A Touch of Scarlet


When I began writing A Touch of Scarlet back in 2011, I had no idea what a long and harrowing journey it was going to be. One reason is that the book is a sequel, and sequels are notoriously dastardly for authors. Another reason is that the book is inspired by The Scarlet Letter, a nineteenth-century novel about a woman scorned by her Puritanical society and forced to live in exile—not exactly crowd-pleasing material. Reading it in high school had been a chore; Hawthorne’s writing is difficult, and the story itself is relentlessly dark. But Hester Prynne is the shining beacon throughout, a character known for her strength, integrity, passion, and resilience. I knew Hester was the perfect role model for Emma as she continues on her path to self-discovery.

In a way, I felt like a bit of an exile as I wrote the book. I neglected friends and family, shirked housework and other responsibilities. I often felt alone. But there were those who made the journey a little less lonely, those who read and provided feedback and support, those who loved me unconditionally and were there when I finally emerged from the writing cave.

Deep from my well of gratitude, I’d like to thank:

My editor, Martin Biro, for continuing to believe in me and for loving these characters almost as much as I do.

Vida Engstrand, publicist extraordinaire, and the entire team at Kensington / KTeen.

My friends and fellow writers in the Class of 2k12, particularly Kathryn Burak and Gina Rosati for beta reads, professional guidance, and all-around loveliness.

My local Philly writers’ crew—Elisa Ludwig, Eugene Myers, Tiffany Schmidt, and Kate Walton—for friendship and camaraderie throughout this crazy adventure.

My students at Lower Moreland High School for surprising me every day with your maturity, intelligence, and kindness.

My friends and colleagues for providing early reads and much-needed moral support, especially Annie Boagni, Carol Burton-Haldeman, Barbara Kavanagh, Kimberly McGlonn-Nelson, Sandy Oechslin, and Ashley Seiver.

The Krauters, Hogans, and McLaughlins for cheering me on and bolstering me up. I couldn’t ask for a more supportive family.

Erin and Anna, my wonderful nieces—I can’t wait until you’re old enough to read my books!

Mom, Dad, Phil, and Pete—for being there every step of the way and never losing your enthusiasm.

And last but not least, my husband, Ken, for your boundless patience and love. None of this would mean anything if I couldn’t share it with you.

. . . somewhere between the real world and fairyland, where the Actual and the Imaginary may meet . . . Ghosts might enter here, without affrighting us.

—Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter


The Scarlet Letter was going to kill me.

Over the past week, I’d been trying to get through its 375 pages of densely packed text, and all I had gained for my efforts was a newfound hatred for nineteenth-century prose. Hawthorne never used seven words if twenty-seven were available. And so far, Hester and Dimmesdale’s forbidden romance wasn’t setting off any fireworks in my heart.

Not to mention, it was my birthday, the sky was a glorious blue, and I had the keys to the car. So why was I spending the day inside with dreary Nathaniel Hawthorne? Because I’d procrastinated and left my summer reading assignment for the very last minute. This was totally out of character for me. Then again, the entire summer had been out of character.

For one thing, I had a boyfriend. Admitting Gray Newman was my boyfriend still made me a little giddy. I’d always imagined my first boyfriend would be some sweaty-palmed thirteen-year-old, not this very grown-up guy with the hazel eyes and twice-broken nose. Over the past two months, we had seen each other almost every day, taking lazy drives to Salem and Yarmouth, window-shopping in Beacon Hill and Back Bay, hiking the trails at World’s End, walking the beach at night. Always the beach at night. Being with Gray felt as natural as breathing. The knowledge that he was leaving tomorrow for Coast Guard training made me feel like someone was slowly carving out my insides with a dull knife.

For eight weeks, I wouldn’t see him, wouldn’t even be able to talk to him or e-mail. And after the training was over, we had no idea where they might send him. Best-case scenario was somewhere local like Cape Cod; worst case was some godforsaken part of the Bering Strait, one of most treacherous places in the world, particularly if you made your living rescuing people from frigid waters.

Resigned, I opened The Scarlet Letter and tried to resume reading: