Summer Pages

Jane/Susannah/Sadie here, wishing she was on vacation . . . 

Greetings, Wicked People. I hope everyone is enjoying this first full week of summer. There were so many snow days in Connecticut this past winter that the kids in my town don’t get out until today. And that brings me back to memories of my own childhood. It probably won’t be a surprise to any of you that one of my favorite summer vacation activities was–wait for it–reading.

Recently I’ve been reading (usually via audiobooks) a number of popular books that are often called domestic thrillers. You know the ones, that are selling a squillion copies, like Gone Girl. Unreliable narrator (generally a woman, often with a prescription medication and/or alcohol problem) who may or may not have actually seen or done what she thinks she did. Lots of surprises, twists and turns–but not small ones. Big ones. In general I’m enjoying these books, but I have to say that my professional goggles frequently make the secrets that get revealed fairly obvious.

Sometimes I long for the days when I read just for the joy of reading, without feeling the compulsion to guess or analyze or predict what’s coming next. And that makes me think of the books I loved when I was in elementary school, the books I read over and over. Here’s a sample:

A Wrinkle In Time, by Madeleine L’Engle. So, whether from nostalgia, or because I haven’t seen the movie yet but intend to, I recently reread this book. Despite having read it at least 5 times as a kid, I have to say I didn’t remember a word of it! So it turned out to be a brand-new experience for me. Verdict: This is a highly spiritual, allegorical work, with some rather stilted language, and now, viewed through those professional goggles I mentioned above, I didn’t quite connect with it the way I did all those years ago. There are several more related books (I’m not sure they’re exactly sequels), and I don’t recall if I read those. I think not, and I probably won’t now. I’ll just try to remember my former love for the book and leave it at that. I still may see the movie, because, ya know, Oprah, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, and Chris Pine.

The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. I adored it then, and adore it now. I remember being fascinated by those round hobbit doors, second breakfasts (a brilliant concept that really ought to catch on), and hairy-footed short people going on a quest with some dwarves. I’ve read the Lord of the Rings trilogy a couple of times, and I’ve seen the movies, which were unnecessarily extended, but The Hobbit is still the book that does it for me. Time for a reread on this one.

Strange But True, by David Duncan. I must have checked this one out of the library 800 times. In fact, a group of my friends and I just pretty much took turns checking it out in perpetuity, so no one else got to read it. I recall serious discussions about the stories in this book. Credible sightings of the Loch Ness Monster. Feral children raised by wolves. And one that still sticks with me today: the farmer who walked across his field one morning and simply vanished, while his wife was watching. Hey, it could happen. I think I need to find this book (and I seem to recall there was a second volume with another set of terrifying tales).

Chariots of the Gods, by Erich von Daniken. . What can I say? I believed in aliens.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond,by Elizabeth George Speare. I saved my all-time favorite for last. To say I adored this book is not doing my feelings justice. Set in colonial Connecticut against the backdrop of the Connecticut witch trials, this is the story of Kit Tyler, born and raised in Barbados, who comes to live with her horrible Puritan relatives in Wethersfield. She befriends a Quaker woman who is accused of witchcraft–then Kit gets accused of it herself! In the end, she sails off for the tropics with the very dreamy Nat Eaton. I still get all swoony when I think about him. Seriously, if you guys haven’t read this one, do. It’ll only take a few hours. And as a side note, I never thought while I was reading this book back then that I would end up living only twenty miles from the actual Wethersfield. And now, since I did a little research for this blog post, I have just discovered that a house from the story is now a museum! I’ll be visiting that soon.

What were your favorites? Have you reread them lately? Has your opinion about them changed? I’d love to know.


Congratulations Kristin Shandler! You are the winner of the giveaway from Krista Davis! Check your email for details!

Jessie: In New Hampshire, where the birds are starting to sing.

IMG_0003On Friday I received an unexpected package in the mail. My son decided the weather was favorable and volunteered to walk to the post office. When he returned he was bearing a lumpy envelope from my publisher.

I ripped it open expecting dust jackets for my second Beryl and Edwina Mystery, Murder Flies the Coop. Instead, I found five copies of the audiobook of the first Beryl and Edwina Mystery, Murder in an English Village. I was stunned and thrilled. This is my first audiobook and the good people at Recorded Books entrusted the job  of bringing it to life in an audible format to the acclaimed actress and voice professional Barbara Rosenblat.

When my publisher informed me several months ago tha they had sold the audio rights to the book I was delighted. This was my first experience with an audiobook being made from my work and I was eager to expand my horizons. I also loved the idea of people who prefer to experience stories in this way having a chance to try my work.

But here’s the problem: as much as I am delighted that the audiobook exists and am so appreciative that such a lauded professional has been willing to apply her talents and skills to a version of my work that has been evaluated as a wonderful expression of the book, I can’t bring myself to listen to it. I put all five copies on a shelf in my office and they have been staring me down all weekend.

The thing is, I know exactly how Beryl and Edwina sound in my head. They are talkative and generous women and neither of them holds back about what is on their minds. When I write the books it feels almost like I am a court reproter taking down what the witnesses have to say rather than that I am the one generating the stories. I plot my books so I know I was involved but it still feels like channeling rather than creating. I can see these women and hear them so clearly that I have a bit of trouble remembering that we haven’t actually met on the physical plane. Which brings me to my reluctance to listen to the audio version.

The fact is, I am scared to do so. I am afraid that if I hear the way another artist interprets how they sound I won’t be able to hear my version anymore. I worry that the voices I have come to recognize and the companionship I have enjoyed when commiting their stories to paper will evaporate into the thin air if I permit another version of them into my consciousness.

I may be worrying for nothing but I have decided that I cannot risk it. I have determined that the only thing to do is to give away four of the copies and to let my husband listen to the fifth. Maybe my kids will do so too. I am delighted to provide it with pride of place on the shelves in my office that I have set aside for the varying versions of my work. And I am content to leave the listening to others.

So dear readers, tell me, what self-imposed restrictions do you create for yourself? Writers, do you worry about anything altering the way your characters sound in your head?

I am choosing a subscriber to my newsletter to win a copy of the audiobook. If you sign up before the February newsletter goes out next Sunday your name will go into the hat! Good luck and if you win, let me know how you like the way it turned out!