Happy 150th, Jo March! (and a giveaway)

Ladies and gentlemen, today’s word is “sesquicentennial.” Isn’t that a terrific word? It really rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?

Next Sunday, September 30, 2018, marks the 150th anniversary — the sesquicentennial — of the publication of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.

I doubt she could have foreseen her book’s enduring popularity, or have guessed that her story of four young women coming of age in the aftermath of the Civil War would one day be considered a classic — reprinted countless times with countless covers, adapted for film somewhere around a dozen times already, with not one but two more movies heading to the screen shortly.

Nor could she possibly have known the impact that her book, and in particular the character of Jo March, would have on generations of aspiring young writers.

I was one of them.

I spent seven formative years of my childhood and young adulthood in Concord, Massachusetts, the small New England town where Louisa lived when she wrote Little Women.

I used to save my babysitting money (I earned a whopping 25 cents an hour back then!) and ride my bike the mile to her home — which is called Orchard House — and treat myself to the tour. The ladies who led the tours were always so nice to me, and if they thought it was weird that I was there all by myself, they didn’t say so.

Orchard House

It’s a wonderful old historic house, filled with treasures from the Alcott family, which is easy to mix up with the March family, her fictional characters, because so much of the book was inspired by her own life, and her own family. Anyway, I remember just standing there staring at the little half-moon desk that her father had made her, and thinking, “Wow, that’s where she sat when she was writing Little Women,” and thinking that maybe I would have a writing desk of my own one day.

I desperately wanted to be a writer just like Jo March, Louisa’s headstrong fictional alter-ego, even back then.

And now, here I am, lo these many years later, and I do have a writing desk of my own, just like Louisa did, and my dream of being a writer did come true, and there are books with my name on them sitting on shelves in bookstores and libraries and actual readers’ homes across the country and beyond! And I have Louisa to thank for it.

https://www.heathervogelfrederick.com/blog/2010/04/fan-mail-friday/the-mother-daughter-book-club-2/I did thank her, in the only way I knew how — by honoring her in a book. The Mother-Daughter Book Club is my homage to Louisa and her Jo. It’s the tale of a group of middle-school girls in Concord, Massachusetts, whose mothers force them to join a book club and read Little Women. They soon discover how timeless the book’s themes are, and are surprised to find so many echoes of the March sisters and their trials and triumphs in their own lives.

So happy sesquicentennial, Little Women! I fully expect you to be around for at least another 150 years!

To celebrate this remarkable milestone, I think we need to have a giveaway, don’t you? I have a complete boxed set of all seven books in the Mother-Daughter Book Club series that I’ll be happy to autograph and send to one of you! Just leave a comment below, letting us know your connection to Little Women, and the impact it’s made on your life. If you haven’t read it yet, that’s OK, you can just leave a post telling us that you plan to (we’ll hold you to it!).

The winner will be chosen at random at midnight on the September 30, 2018, the 150th anniversary of the publication of Little Women! Share this giveaway on your blog or Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest or other social media for additional entries. (If you share on social media, please leave a link in the comments so that I can assign you an extra entry.)  U.S. and Canada only, please. Have fun!

Writer’s magic, unexpected left turns, and my new friend Esther

It happens every single time I write a book.

Writer’s magic.

Others call it serendipity, or “the universe” (whatever that’s supposed to mean), or coincidence, or any number of things. But for me, it’s always been — magic.

Here’s the way it works. I sit down and start to write. I’m a pantster, which means I fly by the seat of my pants. No outline, no bulletin boards with pictures of characters cut out of magazines, no charts or lists or anything like that which my plotter friends use. Sometimes I have a vague general idea of where the story might go, but as often as not, it takes a surprise left turn and goes somewhere else entirely.

I just love this process of discovery as I go along! I love all the unexpected twists and turns. It keeps things interesting. Plus, inevitably, the magic happens, which is exactly what occurred recently with the draft I’m working on at the moment. (It’s another Pumpkin Falls mystery, in case you’re wondering.) And this time, I caught it in the act — well, almost — which rarely happens. It’s hard to track exactly where ideas come from, but once in a while, eureka!

