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 . . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fan mail Friday

I am w-a-y overdue with a fan mail update (and w-a-y behind on answering my fan mail, for all of you waiting so patiently to hear back from me), and a recent flurry of absolutely truly FABULOUS photos some of you sent in has given me just the nudge I needed.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, right? Well, the pictures I’m going to share with you today are worth more than that — they’re worth their weight in gold! It’s hard to put in words how much it means to me to receive your letters and beautiful drawings and lovely photos. To say that it touches my heart is the understatement of the 21st century! But that’s exactly what it does, and I treasure each and every one of my readers who so generously take the time to thank me in this way.

The connection between reader and writer is a special one, isn’t it? I ponder it often. In a way, reading a book is a long conversation between the writer and the reader — at least I like to think of it that way. It’s a conversation that transcends time and place, that can reach across the centuries. Just think of it, Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice for me! Someone she would never know; someone living in a world she couldn’t possibly have imagined at the time she was writing. And E.B. White — could he have dreamed of the impact that Charlotte’s Web would have on me?

Me, happily connecting with E.B. White

And now, my books are going out into the world, and connecting with many of you — and in turn you reach out to connect with me, whether it’s through the pure and wondrous experience of reading itself, or whether it’s through your letters, your emails, your comments on this blog, your artwork, or your photographs.

Thank you, each and every one of you, from the bottom of my heart!

And now, this Friday’s fan mail:

Do you love this sweet smile or what?!  Wow!

And how about this one? Heart-melter, right?

And look at this amazing mother-daughter book club! Don’t they look like they’d be fun to read with? 

Come back and visit again on future Fridays, as I have more fun fan art and photos to share. And meanwhile, it’s JULY! National ice cream MONTH! What are you doing sitting here reading this blog? You should be out there rustling up some ice cream. Go! Now! Do it!

 

 

CANADA and CONCORD, here I come!

I’m thrilled to announce two upcoming bookstore appearances, in two of my very favorite places!

To help celebrate the launch of MOTHER-DAUGHTER BOOK CAMP, the seventh and final (sniff) book in my Mother-Daughter Book Club series, I’ll be heading first to Vancouver, British Columbia (yep, that’s right, my first appearance in CANADA!), and then on to Concord, Massachusetts, the town that started it all (the books are set in my old hometown, in case you didn’t know — talk about bringing it full circle…).

If you’re in either area, I’d love to see you! Please come join me on Monday, May 2, at 7 pm at Kidsbooks in Vancouver or Sunday, May 22nd at 3 pm at The Concord Bookshop in Concord (full details on both events here).

Warning: there may be dorky pictures of me at summer camp involved…

Mother-Daughter Book Camp

 

 

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!

A Mother-Daughter Book Club quiz for you

Here’s a little quiz sent in by one of my readers — thank you, Sabina!  How fun is this?!

Which mother (or grandmother) are you?

You’re in charge of dessert for your family today. You…
a) Bake a chocolate volcano cupcake
b) Make macaroons
c) Bake whole wheat, sugar free rhubarb cookies
d) Go to the local ice-cream shop and bring some ice cream home
e) Bake a coconut cream pie
f) Bake brownies

You like…
a) Cooking
b) Paris and fashion
c) Making the world a better place
d) Literature
e) Gardening
f) Acting

It’s your child’s (or grandchild’s) birthday! You give them…
a) Sports-themed jewelry
b) A trip to Paris
c) 100 trees planted in your child’s name
d) A boxed set of novels
e) An educational trip
f) A cake decorating class with you and your child

You and your child (or grandchild)…
a) Have different interests, but not very distant
b) Are super close
c) Are VERY different!
d) Are super-duper close!
e) Aren’t very close
f) Except occasionally, close

If you answered mostly…
a) You are Mrs. Sloane-Kinkaid!
b) You are Gigi!
c) You are Mrs. Wong!
d) You are Mrs. Hawthorne!
e) You are Mrs. Chadwick! (Isn’t that fantastic?)
f) You are Mrs. Deleany!

