and we’d happily gone back to the midday long lunch.

unknownTwinkle lights sparkled in nearby decorations. Real pine wreaths with bright red bows filled the eye, their brisk woodsy scent wafting our way when hurried waiters stirred the air. Music that harkened back to happy childhoods played.

We were on dessert and coffee and after-dinner drinks when Mark, the executive, told a story of estrangement, how his daughter was becoming more distant now that she was married, and how he thought it was karma because Mark himself had been less than affectionate with his own parents as they’d aged, and felt he’d not been with them enough at the end of their lives.

We all tsked over his harsh self-judgment, and offered consolation and suggestions for a deeper relationship with his daughter. We told him he deserved it.

We’d met at an affirmation conference, after all, one of those fads corporations got swept up in, team-building quality improvement practices and the like. The techniques had long lost their trendiness, or been absorbed into human resources tactics. Even if we’d mocked the proceedings at the time, we’d developed our own booster club of sorts with communication over the years, and these holiday gatherings.

Mark’s stories led to more, tales of people we knew who had reaped undeserved rewards and others who’d deserved success yet were denied it.

Tina, swirling a brandy and staring at the tablecloth, confessed to feelings of great jealousy about a writing acquaintance whose work Tina had edited—she was an aspiring novelist herself and had done some freelance editing on the side.

“She’s not a good storyteller,” Tina said slowly, her mouth twisted in that rueful smile of painful recognition. “And barely has command of language. I really helped her shape her first book. It sold—received critical acclaim, made the charts….”

We pressed her for the author’s name, but she wouldn’t divulge it, either out of integrity or fear, I don’t know.

Gary, the publishing house marketing director, patted her hand. “Five books. That’s the max she’ll get. I’ve seen how it works. Her editor will do what you did with the option clause book, and maybe the next one, and then the author will get full of herself, turn something in that’s so subpar the house might not want to publish it. But they’re invested in her, so they will…and she’ll fade from view.”

“Justice,” I remarked, giving a nod.

Mark, whose spirits were now buoyed by our words about his daughter, tapped the table. “So rare to see that happen, though, isn’t it? Real justice.”

That’s when Jonah, the oldest among us, a dashing man with white wavy hair who worked for one of the most prestigious law firms in town, spoke up, so softly and slowly that many of us at first didn’t realize, over the din of holiday cheer, that he was talking.

No, he wasn’t just talking. He was spinning a tale, and being in good spirits, I believe some—maybe all—of us thought he was telling one of those long, complicated jokes at first, the ones with deliciously sharp punch lines that required a good intellect to understand, so that when you laughed heartily at its ending you were also patting yourself on the back for being smart enough to get it. We happily anticipated that moment of self-congratulation.

But, no, he wasn’t telling a joke.

“I knew a man,” he was saying, “some of you would recognize his name. He was very successful, started in retail, in the executive suite, right after graduation. Father was on Wall Street. Fifth generation Harvard, then Wharton. All the right connections.”

We nodded our heads. We knew such men, and all of us started trying to guess who this fellow was as he continued, but Jonah, like Tina, kept his protagonist’s identity a secret.

“Affable guy,” Jonah said, snagging the waiter for another glass of wine. “Well liked.” He laughed. “The curse of being well liked—no one wants to bring you down!”

He finished the wine before him and set the empty aside, waiting for its replacement.

“You need to give him a name,” Tina said, lightness back in her voice, regret gone. “A pseudonym.”

Jonah grinned. “What do you suggest?”

“Bertrand,” Mark said.

“Poindexter,” I chimed in. I had a dislike of moneyed families with names like Poindexter in their genealogical charts.

“Roger,” Gary said with authority. “Nice, solid name for someone well-liked.” And so it was Roger.

“Roger became vice president of, well, something like…” And here he mentioned a national chain of upscale stores we all recognized. Was this where Roger had really worked? “Did very well. Or rather, the stores did well.”

“I love them! Shop there all the time,” Tina interrupted. “High quality, good prices, wonderful service.”

“Exactly,” Jonah concurred. “All true before our Roger took over. But he made the mistake of thinking these attributes were due to his hard work, that the stores’ successes were due to his marketing expertise.”

