I’ve had an exciting few days as a debut author. First, I learned that The Snow Child is a Spring 2012 selection of Barnes & Noble’s Discover Great New Writers program. This is such an honor, and a thrill! I have to confess, I made a clandestine, late-night visit to the Anchorage Barnes & Noble to see where my book would be displayed with other Discover books come February.
But my exciting week continued. That afternoon, my former newspaper editor came to my home with her notebook and camera to interview me for an article about my book for the local Frontiersman’s Peak Magazine! It was such fun, in part because I got to catch up with the woman who taught me to fear grammatical errors and helped me become a better writer. (Regrettably she couldn’t brake me of my homophone troubles.)
Then yesterday, I had an early morning telephone interview with a reporter from The Bookseller, the UK equivalent to Publishers Weekly here in the United States. She had read The Snow Child and had such insightful, thought-provoking questions. I felt as if I could have talked with her for hours. And — Holy Mackerel — I was being interviewed for a British magazine!
Finally, when I thought I had topped out with good news, this bellissimo cover from my Italian publisher arrived in my email. La Bambina Di Neve will be published in Italy at the end of November.
Somebody pinch me — this must be a dream.
P.S. My copy editor is otherwise occupied these next few weeks, so please excuse any grammatical errors, typos, or other embarrassing mishaps. And my poor Italian can be blamed entirely on Google Translate 🙂
Dear kind reader,
I’m think I just received my first official piece of fan mail.
This morning I received an email from a gentleman in Norway who read my debut The Snow Child, which was released there last month. He is a retired school teacher and an author himself. He borrowed the Norwegian translation of Snøbarnet from his neighborhood library.
It probably goes without saying that this is incredibly thrilling. To have a complete stranger, from another country, take the time to write to me and share his feelings about my book!
What added to my delight, however, was the fact that he had checked it out from a local library. From a purely pragmatic viewpoint, library loans don’t earn money or boost placement on the bestseller list. However, as a reader and a book lover, the thought of my novel passing across a library check-out counter is incredible.
As I read his email, I thought of all the books I’ve discovered at our local libraries. When I was a little girl, the Palmer Public Library was in a cramped corner of City Hall. The library didn’t fine you if you turned in a book late, but there was a jar on the counter where you could, if compelled by guilt, donate some spare change. On afternoons, the librarian would sit on a chair and school children would gather around to hear her read a storybook.
Over the years at various public and school libraries I have found unexpected treasures, books I had never heard of but have stayed with me forever. My own daughters love stopping at the Sutton Public Library to check out books and visit with librarian Nancy Bertels. It is a warm, welcoming place.
And it fills me with joy to know that my novel has found such a home, on a shelf in a neighborhood library where, maybe, someone will stumble upon it and decide to take it home for a time.
Dear kind reader,
I wanted to let you know I’m off to Powell’s — oops, I mean Portland, Oregon.
Powell’s, of course, is the bookstore in downtown Portland. It occupies an entire city block, and claims to be the largest used and new bookstore in the world. In a word, it’s fabulous.
I think I might have first visited Powell’s while I was attending college in Bellingham, Washington. I had a good friend who was going to school outside of Portland, so occasionally I’d take a long weekend to drive down and see her. And as I recall, that might have been one of the first times I walked among those glorious shelves.
More recently I was there with Fireside Books owner Melissa Behnke. It’s a funny feeling to enter Powell’s as a bookseller. I had a mixed reaction of admiration, jealousy, and inspiration. Oh, I’d think proudly, we have that book. Wow, those are really cool displays. I wish we had chairs like this in our history section!
The reason Melissa and I were in Portland together several years ago was to attend the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association annual trade show. It’s an event that brings booksellers together to learn about their trade, discover new books, and generally have a great time. As I mentioned in an earlier letter, this year I have the opportunity to attend as an author.
I leave tomorrow, and on Friday I’ll attend a PNBA dinner in which authors visit with booksellers and tell them about their books. It’s terribly exciting and surprising to be going to discuss my own book. During the two days I’m in town, I’m also hoping to get a chance to roam the trade floor and snag a few advance reader copies. A good friend and former co-worker at Fireside Books lives in Portland now, so maybe we’ll get together for coffee. I’ll have a chance to catch up with Amanda from Little, Brown. And Katie, who works at Fireside Books now, is attending the conference as a bookseller, so I know we’ll flag each other down at some point.