 

Which daughter are you?

Your house is…
a) An ultra-modern house
b) A cozy Cape Cod-style house
c) A little house on a farm
d) A victorian “Painted Lady”
e) A stiff, formal house with a stiff, formal garden

People would describe you as…
a) Fashionable
b) A bookworm
c) Super smart
d) Sporty
e) A frenemy

Your hobby is…
a) Sewing and designing clothes
b) Reading and writing
c) Helping rehabilitate animals
d) Playing sports
e) Cheerleading

You’ve had a bad day at school. To cheer yourself up, you…
a) Read a fashion magazine
b) Work on a poem
c) Volunteer at an animal shelter
d) Go to the rink or other place to play sports
e) Go to the mall

It’s your turn to pick a book for book club! You pick…
a) A book on the history of fashion
b) Jane Eyre
c) A story about a horse or other animal
d) A biography of a famous sports star
e) A “diary” book about middle school drama

If you answered mostly…
a) You are Megan!
b) You are Emma!
c) You are Jess!
d) You are Cassidy!
e) You are Becca!
Which father (or stepfather) are you most like?

Your job is…
a) An accountant
b) You don’t have a stable job yet, but for now, pizza delivering!
c) You work on a farm
d) A writer
e) A computer whiz

You like to…
a) Watch sports
b) Play volleyball
c) Do farm work
d) Read and write
e) Fiddle with technology

If you answered mostly…
a) You are Stanley Kinkaid!
b) You are Mr. Chadwick!
c) You are Mr. Delaney!
d) You are Mr. Hawthorne!
e) You are Mr. Wong!

Anybody want to share who they got?  Feel free to comment below!  

Behind the Scenes with Cris Dukehart

If you read my blog regularly, you know just how excited I am about the recent release of THE MOTHER-DAUGHTER BOOK CLUB in audio!

Mother-Daughter-final-600x600

In celebration of this thrilling new chapter for the MDBC, I thought it would be fun to get to know the amazingly talented voice actors who narrate each of the characters: Emma, Jess, Cassidy, Megan, and Becca. Over the next few months, as each book in the series is released, we’ll be going “Behind the Scenes” to meet each of the cast members.

Last month, I spoke with Amy Rubinate, the voice of Emma Hawthorne. Amy is also the force behind Ideal Audiobooks, the company that acquired the series and is dedicated to bringing “books with heart” to listeners. I’m honored to be included in Ideal’s list! (Click here to learn more about Amy.)

This month, we’re going “Behind the Scenes” with Cris Dukehart, the voice of Jess Delaney.

headshot_2015_Cris-Dukehart_

Isn’t she a beauty? Such a great smile — do I detect a hint of mischief? You just know that if she lived next door, you’d be best friends.

So Cris, how on earth did you get into audio work? I’d love to hear about your career path.

I’ve been reading and listening to stories since I can remember. Growing up, my best friend’s mom was a professional storyteller and the director of The Cloisters Children’s Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. We would listen every day to folk tales and snippets of stories, the words painting pictures and making movies in our heads. The museum was located in part of a huge castle, and because my friend’s mom was the director, my best friend and I had TOTAL access to the WHOLE DARN CASTLE! Endless stories and endless adventures!

When I got my first audiobook as a Christmas gift in the 4th grade (Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass on cassette tape, with each chapter’s tapes a different pastel color … blue, pink, purple, green), I discovered the fabulousness that is audiobooks. I would listen for hours on end and I was HOOKED.

I still listen to audiobooks when I drive or work outside.

I didn’t start out narrating, though. I went to school for Forensic Science and Medicine because THAT, I thought, was a REAL, GROWN-UP job. And it WAS. But what I found was that science, particularly forensic science, is just made of stories…

When I was offered a chance to study with some really great actors and narrators in Los Angeles and New York, I jumped in with both feet and was on my way!

