Thursday, February 24, 2011

Valentine's Day Fern Forest style


I just heard that another of my Spalding University MFA in Writing students is having a book published. This one is IF I LIE by Corinne Jackson, coming out in ’12 with Simon Pulse. That makes how many of my former students who have published books? Oh, I’ve lost count. Mostly they’re young adult or middle grade books, a market that is popping with energy.

I’ve published two YA novels and a picture book for young readers, but I’m overdue for a new title. So I was pretty excited to learn that Jennifer had booked two nights at the Treehouse. Jennifer worked in children’s book publishing in Manhattan but left after the 9-11 attacks. She lived in mid-town, close enough to the devastation to understand that she didn’t want to be in the city any longer. So she bought an old Victorian farmhouse cottage in the Berkshires and set up an enterprise with her second passion—gardening. She designs and tends gardens for homeowners and also rents out rooms for those busy wedding weekends in the beautiful countryside of western Massachusetts.

While she was with us, she was more interested in discussing botanical zones than kid lit. That’s fine because I like gardening, too—even though weeding and nurturing flowers seems a pipe dream in this dead cold of February.
Jennifer’s boyfriend Rene is the most enthusiastic human I’ve ever met. He works at a nature preserve and has an energetic curiosity, especially about anything natural. He asked what kind of birds we get at our feeders. I don’t know—chickadees?

“Yep,” he said, “and finches.” He pointed to the little birds at one of the feeders. When an owl soared by the house, he dashed to the window, and he got excited about a red squirrel stealing sunflower seeds.

Rene is a guy you want to go on a snowshoe trek with. When he and Jennifer clomped into the woods, he was criss-crossed with straps: Gaterade, camera, compass, backpack (extra clothes?), binoculars. They were gone a couple hours, and he returned with reports of tracks—deer, fox, fishercat.


No moss grows under these two. They’d just returned from Puerto Rico where Rene helped Jennifer celebrate her 40th birthday. From the tropics to the frosty Vermont cold, they still had that sunny glow when they arrived at Fern Forest for Valentine’s Day.

To enhance the festive mood, H made them chocolate raspberry pancakes for breakfast, and I decorated each of their plates with one of the humongous chocolate-dipped strawberries H gave me. Rene had made Jennifer a sweet card and laid it beside her breakfast plate with a box of hand-dipped chocolates from a Berkshires shop. I caught them stealing a maple syrup-flavored kiss at the breakfast table.

They spent Valentine’s Day antiquing, and Rene found a peculiar three-wheel skate that attaches to one shoe, apparently operated like a scooter. I thought he might try it out, but the rubber wheels were dry and cracked. It would become a conversation piece, he said. It seemed to me he was never at a loss for words.

That cold night, a snow storm settled in but they jumped into the hot tub and let the flakes adorn their hair while steam rose from the water. After a few minutes, Rene hopped out of the spa, spread his arms, and fell full-body backward into the snow. He can make even a soak in hot water exhilarating.

There’s no doubt that the publishing business has its perks. But following your passion? In my opinion, that’s better than getting your name in lights—or ink. Want proof? Just ask Rene or Jennifer.

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