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 . . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday Story Starter

Well hellooooooo there!  It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I have a really REALLY good excuse, though — we’ve been in the middle of a move. A BIG move. An all-the-way-across-the-country-from-Oregon-to-Boston kind of move! Things are still pretty topsy-turvy around here, but we’re starting to feel settled. It’s really fun to be back on home turf (I grew up in New Hampshire and the Boston area), and I’m especially loving the snow!

On the book front, MOTHER-DAUGHTER BOOK CAMP is in the pipeline and ready to go. Look for it on bookshelves near you May 3rd. Wheee! This is the 7th and final (I know I said that last time but really truly final) book in the series. Click here to read a sneak peek. And fear not, although it’s the last hurrah for my book club girls, there’s more fun ahead for you with a book that will be out in early 2017 — YOURS TRULY, the sequel to ABSOLUTELY TRULY. I’m putting the finishing touches on that this spring.

What do you say we dive into a little Saturday Story Starter? I can’t think of a better way to spend a cold and snowy weekend (at least it’s cold and snowy here in Boston).

For those of you who haven’t participated before, Saturday Story Starter is purely for fun, just a way to exercise those writing muscles (think of it as Heather’s Literary Gym). I rewrite my essay a lot but lately I’ve been lacking inspiration so I started this. There are no prizes, only the simple joy of putting words on paper (well, OK, on the computer screen). Also, I won’t be offering critiques, just brief words of encouragement, but I will read all your entries, that I can promise! (And if you’d like to read some of the earlier stories that have been shared, click here and click here and here and click here and here and click here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here to browse to your heart’s content.)

Let’s get started, shall we?

Snow day in Boston

Ah, pink tulips and snow. Two of my favorite things! And even better together!

But what are they doing here? Who brought them? Who are they for? And what’s the story behind the tulips and the snowy winter scene we glimpse through the window? You’re the writer, so it’s your decision. Set the scene for us, and tell us a story…

Ready, set, WRITE!

Audibly impressed

So just last night I finished (finally — juggling too many deadlines around here) listening to the amazingly talented Amy Rubinate narrate my book ABSOLUTELY TRULY.

I am completely and utterly bowled over. Completely and utterly!

It is perfect.

In absolutely truly every way.

Thank you, Amy, from the bottom of my heart. You are a ROCK STAR, and you’ve made this author incredibly happy!

 

 

It’s kind of an out-of-body experience, listening to someone else read your book. I kept thinking, “Did I write that?” and “Hey, that’s pretty good!” I fell in love with my own story, as cheesy as that sounds.

Amy’s ability to ever-so-slightly change the pitch and timbre of her voice and become each of the characters is remarkable. Listening to the narration was like watching a movie in my head, as the story came alive for me in new and fresh ways.

I used to listen to a lot of audiobooks when my boys were small–it was an easy way for me to multi-task late at night, doing laundry or cleaning or whatever–but in recent years I’ve fallen out of the habit.

I’m falling back into it right now. What a fabulous way to connect with a story!

Click here and here and here to read more about Amy and her new venture, Ideal Audiobooks, and the part my books play in it.

I can’t wait for next month, when the audio version of THE MOTHER-DAUGHTER BOOK CLUB is released. Stay tuned for another giveaway the minute it’s available!

Oregon Spirit Book Award

Oregon Spirit Award sticker

Absolutely Truly cover 2014

I’m thrilled to announce that my book ABSOLUTELY TRULY is the winner of this year’s Oregon Spirit Book Award in the Middle Reader category!

*::* throws confetti! *::*

This award is presented each year by the Oregon Council of Teachers of English (OCTE) to “the author of a distinguished contribution to children’s literature or young adult literature that engages and encourages readers’ imagination, discovery, and understanding, reflecting the spirit and values held by Oregonians.” Wow! To say that I’m honored is a vast understatement.

