The Absolutely Truly Wonderful World of Heather Vogel Frederick

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Posted in Author-Narrator Interview Series

Oscar on Laptop

We are happy to have Heather Vogel Frederick, the author of our Pumpkin Falls, Mother-Daughter-Book Club, and Spy Mice audiobook series join us for an interview about her work.

Absolutely Truly just won the Oregon Spirit Book Award (congratulations!).

Thanks, Amy! As a proud Oregon transplant (we moved here from the East Coast 20 years ago), I’m thrilled to have my work honored in this way.

Truly Lovejoy and her family—and the whole town of Pumpkin Falls—seem like real people. How much did you draw from your own life and experience when writing the book?

I grew up in small towns in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, so I drew from those memories in giving the book a strong sense of place. And I’ve always been a big fan of covered bridges, so I knew from the get-go that there’d be one in Pumpkin Falls! As for the characters, creating them is one of my favorite parts of the writing process. The landscape of my childhood was populated with quirky characters (they also abound in my family, and I have the pictures to prove it), and while none of them was plopped wholesale into any of my books, they’ve certainly been the inspiration for people who appear in my stories, including Aunt True. Other characters, such as Belinda Winchester and her kittens, seem to spring onto the page of their own volition. I have absolutely no idea where they came from!

Absolutely TrulyYou have new books coming out next year in both the Pumpkin Falls and Mother-Daughter Book Club series. What can listeners look forward to?

Mother-Daughter Book Camp will be the grand finale to the MDBC series. It finds the girls enjoying a last hurrah as they spend their final summer together before college working as counselors at a summer camp. When homesickness sweeps through their cabins, it’s up to them to find a cure…. I can assure you that there will be pranks and merry mayhem as always, along with a smidgen of romance. As for Pumpkin Falls, I’m living there happily right now as I work on Yours Truly, which will find Truly and her friends unraveling a mystery that dates back to the Civil War.

Before you published your first book, you worked as a journalist and reviewed books for The Christian Science Monitor and for Publishers Weekly magazine. Did this work, particularly reviewing books, help you learn what to do/not to do with your own writing? 

It absolutely truly did! I couldn’t have asked for better training than the discipline of the daily deadlines I faced when I first started out in the newsroom of The Christian Science Monitor. Learning to research, conduct an interview, edit, and revise—it was pure gold. As for my stints as a reviewer, again, it was fabulous training for a writer. I call it my graduate school experience. Reading and critiquing all those books over the years was an invaluable education in what works, what doesn’t, the importance of such elements as a compelling voice, engaging characters, well-crafted plot, finely-drawn setting, strong beginnings and satisfying endings—all the vital elements that coalesce into an absorbing book.

Mother Daughter Book ClubYour books are very inclusive of classic literature. Truly and her friends interpret Shakespeare quotes to help solve a mystery; the Mother-Daughter Book Club reads books ranging from Anne of Green Gables to Jane Eyre. Have you heard from readers that your books helped them become interested in and understand these books from another time?

My secret plan to take over the reading world is working, mwahaha! Seriously, nothing makes me happier than receiving letters or emails from young readers letting me know that one of my books has pointed them in the direction of classic literature, and that they’re loving reading it. There’s a reason they’re called classics—they’re good reads! I love knowing that in some small way I’ve helped open this door to a younger generation of readers, and that as a result, they’ll have these classics as part of their mental wallpaper forever.

Oscar Sleeping

Truly likes birds, and birds seem to like Truly. Have you had any interesting personal interactions with wild animals that youd like to share?

Yes! Though I’m not officially a birder, I’m fascinated by birds, and have been ever since our family rescued and raised a baby robin some years ago. We named him Oscar, and in the brief weeks he was with us, he became part of the family. Talk about a character! As you can see from the pictures, he was just a love. His favorite place to nap was in the palm of my hand, and he enjoyed supervising from his perch on my laptop, or in his Tupperware “nest” in the kitchen. We were sad to say good-bye on the day he finally flew away, but knew that he needed to join his own kind. Every summer since, though, a robin pair has made a nest on our back patio and raised a family. We’re pretty sure it’s Oscar and his mate—at least we like to think so!

