Have Our Little Friends Found Their Voice At Last?

Amy and I are both audio book fanatics.  We really love many of the audio book narrators, Katherine Kellgren in particular.  Kellgren was most famous for her rollicking narration of L.A. Meyer’s Bloody Jack Series.  In the back of our minds we have always wanted to do In the Wake of the Willows as an audio book (and mix in nature sounds), but never had the time.  However a few weeks ago I decided to start exploring our audio options.

The first step was to find a great narrator.  Anyone who has heard my radio bits ( know that I, like most authors, cannot narrate my own book!  We needed a professional actor that could do voice overs.   Could we find someone as good or almost as good as Katherine Kellgren?   Kellgren was probably the best there ever has been in our genre (rollick, amusing, accented tales), so we set the bar pretty high.

We wanted a local actress that we could work with closely, so I started following some leads, but none of them panned out.   One university’s theater arts program said they could not help us at all!  I got no response from the Zeiterion Theatre nor did any of the other leads pan out.  So I decided to take a flier and contacted Brown University’s Theater Arts Program.  I sent a request in and got crickets for about a week; I never even got an acknowledgement of my request.   Then last Tuesday, all of a sudden and without warning, I got flooded with young actresses interested in narrating the book.  The Brown Theater Arts Department (TAPS) had posted my request that day and wow.  I was overwhelmed at the quantity of requests and the ability of these students.   I spent a number of sleepless nights trying to decide who to choose; they were all just so talented.  It was torturous, and I kept saying to Amy, “I was such a happy person before I started this audio book business.”

Finally we picked four actresses based on these criteria:

1.    They had a smooth, melodic, enchanting voice suitable for a nature book such as our book.  A voice that could charm adults and put children into a peaceful sleep.

2.    They were The Wind in the Willows fanatics.

3.    They were highly motivated to do our book.

4.    Could do accents such as a Scottish accent for Mrs. Badger and other accents.

With these criteria, we whittled the list down to four actresses.  Now what? How did we chose one of them? It was a tough choice, and we were still left with the dilemma of how to say no to three of them when we finally picked our narrator.  As far as we could tell, they were all exceptionally talented.

We sent these four actresses segments of the book to read such as some dialogue from Mrs. Badger and a segment of the firefly square dance.  Within a few days (like I was saying, they were all highly motivated), we got the samples back.  We really enjoyed listening to them.  Each of these actresses is so different in their approach but talented in their own way.  We had two actresses from the TAPS MFA program and 2 undergrads.  The MFA actresses seemed to have more timber in their voices and appeared to have had more voice training.  The undergrads had young, delightful, perky voices that would be very appealing to our young listeners, but we were looking for a more mature voice.

We listened to the samples again and again trying to decide, but there was one actress who appeared to have spent a great deal of time carefully examining each sentence to get the emphasis and cadence just right.  In addition her Scottish Mrs. Badger was spot on and she chose a nice salty Cockney accent for Mr. Otter.   But when she did Rickie and Mr. Rat and sang, yes sang (beautifully) the first two stanzas of the firefly square dance, Amy had tears in her eyes.  Our little friends had found their voice.

We are beginning to work with this actress right now.  Stay tuned; we will announce her name and may share some samples.

Audio Version of the Book?

We are currently working on an audio version of our book.  The first step is to find a voice actress.   A local university sort of unexpectedly posted the position, and last Tuesday I mysteriously started to getting resumes from actresses at the university.  Incredible resumes; these actresses are all so talented.   We will post specifics once work out a deal with one of them.

Book Review: Down at the Docks

Down at the Docks by Rory Nugent

I don’t feel worthy of reviewing a masterpiece such as Down at the Docks, but I will give it a try.  Rory Nugent has perfectly captured the lingo, ambiance, and pathos of the waterfront in New Bedford, MA.   Alec Wilkinson said this about Down at the Docks, “No writer I can think of, unless it is Sebastian Junger, could have written this obsessed, intrepid and intelligent book…”  I disagree with part of this; only Nugent could have written this book; it is not even close.  Near the beginning of the book, Nugent writes about an unpleasant encounter he had with a belligerent wharf rat named “Sword” in a dockside dive bar called the National Club.  Nugent, the ultimate survivor, was able to wiggle out of his difficult situation unscathed.  I suspect that Junger, or me for that matter, would not have fared as well, and the story would have ended right there.