But, amidst all this business and fun, I’m going to make sure I can sneak over to Powell’s for an hour, or two … or three.
P.S. I’m afraid all this book business won’t leave much time for me to write a letter to you Friday — so I’ll see you on Monday!
This morning when I woke up shortly after 6 a.m., I went downstairs to start the coffee, pack lunches, and check my email. It seemed like a normal day, until I opened an email titled “Congratulations.” It was from my Norwegian publisher, Alexander Elguren with Pantagruel. Pantagruel is the first and only publisher to have released THE SNOW CHILD so far. SNØBARNET arrived in bookstores in Norway last month. Here’s what this morning’s email said:
“The great news today is that SNØBARNET entered the fiction bestseller lists at 10th place (out of 15 reported places)!”
I couldn’t contain my excitement. I shouted for my husband and oldest daughter to come quick, I had big news. As I read the email out loud, I felt my voice quaver. This was beyond my wildest dreams. But as thrilling as it was, it was Alexander Elguren’s next words that moved me the most.
“Even more than the numbers, I am overwhelmed by gratitude and joy to see how SNØBARNET seem to have become a favorite of the booksellers & bookbloggers in Norway! They – the many dedicated readers and enthusiasts working in the booksellers around the country – are rooting for SNØBARNET.”
I am so grateful for, and humbled by, this support for my book on the other side of the world. As I’ve followed the various Norwegian blogs and reviews, again and again I have been touched by how warmly they’ve welcomed my SNØBARNET to their country.
I told my husband and daughter that I couldn’t wait to write this letter to you, but I was afraid I wouldn’t even know what to say. Grace, who recently read The Wizard of Oz with me, provided a quote from the movie. As the Lion said, “Awww. Shucks, folks, I’m speechless.”
Dear returning reader,
In Wednesday’s letter, I wrote about our recent caribou hunting trip. I described the small details — the sights and sounds of the river.
When my husband Sam got home that evening, he read the letter. “It’s nice,” he said. “I like it.” But then he chuckled, and said he told his coworkers a different version of events. Same hunting trip, same characters, setting and plot, but Sam’s telling was a comedy of errors.
It began the day before we left. As Sam drove to town to get supplies, he heard an ominous sound from his truck. The brakes were going out. He called me at the bookstore, said he wasn’t sure how this was going to work out, but he would try to replace the brakes that afternoon. There was no way we could make the 150-mile drive, pulling the boat, if he didn’t fix the problem.
Which, much to my admiration, he did in about an hour, with the only help coming from our two daughters. First hurdle cleared.
At home, we hurriedly gathered all of our gear and food, working late into the night. We rose the next morning at 5 a.m., bundled up the girls and hooked up the boat trailer.
There, in the pitch dark of our driveway, we realized that the trailer lights weren’t working. No brake lights. No taillights. Sam followed the wires and came to a connection where, when he tugged ever so gently, the entire line fell apart. After much searching, he found his tools in the shed and began rewiring. It was cold and dark. I held the flashlight for Sam while the girls waited, half-asleep, in the house. After a half hour or so, he had all the wires mended. We turned on the truck, tested the lights — now we had no trailer lights, AND no truck lights.
“We blew a fuse,” Sam said. Fuses, and any other store-bought items, are 30 miles the opposite direction of caribou. But by now it was nearly light (not part of the plan.) Sam said we would head north, and if someone came up behind us, we would turn on our turn signal (which we miraculously still had) and pull safely off the road. Next hurdle cleared, kind of.
Until we arrived at the boat launch, more than 150 miles from home and in the middle of nowhere, and our 12-year-old daughter hopped out of the truck in her flimsy Converse shoes.
“Where are your boots?” I asked.
“What?” she said with an expression only a middle school girl can give you. “You didn’t bring them for me?” It was 37 degrees. There could be rain, snow, sleet, and at the very least freezing river water. So I gave her my new insulated rubber boots, which are about three sizes too big for her, and I took Sam’s rubber boots, which are about 6 sizes two big for me, and Sam wore his leaky hip waders. The only one of us in appropriate foot gear was our 4-year-old, who as sweet as she is isn’t much help in launching or landing the boat. But another hurdle was cleared, albeit with cold, clumsy feet.
We got in the boat and turned up river. When we stopped to scout for caribou, we saw dozens of big, beautiful grayling swimming in the clear water below us.
