Friday, 27 April 2012

Last Summer at Yellow Lake

At Yellow Lake's publication date is 6 weeks away, so it's probably time I mentioned the book itself, or rather, its setting....

Most of this post consists of something I wrote many months ago--on the second of July, 2011. I wrote it while sitting at the dining room table of my family's lake cabin in Wisconsin, the fictionalised setting for At Yellow Lake.

Here it is:

2nd July 2011

There is a real Yellow Lake, and a cabin in the woods, that was built by my grandfather on land that has been in my family since the 1930’s. The experience of spending all my summers in a place that was home-but-not-home, a place that I loved more than any other plot of land, was part of the seed that led to At Yellow Lake being written.

The story of At Yellow Lake’s long and tumultuous journey to publication is another story.
Today, I’m writing about the real Yellow Lake, the real cabin. Last night, after the day I e-mailed final changes to the layout copy of At Yellow Lake to Emily, my editor, a tornado hit the cabin. (Note: It turned out that a tornado didn’t hit us: 100 mph straight line winds did). Not an imaginary tornado, not a metaphorical one, but a real one that sounded like a freight train, turned the sky green, ripped up every single tree on our large, forested lot and pummelled the poor cabin (and its sole inhabitant—me—who cowered in a closet under what I think what I think is my mother’s old sewing cabinet) in a merciless onslaught.

The tornado hit without warning. My mother called from 200 miles south saying that she’d heard there might be severe weather in Northern Wisconsin and that I should check with the local news for information and warnings. After quickly rolling my eyes at her over-reaction (how many severe weather warnings had we toughed it out over the decades? My lack of concern seemed justified when the Minneapolis TV news station issued a “severe thunderstorm watch” for Burnett County. A watch is a pretty low-level warning, meaning that the weather conditions are such that a severe thunderstorm (heavy lighting, torrential rain, high winds, hail, etc) is possible. Despite being completely unconcerned by the “watch” I thought (after the electricity, and the satellite TV went out) that closing a few windows would be a good idea.

I made it as far as the kitchen. In the 20 seconds it took me to walk from my chair in the living room, the wind came out of nowhere and something had struck—a porch window smashed, and through the kitchen window I saw a massive tree branch crack and crash to the ground. Ten seconds later I was in the upper bedroom, barricading myself into a closet by shoving a dresser in front of the door as best as I could, and burrowing into a corner.

I am not exaggerating the suddenness or the ferocity of the storm. Thankfully, I heard none of the carnage that was happening outside the cabin. I did not hear the snapping in two of dozens of 75 feet high pine trees. I didn’t hear the 100 year old oak trees crashing around the cabin, onto the roof. I didn’t hear the neighbour’s pontoon boat being flipped into the air, and being swept out onto the lake  (I did discover the lid to his boat’s chemical toilet while on my first post-storm swim). I didn’t hear the detached garage collapse into a flat pile of  shingles and splintered timbers. 

I heard nothing but the ear-shattering noise at the centre of all the havoc: I can only describe this as sounding like very, very large engine or motor wrapping me up in an aural cocoon.  The classic description of noise a tornado makes that it sounds like a freight train.  As I cowered, I asked myself: “Does that sound like a train?” My panic-addled thought brain was actually trying determine what type of train it was—freight or passenger, diesel or coal. Well, it was a freight train, but it wasn’t too close. Seriously. That was the answer I came up with. I also remembered that trains could travel at break-neck speeds and I had no way of knowing whether this train was moving closer to me and the cabin or away from us.

Curled up in a little ball (well, as little as I could make myself....) I could only wait it out. Most people, when describing a relatively brief yet utterly terrifying experience say of their ordeal that “it seemed like it lasted forever."  I felt the opposite. I felt that the winds would last forever, and I was actually surprised when they didn't.  Hunkering, swearing and praying in a closet seemed not an aberration, but the new normality. It was as if this is how I would stay forever. On the floor, curled up, waiting...

I was shocked at how quickly it was all over.



That sounds odd, I know, but I feel a similar thing now, writing several days later about the changes I’m observing outside the window that looks out over the lake. It seems a long tme ago that the cabin was sheltered from the summer’ sun’s searing rays by a thick canopy of branches and leaves. It feels as if these fallen trees that are now obscuring the view of the lake have always been here, and another lifetime ago that things were “normal” and I felt safe and secure.     

2 July, 2011  Yellow Lake

Saturday, 21 April 2012

There's No Place Like Home, Wherever That Is

The jet lag's over, the cake's been eaten, the books have been signed (scrawled, handwriting's still a mess).