“Happens all the time,” Gary interjected. “Some new MBA comes onboard with shiny spreadsheets that illustrate what we’ve all been doing all along, and he thinks he’s the root cause of all that is good. My god, the number of times I’ve seen a new marketing manager do that—I usually avoid those meetings now. Have a ‘conflict’ on my schedule.”

“Yes, precisely,” Jonah repeated. “That was our Roger’s problem, too. Thinking he was inventing the wheel, and filled with pride when it rolled merrily along. Headhunters came after him, and he moved to, something like…” And here he named a specialty brand that was wildly successful in its niche with a creative CEO. We were impressed.

“As you can imagine, he did well there, too.”

“How could he not?” Tina asked. “That product sells itself.”

When Jonah’s wine arrived and he took a sip, Gary filled in the obvious. “Let me guess. Our Roger thought again that success was due to his great work.”

Jonah laughed. “Oh, yes, to his showing up when he did. If you recall, that company went through a great sales and stock spike. It coincided with young Roger’s arrival on the scene.”

“Are you now going to tell us that Roger was really a nincompoop?” I asked, eager to hear the denouement, the moment of justice, when failings are unveiled.

Jonah shook his head. “No, no. He wasn’t stupid. Just…misled. By unmerited opportunities. By good looks. By…oh, people being nice to him. He wasn’t an ogre. Nothing mean-spirited about him.”

“So, what next? He gets caught with his hand in the till? Goes to jail?” Tina asked, as if secretly taking notes for a mystery she would write.

“Nothing so dramatic,” Jonah said. “Well, not then, at least. He did quite well at his job and moved to another, and this, too, was a case of being in the right place at the right time. An etailer on the cusp of making it big.” He held both hands up and shrugged, and we mentally filled in the story. More success, more rewards.

“All right, Jonah, you have to give us the payoff,” Gary groused. “Nice guy finishing first. Where’s the conflict?”

“Oh, be patient,” Jonah said good-naturedly. “Our poor hero finally met his match. He was lured to a department store that wasn’t doing well that needed a turnaround guy—”

“Oh, no,” I said, knowing where this was going. “Poor Roger. He thought those other successes…”

christmas24“Were all due to his smarts,” Jonah said. “But they weren’t. And he’d never had his mettle tested. Never had to be accountable for his mistakes. Because, god knows, he made them. Everyone does. But in his previous jobs, successes were carried in by the bushel, and mistakes were swept up in the dustbin. He didn’t know…” He trailed off, a faraway look coming to his eye.

Tina leaned in now, a detective on the case. “I think I know what department store chain we’re talking about here,” she said, and gave the name of one that had failed spectacularly many years ago, a hallowed name in retail that had gone under.

The story came back to us all, and we started tossing in the details, fast and furiously, telling the tale ourselves.

“…he wouldn’t wear the suits the store made. Kept a rack in his office to use for press conferences,” Mark said after snapping his fingers in remembrance.

“He fired a third of the staff,” Gary offered, “and redid the layout. My god, I remember going in one during that, and it was a mess. And staff…they bristled with resentment.”

Tina smiled. “I used to shop there regularly.” She laughed. “Thanks to him, I discovered other stores!”

I had my own memory, as well. “He was skewered in some business paper. A columnist speculated he was a mole for the competition.”

Jonah nodded to each remembrance. “He was using his experience at his other employers to build what he thought would be success. But, as you know, those other corporations had different…gestalts.”

We all nodded now, thinking to the brands, the specialty marketing of each of the man’s past employers. How easy it was for us to see the disaster looming. We shared our memories of that, too, of reading articles about the impending collapse of the company, of the stock nose-diving, of rancorous board meetings, scandalous revelations about sales numbers. It had played out over the course of just three years. And at the end of it…

“What happened to him?” I asked. No one had heard of the man’s fate, I was sure. I read the business papers regularly and didn’t remember a word about his after-collapse future. “Golden parachute, if I recall.”

Tina snorted and crossed her arms over her chest. “That’s hardly justice.” Yes, that was the original topic. Justice. Just rewards. Or punishments.

“He did well financially. No CEO doesn’t,” Jonah said, stating the obvious. “Might have ended the job in ignominy, being ousted by the board, excoriated in the press, but he had a multi-million-dollar severance deal, and he cashed out his stock before the company went belly up.”