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

LISTEN LISTEN LISTEN!  In order to tell really well, I think that the first thing you have to do is listen. Listen first to what you want to do … whether it’s cartoons or videogames, commercial work or audiobook narration.

Listen to the people who do it BEST.

And then … listen some MORE.

Listen to the way people talk — to how their voice changes when they are busy or sad or really, really angry. Listen to the different accents of people from different parts of the country and world; to how boys sound different from girls; to what happens to a voice as it ages. Once you’ve listened a bit (or a ton), see if you can make YOUR voice do that. Don’t be afraid to play with your voice and even be silly with it.

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

Reading a book out loud is almost like a marathon. You have to prepare before you ever set foot in the recording booth. You have to prepare YOURSELF, taking care not to yell a bunch (that’s so hard on your vocal chords), drinking lots of water, and getting your body ready to be VERY STILL for a long time. For me, that means running or doing yoga and stretching in the morning.

Then you have to prepare the STORY. I read the whole book and make notes about characters and the plot, and any hints the author might give as to how a character sounds. Sometimes, it’s super obvious, like “she lisped” or “he bellowed in his deep, deep baritone.”

But sometimes it’s about getting to know the characters, like if a character is shy or nervous, they might speak quietly, or sort of hesitantly.

If I have questions, I will sometimes talk with the author before I start, too. After all, they know all these characters the best.

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

I try to have some sort of routine — up at 6:30, exercise and breakfast, getting everyone off to school and work, dressing in my “soft clothing.” Clothes can be extremely noisy in the booth and our microphones pick up EVERY EVERY EVERYTHING … even the soda bubbles POP POP POP that stay between your gums and teeth for hours after you drink soda!

But there’s always some something that comes up … a pooch that won’t stop playing and is making NOISE NOISE NOISE … a neighbor mowing their lawn (even though my booth is sound-treated, that low hum manages to get in EVERY TIME) … my stomach rumbling long before lunch….

And then sometimes, I get in the booth and start on a story and before I know it, hours and pages have passed! Those are the BEST days.

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

Oh gosh, I don’t think I can pick a best part. Maybe getting so into a story that I forget that I’m telling it and it plays almost like a movie in my head instead.

The worst is … well, if you ask my daughter what I do for a living, she will tell you that I “hang around talking to myself in a padded room all day.” LOL!

And that is very true.

It can get a little crazy all by yourself in a small space for long periods of time, barely moving at all. Legs cramp up and your tush gets sore. And if I read for too long, my VOICE hurts. That stinks.

Any funny anecdotes to share from your recording experiences?

Often, I will be moving along in a book and come to a line that trips me up, or that I misread. For instance, yesterday while narrating I read the sentence, “He moved about the yard, happily watering his plants.” But what I NARRATED, what came out of my MOUTH was, “He moved about the yard, happily watering his pants.” I paused for a second, then hooted with laughter. It took me at least five minutes to get past that line because every time I tried to narrate it, I would imagine him watering his pants and then I would laugh all over again.

Turning to THE MOTHER-DAUGHTER BOOK CLUB, did you find any connections between yourself and the character that you narrated?

I play the role of Jess Delaney and boy do I EVER connect with her! I love when a character in a book draws me so deep and true inside their world that I find my own world outside of the book sort of mimicking theirs. That happened an absolute TON with Jess.

Jess and I share a lot of similarities I think. We both adore reading and science. Jess is a stalwart and devoted friend, and I like to think of myself as that way, too. And we are both, I think, of the soft-hearted variety — but also ready to fiercely defend those we love. It wasn’t difficult at all for me to find Jess’s “voice.”

I found myself stopping, too, in my everyday busyness and noticing things that Jess might notice … the palest peach color of my roses … the smell of the lavender and mint and lemon balm plants that grow along my fence line … how the fields outside of my house seem to make a puffy patchwork quilt.

I love hearing that, Cris! Nothing could make me happier. OK, last question — any fun facts about yourself that you might like to share with my readers?