So I was writing along, minding my own business, and all of a sudden, this synchronized swimming element popped into the story, completely out of the blue (or so it seemed). My main character, Truly, is a swimmer, so the pool is always a part of her story, but whoa, where did this come from? And not just synchronized swimming in general, but specifically two nonagenarians (great word – a nonagenarian is someone in their 90s) named Zadie and Lenore who used to swim with Esther Williams in Hollywood!

Seriously — I kid you not, they just turned up on the page, all sassy and bursting with life. No way was I going to shut the door on the two of THEM. They were pure magic.

Writer’s magic.

So into the story they’ve swum, and I am spending my evenings researching Esther Williams and watching her movies.

Now I haven’t watched an Esther Williams movie since I was in middle school, and happened to stumble upon one when I was channel surfing on a Saturday afternoon with nothing else to do. THAT’S A LONG TIME AGO! What on earth had made me think of her, and those fabulous over-the-top Busby Berkeley choreographed water ballet sequences? Dozens of swimmers! Fountains and flames! Live music! And Esther herself, with her sequins and shimmer, her girl-next-door smile, her perfectly coiffed hair and perfect makeup, which no amount of water could ever dislodge!

I had no idea.

But I’ve learned not to question these magic moments when they occur, and I’ve been having enormous fun immersing myself (pardon the pun) in Esther’s watery world, and finding ways to bring elements of it into my new book.

 

That’s a scene from Million Dollar Mermaid. Isn’t it fabulous? And isn’t Esther amazing? She was a real athlete, a champion swimmer who would very likely have been an Olympian but World War II interfered, and she ended up in Hollywood instead. She makes those stunts look easy, but they aren’t. Not at all.

Meanwhile, last weekend I went to see the new movie Crazy Rich Asians for the second time, because I liked it so much the first time I saw it, weeks ago right after it came out.

And suddenly there it was, onscreen, the source of this particular moment of writer’s magic. Just a flash of a scene at the very end, of synchronized swimmers performing at an over-the-top celebration.

Aha, I thought. THAT’S where I got the idea!

Knowing where and when the seed was planted took some of the mystery out of it, but none of the magic. Because the magic wasn’t done with me yet. It turns out that my young niece, without knowing any of what’s been going on in my head, JUST JOINED A SYNCHRONIZED SWIMMING TEAM!

Which means I have a spy to help me with my research. Isn’t that fun?!

So here’s to writer’s magic, left turns, and my new friend Esther Williams!

Giveaway!

Guess what’s fresh out of the oven in paperback? YOURS TRULY!

It’s hard to believe it’s been a whole year since this book first appeared in hardcover, but indeed it has. Somehow 2017 has melted into 2018 without me noticing it. I’ve had a whirlwind of a year, with not one but TWO family weddings (more on that in a later post). Lots of joy here aboard the Good Ship Frederick!

Meanwhile, I have a paperback copy of YOURS TRULY to give away — for a chance to win, just leave a comment below, sharing the most joyous thing that happened to you this past year. Let’s spread some joy!

 

The winner will be chosen at random at midnight on February 19, 2018. Share this giveaway on your blog or Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest or other social media for additional entries. (If you share on social media, please leave a link in the comments below so I can assign you an extra entry.)  U.S. and Canada only, please. Have fun!

And the winners are…

Salma and Shelby!

Congratulations — look for an email from me soon, with details.

Loved reading EVERYONE’S maple memories!  I wish I could invite you all over to my house for homemade sourdough waffles and maple syrup, just like Truly’s father makes for her in YOURS TRULY…

Believe it or not, there’s another giveaway just around the corner, to celebrate the paperback release of MOTHER-DAUGHTER BOOK CAMP. Stay tuned!

 

Yours Truly is here!

Actually, it’s been here for a while… but we still need to celebrate, right?

