3-2-1 Truly! Part Two: Beginnings

The countdown to Really Truly, my third Pumpkin Falls mystery, continues today with a peek at how the series came about. It’s a bit of a tale, so buckle up. . . .

Absolutely Truly, the first book in the series, sprang to life because of a happy convergence of several factors:

  1. A long-cherished desire to write about a big family.

Many moons ago, when I was growing up, my family rented a cottage on a lake in Maine for our summer vacation.

Me, about nine years old

It had two things I’ve coveted ever since: A row of rocking chairs on a huge porch overlooking the water, and an entire wall of built-in bookshelves. Heaven! I couldn’t decide which was better — swimming in the lake or lolling on the porch with a book in one of those rocking chairs.

It was there on those shelves that I discovered Cheaper By the Dozen, a memoir about the sprawling Gilbreth family.

At my tender age, the cringe-worthy racist stereotypes in an unfortunate chapter about the family’s Chinese cook flew over my head – I was just entranced by the idea of a family with TWELVE CHILDREN. In my family, there were just three of us kids, me and my sisters. I couldn’t fathom TWELVE CHILDREN. Amazing!

 

  1. My love for small New England towns, like the ones I grew up in around New Hampshire and Massachusetts

 

Jane Austen once told her aspiring novelist niece, “Three or four families in a country village is the very thing to work on.” I couldn’t agree more! I followed her advice for the Mother-Daughter Book Club series, and I followed it again as I was dreaming up Pumpkin Falls.

  1. My love of covered bridges.

Because who doesn’t love a covered bridge? They’re amazing!

  1. My growing curiosity about a bookshop that my grandfather owned in Providence, Rhode Island, back in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

The Ultima Bookshop wasn’t terribly successful, alas. For one thing, Grampie’s timing was terrible. Nobody was buying books during the Depression! For another, for some unfathomable reason, he threw caution to the wind—along with his business plan, apparently—and decided to create a sort of bookstore hybrid.

Can you see that sign on the door in backwards writing? My grandfather turned the back room of his shop into a lending library, which pretty much sums up the business acumen in the Vogel family. Grampie advertised this proudly…

You have to admire his confidence. “Unusual Lending Library!”  Yes, and an unusually BAD business idea! Who would buy a book if they could borrow one?

Well, how about James Joyce?

I made an exciting discovery shortly before starting work on Absolutely Truly. SHAKESPEARE AND COMPANY was a famous bookstore opened by Sylvia Beach in Paris’s Left Bank in 1919. During the 1920s it was a gathering spot for writers such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and James Joyce (who used the bookstore as his office, and in fact Sylvia Beach was the publisher for his novel “Ulysses”). As it turns out, my grandfather was kicking around Europe in the 1920s, studying bookbinding in Vienna and chaperoning his sister, who was also a student there.

Quite the fashionista, isn’t he? I love those socks. . . .

A store like Shakespeare & Company would have drawn Grampie like a moth to a flame.  And guess what?  Shakespeare and Company also had . . . wait for it . . . a lending library! Patrons could buy OR BORROW BOOKS!

Did Grampie pattern the Ultima Bookshop after Shakespeare & Company?  That will forever remain a mystery, as he is no longer around for me to ask, but personally, I think the evidence is pretty compelling.

Whether it was the lending library or the general economic climate, Grampie’s shop sputtered along for a few years, then closed its doors, but he kept his love of books and reading for his entire life, and he shared that enthusiasm with me and my sisters. So, I thought it would be fun to feature a small-town bookshop in my novel, as a tip of my hat to him.

Here’s the actual present-day store that helped spark Lovejoy’s Books in the Pumpkin Falls mysteries.  Eagle Harbor Book Co. on Bainbridge Island, Washington, is one of my favorite bookstores. (In fairness, I am the Will Rogers of bookstores and libraries – I’ve never met one I didn’t like.) My friend Victoria Irwin works there, and she graciously allowed me to go undercover for a few days as a bookseller, for research purposes.

Left to right: Me, Sarah, and Victoria

This is why being a writer is the best job ever. The things we get to do for research! You can read more about that adventure here.

So we’ve got a small town, a covered bridge, a bookstore. We’re not finished yet, though.

4. “To my grandfathers”

Those who read Absolutely Truly may have noted that the dedication reads “to my grandfathers.” You’ve already heard about one grandfather, but there’s another ancestor who inspired an important piece of TRULY. Two, in fact!