“I want to catch a fish!” our youngest announced excitedly. She has her very own pink fishing rod, which she is very handy at casting and reeling. She loves fishing. It was part of the goal of this trip — we could caribou hunt, and Rori could catch some fish. Except, in the flurry of the morning, we forgot all the fishing gear. Even Rori’s hot pink fishing rod. Rori scowled and stared over the boat’s edge, watching 50 fish swim by.
For the next hours, all was how I described in my last letter — burbling river water, eagle feathers and bear tracks, all beautiful and amazing. Evening approached, and we started a campfire. We hadn’t seen a single caribou, despite all the tracks, but we knew they could come along any time. We got out our dinner — hot dogs, buns. “Where’s the ketchup?” Grace asked.
Sam looked at me. I looked back. “Mustard?” he asked, kind of sadly. Apparently fishing rods and hunting boots weren’t all that were forgotten — we had also left the condiments at home.
But at dusk, not long after we finished our meal, Sam whispered loudly “Caribou!” and we proceeded to shoot one, field dress it, and bring it back to camp just before we lost all light. We left the meat on the sand bar, just the other side of the river from camp, and during the night the monstrously huge bear that had left his tracks along the river did not come visit us or the meat. We stayed warm enough in the tent, and Sam dried his wool socks and hip waders beside the campfire. In the middle of the night, we heard coyotes yipping and the northern lights were out in all their majesty.
In the end, all things forgotten were, well, forgotten.
Bonjour mes amis du livre,
Of the foreign editions of The Snow Child, I have been most looking forward to seeing the French copy. I took four years of high school French. Both my parents spoke a little French as I was growing up — my dad spent part of his childhood in France. And, perhaps this needn’t even be said, I would love to go there some day.
So I was so excited when Tracy Williams with Little, Brown and Co. forwarded this cover from Fleuve Noir to me earlier this week:
I have to say, I love it. And not just because it’s my French cover. I love the snowy scene, which is so evocative of winter in Alaska. And the girl and the fox lend such movement and excitement to the image. The title translates into The Daughter of Winter, which I also think is lovely.
Alas, it has been 20 years since my last French lesson, and I’m afraid many of Madame Koivunen’s lessons have slipped my mind. In fact, a few years ago a French couple came into Fireside Books. I could catch words here and there as they looked over the shelves and talked with each other, and I said so to my coworker.
“Say something in French to them!” She kept prodding me during their visit. “Come on! They’re leaving,” she said as they headed out the door.
I saw my chance slipping away, so I burst out, “Bonjour!”
To which the lovely French woman gave a small, sweet smile, waved her hand and, with a slight raise of her eyebrows, said “Au revoir?” as if to ask “Didn’t you mean goodbye instead of hello?”
Ah well. I’m not sure how much of La Fille de L’Hiver I’ll actually be able to read, but I can’t wait to give it a try.
A la votre!
P.S. Thought I’d raise the copy-editing challenge for my mom, Julie LeMay, this week by throwing in a bit of French. 🙂
Part way through my novel, The Snow Child, a neighbor named Esther brings the main character a jar of pickled peas. We have some friends who make pickled peas, and they are delicious. But this fall, for the first time ever, I decided to make them myself.
My 4-year-old daughter and I went down to the garden and filled a gallon bucket with peas from the vines. Then, over the weekend, I convinced everyone in the family to help with the pickling process.
We gathered at our counter. Aurora picked the stems and leaves off the peas, I lined them up in the jars, Grace sprinkled in the dill, pepper flakes and cayenne (easy does it, per Mr. Baer), and Sam poured in the boiling apple cider and salt water. Then we put on the lids, lowered the jars into a giant pot and set them to boiling.
Half an hour later, we were forking steaming, spicy hot peas into our mouths. They were delicious, and potent. More of an appetizer to have along with some good bread or wheat crackers. Aurora turned them down with a wrinkle of her nose — she’s more of a meat-and-potatoes girl.
Last week, I tweeted about how I was going to make them:
Just harvested peas from the garden. Going to make my first batch of spicy pickled peas. Wish Esther was here to help. Life Imitating Art.
To which Chicago bookseller Nathan Dunbar, who has read an advanced reader copy of my novel, replied:
you could watch while Esther whizzed through it.
And I tweeted back:
Ha! She’d take over the kitchen! Imagining is actually making me feel a little dizzy, like when I look at an optical illusion.
It was such a wonderful, strange experience to be talking about this character, and her cooking, as if she were a real person instead of a creation of my imagination. And it made me wonder what Esther would think of our pickled peas.