Fun facts about me … hmm. I live in a little post-it note cottage (the previous owners painted the cottage post-it note yellow) with my 14-year-old daughter and our hairy white monster pooch.

Cris Dukehart_monster Pooch

I like to run and bike and swim — I’m a triathlete (that’s me below, holding my bike up in front of Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.):

triathlon_CrisDukehart

Oh, and I have a positively EMBARRASSING number of pairs of Converse shoes — and I like to surf, though I’m not super good at it yet….

Thanks so much for visiting with us, Cris! I’m absolutely delighted and honored that you agreed to play the role of Jess in THE MOTHER-DAUGHTER BOOK CLUB audiobooks — your wonderful narration brought her to life for me in ways I couldn’t even have imagined. My readers and I can’t wait to hear what else you have in store for us in the future! 

For more information on Cris and her stellar work, click here to visit her website. And stay tuned for next month’s audio release of MUCH ADO ABOUT ANNE, when we go “Behind the Scenes” with Kate Rudd, who plays Cassidy. Oh, and there’s another audio giveaway in store, too!

 

 

Fan mail Friday

It’s that time of the week again!

Before I share this week’s mail with you, though, I have something exciting to announce. We finally have a title for MDBC #7!!

MOTHER-DAUGHTER BOOK CAMP

Fun, huh?

I love it. Love it! And I’m enormously grateful to Justin Chanda, one of Simon & Schuster’s resident geniuses, for the suggestion. My editor and I kept throwing spaghetti at the wall, but nothing was sticking …

Anyway, a sneak preview of the book will be coming along later this spring, so stay tuned. I also happen to know that one of the goddesses in the S&S art department (Lucy, I’m looking at you!) has a REALLY cool idea for the cover, so once it’s been designed I’ll post it here on my blog.

I think you’re going to like this new book (she says modestly). And yes, it really is the FINAL one in the series, in case you’re wondering. I had such a great time writing this story, and I can’t wait to share it with the world!

So, on to more important things here — your mail! This week, I have a couple of great drawings to show you from Brooke. Her favorite book in the series is PIES & PREJUDICE, so she chose to picture the girls in their ballgowns:

Brooke - mdbc girls

Don’t you love it?

But wait! That’s not all! Brooke also sent along a drawing of the MDBC moms:

Brooke - mdbc moms

This is SUCH fun. I don’t get to see the mothers as often — well, aside from in my mind’s eye. Did you catch the slogan on Mrs. Wong’s T-shirt? Well done, Brooke! You’re awesome.

As always, many thanks for your letters and emails. They’re the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae that is my life as an author! 

Fan mail Friday

More goodies to share with you all this week!  My mailbox overfloweth!

Here’s a fun drawing by Muriel, who’s 11:

Muriel's drawing 2

It’s her favorite scene from DEAR PEN PAL, when my mother-daughter book club girls go to visit their friends on the ranch in Gopher Hole, Wyoming. I love that part of the story, too.  Wonderful job, Muriel — and such vivid color!

Here’s another drawing, this one from Maggie, who also happens to be 11:

Maggie's drawing 2(I hope you know you can click on these drawings to enlarge them and see them up close.)

Another wonderful job — I love all the fun details that let us know who each girl is. My favorite part is the frisky little tail on Jess’s baby goat.

Thank you, Maggie, and thank you, Muriel. You are both fabulous artists!

I love my fans!

Candy Hearts

 

 

 

MDBC trailer

Do I have something FUN for you…

Check out this review and absolutely wonderful, hilarious, creative book trailer for THE MOTHER-DAUGHTER BOOK CLUB, made by a fifth grader from Illinois.  I’m SO IMPRESSED! The MDBC has never looked or sounded so sassy! I think this young woman has a future in the film industry, don’t you?

Fantastic job, Julia!

Click here to view it. (And be sure and leave a comment for the talented young filmmaker!)