On the far left is my paternal great-great-grandfather. Next to him is my maternal grandfather. Both were amputees. My great-great-grandfather lost an arm in a threshing accident back in the 1860s; my grandfather lost a leg while working for the Canadian Railroad in the 1930s. Both of them were burdened with heavy, uncomfortable wooden prostheses. I was just beginning the first book around the time of the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, and I was tremendously moved by the many stories of war veterans who helped those who lost limbs transition to their new normal. That got me thinking about these two men in my family, whose lives might have been entirely different if they’d had sympathetic mentors and access to modern prosthetics. And this was the seed that sprouted into Truly’s father, Lieutenant Colonel Jericho T. Lovejoy, who has to navigate the sudden shift in his world, just as Truly has to navigate hers.

And finally, there were other personal connections that made it into the book…

My long-standing love of Shakespeare, for one, and for E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web (which I consider one of two perfect novels in the world, alongside Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice). And there was also an owl who flew into my back yard in Oregon on my birthday, just as I was struggling to find my way into my main character. You can read more about that here.

I think it’s true for every writer that pieces of our lives, pieces of our hearts, and pieces of the things we’re passionate about find their way into our books.

By the way, I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to the amazingly talented Charles Santoso, whose artwork graces the covers of these books. They’re swoon-worthy, don’t you think? I just want to dive straight into the cover of Really Truly and live there for a while!

If you look closely at Really Truly, you’ll notice a tail in the water, up to the right of the canoe. How a mermaid swished her way into Pumpkin Falls is a tail for another day! Stay tuned . . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy book birthday and another giveaway!

What an embarrassment of riches for me this fall!  Happy book birthday to me … again!

Absolutely Truly cover 2014

It’s officially here!  ABSOLUTELY TRULY, my other new baby (the first one was A LITTLE WOMEN CHRISTMAS) goes on sale today in bookstores everywhere!

And in more good news, ABSOLUTELY TRULY is a Top Ten pick on the Winter 2014-2015 Kids’ Indie Next List! 

(That makes five consecutive sentences ending in exclamation points. Can you tell I’m excited?)

What does this mean?  It means that our wonderful independent bookstores LIKE MY BOOK!  (Yet another exclamation point.) I’m absolutely truly thrilled.

Eagle Harbor Book Co., one of those wonderful independent bookstores, was the inspiration for Lovejoy’s Books, the fictional family-owned store in Pumpkin Falls that’s part of the setting for ABSOLUTELY TRULY, and plays a central role in the mystery. Click here to read about THAT fun research trip. And click here to read an excerpt from ABSOLUTELY TRULY.

I’ll be visiting Eagle Harbor Book Co. in a few weeks for a book signing. Click here for the full run-down on that event, and others.

Now, let’s celebrate….

I have two copies of ABSOLUTELY TRULY to give away. If you’d like to win one, tell us about your favorite bookstore in the comments below. Why is it your favorite? What makes it such a special place?

Winners will be chosen at random at midnight on November 19th. US and Canada only, please. Share this giveaway on your blog or Facebook or Twitter or other social media for additional entries. (If you tweet or blog or otherwise share on social media, please leave a link in the comments below so I can assign you an extra entry.) 

A Chinese “Toad” hops onto my shelf

Remember those delightful students in Taiwan, who wanted to translate my book ONCE UPON A TOAD into Chinese as part of a class they were taking?  (click here to read about it)

Well, the story has a very happy P.S.

A friend of my husband’s was traveling to Taiwan on business recently, so I got in touch with the girls and asked if I might be able to have a copy of the translation for my bookshelf. They very kindly scurried around and had one sent to the hotel where my husband’s friend was staying, and he brought it back to the U.S. with him. He lives in L.A., so it took a little while longer to get here to Portland, but it was worth the wait!

Toad 1

Isn’t it fabulous?

I love seeing the title and my name in Chinese.  What a beautiful language!  Wish I could read it.

Chinese Toad

My favorite part is at the back of the book, where the students included several pictures of the translation work in progress…

Toad in progress

… along with that great shot of them showing off the finished product. You’ve already seen this one in a previous post but I can’t resist posting it again.  Just too cute!

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Congratulations, girls — you did a wonderful job, and I’m thrilled to have my very own copy!

Toad 2

 

 

 

I know we’re all tired of winter, but …

… look what just arrived!

 

ABSOLUTELY TRULY arcs!

ABSOLUTELY TRULY ARCs

 

(By the way, “arc” stands for “advance reviewer copy,” which is an uncorrected proof of the book.)

Totally GORGEOUS, right?  Charles Santoso did the cover illustration, which still makes me swoon every time I see it, and Krista Vossen at Simon & Schuster did the fabulous cover design.  I get to work with the BEST people — geniuses, both of them!

