Catching up

I can’t believe it’s been almost three weeks since my last post!

I do have an excuse, though.  I’ve been busy traveling.  First to Bainbridge Island, then to Texas, then to the Midwest.  I’m home again now, dashing toward an April deadline…

Today I want to talk about Bainbridge Island.  Here’s the view from the ferry last month:

View from ferry

Bainbridge Island is a magical place, a little village on Puget Sound just across from Seattle.  Would you like to know what I was up to there?  I was going to keep it top secret, but I had so much fun that I just have to share.  See if you can guess from this picture that says 1,000 words:

HVF and Sarah and Victoria at Eagle Harbor 1-2013

That’s me on the left.  Sarah’s in the middle, and Victoria’s on the right.  If you guessed “Heather is at a bookstore,” you are correct. But I wasn’t just visiting a bookstore, I was working at a bookstore — UNDERCOVER!

That’s right, I was on a spy mission of sorts…

Being a writer has its perks, one of which is doing cool stuff for research.  Sometimes my job involves travel; sometimes it involves interviewing people, or reading a lot of books on a particular subject (for instance, I read a zillion biographies of Louisa May Alcott as background for THE MOTHER-DAUGHTER BOOK CLUB).  This time around it involved pretending to be a bookseller for a couple of days.

Fortunately for me, I have a friend on the inside at Eagle Harbor Book Co. in Washington State. Victoria Irwin and I were colleagues many moons ago when we both worked for The Christian Science Monitor, my favorite news organization in the whole world and the place where I got my start as a writer.  And now, all these years later, we’re both still working in words, but life has taken us to new places — Victoria to a bookstore, and me to writing fiction. She didn’t hesitate when I asked if I could come shadow her at work for a few days, and find out what goes on behind the scenes at a bookstore.  She even let me stay with her and her family!  Now that’s true friendship.

Here’s the thing — the novel I’m working on now (working title: ABSOLUTELY TRULY, which may change before it’s published in Summer 2014) is set at a family-run bookstore in a small New Hampshire town.  Being an avid bookworm, I have of course spent many happy hours in bookstores, browsing and buying. And being an author, I have of course spent many happy hours in bookstores, meeting readers and signing books.  But I really had no clue what goes on behind the scenes, and in order for my novel to ring true-to-life, I needed more information.  So over the course of a few days, I “helped out” at Eagle Harbor Book Co.  (I say “helped out” because I don’t know how much help I really was — I mostly asked a lot of questions and got in the way.  But they were really nice to me anyway.)

What a wonderful bookstore!  And what wonderful booksellers! They’re passionate about books, have read everything under the sun, and know everybody on the island.  Or at least it seemed that way.  And they know their customers’ dogs as well, and keep jar of dog treats for them behind the counter.  Yep, dogs are allowed in the bookstore, too. You’ve gotta love a place that lets dogs come in and browse.

If I were going to design a bookstore, it would look like Eagle Harbor Book Co.  It’s light and bright and airy, with beautiful wood floors and big windows and shelves bursting with colorful books.

Main bookstore photo

Plus, there are lots of nooks and crannies where customers can sit and browse…

Front nook

Bookstore armchair

Of course, I got to peek behind the counter:

Counter at Eagle Harbor

And I got to see the secret cupboard where chairs are kept for author visits:

Secret cupboard

And I spent time in the back office, too, which was as comfortingly messy and stuffed with books as my office at home:

Bookstore back office

One of the things I was most fascinated by was the book club section.  There are a LOT of book clubs on Bainbridge Island! (Maybe it’s the rain, or maybe something about island life makes people want to curl up and read?)  Some of the clubs meet at the bookstore …

Book Group Sign

… while other are private. But their monthly reading choices are displayed on several large bookcases, so that other customers can see them and be inspired.  Brilliant, right?  I wrote down tons of titles that I want to read, too.