I’m in SUCH good company on the list of winning and honor books — which includes a number of dear friends! I share weekly writing dates at our favorite coffee shop with Susan Blackaby, for instance, who received an honor in the picture book category for The Twelve Days of Christmas in Oregon (a book I ADORE!). And there’s also my friend Trudy Ludwig, honored for her moving story Gifts from the Enemy, and Eric Kimmel and Graham Salisbury and April Henry and Elizabeth Rusch and Barbara Kerley, among others.

Fine Oregonians all, and fine writers. Congratulations, everyone!

 

 

A big time in the Big Apple

A number of you have asked me about the Edgar Awards and my trip to New York last week. Here’s the full scoop, complete with about a zillion photos!

It all began with this:

Edgar Awards invitation

And why was I invited to attend the Edgar Awards banquet? Because my book ABSOLUTELY TRULY was a nominee! As you may know from my previous blog posts, this was cause for much excitement, much laughter at “Dress to Kill” (gotta love that), quickly followed by much panic — I’ve never been to a black tie event in my life! What would I wear? And what would my husband wear?

More on that soon…

Meanwhile, it was time to pack our bags and hop on a plane to New York.

Cascades from planeCascade Range from 30,000 feet

See why I love living in the Pacific Northwest? This was the view as we left Seattle, flying over the Cascade mountains. Sigh.

It’s always a treat to fly through Seattle. And I mean that literally:

Dilettante Chocolates SeattleDilettante Chocolates kiosk

Whenever we have a layover at Sea-Tac, I make a beeline for Dilettante. Fabulous hot chocolate! And so many choices!

Dilettante signDilettante’s menu

Make mine milk chocolate, please. Mmm. Wonderful!

But there were wonderful things awaiting us in New York, too, including this:

HVF at S&SWelcome display at Simon & Schuster 

This is what greeted my husband and me when we stopped by my publisher for a celebration. (Ignore whatever weird thing my left hand is doing, OK? We’ll just chalk that up to an excess of excitement.) Simon & Schuster had not just one but THREE books nominated for the Edgar Award!  Huzzah!

Stuart Gibbs, Naheed Senzai & HVF at S&SStuart Gibbs, N.H. Senzai & moi

On the left is Stuart Gibbs, standing in front of his absolutely hilarious book SPACE CASE. In the middle is Naheed Senzai, with her tender and moving story SAVING KABUL CORNER. Me? I’m the one with my eyes shut, dazzled by all the talent in the room!  Which includes the walls behind us–they’re covered with book jackets featuring award stickers for things like the Newbery and Caldecott medals. So cool!

After the celebration, it was time to go back to the hotel and grab a nap before the award ceremony. Hello, jet lag! And then it was time to get ready…

Steve & Heather at EdgarsJames Bond Steve Frederick and me

This was the selfie we took in our hotel room, before making our grand entrance. In over 30 years of marriage, I’ve never seen my husband in a tux before. I was dazzled…

Heather & Steve glammed up for the EdgarsAll glammed up for the Edgars

And here we are, dressed to kill indeed! I accessorized with this:

Edgar Awards badge

Woohoo! And with sparkly silver shoes, which you’ll see in a moment. The MWA (Mystery Writers of America) gave us each a swag bag…

Edgar swag bag

… which included this fun item:

Poe bandages

Hilarious!

Simon & Schuster placed a full-page ad in the program showing off our books:

S&S Ad Edgar program

So cool! Thank you, S&S!

Here’s a picture of me with my smart and lovely editor, Kristin Ostby. Kristin is Stuart’s editor, too. (She’s good at her job.)

Stuart & Kristin & HeatherStuart Gibbs, Kristin Ostby & moi

I gawked at several celebrity authors, including Sara Paretsky and Stephen King (too shy to introduce myself to either one), and I met the amazing Lois Duncan:

HVF with Lois DuncanHVF with Lois Duncan

Lois is the author of such books as I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER and HOTEL FOR DOGS. I’ve been reading WRITTEN IN THE STARS, a newly-published collection of short stories she wrote and published in her teens. Impressive! She was being honored with a “Grand Master” award.