I also had a close encounter with an owl in my backyard as I was writing Absolutely Truly, which had a profound effect on me. I was struggling with the book at the time—I knew that it lacked something, a certain texture and richness, but I wasn’t sure how to fix it. I went out into the backyard at dusk one winter day, and there was a barred owl perched on a low branch in our maple tree! Its visit felt like a gift (especially since it showed up on my birthday). I stood there watching it for a long time, completely in awe, and thrilled to find such a beautiful creature in my own backyard. I ended up weaving owl imagery through the book, and linking it to Truly’s desire to disappear into what she calls “stealth mode.” In fact, the whole bird theme became more pronounced in the wake of that feathered visitor. Nature is amazing, isn’t it?

Trulys father comes home from Afghanistan with a major injury, and it changes his life and that of his family. How did you come to have this be one of the themes of the book?

I have two relatives who were amputees—my maternal grandfather, and my paternal great-grandfather. My grandfather lost a leg in an accident while working for the Canadian National Railroad, and my great-grandfather lost an arm in a farming accident in the 19th century. For some reason, the two of them were in my thought the spring that I was working on this book. And then, the Boston bombing took place. I was so moved by the stories of veterans who went to see the victims of that tragedy, to offer encouragement and mentoring as they learned to cope with loss of limbs. It made me wish that my grandfather, in particular, whose life went into a downward spiral in the wake of his accident, could have had such championing—along with the advantage of the amazing advances in prosthesis technology. And somehow, all of this made its way into the book.

How did you decide to write books for children? 

It happened in college. I’d known practically since I could hold a pencil that I wanted to be a writer, and at that point I was planning to be the next Jane Austen. My life took a sharp turn during spring quarter of my senior year, however, when I enrolled in a children’s literature class. The instructor, a former children’s librarian by the name of Margie Hamlin, was so completely on fire with passion for her subject, that she kindled an echoing fervor in her students. We couldn’t help but fall in love with children’s books! She opened a door for me, and I walked through and have never looked back.

What is your writing process? 

I’m a pantster as opposed to a plotter—I like to fly by the seat of my pants and just make it up as I go. I love sitting down at my laptop and diving in, just telling myself a story. Of course, it also can be an agonizing way to write. There are lots of false starts and dead ends and frustration, and much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Sometimes I envy my friends who are tidy planners and plotters, and who know exactly where the book is going before they even write the first word. But my process is my process, and at the end of the day it gets me to the same place—a finished book—so I’ve learned to make peace with it.

When you are in the beginning stages of a book, do you work with a critique group or on your own?

I work on my own. I’ve tried critique groups a couple of times, and much as I’ve loved the other writers, the whole group dynamic structure just doesn’t work for me. What does work for me is to get together informally with writer friends. For instance, once a week I meet up with a couple of local authors at a coffee shop, where we visit a bit and then write independently, but together, for a couple of hours. It’s a nice change of pace from working alone in my office at home. I also started a group I call “Soup & Solidarity” a couple of years ago. Every few months, I invite a number of local writer friends to come to my house. We disperse to various corners and armchairs and spend the morning writing, then break for lunch. I make the soup, they bring the salads, sides, and dessert, and we relax over a long, chatty lunch. It’s always productive and fun. Writing is such a solitary pursuit, that it’s important to me to find ways to have a sense of community.

How do you feel about your books being on audio?

I am beyond excited! I’m just honored and delighted that you chose my work to help launch Ideal Audiobooks, and I’m looking forward to a long and fruitful partnership. As for audio books, what’s not to love? I’ve always adored being read to, and I adore reading aloud to others. It’s a completely new way to experience a book, and I can’t wait for my readers to hear what you and your talented team of narrators have up your collective sleeves for them. Let’s get this party started!

Oscar the Fledgling

Oscar in Nest

Heather Vogel Frederick

For more information on Heather Vogel Frederick, and her exclusive interview with Amy Rubinate, the narrator of Absolutely Truly, click here: http://www.heathervogelfrederick.com/blog/