Book Club reads

Possibly the best part, though, was meeting some of my fans.  I was downstairs in the Used Book Annex when Cara and her daughter (she of the gorgeous Anne-of-Green-Gables hair) caught up with me. Our smiles say it all, don’t they?

HVF with Rene, Fiona, Cara

Rene, one of the bookstore owners, is on the left. She’s a long-time bookseller who knows and loves children’s and YA books, so we bonded over that.

I also met two more fans who came all the way over from Seattle on the ferry to see me!  The three of us had a great time talking about THE MOTHER-DAUGHTER BOOK CLUB.

Such beautiful and intelligent girls, all of them!

Heather at Eagle Harbor Books 1-28-13

All told, it was an amazing trip.  I can’t thank Eagle Harbor Book Co. enough for letting me hang out with them for a few days! And I can’t wait to immortalize them in my new book.  Stay tuned.



Weekend update

I won’t keep you in suspense any longer:  I didn’t win anything Monday night at the Oregon Book Awards.  But a wonderful book DID win — WILDWING by the lovely and talented Emily Whitman.  I highly recommend it!

On to my “fishing” trip.  I spent the weekend with three dear friends in one of the prettiest spots in the world:  Camp Sherman, Oregon.  It’s situated along the banks of the Metolius River in the Deschutes National Forest, a few hours from where I live.

Isn’t it gorgeous?  Here’s that same view taken with Hipstamatic, a cool new app that I’m trying out on my iPhone:

It’s supposed to make photos look kind of vintage, like they were taken in the 1960s with a Polaroid camera.  Awesome, huh?  I’ve decided that my iPhone is going to be my only camera, since it’s so convenient and since I always have it with me, so I’m trying to become an expert.  Not there yet by a long shot, but I’m having fun learning as I go…

One of my girlfriends has a family cabin, and that’s where we stayed.  It’s like something out of a fairy tale.

My favorite feature, apart from the amazing deck out back overlooking the river, is the big stone fireplace.  It’s a real beauty.

It looks even better at night, don’t you think?

We sat in front of it for hours every evening, talking and laughing over endless cups of tea and a ‘smore or two.  There’s nothing like hanging out with friends!  I learned to play a new card game called “Poohead” (hey, I’m not the one who invented it!).  There are no winners, only one loser who’s the poohead until the game is played again.  Guess who earned that title? Yeah, that would be me!

Every morning I got up early to go for a walk.  I love to walk, and I do some of my best “fishing” (for ideas) that way.  I always stopped at the Camp Sherman General Store on the way back.  Stepping inside is like stepping into the past.

It reminds me of every camping trip I ever took when I was growing up.  Inside is an irresistible jumble of souvenirs, T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, food, camping equipment, fishing rods and doo-dads (the Metolius is legendary for its fly fishing), and would you believe espresso?  (OK, so that didn’t remind me of our Vogel family camping trips, I have to admit–they didn’t even have espresso back then!)  There were even decaf soy lattes, my favorite.  (Mrs. Wong would definitely approve.)  And don’t you love the big carved bear totem guarding the front door?

This part of Oregon is much drier and sunnier than Portland, where I live.  We had a blast soaking up the sun every day on hikes and bike rides.

Two of my friends pretending to be awed by the sight of the sun, which is a real treat for us Portlanders this time of year!

One afternoon we biked to the Head of the Metolius, the place where the river bubbles out of the ground.  Its source is a bit of a mystery–nobody’s ever been able to figure out for sure exactly where it starts.

The Head of the Metolius

See how the water just suddenly appears out of the hillside?  (That’s another Hipstamatic shot, by the way.)  It gushes out at a rate of some 50,000 gallons per minute, and just a few yards downstream it’s already a full-blown river.  The Metolius is one of the largest spring-fed rivers in the United States.  Clear and cold–a steady 48 degrees near the source (brrrrr)–it’s picture perfect. I’m serious!  Check it out:

(That’s another Hipstamatic shot that I tinkered with in Photoshop Express, where I found this fun frame.)  And here’s me, not picture perfect but having a great time anyway.