“So,” said Mark indignantly, “where is the justice in this story? I thought we were sharing those kinds of things, not…just another one of these fat cat does well after ruining lives tales.”

“Rich guy becomes richer,” added Gary, “despite his failures.”

“Failures writ large,” Jonah said lowly. “So large that he disappeared. Word was he ran off, changed his identify. Wife divorced him—not much of a marriage really, as phony as his life had been, which he discovered when he began his descent. No children, thank goodness, to share the pain. Even with no pre-nup, he still made out well. Flew to one paradise after another, considered buying his own island. He had the money. Didn’t need for a thing. Couldn’t quite figure it out—how it had all gone south. And he was just waiting for a time to rebound. For a long time, he thought it was just wrong place, wrong time.”

“He’d experienced the opposite, so why not?” Gary asked, obviously liking the symmetry of the situation.

“But it…wore on him. That sense he’d messed up. He couldn’t avoid it. He started retracing his steps, so to speak, trying to figure out where he’d gone off course. Oh, he still thought he’d find that it wasn’t his fault, but…” Again, Jonah held out his hands, palms up. “And then, something pushed him outside of all he knew. He fell in love.”

Tina snorted again. So much for her romantic stories. “Oh, man, when are you going to get to the good part—where he loses his riches?”

Jonah laughed. “No, no, don’t rush me. He fell in love,” he repeated. “With a woman ten years younger and a world of experience away. A woman who…had shopped in that store.”

Now Tina groaned, joined shortly afterward by Gary. “So what? She found another store, no doubt.”

“Yes, yes, she did. But her sister had worked there. And she’d lost her job, of course, when the whole thing went under. And she was a single mom, one kid. And she ended up with a bad sort. He…well, he treated her badly.”

There was more to that. We could all see it in the way Jonah scowled, as if he didn’t want to mar the holiday mood, even a discussion of bad deeds, with something grimmer.

“Go on,” Tina nearly whispered. “Tell us about his big love.” She said it cynically, as if we were to soon learn this new love was just a fortune hunter. Yes, I believe we all thought that.

“He met her on a layover. One of his jaunts to some tropical getaway. She was a waitress in Miami. The usual thing, flirtation, banter, trying to score. But she was a different sort of girl. Oh, not that she played too hard to get. She was just…refreshing. Refreshingly honest. Not a bit of guile in her.” He looked at his drink. “She knew he had money. He didn’t hide that. He liked to treat her. But she didn’t like to feel bought. She even had a long talk with him about it, about how she had to work hard to resist that part of his ‘charm’ because, if she was honest with herself, she knew it was a draw, to know that he could provide for her. Everyone likes to feel cared for, she told him.”

“So, what happened? With the bad sort she ended up with?” Mark asked.

“What?” Jonah looked confused, then clarity dawned. “Oh, no, not her. Her sister ended up with the bad sort.”

“She was the single mom?” Gary asked.

“Yes. She’s the one who’d lost her job. And when…Roger…found out, well, you can imagine. He was mortified. Should he confess who he was—”

“He used an alias?” Tina asked, sounding disgusted.

“No, not…then. She just didn’t follow corporate…shenanigans. She had no idea he was the CEO of the company that had led to her sister’s…problems.”

Disappointment fell on me as I thought I got it—an obvious ending. “So when did she figure it out? After she’d taken him for all he was worth?”

Jonah heaved a sigh and bit his lip. “Taken him for all he was worth. You mean money, of course.” He looked up, eyes watery, brow creased. “Justice would seem to require he lose everything, wouldn’t it?” No one spoke, but he knew we agreed. “He didn’t lose a penny. Not a single penny. She gave back everything he’d given her—every piece of jewelry, every diamond, sapphire, ruby and gold and silver. Every trinket, every piece of clothing. It cost her, too. She had it all packed up and shipped to him.”

“How did she find out?” Tina asked, again on a whisper, her fingers curled around her brandy.

“Her sister. She might not have followed business news, but her sister knew the name of the bastard who’d ruined her life. And she let Roger’s lover know. It was the last thing she told her.”

“The last thing?” Now Gary’s voice was the one low and hesitant.

“Before her criminal boyfriend killed her—the sister. Shot her in a drugged-up rampage.”

