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!

Ideal Audiobooks & a giveaway

I have BIG, EXCITING NEWS to share this morning, and a giveaway to celebrate because … my books are going to be available for the very first time IN AUDIO!

:: throws confetti! ::

:: dances around the room! ::

That’s right, my friends, you’re going to be able to LISTEN to my books in addition to READING them!

::  more confetti! ::

:: more dancing! ::

No, I’m not excited.

Not one bit.

(Liar, liar, pants on fire.)

ABSOLUTELY TRULY has just gone live, thanks to my new friend Amy Rubinate at Ideal Audiobooks.




Next up, releasing in July, is THE MOTHER-DAUGHTER BOOK CLUB, and there will be a book a month released after that. Stay tuned here for an announcement when each book is available.

I’ve just started listening to ABSOLUTELY TRULY, and boy are you in for a treat. Amy’s a fantastic narrator. She’s also the founder of Ideal Audiobooks, and she’s here today to talk to us about her new venture, and about her career as an audio book narrator. In fact, we’re doing a twin Q&A this morning to kick off our new partnership. Click here to hop on over to Amy’s blog and read what I have to say. Meanwhile, continue reading below for more about Amy and Ideal Audiobooks…


Amy Rubinate

This is Amy. Isn’t she gorgeous?


Q: So first of all, how on earth did you come to be an audio narrator? Tell us about the path that brought you to this profession.

A:  I started as a voiceover actor and singer in San Francisco about ten years ago. I was the voice of Tad for LeapFrog toys, and I drove about an hour to LeapFrog twice a week. Then I started doing video games, and went all over the Bay Area for work. It was worth it because once I got there I transformed into a 3-year-old frog, an evil alien queen, an elf, a robot, an angry teenage warrior, and even dogs, cats, chickens, and cows. Once, a director even recorded his dog barking and asked me to mimic the sound! Listening to audio books saved me from being miserable as I drove many hours in a car with no air conditioning. In fact, I couldn’t wait to get in the car to find out what happened next in whatever story I was listening to. Since I had studied reading books aloud and acting onstage in college, I realized that narrating audio books was a perfect fit!

Q: Is there any training for what you do? What kinds of preparation would be helpful for someone who aspires to be a narrator?

A: Acting training and experience is a must. The acting comes first. It’s also important to know how to use your voice safely (the sessions are long and demanding), and to be skilled enough to get the characters exactly right and hit the right tone in the narration. A group of my friends and I studied with acting teacher Pat Fraley. He helped give us our start, and we are all making a living in audio books now. But we also worked together and separately to hone our skills after the class was over. I wouldn’t recommend doing this work without an acting background and many hours spent listening to great narrators and practicing this very specific skill set.

Q: How do you go about preparing to read a book aloud? Any tips you can share with us?

A: I used to sit on my couch juggling a 10-pound paper script and a dozen colored pens. Now, I prepare my books on an iPad. It’s so much easier. You have to read the book before recording. Imagine what would happen if you recorded 200 pages, and then suddenly saw that the author wrote, “he said in his twangy Texan accent?” I also like to mark my script with little notes to myself. When I’m focused on the story, these marks give me a hint of big changes ahead so I don’t roll right over them. I mostly mark sudden shifts that happen without warning, or conversations where it’s not clear who is talking.

Q: What does a typical day look like for you?

A: Sometimes I go to a studio in another city or state to record with a publisher’s director and engineer. At my studio, which I rent so I can have absolute quiet and air-conditioning, I usually start recording at 9:30, and I record in 45 minute sessions until about 3:30 – though sometimes I record late into the evening if I’m on a tight deadline. Some of my friends can record for up to two hours without a break, but I do better with shorter chunks of time. I work with an engineer who is helpful and very funny, and we make each other laugh all day long.

Q: What are the best parts of the job for you? The worst, if any?

A: For me, the best part of the job is when I get a story with a heroine who feels familiar to me in some deep way. I don’t have to think, I just plunge into that character’s story, and I can feel myself turning into her. It’s not always that immediate or that easy, but when it happens, it’s like magic. The worst part of the job is that it’s really hard to sit motionless in a dark room talking to yourself all day long. Having an engineer makes a big difference, because you have someone to act for, but you still have to record alone in your booth. On the other hand, I get to play all the parts!

Q: Do you have any funny stories to share from your experience in recording?