How does a giveaway sound? Good? OK, then, let’s do it!

I have two copies of YOURS TRULY to give away. It’s the second in my Pumpkin Falls mystery series featuring middle school private eye Truly Lovejoy and her family. This time around, maple syrup plays a featured role.

Yes, you heard me right — maple syrup!  In fact, ALL things maple. So, to enter the giveaway, just leave a comment below sharing your favorite maple treat and/or maple memory.

I’ll go first. My favorite maple treat? It’s a toss-up between maple sugar candy and maple walnut ice cream (preferably homemade — or from Kimball Farm). As for my favorite maple memory, that stretches w-a-y back in time to when I was a wee thing.

This isn’t a great picture, alas, but the memory is sharp and clear. That’s toddler me, being carried by my oh-so-glamorous mom somewhere in New Hampshire. We were visiting a sugar house (or sugar shack, as they’re sometimes called – you can see one pictured on the cover of YOURS TRULY). That’s where maple sap is turned into maple syrup. I can still smell that fragrant steam!

The winner will be chosen at random at midnight on May 15, 2017. Share this giveaway on your blog or Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest or other social media for additional entries. (If you share on social media, please leave a link in the comments below so I can assign you an extra entry.)  U.S. and Canada only, please. Have fun!

Behind the scenes with Shannon McManus … and a giveaway!

You all thought I’d forgotten about Becca, didn’t you?

Not a chance.

This brings to a close my blog interviews with the five amazingly talented voice actors behind the audio versions of the Mother-Daughter Book Club series (brought to you by Ideal Audiobooks — three cheers for Ideal!). You’ve heard from Emma (Amy Rubinate), Jess (Cris Dukehart), Cassidy (Kate Rudd), and Megan (Emily Woo Zeller), and today you finally get to hear from Becca Chadwick … the stunning and stellar Shannon McManus!

Welcome, Becca — I mean Shannon! Can you share with us a bit about how you got into audio work? I’d love to hear about your career path…

I got into this amazing field by chance. I’m an actor and I’ve always done regional theatre, indie films, and commercials but I’d never considered voice or audiobook work. I’m not the best singer so it never really occurred to me! My friend Scott Brick held a contest along with Audible.com for new narrators and I placed as a finalist. Random House auditioned me for a young adult short story and I’ve been working ever since. Thank you, Scott! Audiobooks have provided a wonderful creative avenue to explore that informs my other work in theatre and film.

What kind of preparation would you recommend for someone who wants to be an audio narrator/voice actor?

I would advise anyone who wants to become a narrator to listen first, listen A LOT. Even if you’re an experienced performer it might not be the right fit for you. Audiobooks really are marathons in terms of vocal work, and I know a lot of talented voiceover artists who don’t have the stamina for it. This medium also demands a broad range in terms of characterization and accents. Start developing those tools, listen to talented narrators who are working in the genre you think your voice fits in, and get in front of the mic first chance you get!

What’s your process in preparing to record/read a book aloud?

Some narrators make copious notes right from the start but I tend to just curl up on the couch and dive in. Reading is an intimate experience and so is narrating. I like for my first read to be organic, just imagining what the characters sound like and look like in my head as I flow along with the narrative. If something jumps out at me I will make a note, but I usually go back and do that after I’ve read most, if not all, of the book. I use iAnnotate to prep on an iPad. Then I work on accents and pronunciations, etc.

What does a typical day look like for you (if there is such a thing!)?

I don’t really have a typical day. If I’m recording I take care not to have late night dinners with friends! Loud conversation, talking over music, or yelling at a baseball game can strain your voice and/or change your tone. Taking care of your vocal instrument is VERY important. I juggle auditioning, rehearsals (if I’m doing a play), audiobooks, prepping audio and, if I’m lucky, a film or commercial shoot. 

What are the best parts of the job? Worst parts?