Another outing over the weekend was to Black Butte Ranch at sunset, where we explored the Big Meadow and made some new friends…

… including a red-wing blackbird, who perched on a fence pole watching us.  I got ridiculously excited when I spotted him (her?).  I grew up in New England, where they’re a dime a dozen, but I haven’t seen many since moving to Portland 20 years ago and they’re one of my favorite birds.

I also got ridiculously excited fiddling with my camera/iPhone. So excited, in fact, that at one point I somehow managed to accidentally take a picture of myself …

What a dork!

The absolute best thing about walking the Big Meadow trail at Black Butte is the panoramic view of some of the Cascade Mountains, including Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Washington, and Three Fingered Jack.  I’ll let the rest of the pictures speak for themselves, but can you see why I love living in this part of the world?  Oregon is breathtakingly beautiful!



Pie-of-the-month-club – Andrea Beaty

I have a special treat for you today — Andrea Beaty, one of my favorite funny ladies!  Andrea and I share the same agent, the illustrious Barry Goldblatt, and got acquainted at one of Barry’s famous client retreats, where I quickly learned that she loves to laugh as much as I do.  Andrea is the author of a number of wonderful books for young readers, and also co-hosts the blog “Three Silly Chicks” with Julia Durango and Carolyn Crimi, both seriously silly chicks in their own right.

Andrea Beaty
So Andrea, what have you been cooking up for readers?  Can you tell us about your new book, and how it came about?
My most recent book is graphic novel/novel hybrid called ATTACK OF THE FLUFFY BUNNIES. It chronicles the invasion of three enormous alien rabbits known as the Fierce, Large, Ugly and Ferocious Furballs (FLUFFS). When a flaming meteor hits their marshmallow planet, they hop a rocket to Earth. The FLUFFS land at the decrepit Camp Whatsitooya on the aromatic shores of Lake Whatsosmelly. The FLUFFS set out to conquer the world and use its children as a source of energy but meet their match in a set of B-movie savvy twins, Joules and Kevin Rockman.
The amazing Dan Santat illustrates the mayhem. He is seriously funny!  I think that this book is ideal for that 3rd-6th grade kid (boys and girls) who love some silly!

How about your favorite pie-in-the-sky moment as a writer?  Have you ever had one of those “I never dreamed it would really happen to me” moments that was special to you?

This crazy author journey always surprises me, so I have pie-in-the-sky moments all the time. Picking one would be like picking one piece of pie!  Nobody can have just one.  Oh, wait.  That’s potato chips.  Anyhow, here is a smattering of my favorite moments:

  • Getting the call that an editor wanted to publish my first book, WHEN GIANTS COME TO PLAY. I was camping in Banff and had to drive up to a hill to get a phone signal. When I got the news, my kids and I did a screamy-happy dance which made the hikers think we were being attacked by bears!  I don’t think getting attacked by a bear would be THAT exciting!
  • Standing in front of 150 4th graders and making them all snort with laughter at the same time. That is a trip!
  • Having dinner with amazingly talented authors, illustrators, and editors. (And not being asked to leave.)  I’m such a fan girl!
  • Every time I get a copy of one of my brand-new books, I crack the book open and it makes that crazy little new book noise. It makes my heart sing every time!

Wow.  That’s a lot of pie-in-the-sky.  Got milk?

There’s no such thing as too much pie-in-the-sky, Andrea.   But what about humble pie — have you ever been served a heaping slice of that during your career?

Oh yeah. It was at a signing in which I was sharing a table with a NY Times best-selling author. The table was as big as a dinner plate and his line was endless. Mine was non-existent. It was mortifying, but the other author was so gracious and funny I waited to commit hara-kiri until later…

Now let’s REALLY talk pie.  What’s your favorite kind?  Do you have a favorite pie memory?  How about the recipe you’re sharing – can you give us a little background on it?