Coming to a bookstore near you on November 4th!  I’ll be posting a sneak peek later this spring (and yes, there’ll be a giveaway, too), but for now, I can’t resist sharing the prologue:

 

“A week before the January thaw finally arrived in February, I found myself hanging like a bat from a rafter inside a church steeple, face-to-face with a bell made by Paul Revere.

If you’d have told me a month ago that I’d find myself in this position, I would have said you were crazy.

But then, a month ago my life was completely different. A month ago, my career as a middle school private eye hadn’t begun.

And by the way, it didn’t begin inside a steeple. Absolutely truly not. It began the day my report card made it home before I did.”

 

 

 

Gained in translation

Several months ago, a group of students at Chung Jung Christian University in Taiwain approached me to see if I’d allow them to translate ONCE UPON A TOAD into Chinese, for a class they were taking in translation and interpretation.  Since it was for academic purposes only, I gave my permission, and earlier this week I received this:

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Success!  Are they adorable or what? Look at those beaming faces and beautiful smiles — you can see how pleased they are with all their hard work.

cover

I am, too — I just wish I could read Chinese!

 

 

Cover reveal #2

Over the past few days, Portland was finally treated to a blast of the winter that everyone else has been having. My husband and I have been snowed in here at home, which is so unusual for this part of Oregon, and SO FUN! Especially with the Olympics to watch on TV, and lots of hot chocolate to keep us warm.

Thanks to the weather, I decided that today is the perfect time to reveal the cover for the second book I have coming out later this year. (Click here to read about the other one.) Are you ready?

LittleWomenXmas_1

It’s so beautiful I want to cry!  Bagram Ibatoulline is an amazing artist, an INCREDIBLE artist, and Simon & Schuster has given me an enormous gift by choosing him as the illustrator for this picture book.

Wait until you see his artwork–the pages look like they’re lit from within. I truly can’t wait until this one hits the shelves next fall!

 

 

Cover reveal #1

Ta da!

ABSOLUTELY TRULY cover

 

I promised you a cover reveal, and here it is. Isn’t it breathtaking? 

I am just over the MOON about this cover! Could it possibly be any more gorgeous? Or intriguing? It’s absolutely truly perfect!

And did you notice the owl?  There’s one on the back cover as well:

ABSOLUTELY TRULY back cover

(By the way, if you click on these pictures, they should enlarge for you so you can see all the glorious detail.)

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while may remember that right around this time last year, I spotted an owl in my backyard. (Click here to read about it.) I was flailing around with ABSOLUTELY TRULY at the time, my writerly tires stuck in the mud. I was desperately in need of something to get the story going again, but I wasn’t sure what that something was until it arrived on my doorstep. What followed was some happy research (click here for the lowdown on that) and a much better book — which you’ll be able to read next November!

I know that’s a long time away, but I couldn’t resist sharing this beautiful cover with you. I promise to post a sneak peek of the first chapter or two in a bit here. We’re still tweaking a few things, but look for it in a few weeks.

And guess what? I have TWO BOOKS coming out in 2014, so a second cover reveal will also be coming along soon!

 

 

In the Spotlight: Susan Hill Long

As many of you know, I’ve started a new occasional feature on my blog — a series of author interviews called In the Spotlight. I have so many friends who are writing so many amazing, wonderful,  stellar books, books that you simply MUST know about and read, that I decided it’s time I got busy and shared them with all of you!

Stepping into the spotlight today is my friend Susan Hill Long. Sue is a dazzlingly talented writer and editor, the mother of two fabulous girls, an avid runner and cross-country skiier and hiker, a fellow bookworm, and also a fellow New Englander! I’m just crazy about her new book, a middle-grade novel called WHISTLE IN THE DARK. It’s already getting rave reviews, with The Christian Science Monitor calling it “wonderful” and “beautifully crafted historical fiction,” and Booklist noting that “as engaging historical fiction does best, this debut novel … vividly brings to light a period in time where values prove timeless.”

Whistle-jkt-legal

I have always been an avid fan of historical fiction. I just LOVE the way richly imagined books like Sue’s can transport me to another time and place and breathe life into history–in this case, a small Missouri lead mining town in the 1920s where 13-year-old Clem, who loves books and stories and words, has to go “down the deep dark” of the mine in order to help his family. There’s a great deal more to the story, of course, but I don’t want to give too much away. I want you to READ it!

I also love books whose characters walk right off the page and into your heart, and WHISTLE IN THE DARK is that kind of book. No wonder an excerpt from the novel won a prize even before it was published! It’s that stunning!

Pull up a chair as we settle in for a visit with Sue, and ask her about writing, her book, and what’s next.