Dear kind readers,
Thank you all for your wonderful quotes. You’ve inspired me through and through, not just with the words themselves, but by your love of literature. Such fabulous books you all read!
In fact, you have so inspired me, I’m going to keep my letter brief today and try to spend some time working on a writing project.
But I do want to share this amazing cover with you – my Dutch editor Liesbeth Botman with Artemis & Co sent it to me this morning. Kind Van Sneeuw will be published in Holland in January.
Dear inspiring reader,
I’m tired today.
I could blame it on staying up late these past few nights, working on our house. (We bought a fixer-upper recreational cabin several years ago and have been steadily turning it into a real home while we live in it. We’re doing almost all the work ourselves — framing, Sheetrocking, wiring, plumbing, painting. It’s as challenging, rewarding, and exhausting as it sounds.)
I could also blame it on my second career as a novelist, which yields new avenues of challenging, rewarding, and exhausting work. I could blame it on the shortening days, the cooler weather. The daily, relentless chores. Parenting. Housekeeping.
But the truth is, I can’t blame this sort of fatigue on too much work or not enough sleep. This is a creative fatigue, the sense that I have nothing to say, and if I did, I’d be too tired and uninspired to write it. Sleep doesn’t fix it. Neither does whining, as tempting as it is.
I have to go back to the books. The ones that give me goosebumps, the ones that make my heart shudder, the ones that make me hope to be a writer.
At noon the next day they rode into the pueblo of Encantada at the foot of the low range of pollarded mountains they’d been skirting and the first thing they saw was Blevins’ pistol sticking out of the back pocket of a man bent over into the engine compartment of a Dodge car. — All the Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy
These waters, thought Quoyle, haunted by lost ships, fishermen, explorers gurgled down into sea holes as black as a dog’s throat. Bawling into salt broth. Vikings down the cracking winds, steering through fog by the polarized light of sun-stones. The Inuit in skin boats, breathing, breathing, rhythmic suck of frigid air, iced paddles dipping, spray freezing, sleek back rising, jostle, the boat torn, spiraling down. — The Shipping News, Annie Proulx
“Is dying hard, Daddy?” “No, I think it’s pretty easy, Nick. It all depends.” They were seated in the boat, Nick in the stern, his father rowing. The sun was coming up over the hills. A bass jumped, making a circle in the water. Nick trailed his hand in the water. It felt warm in the sharp chill of the morning. — The Complete Short Stories, Ernest Hemingway
My father was very sure about certain matters pertaining to the universe. To him, all good things — trout as well as eternal salvation — come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy. — A River Runs Through It, Norman Maclean
What are your favorite lines, from a book, a song, a poem, that make you want to keep going?
Dear kind reader,
Have I ever mentioned how completely blind I am to my own writing mistakes?
Yesterday afternoon I sat down at my laptop to draft my next letter to you. But then something jumped out at me from Friday’s letter. Did I really write that? Does that say “Vanity Fairy”? I blinked hard, looked again. Good grief. And it’s been days since I sent you that letter.
Of course, it’s supposed to have been Vanity Fair, as in one of the most famous magazines in America. I somehow managed to make them sound like a dreadful series of books for preteen girls in which the beautiful, popular fairy bullies the other fairies in her class.
I called my mom.
“Oh no. Did you see that?” I asked her.
She hadn’t. But then through a stifled giggle she said something like, “Oh, and I’ve been meaning to tell you that there’s a typo in one of your comments last week. I’m sorry. I’ve been meaning to point it out, but I just kept forgetting.”
I quickly flipped through the comments and there it was, in response to something the wonderful Biblio-Files blogger Kelly Kegans had written to me, and even more embarrassing than “Vanity Fairy.”
“It’s been so much fun working with you so far,” I wrote, “and your blob is beautifully put together.”
I wanted to disappear under my dining room table. Your blob is beautifully put together? Dear God.
Have I mentioned that my mom is my highly-paid, well-regarded copy editor?
“Is this a hint?” I joked with Mom. “Am I not paying you enough?” As in, isn’t my deep admiration and appreciation and the occasional cappuccino from Vagabond Blues not enough for catching the silly errors in every single thing I send out into the world?
“Yeah,” she said as we both were laughing. “I’m demanding a better salary package. Benefits? Insurance?”
Luckily, we have a sense of humor over these things. I’m really hoping you do, too. To quote Homer Simpson, “Doh!”