I was born and raised in suburban Boston. My mother’s death, when I was eight, was the defining event of a childhood that was otherwise ordinary. I took piano lessons and flute lessons. I took ballroom dancing lessons. I went to summer camp through my fifteenth year (in Maine, which explains the setting of so many of my stories), then spent my sixteenth summer learning to type and to drive (two skills that have served me better than all of my other high school courses combined). I earned a B.A. in Psychology at Tufts University and an M.A. in Sociology at Boston College. The motivation behind the M.A. was sheer greed. My husband was just starting law school. We needed the money.
Oh. Oh. Back up. You’ll love this. When I was in high school, I was kicked out of Honors English because I couldn’t keep up! No, I never did go back to gloat. The truth is that though I came from a family of lawyers and never dreamed of publishing books, I did learn the basics of writing in high school, and, yeah, that skill has come in handy, too.
Following graduate school, I worked as a researcher with the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and as a photographer and reporter for the Belmont Herald. I did the newspaper work after my first son was born. Since I was heavily into taking pictures of him, I worked for the paper to support that habit. Initially, I wrote only in a secondary capacity, to provide copy for the pictures I took. In time, I realized that I was better at writing than photography. I used both skills doing volunteer work for hospital groups, and have served on the Board of Directors of the Friends of the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center and on the MGH’s Women’s Cancer Advisory Board.
I became an actual writer by fluke. My twins were four when, by chance, I happened on a newspaper article profiling three female writers. Intrigued, I spent three months researching, plotting, and writing my own book – and it sold.
My niche? I write about the emotional crises that we face in our lives. Readers identify with my characters. They know them. They are them. I’m an everyday woman writing about everyday people facing not-so-everyday challenges.
My novels are character-driven studies of marriage, parenthood, sibling rivalry, and friendship, and I’ve been blessed in having readers who buy them eagerly enough to put them on the major bestseller lists. Of my latest, Sweet Salt Air came out in 2013 and Blueprints in 2015. Before And Again followed it in 2018 and, in 2020, the ultimate escape in the midst of a pandemic, A Week at the Shore. This book, my 23rd New York Times bestseller, debuts in paperback in May of this amazing year, 2021.
2021? Yikes. I didn’t think I’d live that long. I thought I’d die of breast cancer back in the twentieth century, like my mom. But I didn’t. I was diagnosed more than twenty years ago, had surgery and treatment, and here I am, stronger than ever and loving having authored yet another book, this one the non-fiction Uplift: Secrets From the Sisterhood of Breast Cancer Survivors. First published in 2001,Uplift is a handbook of practical tips and upbeat anecdotes that I compiled with the help of 350 breast cancer survivors, their families and friends. These survivors just … blew me away! They gave me the book that I wish I’d had way back when I was diagnosed. There is no medical information here, nothing frightening, simply practical advice from friends who’ve had breast cancer. The 10th Anniversary Volume of Uplift is now in print. And the money I’ve made on the book? Every cent has gone to my charitable foundation, which funds an ongoing research fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital. Wow. Does it get any better than that?
Learn more by reading Barbara’s in-depth Q&A.
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