I was raised in southern Illinois a couple of miles from Rend Lake. There has been a café there forever named Burton’s, and its specialty is White Pie. This is a cream custard kind of pie topped with whipped cream and pecans. For about a million years, it was made by a wonderful lady named Freda Webb, a true magician with pie dough. I should say that some people do not love White Pie, but that is okay. That just means more for me and my brothers and sisters. It is our “must have” treat when we go back home. And sometimes, we make it when we can’t go home but truly need to. It is our Wayback Machine. Here’s a link telling about its history.  This is a pie that takes a little practice to get right.


Pastry for single-crust pie
2 egg whites
Whipped cream
Chopped pecans


¾ c. sugar
Pinch of salt
½ c. flour
1 T. cornstarch
1T. butter
2 c. milk
1 t. vanilla

Cook filling ingredients together, stirring constantly until thick. Beat 2 egg whites until stiff. Pour hot filling over beaten egg whites and fold in. Pour into cooked pie shell. When cool, top with whipped cream and sprinkle with chopped pecans. Chill 2 hours.

I’m a big fan of Midwest recipes — can’t wait to give this a whirl!  Thanks for stopping by, Andrea.

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As part of an ongoing celebration for a pair of pie-related books that I have coming out soon (“Babyberry Pie” and “Pies & Prejudice” – learn more here), I started a pie-of-the-month club to showcase new books by friends and colleagues. To read other selections on the “pie-of-the-month club” menu, check out my interviews with Jane Kurtz, Toni Buzzeo, Lisa Schroeder, Jennifer Ward, Susan Blackaby, Jennifer Jacobson, Frederic Hunter, Kimberley Griffiths Little, and Stephanie Burgis.  Be sure and drop by again soon, because throughout 2010 I’ll be serving up more stellar books by some of my favorite authors and illustrators.

Oh, and pie is on the menu, too, of course.   Pie is ALWAYS on the menu here on my blog.  Enjoy!

Pie-of-the-national-poetry-month-club: Susan Blackaby

As part of an ongoing celebration for a pair of pie-related books that I have coming out later this year (“Babyberry Pie” and “Pies & Prejudice” learn more here), I recently launched a pie-of-the-month club to showcase new books by friends and colleagues.

This being National Poetry Month, I have a special treat on the menu:  my dear friend Susan Blackaby, who stopped by to chat about her new poetry collection and to share her favorite recipe for — what else?  — pie!

Susan Blackaby

Suz’s day job is writing for the educational market.  She’s published over 100 leveled readers, as well as the picture book “Rembrandt’s Hat” (Houghton) and the biography “Cleopatra: Egypt’s Last and Greatest Queen” (Sterling).

Suz and I live in the same neighborhood (a corner of Portland that goes by the charming name of Garden Home), our kids went to the same school, and we get together often at a local coffee shop to talk about writing, cheer each other on, and most of all to laugh.

What have you been busy cooking up for readers, Suz?  Tell us about your new book, and how it came about.

My new book is called Nest, Nook & Cranny (Charlesbridge).  It is a collection of “home poems,” focusing on the cozy, crawly places inhabited by animals.  It started with a terrific writing teacher in 3rd grade and got a significant boost at a Haystack workshop with Ann Whitford Paul and a little hermit crab who shall remain nameless.

Can you give us a wee taste of one of the poems in your collection?

Sure.  Here’s a cinquain:

Skinks sneak

From cool crannies

To catnap in the sun,

Making themselves at home on slabs

Of stone.

How about your favorite pie-in-the-sky moment as a writer?  Have you had one of those “I never dreamed it would really happen to me” moments that was special to you?

Well, you can pinch yourself silly once the acceptance letter arrives, but I can think of two moments I’ll never forget even when I’m 100 and my cheese has totally slipped off my cracker.  One was when I got to see the finished artwork for my picture book Rembrandt’s Hat—the editor flipped up the protective sheet of tissue paper and I totally came unglued.  Rapture is similar, but not quite so heady.  The second was the night that you gave me your PW review copy of Rembrandt’s Hat—it was such a thrill to open the actual book (a thrill that repeats over and over, I might add), and sharing that with you was really special.