Now, after a brilliant trip home to the US, which included the American launch of At Yellow Lake, I'm back home in the UK.

Home. Weird that I used the word twice in the last sentence, and was referring to places in two different countries, on two different continents.  "Home" for me is, in fact, more than two places. I grew up in Peterson, Minnesota,

spending my summers in Northern Wisconsin. (Here's our wonderful cabin, taken before the terrible storm of 1 July, 2011)

 I lived in several other parts of the US as a university student, and then moved to San Francsico in my eary twenties. As soon as I arrived there I thought, "This is it! I've found it!  This will be my home forever."

Forever lasted about five years. Then I met the man I  later married and moved to the UK, ending up eventually in Brighton (Hove, actually.)

 This is my "new" home, where I've been for almost 25 years, and where my children have been born and raised.

Earlier this week I read Catherine MacPhail's brilliant post on "setting" in UKYA, the new blog that celebrates British YA writers. She talked about the importance of using the setting of her home community in Scotland, and I felt a twinge of jealousy that Catherine could place so many of her tense and edgy novels in a part of the world she has known all her life. I envy that sense of rootedness, just as I've always envied people (and not only writers) who are able to thrive and flourish without having to go through the trauma of moving, the heartache of always having to say goodbye...

Mom and me at Bookshelf, Winona, Minnesota, USA
...something that never gets easier!

Sunday, 8 April 2012

At Yellow Lake--Taking My Baby Home

While I've been in the US visiting my family, the wonderful Frances Lincoln Children's Books have arranged publication events for At Yellow Lake. The official launch was in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where my mother was born and raised. This week I took my "baby" to Peterson, Minnesota, my own home town.

This picture is a little misleading, although it  accurately shows just how small a place Peterson is.

To reach Peterson, Minnesota, you follow the arrow and turn left off Highway 20 and follow a road that leaves this flat, rather barren-looking farmscape behind and meanders down into a beautiful river valley....

The events in Peterson reflected my small-town roots...

It was a pleasure to work with these and talented 7th Graders, as well as other, equally well-behaved and enthusiastic groups. I went to school with some of their parents,  I knew plenty of their aunta, uncles, and even grandparents. One classmmate's son reminded me that I was always for school, even though I lived less than 100 metres away. Small town memories last a long time!

But it was nice to be remembered, and very touching to have local people who knew me decades ago, still take an interest in my life and want to help celebrate my book.

Here are some of the women who meet every morning at Judy's cafe (my event venue) for coffee. Some of them have been going there since I was a waitress myself!  I was so moved by the fact that they came early, got a table and made sure they were first in line to buy a book!

Here's me with my cousin Susie.

Here's my cousin Barb, a hard-to-please customer who at least found something to laugh about!

Here's me signing a book for another cousin, Pam

And here are two of my oldest friends, Julie and Kathy.

I've lived thousands of miles from "home" for dozens of years, but it's no wonder I got emotional at this wonderful event.  A little bit of Peterson, Minnesota, is always with me, and a part of me will always be there...

and not only in the the Peterson Depot museum, which bought three copies of At Yellow Lake!

Monday, 2 April 2012

The Wild Rumpus Begins--At Yellow Lake US Launch

Last weekend, the totally wonderful Wild Rumpus children's book store in Minneapolis was the venue for the US launch of At Yellow Lake. The book has been scheduled for a June 12 release, but thanks to the tireless efforts of Frances Lincoln's publicity people, books were released in time to be sold for my visit to my family here in the US.

Here are a few pictures of the happy event--

The marvellous display--no wonder the books sold out! I was tempted to buy one myself!


Here are some of the Wild Rumpus Advanced Reading Group (as well as several press-ganged customers)

I met the charming Minnesota-based author Brian Farrey, pictured here with my equally charming sister, Anne. Brian is up for a Minnesota Book Award for his YA novel  "With or Without You", which has also been named a Stonewall Honor Book by the American Library Association. He is publishing a middle grade fantasy adventure this summer--a versatile writer and a lovely man!

And, of course, there was the cake....

I was happy that my aunt, Marilyn Boe, could attend. Marilyn's a writer herself and her poetry includes a wonderful collection about the real cabin at Yellow Lake, which was built by my grandfather, her dad.

Here's a happy reader who took a book home with her. My sister's neighbour, Quinn, a voracious reader and talented young writer, also became the Wild Rumpus Advanced Reader's Group's latest recruit. I'm looking forward to reading her review of At Yellow Lake...

Finally, here's me following Candy Gourlay's advice...


.....just smiling!