“No!” Both Mark and Tina voiced it at the same time, the word that was also on the tip of my tongue.

“He felt…he felt…as if he’d been the one pulling the trigger. That the sister had only taken up with the guy because she was hard up, after losing her job…”

A jumble of voices, Tina saying it wasn’t his fault, Gary concurring, Mark sympathizing, and I, I was agreeing with them all.

“Is that how it happened – the breakup?” I asked.

“Yes,” Jonah said. “No. I mean…yes, that was the final closing of the door. The night before that…that event… when she’d found out who he was, she’d refused his … proposal. He’d come to her that night wanting forever. She’d come wanting never.”

There was something in his tone, something timeless, something resigned, accepting.

“No hope at all? Never heard from her again?” I pursued.

He shook his head. “He tried to reach out to her. Couldn’t find her. She changed her number. Her job. He hired a PI…”

“Oh, man…” Tina.

“She wanted him never to find her.”

wpid-3120682842bb85936e64z“But he did.” Tina again, Tina the storyteller herself, who could pick up on the tone of a statement. I thought she was off, but Jonah’s face and then his words indicated it was true.

“The PI tracked her down. She was still in Florida. She met and married someone else within five years…”

“A poor but noble schoolteacher,” Mark said.

“No, a minister,” said Gary.

“Or a penniless writer,” Tina offered.

Jonah laughed, but there was no real joy in it. “A widowed father of three, owner of Pizelli’s,” he said, and we instantly inhaled, laughed with him. A very successful national pizza chain. “Good man, too, if you’ve read about him. Self-made. But no backwoods hick. Cultured, even plays piano. Came close to finaling in the amateur Van Cliburn…”

“Get out!” Tina said, unbelieving.

“Nope. All true. She did better than she would have with Roger. Married a real man of accomplishment. Was cared for, provided for, got an instant family—she’d wanted family, you see—and he even took in her nephew, since his mom was gone now. Last I heard, they were quite happy together.”

“But not Roger,” I said, now getting it. He’d not lost his fortune. He’d lost something dearer. His true love. “Did he marry?”

“No. He told himself he would. Had plenty of opportunities. And he didn’t go around making scenes pining for her, so it wasn’t a matter of no one measuring up…”

“But no one really did, did they?” Tina supplied the sad reality in her voice, one that recognized true romance.

“No, no one did.”

“Did he lose himself in drink?” Gary asked, looking for the obvious story answer.

“Nope. Became a success in another field. Respected. Even had an honorary degree bestowed on him. Still jets off to tropical paradises. Still has friends and family who love him. He’s a wiser man now, though, not so full of himself.”

“But he wasn’t really full of himself before,” Mark interjected. “I mean, from the way you tell it, he just didn’t know, he was just blind to his …inadequacies.”

“Yes, he was blind. And he had his eyes opened. Painfully. To how his failures rippled out to affect others. He was a careless man, he discovered. A thoughtless man. Not a cruel one. Just a thoughtless one.”

The restaurant was empty and hushed. Waiters were clearing tables and resetting them for the evening crowd. Light, yellow and dim, poured through the wide street level windows. Shoppers scurried by, hurrying to find Christmas bargains, last-minute gifts.

I studied Jonah. In the ten years we’d gotten together, he alone of our group was the most difficult to get to know. His background was…fuzzy. Although he was a lawyer, I was aware it was a second career, and he’d been sent to the conference where we’d originally met because he was one of the newer members of his firm, even though he was older than most of the lawyers on the masthead. He’d divulged that over drinks our first night.

He was affable, always willing to help if you needed it—he’d given Tina an introduction to the chair of her board, helping her land her job, and he’d done favors, big and small, for the rest of us we only found out about in passing.

But whenever I thought of him, I never imagined him as…happy. I thought of him as going through the motions, somehow, living a life that was required of him rather than one he had chosen. A life with friends. But no deep love.

I mentally conjured up the few pictures of the “Roger” in his story from the articles that had appeared at the time of the store chain’s failure. Yes, yes…the patrician profile, the thin lips, blue eyes…

He was Roger, there was no doubt about it. Did the others know? I looked at each one. Of course they did. But his secret, such as it was, was safe with us, a holiday gift of confession and atonement.