Mostly I hung out with my friends who also write middle-grade mysteries, though:

Edgar Juvenile nomineesN. H. Senzai, Marcia Wells, Stuart Gibbs, moi, Kate Milford

This is the only picture I have of the vivacious and fun Marcia Wells, who is as sparkly in person as the dress she was wearing. I laughed out loud reading her terrific EDDIE RED UNDERCOVER: MYSTERY ON MUSEUM MILE. Love that Eddie!

After the cocktail party and photos, it was time to go into the swanky ballroom for dinner.

Edgar Awards menuEdgar Awards banquet menu

Mmm. It was delicious. The decorations were awesome, too–and some of them were edible!

Edgars atmosphere

Here’s a closer look at the white chocolate Edgar Allan Poe…

White chocolate Edgar

…which I didn’t get a chance to taste, because my agent Barry Goldblatt beat me to it!

Agent steals chocolate Edgar

Speaking of Barry, like my editor Kristin Ostby, he had not just one but TWO clients nominated for an Edgar — yours truly and Kate Milford!

Barry Goldblatt with Kate Milford & HVFKate Milford, Barry Goldblatt & moi

And Kate’s book won! Deservedly so, because GREENGLASS HOUSE is a very special book and a wonderful read–I hope you all rush right out and snag a copy!

After the award ceremony, we all hung out for a bit and basked in Kate’s reflected glory.

HVF & Kate post-EdgarsHVF & Kate

Kate and I compared shoes:

Sparkly Edgar shoes!

We both like sparkles. Mine are the silver ones, hers are — appropriately! — gold. And here’s her Edgar award:

Kate's Edgar award

Fun, huh?

And then the party was over. But the city still beckoned, and there was a full moon over Manhattan…

NYC night Spring 2015Grand Central Station and the Chrysler Building

My two favorite buildings in New York, captured together right outside our hotel!

There was so much more to explore. My husband and I stayed on for an extra couple of days to get our fill of this amazing city. We walked for miles (seriously! we estimate we walked at least 15 miles in two days), downtown to 2nd Avenue Deli…

2nd Avenue Deli

… for the best pastrami sandwiches ever.

Then uptown to Central Park, which was in swoony full bloom…

Central Park Spring day 2015

Central Park

Central Park April 2015

Central Park Spring 2015

We stopped to refuel at Cafe Sabarsky in the Neue Galerie with Viennese kaffee und kuchen (cake and coffee) — mmm, Sachertorte for me — then walked back down Park Avenue enjoying more spring blossoms…

Dogwoods on Park Avenue

Next up? A play about Winston Churchill (James Bond my husband isn’t wild about musicals, so we settled on a subject of mutual interest).

Churchill set

Excellent choice! We loved it!

After that, it was time for a late-night bite. Like tuxedos and elegant long dresses, the Fredericks don’t do dinner at 10 p.m., but we did in NYC! We met up with my dear friend and former colleague Diane Roback, who steered us to Empanada Mama, a 24-hour spot (because let’s face it, who doesn’t have those occasional 3 a.m. empanada emergencies?) over on 9th Avenue that was FABULOUS!

Steve at Empanada MamaHappy customer

Just the sustenance we needed to face another long day of walking ahead. Next morning, we lit out for the High Line.

High Line sculptureSculpture along the High Line

If you’re ever in New York, you must walk the High Line! It’s a repurposed elevated railroad spur that’s now a mile and a half long park and walking trail. Great panoramic views of the city and the Hudson River, wonderful trees and plantings, and a very fun vibe. Plus, the new Whitney Museum of American Art has been relocated to the end of it on Gansevoort Street. We were going to stop in, but it was opening day and the lines were long and the day was gorgeous so we just kept on walking…

Hot Chocolate at City Bakery

… until our feet took us to City Bakery for hot chocolate. Because really, when is it never the right time for hot chocolate? Unfortunately, their homemade marshmallows were out of season (what? since when is there a season for homemade marshmallowy goodness?), so we had to drink our cocoa straight up. It was as excellent as I remember from the last time I was here. (Can you tell that I am a hot chocolate afficionado?)