1. Tell us a bit about how you came to be a writer, and how you came to write WHISTLE IN THE DARK.

I was first published at age 5, on my dad’s silk-screen press, which he set up on the ping-pong table in the basement. A career was born!

Not really. I worked as an editor for a while, and began to write for a living after that. I found I much preferred being on the author side of the desk than the editor’s. Of course, to be a writer, a person must learn to edit, to revise.

Susan Hill Long

2. I love Clem! He is just such a REAL boy.  And Grampy, and Old Saw, and Lindy–all of them–they’re just so solid and real. As a writer, how do you develop characters?

Thank you, Heather! I’m so glad you love Clem and his family, friends, and foils. I love them, too, and still think about them sometimes. If they seem real to you, that must be why. (I once heard Sara Pennypacker say she wouldn’t begin writing a book till she would take a bullet for her character.)

3. The book was inspired by a historic event. Can you tell us about that, and also about your research?  What were some of the most interesting things you discovered in the process?

The Great Tri-State Tornado was indeed a real event. It happened in 1925. I read two excellent books in particular about the storm, and also corresponded with a fellow who was kind enough to share his own family’s personal story from that terrible day. Most interesting to me was the way people cope with catastrophe, how they move on, because they must. People tend toward what’s good; they make some good come from bad.

4. Have you ever been down in a mine or in a cave? If you have, how did that experience inform your descriptions here, which make the reader feel like they’re standing side by side with Clem. If you haven’t, is it something you’d like to do?

I have been in a cave, and I don’t even want to talk about it!

5. An excerpt from this book won the Katherine Paterson Prize from Hunger Mountain.  Tell us about that honor, and how it made a difference.

Oh, it certainly was an honor, Heather. When I got the news, I ran down the stairs and out the door and down the sidewalk. I hardly knew what to do with my happiness and surprise. The difference the Katherine Paterson Prize made was both measurable — it encouraged me to complete the manuscript, an agent contacted me through Hunger Mountain, and eventually a book was bound — and immeasurable — the confidence it gave me to keep going, the possession of a secret message I could whisper to myself whenever I needed it. (Psst. Remember that time Katherine Paterson thought your writing was pretty good? Squee!)

6. Are there particular writers who have inspired or influenced you?  Favorite books?

When I was a child, I loved all books by Joan AikenBlack Hearts in Battersea, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase — just typing the titles gives me chills! I read The Chronicles of Narnia countless times, and I had two old George MacDonald books that had belonged to my grandfather — The Princess and Curdie and The Princess and the Goblins. Magical.

When I learned that Elizabeth George Speare had died, I burst into tears. I’m not sure why, but I think I felt such a personal connection to her books, and my memory of reading them is still so strong — I lived in Old Wethersfield, Connecticut, till I was 9 years old, and so The Witch of Blackbird Pond was “my” book, because it was set right there in my own town. I loved Kit. I loved my own outrage, reading about Kit’s plight. (She’s not a witch, you’re the witch, you old Goodwife Cruff!)  I’m going to go and read it again right after I finish typing here.

7. Do you have any writing rituals? 

I go for a run to start the day, and when I sit down at my desk I glance at this message: “keep calm and carry on,” which happens to be printed on a very large eraser — important reminder for a writer.

8. What can we look forward to next from you?

I’m working on another novel for middle-grade readers. All I can tell you for now is that I love my characters.

Thanks so much, Sue, for visiting with us today.  Now everybody go visit her website for more fun facts (click here), then buy her book and READ IT!

To read an earlier In the Spotlight interview with Chris Kurtz, click here.

 

And now for something completely different…

Ta-da!  I promised you all a sneak peek of ONCE UPON A TOAD, my new book coming out in April, and it’s finally ready.  Click here to hop on over (*groan*–bad pun, sorry!) and read the excerpt.

I also promised you a fun giveaway, so here we go.  Since this book is WILDLY different from my mother-daughter book club stories, take a deep breath and switch gears.  Then leave a comment below telling us which is your favorite fairy tale and why.  That’s it, simple as that.  You’ll be entered to win an ARC (Advance Reader’s Copy) plus a copy of the original book jacket (the one pictured here has been tweaked–you’ll have fun spotting the differences).  I’ll autograph both for you.

If you tweet this, blog about it, mention it on Facebook, or tell a friend who then also comments below, you’ll receive an additional entry for the drawing.  (U.S. and Canada only, please.)  Two winners will be chosen at random after midnight Pacific Time on February 20th, and announced on the 21st.

**For all of you baby boomers out there — or non-baby boomers, why not? — a bonus entry for the first three people who recognize the TV show catchphrase mentioned somewhere in this post and email me about it…