Libby Sternberg’s new novel, Fall from Grace, a tale of sin and redemption, will be available from Bancroft Press September 2017.



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Review: MR TIMOTHY by Louis Bayard

Over the holiday, I reread a book I’d loved the first time I encountered it: Mr. Timothy by Louis Bayard. Originally published in 2003, the book is a literary thriller. If you enjoy a good mystery wrapped in history, poignance, and a great tip of the hat to a well-known piece of literature, Mr. Timothy won’t disappoint.

Bayard breaks your heart with his portrayal of Timothy Cratchit — yes, that Cratchit, Tiny Tim from Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Now a young man, Timothy is adrift in life, supported by monthly payments from his “Uncle N,” Ebenezer Scrooge, whose home is now perpetually decorated for Christmas and whose generosity is so well-known that a queue of donation-seeking do-gooders fills his parlor waiting for audiences.

But Scrooge’s munificence colors Timothy’s life in a softly malignant way. Instead of finding his way to great things or even a modest occupation, Timothy suffers from the ennui of the existentially disappointed.

About a third of the way into the novel, Bayard sums up Timothy’s problem with a poignant “letter” from the protagonist to his now-dead father, Bob Cratchit. Timothy writes:

Are you ready for a story, Father?

A young boy — roses blooming in the hollows of his cheeks — is deprived by cruel Fate of the use of one limb. He is clasped in the bosom of a warm, distracted family, who dote upon him but fail to understand his intrinsic worth. For this boy, the reader soon learns, is nothing less than a changeling, a prince of nature, whose birthright was stolen from him in infancy (even as his leg was robbed of its motive force). The infamy might have stood uncorrected were it not for the intervention of a kindly family friend who detects something unusual in the boy, something no one else can see, the boy least of all…And so this kindly old gentleman resolves to restore the changeling to his proper place in the cosmic hierarchy — to raise him up, as it were, to the life for which he was originally destined…

…he sits, still dreaming, still waiting for The Event, which is his private term for the public realization of his destiny. He envisions it as a carriage, a grey brougham pausing at the curb in front of his house, openings its door.

The carriage never comes.

How can you read that and not throb with the heartache of Timothy as a boy, to whom “much was given” and thus “much expected.” He ends up disappointing himself, though, as he waits for that “carriage,” never settling on anything of value to do other than tutoring the madam of a whorehouse, teaching her to read.

164792500But it is near this den of prostitution that he encounters a mystery–the corpse of a young girl whose body has been branded with a stylized “G.” Soon after, he encounters another young girl, aged ten, on the run. And the mystery truly begins — who is she running from, what does the “G” signify, and who in the halls of Scotland Yard and the peerage is involved in a dark and ugly crime?

Timothy solves the puzzle, eventually, but not before experiencing thrilling adventures which involve good policemen and bad, London carriage drivers, a likable (and ill-fated) river dredger, prostitutes, other members of the Cratchit family, a young man on the con, “Uncle N,” and the strong, resolute little girl, Philomela, who started his detective journey. The story winds through life in Victorian London like the snow swirling on Christmas Day, a fitting ending point for this complicated tale that combines pathos with page-turning mystery.

The pathos comes mostly in the form of Timothy’s reflections on his late father. He sees him everywhere, and if you have lost a family member, you will know precisely what he is going through as he sees the body shape, the face, the physical attitude of his father in men he chances upon. But it is in his “letters” to his dad that his grief pours out, his grief at having discovered, too late, just how much he loved the tender man who’d carried him on his shoulders everywhere to spare him walking with a crutch.

I reread Mr. Timothy on my Kindle. I’ll now look for a print copy. This is a book to own as an object as well as a story.

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I sold a “book of my heart”!

Some authors write to the market, others what the spirit moves them to create. I do a little of both. I’ve written books I thought should do well in the marketplace because of their genre (and sometimes been wrong about that) and novels that we writers call “books of the heart.”