And then it was time to say goodbye to New York and head home. Flying south from Seattle we dipped over Mount St. Helens and her stunning caldera (thank you, Alaska Airlines)…

Caldera of Mount St. HelensMount St. Helens – so close I could practically touch it!

…and arrived in Portland, where we were greeted by this sweet little face:

Billie -- Spring 2015Our dog Billie 

She missed us, and was happy to have us home again! And we were happy to be home, too, where our Pacific Northwest spring is in full bloom…

Rhodies in Gabriel Park

 … and where I have this to keep as a reminder of a magical trip to the Big Apple!

Edgar Award nomination certificate

Absolutely Truly is an Edgar Awards nominee!

This morning I awoke to some amazing news — ABSOLUTELY TRULY has been nominated for an Edgar Award!

Absolutely Truly cover 2014
What exactly are the Edgar Awards? Kind of like the Oscars for mystery writers…

The Edgars
Only instead of golden statues, they give out little Edgar Allen Poes.

Edgar statuette
Wouldn’t he be a fun addition to the bookshelf?!

This honor is bestowed by the Mystery Writers of America, and I’m stunned and flattered and absolutely truly beside myself with excitement! I’m in such fabulous company, too (click here for a full list of nominees). Plus, my brilliant and charming editor at Simon & Schuster, Kristin Ostby, is on a roll with not one but TWO of her books nominated — mine and SPACE CASE by Stuart Gibbs. I’m thrilled for her!

Time to start looking for a party dress for the awards ceremony. It’s a black tie occasion, and we’ve been instructed to “dress to kill”…

 

Going dark for a bit

Do not disturb writer at work

I’m signing off for a couple of weeks to FINISH MDBC #7 (which still doesn’t have a title, believe it or not).

Behave yourselves while I’m gone, OK?

I’ll have lots to tell you when I return, and lots to share, including a sneak peek (finally) of ABSOLUTELY TRULY, which is mere WEEKS away from its book birthday!  (And which is available for pre-order from your favorite bookseller, hint hint…) It just received this glowing review from Kirkus:

“Moving from Texas to New Hampshire, displaced 12-year-old Truly Lovejoy finds herself solving two local mysteries while adjusting to small-town life.

Everything changes when Truly’s Army pilot father loses an arm in Afghanistan and returns home depressed, causing her parents to unexpectedly relocate to rural Pumpkin Falls to manage her grandparents’ failing bookshop. Just under 6 feet tall and worried she won’t fit in, Truly’s surprised how quickly she feels part of both school and community as she helps in the bookshop, tries out for the swim team and practices ballroom dancing for Cotillion at the Winter Festival. Convinced a signed, first edition of Charlotte’s Web she’s discovered will alleviate the bookshop’s financial woes, Truly’s determined to catch the thief when the volume vanishes. Meanwhile, a cryptic message she finds inside the book triggers an elaborate treasure hunt as Truly and her new friends decipher clues leading them to hair-raising escapades in the library, church bell tower and covered bridge. Truly tells her story in a relaxed voice, allowing readers to warm to her genuine, self-effacing, humorous, foot-in-her-mouth persona along with her realistically portrayed, fun-loving family and a bevy of eccentric Pumpkin Falls locals.

There’s never a dull moment in Pumpkin Falls with Truly Lovejoy on the case in this contemporary, feel-good series opener.”

I am so thrilled that the first review out of the gate is such a great one!  Thank you, anonymous reviewer, whoever you are!

When I return, I’ll also be able to (finally) offer a few hints about MDBC #7 — and some pictures, too, since I’ll be spending some time on location at the place where the story is set.  Fun, huh?

Ciao 4 niao, everyone!

P.S.  And if you’re on deadline too, or you know someone who is, click here for DIY instructions for this cool door knob sign:

Writer at work

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.”

 

 

 

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!