Nugent is uniquely qualified to write this book because of the street cred he had with the tough seaside crowd in New Bedford; he had spent a lifetime on the water, including some harrowing experiences.  Nugent sailed single-handed across the Atlantic four and one half times.  On the fifth attempt, his boat, a 32 foot proa he built on Martha’s Vineyard called the Godiva Chocolatier, capsized 600 miles west of the Azores, and Nugent spent five desperate days clinging to the overturned hull before being rescued by a Greek vessel that was vectored in by his EPIRB signal (a Russian boat salvaged the Godiva Chocolatier as a prize).  Over the course of 17 years living in a studio on the waterfront in New Bedford, Mr. Nugent earned the respect and confidence of the locals, enough so that he was able to take notes during his conversations with these colorful characters.

Nugent is no stranger to extremely dangerous people and dicey situations.  His most famous article, published in Rolling Stone in 2001, was “My Lunch with Osama Bin Laden.”  When he was reporting on the Irish Republican Army for Spin Magazine and met some of their officers, he was told. “Mr. Nugent, if you are picked up by the British, you will not make it to the Police station.”  In other words, an IRA operative would shoot him before he could identify anyone.  As a writer for Spin Magazine, Nugent said that he “tracked nitwit generals and their lousy wars in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Along the way, he became intimate with both the priests and prophets of intolerance, along with the demons that rise out of bullets, machetes, famine and killing fields the size of Texas.”  In 2002 he came back to American and settled in New Bedford where the seeds of Down at the Docks were first planted.

Commercial fishing is an extremely dangerous profession, made worse by federal regulations, in pursuit of a diminishing resource based out of a financially depressed town.   It is not surprising that the type of person who can survive such a challenging environment needs to be tough.  The book starts off in a seedy dockside café and progresses through various venues catering to the fishing industry in New Bedford.   Every salt-encrusted page is filled with first person encounters with some of the extreme characters that haunt the dockside in New Bedford.  Here you will find rogues, drug-dealers, insurance scammers, mafia operatives, card sharks, smugglers, swindlers, junkies, hard-scrabble desperadoes, scofflaws, and even some honest, hard-working fishermen.   It is as if all dodgy behavior possible has been distilled down to its pure essence on the New Bedford waterfront, pickled in brine, and applied so lavishly that the book becomes a rather appalling, but highly entertaining, read.

Down at the Docks has garnered a huge number of high-profile reviews in elite publications, but I have to wonder how many of the reviewers gulped down the book with their coffee instead of carefully reading each sentence.  If they had paid careful attention, they might have noticed that Nugent is not just a great story teller, but also an exquisite wordsmith.  Every sentence appears to be carefully engineered with the prefect phrase or analogy woven into the narrative.  As a supposed writer myself I was a bit awed, and I think you will be also if you pick up this book.

The Other Sequel: The River Bank

Book Review: The River Bank by Kij Johnson

There have been a number of sequels to The Wind in the Willows, but the two most recent ones are mine, In the Wake of the Willows and The River Bank by Kij Johnson.  These two books are poles apart, both geographically and stylistically for The River Bank takes place in England, during Edwardian times, on the same river as the original book.

While I was writing my book, I assiduously avoided reading any of The Wind in the Willows sequels because I did not want to subconsciously pick up any concepts, ideas, terms or phrases that were not mine.  However after I finished the first draft of my book in 2017, I cast around looking for other sequels and found Ms. Johnson’s The River Bank. I immediately ordered a copy from Partner’s Village Store and had my heart in my mouth waiting for it.  When I got the book I was relieved that there was no possible overlap in our stories, but I was very impressed by the high-level of craftsmanship in this book.  Ms. Johnson, currently a professor of fiction writing at the University of Kansas, is a prolific author of fantasy books and articles, but her River Bank is neither fantasy nor sci-fi. It is shocking to me, and showed her power as a writer, that someone so busy could pivot so beautifully and produce such a book.

Johnson’s The River Bank is a masterful work of art.  It is exquisitely perfect in every subtle nuance of the language and the times.  The perfection of Kij’s prose seems almost superhuman.   I found the book to be transporting, intriguing, lovely, and gentle.  It provides a long overdue feminine touch to the hide-bound Men’s Club that was the original.  If you need a gentle escape from today’s current events, try this book.

Big Sky for Me!

As some of you may know, I had prostate cancer last year (now in remission).  Last summer I attended a fly fishing retreat in Montana for men with cancer run by Reel Recovery.

The Montana retreat was a wondrous and life changing for me, but also emotionally challenging.  During the three days I was there, I scribbled some observations on scraps of paper. A couple of memories were especially poignant: While sitting in on the heart-wrenching “courageous conversations” that we had each day, I would stare out the picture windows of the lodge at the Absaroka mountain range, imagining them as cathedrals of stone.