I’m proud, excited, pleased, giddy, elated…doing the Snoopy dance of happiness…to announce that a “book of my heart” will be published next fall by Bancroft Press: Fall from Grace. I’ll tell you why it’s a book of my heart in a moment. But, first, here’s a summary of the novel:

Fall from Grace: Eli Baine has sinned. Spectacularly. When he’s caught using a prostitution ring, the news blasts across print and broadcast media: the son of a reality TV evangelical clan, whose Christian lifestyle is showcased regularly in Baine Family Values television episodes, is exposed as a hypocrite. Carted off to rehab, Eli chafes at being lumped in with molesters and serial adulterers. But when he escapes to visit his wife, Ruth, he finds no solace there. She can hardly bear to look at him, let alone admit him back into her life with their infant child. This sets Eli off on a hard journey toward redemption, understanding and reconciliation. His first stop is at a mainline Protestant church that embraces him with tolerance and support, but where he must endure counseling from a “she-priest” and an ultimate betrayal by someone who’d offered a helping hand. Meanwhile, Ruth herself sets out on a healing path, being counseled by a new, young pastor at her parents’ fundamentalist church who offers her more than just spiritual guidance. Both Eli and Ruth wander in the wilderness of heartbreak, distrust and eventual tragedy until they finally transform into different individuals who can see the light of hope and love in their marriage and their lives.

bookclub_bannerThis novel is a perfect fit for a small press like Bancroft. Larger publishers, used to dealing with very specific categories of books, with offices full of editors looking for books in those specific categories, would have a hard time pegging where this book should be, what shelf it should be  placed on at a bookstore. Even though it deals with faith issues, it’s not an inspirational.

Inspirationals are novels that target a mostly conservative Christian audience, with no swearing, sex, or offensive material, no use of faith words except in a respectful, literal manner, novels that pass muster with the Christian Booksellers Association and buyers at stores such as Lifeway.

Fall from Grace strays from the guidelines these booksellers and buyers would likely follow. It does contain some cursing (though hardly any). It does contain some sexual content (though just one or two scenes, and even then action takes place “off screen”).

But because the book contains a lot about faith, editors at big publishing houses wouldn’t really know what to do with it. Novels today are highly secular, with virtually no mention of churchgoing or faith. To include these elements in your books means risking being placed in the inspirational genre…where you have to follow very strict rules, and where the religion involved is a nondenominational brand of evangelical faith. Fall from Grace doesn’t follow those rules.

In fact, Fall from Grace includes some unflattering portraits of people involved in both evangelical and mainstream Protestant churches. But it also includes — and this is so important, and a crucial part of why this is a “book of my heart” — some very loving and inspiring portraits of people in those churches, too. Yes, even evangelical church people.

You see, I’ve worked with evangelicals over the years when I was very involved in the school choice movement. And their more Bible-literal faith might not be my brand of religion, but I had great respect for them. They are beautiful people, those I worked with. They were sweet and loving and kind. And today I know people with a more fundamentalist approach to faith I call friend and family. They, too, are lovely people, living good, Christian lives.

Too often, these religious people are maligned in popular culture, lampooned, caricatured, or worse. And in political punditry, they can often be lumped in with the unsavory characters at the gay-bashing/hating Westboro Baptist Church (which shouldn’t have either Baptist or church in its name), as if that is the only alternative to mainline Protestant or even Roman Catholic faith.

Fall from Grace treats them kindly, or at least…equally. Just as there are mainline Protestant characters in the book who are flawed, yet striving to lead Christian lives, so, too, are there evangelicals on their own similar paths.

Fall from Grace is about finding that path, about answering the question: What is true Christ-like love? As Eli Baine, the protagonist, tries to find his way back to his marriage, he must also find his way back to faith, a faith he took for granted.

And that’s why it’s a “book of my heart.” I took more than a year to write it, penning a first draft, working with a critique partner (thank you, Jerri!), rewriting, polishing, tweaking some more.

I’ll be writing more about this book as publication date nears. Stay tuned!


The other part of my pitch to publishers included this material:

Quick bio of author Libby Sternberg: Multi-published author in YA mystery, adult mystery, historical fiction and romantic comedy; Edgar nominee for her first YA mystery; one of her romantic comedies was optioned for film — a brief squib about this project is here . Her Jane Eyre-inspired novel, Sloane Hall, was one of only 14 books the Simon & Schuster “Off the Shelf” blog featured on the 200th anniversary of Charlotte Bronte’s birth. She has been published by Bancroft Press, Harlequin, Dorchester, Sourcebooks, Five Star/Cengage and independently. She writes under the names Libby Sternberg and Libby Malin, and is currently a copy editor for a Big Five publisher.