A: I have a weird tendency to mix up body parts when I’m narrating. I don’t know why it happens, but I think it comes from misreading the words “head” and “hand,” which sort of look alike when you’re tired and staring at the page after hours of recording. But it’s really random and funny sometimes. Instead of saying, “The princess lifted the frog up with her hand so he could kiss her on the lips,” I might say, “The princess lifted the frog up with her foot so he could kiss her on the elbow. I always think how lucky it is that I’m not a doctor. Can you imagine? I might operate on the wrong thing!

Q: Did you listen to a lot of audio books growing up? How about now? How does the experience differ for you from reading?

A: It may be hard to imagine, but audio books didn’t exist when I was a kid. We had what were called “story records” of Disney movies. Basically, they were an audio-only version of the movie with character voices and a narrator. I listened to THE RESCUERS hundreds of times, and the character voices and storytelling on it were superb. My sister and I used to spend hours mimicking The Muppets while doing chores. I realize now that when I thought I was having fun, I was actually training for this career. As an adult, I grew to love audio books even more than print books, because it’s soothing to have someone tell you a story, and the actors add something extra to the words on the page. If a story is already great, a good actor can make it even better.





Q: Now let’s talk about Ideal. Tell us about how you came to start this new audio publishing company.

A: I loved audio books so much that I always wanted to be a part of making them from beginning to end. I enjoy narrating audio books and will continue doing that work, but I also wanted to build a collection of books that I found compelling, and hire the perfect narrators to bring them to life. When I discovered your middle-grade books, I knew these were the kind of stories I wanted to publish. I called my business Ideal Audiobooks: Stories with heart, because I wanted to make something wonderful, and I realized that by collaborating with the right authors and narrators, I had the power to do that.

Q: Are there certain kinds of books you’re looking for? Why?

A: I like books that don’t shy away from a sad or difficult story, but that have a sense of hope. I try to choose stories that might acknowledge the darkness around us, but also let in the light. I love authors who lead with humor and wit, and I also enjoy stories that make you feel the main character’s story as if it were your own.

Q: What’s the most rewarding part of this venture so far?

A: I found a quote in a magazine ad just before I started my business. I think it was for the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. The quote was, “Your story can change someone else’s.” I thought it was the perfect idea to focus on as I built a business based on storytelling. I have loved learning how Ideal Audiobooks has inspired other people to follow their own dreams, or changed their experience in some way. One actor told me, “I am finally narrating a book I can share with my daughters,” and that made me happy.

Q: What do you have up your sleeve for us in the coming months and years?

A: This year, we have some wonderful women’s fiction and young adult books scheduled, as well as a lot of fun, magical children’s books. Check our website for new releases!

Thanks so much for visiting with us today, Amy. I couldn’t be more THRILLED to be working with you! 

Visit for more information about Amy and her impressive career. The audio versions of my books are available through the Ideal Audiobooks website, and also on I hope you’ll listen to them, review them, and most of all ENJOY THEM!

And now, for the giveaway: one of you will receive a free download of the new audio version of ABSOLUTELY TRULY! All you have to do is comment below, telling us about one of your favorite experiences being read to, or reading aloud to someone else. 

Winners will be chosen at random at midnight on June 17th. US and Canada only, please. Share this giveaway on your blog or Facebook or Twitter 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.) 

:: one last toss of confetti! ::

:: one final whirl of dancing! ::






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


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”…


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.) 

And the SECOND winner is …


I goofed.

Big-time!  Emily just reminded me that there were supposed to be TWO winners announced for the recent giveaway of A LITTLE WOMEN CHRISTMAS!


So with no further ado, the second winner is HANNAH, who chose this as her favorite Louisa May Alcott quote:

“The power of finding beauty in the humblest things makes home happy
and life lovely.”

That quote always reminds me of my own mother. She had a gift for doing exactly that.

And as a thank you to Emily for her sharp eyes and reminder that there was supposed to be a second winner, I’m adding a THIRD winner — EMILY herself!  Here’s her favorite Louisa May Alcott quote:

“Love is a great beautifier.”

Seriously, was Louisa a fount of wisdom or what? I’m in awe of her amazing gift for sharing that wisdom so eloquently.

Congratulations to all three winners!  And for those of you who didn’t win a book this time around, stay tuned. My new novel ABSOLUTELY TRULY will be published in early November, and there’ll be another giveaway party to celebrate. Meanwhile, click here to read a sneak preview…