3-2-1 Truly! Part Two: Beginnings

Absolutely

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 . . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3-2-1 Truly!

Or should I say, 3-2-1 REALLY TRULY?

My next Pumpkin Falls mystery is due to hit bookstores in three days, and I think some festivities are in order! How about we start with a conversation between me and my main character, Truly Lovejoy, to kick things off? The two of us talked on Zoom – I’m practically a Zoom expert now, how about you? – from her home in New Hampshire and mine near Boston. We talked about what we’ve both been doing during the shutdown, and about the latest mystery that she and the Pumpkin Falls Private Eyes have on their hands in the new book, and more. Read on!

Heather and Truly on Zoom

HVF: So Truly, how are things in Pumpkin Falls?

TRULY: Boring. Boring boring boring.

HVF: Because it’s a small town?

TRULY: No, because it’s BORING! I’m stuck at home, and online school was the worst, if you ask me, which nobody ever does. My brothers and sisters are driving me crazy, I can’t have friends over or go anywhere, and swim team got cancelled because the pool is closed. The beach at Lake Lovejoy just re-opened, thank goodness, so at least I’ll be able to swim there, as long as I practice social distancing and stay six feet away from everybody else.

HVF: How are the Pumpkin Falls Private Eyes?

TRULY: (sigh) I wish people wouldn’t call me and my friends that.

HVF: You were the one who made the name up.

TRULY: (shoots me a look)

HVF: Working on solving any new mysteries?

TRULY: Nope. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Not since that whole mermaid and pirate thing. . . .

HVF: Mermaid and pirate thing?

TRULY: (another look) Seriously? You wrote it, remember?

HVF: Well. Yes. I guess I was hoping you might talk a little bit about it.

TRULY: My lips are sealed. Anyone who wants to know about mermaids and pirates in Pumpkin Falls will have to read the new book.

HVF: OK, fine, let’s change the subject. How are things at Lovejoy’s Books?

TRULY: I’ve been helping Aunt True fill orders for curbside delivery, mostly. We’re hoping to reopen soon. Oh, and after Ella Bellow put face masks on the sheep in the window of her store across the street, Aunt True and I designed a window display of our own. We put up a big poster of Miss Marple and her Top Ten Books for Surviving the Shutdown.

HVF: Miss Marple as in Agatha Christie’s famous sleuth?

TRULY: Miss Marple as in my grandparents’ golden retriever. She’s named after that Miss Marple, though. (mutters under breath: which you should remember because you wrote that, too)

HVF: (pretending not to hear) So what does your grandparents’ dog recommend?

TRULY: A bunch of books on stuff like baking treats and making bread –

HVF: I’ve been baking treats and making bread like crazy!

TRULY: You’re making me hungry!

HVF: You’re always hungry. Any else that your dog recommends?

TRULY: Yeah. Some books about hobbies like knitting and quilting and woodwork and stuff.

HVF: I’ve been knitting up a storm! I’m an experienced knitter.

OK, sometimes not so much. How about you? You took that socks class with your mother, right?

TRULY: (sighs) I really, truly stink at socks.

HVF: They’re tricky – especially for people with big feet. Not that either of us have big feet.

TRULY: (glares) My mom’s been trying to get me to knit a hat. She says hats are way easier than socks.

HVF: I’ve made some cute hats recently.

And now I’m working on a cowl.

TRULY: (sounding excited) An owl? I love owls! They’re my favorite birds!

HVF: No, a cowl. It’s kind of like a short scarf, only joined at the ends.

TRULY:

HVF: (defensively) It’s not as stupid as it sounds.

TRULY: Right.

HVF: So what other books are on Miss Marple’s list?

TRULY: I put a bird-watching book on there – it’s been selling like hotcakes, since birding is something you can do from your own back porch or on a walk in a park or the woods. The rest are mostly mysteries. Aunt True says that in times of stress, readers want something with predictable rules, where all the loose ends are tied up by the last page. Oh, and some Jane Austen stuff, too. Aunt True says you can’t go wrong with Jane.

HVF: I don’t know what I would have done without Jane these past few months! It’s been all Austen, all the time around here. In fact, the best thing that I’ve done so far during the shutdown (well, besides baking and knitting) was listen to Jennifer Ehle read Pride and Prejudice aloud on YouTube.

TRULY: Jennifer who?

HVF: Ehle. She played Elizabeth Bennet in the 1995 BBC production.

TRULY: Oh, I’ve heard my mom and Aunt True talk about that one.

HVF: (gazing dreamily off into the distance) Colin Firth plays Mr. Darcy.

Anyway, Jennifer read aloud every day, often from her car with her dog, Violet, sitting beside her. It was SO MUCH FUN to watch her, and to hear the book come to life. Jennifer is an amazing reader. She totally gets the humor – Jane is so funny! Mr. Collins! Lady Catherine de Bourgh! The characters are amazing. It was a complete and very welcome daily escape for me. Here’s a link in case you want to listen to it.

TRULY: Uh, thanks.

HVF: Give it a try while you’re knitting that hat for next winter.

TRULY: Right.

HVF: And as for the rest of you – aren’t you curious about the mermaids and pirates in Pumpkin Falls? Of course you are! And you’ll have your chance starting in 3-2-1. . . .

Coming Tuesday, June 30 – Really Truly by Heather Vogel Frederick. Click here for full details.

 

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!

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!