[Note:  In a previous life, I was a contributing editor for Publisher’s Weekly, and one day I opened a box o’ books they had sent for review, and lo and behold there was a copy of Suz’s new baby — which she hadn’t even seen yet.  Although alas I couldn’t review it — conflict of interest — I could and did hop in the car THAT VERY MINUTE and drive over to her house with it!]

Has there ever been a moment in your career when you had to eat humble pie?  (I did, big-time, that time I showed up at a major chain bookstore for what I thought was just a signing and found to my chagrin was educator night – dozens of shining faces looking at me expectantly, and I hadn’t prepared a talk…)

Ooh. I once told an editor that none of the major publishers (including hers) know beans about producing leveled readers.  Just because something is true doesn’t mean you need to be the one to say so….

Now let’s REALLY talk pie.  What’s your favorite kind?  Do you have a favorite pie memory?  How about the recipe you’re sharing – can you give us a little background on it?

Making pie is, for me, closely connected to picking the apples, apricots, peaches, or huckleberries that go into the pie.  Especially huckleberries, which are the size of teeny peas.  It takes forever and a day to pick a pie’s worth.  In California my folks had an apricot orchard that produced bushel upon bushel of fruit.  My mom made apricot pies like mad, but she had a nifty trick: She froze pie fillings in a perfect pie shape and stacked them up in the freezer like frisbees.  What holiday dinner is complete without fresh, home-grown apricot pie for dessert?

Miffy’s June-in-January Apricot Pie

For each pie, mix the following together:

4–6 C fresh apricots cut into quarters

1 C white sugar

¼ C brown sugar

1 T fruit fresh

2 T minute tapioca

1 T lemon juice

Crisscross a pie plate with two long strips of foil and fill with apricot mixture.  Bring the foil up over the filling and crimp closed.  Put the pie plate in the freezer.  When the filling is frozen solid, slip it out of the pie plate and store it in a Ziploc freezer bag.  Wait until the dead of winter.  Make your pie dough, unwrap the frozen filling, drop it into the bottom crust, cover it with the top crust, pinch the edges, add a few slits, and bake at 425° for a half hour or so.

(This works with peaches, too; it takes all day and all the neighbors’ pie plates to turn a lug of peaches into a stack of pies.  Apricots are easier because you don’t have to peel the fruit.)

Yum!   I don’t  think I’ve ever had apricot pie.   That needs to change, and soon.  Thanks, Suz!

To read other selections on the “pie-of-the-month club” menu, check out my interviews with Jane Kurtz, Toni Buzzeo, Lisa Schroeder, and Jennifer Ward.  Be sure and drop by again soon, because throughout 2010 I’ll be serving up more stellar books by some of my favorite authors and illustrators.  Oh, and pie is on the menu, too, of course.   Pie is ALWAYS on the menu here on my blog.  Enjoy!

Writers at work

Writing is solitary work, but it doesn’t have to be lonely.

Once in a while, I find it’s fun to shake things up a bit and get out of my rut.  So I like to hie me someplace other than my office and write, preferably with friends.  Writing “solo together” can be energizing, plus you have somebody right there to talk shop with when you’re ready to take a break.

Fellow children’s authors Jennifer Jacobson and Jane Kurtz are in town this week (Jane’s visiting her brother Chris Kurtz), so the four of us met up with our laptops yesterday morning at a local coffee shop.  The answer is yes, we worked — and I have the pictures to prove it.  We also had fun in the process.

Jane Kurtz and Jennifer Jacobson
Jane Kurtz and Jennifer Jacobson









Chris Kurtz
Chris Kurtz









I was behind the camera, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that I was working, too.  Here I am showing off our city’s fabulous Rose Garden.

Heather and Jennifer and Jane
Heather and Jennifer and Jane


Where’s your favorite out-of-the-office place to write?