The best part for me is that you get to voice characters you’d never be cast for otherwise. I narrated a terrific supernatural series in which I got to play a 70-year-old African-American voodoo queen from Savannah, Georgia. So fun! I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to narrate fiction that really moves me. There’s no audience and no fourth wall in a recording booth so the performance experience is very intimate and emotional. Sometimes I get choked up and I have to take a moment. That doesn’t happen on stage! 

That reminds me of the story about E. B. White recording the audio version of his incomparable Charlotte’s Web. It took him SEVENTEEN takes to get through the scene where Charlotte dies. He told the producer, “It’s ridiculous, a grown man reading a book that he wrote, and being unable to read it aloud because of tears.” Don’t you just love that? (By the way, I learned this from “Some Writer!” by Melissa Sweet, one of my favorite books of 2016.) 

But I digress. Any funny anecdotes to share from your recording experiences?

I always like it when my engineers really get into the book. They don’t read the book before the recording session and sometimes they get so worked up. They’ll say “I can’t believe that just happened!” And I’m like, “Wait till we get to chapter 5! It’s a real doozy!”

Did you listen to audio books growing up?  Do you listen to them now? How does the experience differ for you from reading the printed word?

I did not listen to audiobooks when I was growing up, although I was an avid reader. I started listening when I lived on the east coast and I had to commute between Washington, D.C., where I was attending an acting conservatory, and Philadelphia. Audiobooks are life savers for commuters. Now, I always have one going and I switch between fiction and non-fiction. I think good narration adds layers to characters and nuances to the narrative that you might have missed when reading from the page. Plus, there’s just something about listening to a native accent when the action takes place elsewhere. It can just put you right in the moment.

Turning to Home for the Holidays, did you find any connections between yourself and the character that you narrated?  

Definitely! Becca is forthright, adventurous, and goes after what she wants and I respect that. I remember going through my own Becca/Rebecca phase when I was around her age. There’s a certain vulnerability beneath her snarky, confident exterior and I think she matures a lot through the course of Home for the Holidays. 

Any fun facts about yourself that you might like to share with my young readers?

Fun facts … I love skating (longboard), archery (recurve), and live band karaoke. I was a flight attendant for three years after college and that was fun. And I once got lost on the moors in northern England which was not fun but very, very cold. Heathcliff was apparently engaged elsewhere… 😉

I love how adventurous you are, Shannon, in addition to being multi-talented! Thank you so much for visiting with us — you brought so much to the table in the role of Becca in THE MOTHER-DAUGHTER BOOK CLUB audiobooks — my readers and I will eagerly watch to see what you have in store for listeners in the future! 

For more information on Shannon McManus’s and her work, click here to visit her website. 

And now for a giveaway! One of you will receive a free download of the audio version of HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS. All you have to do is comment below, telling us about your favorite scene (in any of the MDBC books) with Becca Chadwick …

The winner will be chosen at random at midnight on January 24, 2017. Share this giveaway on your blog or Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest or other social media for additional entries. (If you share on social media, please leave a link in the comments below so I can assign you an extra entry.)  Have fun!

And the winners are…

Hannah Bailey – Mother-Daughter Book Camp

Anna Kefalas – Absolutely Truly

Rylee – Dear Pen Pal

Elke – Absolutely Truly

Congratulations to all!  And … SURPRISE!  Guess who also won? Because I love my readers, and because I love October!  

Neha – Mother-Daughter Book Camp

Jessie – Little Women Christmas

Mary O – Mother-Daughter Book Camp

Zoe – Absolutely Truly

 

Keep an eye on your inboxes, winners, as I’ll be contacting you directly for your snail mail addresses. And since I know you’re wondering, the next giveaway will be in January, when Yours Truly arrives in bookstores!

congratulations-clip-art

Missing address — calling Candy!

candy

 

Does this look familiar to anyone?  It’s a quiet Sunday afternoon here and I’m answering some mail, and came across this charming letter that doesn’t have a return address.

Candy, if you’re reading this, please get in touch with me in the comment section below! I’d love to reply to your letter!