Sunday, June 20, 2010

catalina island & my darlin' clementine

In the summer after 6th grade my family and I took the ferry from Long Beach, California, 26 miles across the channel to Catalina Island. Destination: Girl Scout camp at the beautiful Emerald Bay. We unloaded my sleeping bag then picknicked on oranges and peanut butter sandwiches before I waved them good-bye.

This photo above shows me in my uniform ready for the nightly campfire of driftwood. I loved these sunsets on the beach: scarfing gooey s'mores and belting out folksongs with my new best friends. One of my favorites was "Oh My Darling Clementine!", a strangely sad tune. The verse that got me was Ruby lips above the water, blowing bubbles soft and fine, but alas I was no swimmer so I lost my Clementine. The zinger was the last one: How I missed her! How I missed her, how I missed my Clementine, but I kissed her little sister, I forgot my Clementine. WHAT!? Who was this cad that would kiss his dead girlfriend's sister? And did Clementine really drown? I wanted to know.

So a few years ago when my publisher at the time, Jean Feiwel, suggested I write a novel based on this ballad I was raring to go. I set the story in 1866 in the fictional Nugget, based on the wild mining town of Idaho City which is just up the mountain from my home in Boise. It was a blast pondering the life of 16-year old Clementine and mixing in some mystery and romance. My editor at Holiday House, Leanna Petronella, helped me shape the adventure and we titled it My Darlin' Clementine.
My Darlin' Clementine
A happy postcript: The Idaho Commission for Libraries has selected Clementine as Idaho's book to be featured in the Pavilion of States on the Mall at the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. September 25, 2010. I'm thrilled and honored by this recognition. And it all began at Girl Scout camp!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

california beach girls & bronte's book club

Bronte's Book ClubIn 1960, in California, a few of us neighborhood kids started the Manhattan Beach 4th Street Book and Snack Club. That wasn't its official name, but that's how we thought of it. We were nine years old. With younger siblings tagging along, we rode our bikes to the pier then up the hill to the library where whispering--quiet whispering--was strictly enforced. There we roamed the stacks until we each found a book to check out, its plastic cover then crackling against our handlebars as we rode home, fast, because of the treats that awaited us. It was the best part of the club, eating our snacks while looking out at the ocean. Though we never actually discussed the stories we read, we sure had fun.

That year Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell was published. I fell in love with the Indian girl Karana, who had been abandoned on San Nicholas Island in the 1830s. Based on a true story, it sparked my imagination because the Channel Islands were practically out our front door. When it wasn't foggy we could see the purple hump of Catalina, 26 miles out; further southwest was San Nicholas where the real Juana Maria had lived for 18 years. How I wanted to canoe there with my friends and live as she had with her dog and wild birds.

Fast forward to being a grownup. I set Bronte's Book Club in the fictional Gray's Beach, a composite of all the coastal towns I had lived in. So when Bronte starts her book club as a way to make friends, she choses her favorite story: Island of the Blue Dolphins. The discussions don't go quite as planned--there's some bickering and tension--but eventually the five girls learn how to trust and to care for one another.

A dog also joins Bronte's book club. Dogs are perfect for these sorts of gatherings because they eat spilled snacks, they're good listeners, and they don't interrupt.

PHOTO: five best friends just after a swim, summer of 1964 (I'm 2nd from the left), at 4th Street in Manhattan Beach. ABOVE: This cover for Bronte's Book Club is one of my favorites because it's cheerful & fun; my editors Regina Griffin and Leanna Petronella were also cheerful and fun (and a bit sassy).