Praise for Libby Sternberg:

For Death Is the Cool Night and Lost to the World (Libby Sternberg):

  • “This volume collects two well-crafted novels by Sternberg… Blending operatic drama, sumptuous description, and noir, Sternberg gracefully puzzles out her tormented characters’ actions and motivations in each book.” Publishers Weekly

For Loves Me, Loves Me Not (Libby Malin):

  • “The love story is charming and will be appreciated by any woman with bad taste in men who somehow inexplicably ends up with Mr. Right.” Washington Post
  • “A whimsical look at the vagaries of dating… an intriguing side plot adds punch and pathos to the story…” Publishers Weekly

For Sloane Hall (Libby Sternberg):

  • “An original story with complex character development…(Sternberg) knows how to tell a story and she does it well….a refreshing tale.” Bronte Studies journal
  • “Libby Sternberg’s intelligent and intriguing Jane Eyre reimagining has achieved two of the most difficult goals in a novel: being a page turner and paying a worthy tribute to Charlotte Brontë’s immortal story.” – The Bronte Blog
  • “Sternberg never loses sight of the story she’s re-telling, but this novel is definitely her own. Readers have things to figure out and look forward to. Her prose flows beautifully with vivid descriptions of people and places, bringing to life a Los Angeles of times gone by. Fans of historical fiction and Jane Eyre in particular will relish this novel, and readers who enjoy a love story should definitely pick this one up.”—Fresh Fiction





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When friends and family read your books

After I finish writing a novel, I’m excited and eager to share it with the world. I have to tamp down this excitement, though, as I go back and revise, edit, polish. Then, once again, as I’m ready to push the “publish” button or, if I’m fortunate enough to land a contract with a traditional publisher, as the release date nears, a strange shyness overcomes me.


A book I’m proud of.

I become reticent to have friends and family members read the book. I might be all hip-hip-hooray, buy-my-book on social media, wanting the world to read my story. But if I see a friend or family member weigh in with a chipper “I just bought a copy!” I’m clutched with nervousness. I have to stop myself from saying, oh, you don’t need to buy it and read it. Really, you don’t. 

That’s crazy! I know it. And part of me argues with that other Negative Naomi, saying, of course you want them to read it, silly! You’re proud of it!

As I analyze this sentiment, I think there are several reasons for it. First, sometimes I will know, because of how well I know the reader involved, that this particular story is not their cuppa. So while I’m grateful — very, very grateful — for their support, I don’t want them disappointed when they discover that my book isn’t their kind of read.

Second, though, even if my book is to their taste in storytelling, I cringe at the thought of them not liking my particular brand of that storytelling. Unlike with a stranger who buys and reads my book, these relatives or friends are people I will most likely interact with regularly. Will they feel compelled to offer faint praise? (“I enjoyed your book. It was…different.”) Will they say nothing, leading me to absolutely, positively know they hated it? Will they think less of me if they dislike it, think I’m a…fake?

Reading tastes are subjective, I know. Who hasn’t excitedly urged a friend to read a favorite book, only to be crushed with disappointment when said friend gives that book a “meh” rating? Imagine that disappointment if you’re the author of the meh.

The third reason I am nervous when friends and family buy and read my books–What if they find…mistakes in it? Not just editing mistakes  (after all; a copy editor can’t catch everything. I know — I am a copy editor.) But historical mistakes in the case of a historical novel. Or mistakes in logic in the case of a mystery.

Yes, other readers can find those things and point them out to me via email. But again, having someone in your intimate circle point them out makes you feel like a sham. (Ha! So you thought you were a novelist, did you, the inner Negative Naomi cries.)


Another book I’m proud of.

So, to all my friends and family who support me by buying and reading my books, I say, thank you, thank you, thank you. I’m really happy you support me in this way, and I hope my stories are enjoyable. And I’m grateful if you keep it to yourself if they’re not!

To my fellow authors, I ask: Do you suffer from these same feelings when friends and family say they’re buying and reading your books?

UPDATE: My daughter, Hannah Sternberg, also a novelist, noted that she feels “naked” when friends and family read her books, knowing they might learn very personal things about her through her writing. I completely agree with this observation, and I’m glad she pointed it out.

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