During the closing ceremony, when this band of new friends was breaking up, thunder echoed off the Gallatin Range like the bass drums of heaven as it opened its gates; I had to wonder how many of these tough, brave men had made their last cast.

The next day tears ran down my cheeks as I compiled my notes in the restaurant at Chico Hot Springs Resort in Emigrant, Montana (my waitress was perplexed).  A few days later, I sent excerpts to all the attendees and volunteers at the retreat.  I did not know what I had.  Was it any good?  I wanted to hear what they had to say.  The feedback was very positive and they encouraged me to publish it.  The article was sent off to various outdoor and fly fishing magazines, but the initial response from them was tepid or just plain ole crickets.  I had just about given up when the Big Sky Journal contacted me last weekend to say they loved the article and wanted to publish it!  I am very excited by this news; Big Sky Journal is a beautiful, prestigious journal covering the northern Rocky Mountain area, but is distributed all across the country.  I could not have hoped for a better venue.  The article will run in the spring fly fishing edition of the Big Sky Journal in 2021.  It will be titled “Mending on the Yellowstone”

I hope to do more with Reel Recovery.  I may attend the fly fishing retreat for men with cancer that will take place in October in Grand Lake Stream, Maine.  The plans for this have not firmed up yet, but I would like to be part of this program again, this time as a reporter.  It is my way of giving back to Reel Recovery.

Silent Sparks

Book Review: Silent Sparks: The Wondrous World of Fireflies by Sara Lewis

In general I don’t do book reviews, except when something exceptional comes across my desk.  Sara Lewis’s Silent Sparks is one of those special books.  This book works on so many levels that I barely know where to begin.  I guess the most impressive thing about the book is how it seamlessly integrates the enchanting world of a summer evening in a meadow with the science of fireflies.  This narrative flows so smoothly and gracefully that you hardly realize that you are absorbing the latest biological and ecological research on fireflies and related insects.  The book never feels dumbed down, or didactic.  Even when Dr. Lewis discusses the threats to fireflies (development, light pollution, pesticides, and, alas, collecting), she never gets preachy, and I found myself nodding, yes, yes, yes to every point.

What makes this book so magical is not only its eloquence but, of course, the subject matter.  Who knew that the secret lives of fireflies were full of such poisons & potions, romance, intrigue, disguises, competition, and even treachery, deadly treachery?  Well they are, and this book is a page-turner.

Dr. Lewis, a Professor Evolutionary and Behavioral Ecology at Tufts University, is at the forefront of firefly research.  I was delighted to read her account of one of the original pioneers in the field, the late John Buck, a biologist at the National Institutes of Health. In the 70’s I spent a delightful evening with Dr. Buck at his Woods Hole house talking about synchronization of animals, especially fireflies.  That and some of the other fascinating people in Woods Hole helped fuel my early interest in the natural world.

Silent Sparks is a lush, beautifully-illustrated, semi-coffee table book that nevertheless was on my bedside table for a month as I slowly digested every delicious page.

We live in a great area for fireflies and I expect that they will be more appreciated than ever this summer.  If you are interested in these elfin creatures of the night, you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of this book.

I don’t know where the title of the book originates from.  Could it be a poem by Emily Dickinson?  Here is one example:

“A winged spark doth soar about —

I never met it near

For Lightning it is oft mistook

When nights are hot and sere“

2nd Edition Now Available


Happy April Fools, but this is no joke.  It’s the day the 2nd Edition of In the Wake of the Willows was born.  It also decided to defy the signs that Spring is here by showing us a bit of snow.  Ah well, the newly arrived winter wren greeted us this morning with his bubbly song, and the grass is decidedly greener on this side of the calendar.

Ironically, In the Wake of the Willows begins it’s story on a fine day in mid-April.  Join in the adventure.  When we hold a book in our hands during these difficult times; we can take a journey, become inspired, fall in love, or forget, forget, forget…

The 2nd Edition tells the same wonderful story, but with new material, added paragraphs, more full page illustrations, and a new postscript, and appendix.  My favorite new addition is the Song of Spring.  Look for it in the Epilogue.

During this time of COVID-19, our local book sellers need your support.  Please contact them to get your copy of the 2nd Edition.

Elizabeth at Partners Village Store can take your special orders and have them available for pick up at their take-out window:

Titcomb’s Book Shop fills online and phone orders for delivery or curbside pickup:

See our website for more info on how to get your copy:



Happy Birthday Kenneth Grahame

It’s the birthday of essayist and children’s author Kenneth Grahame, (books by this author) born in Edinburgh, Scotland (1859). He is best known for his book The Wind in the Willows (1908), which he composed from bedtime stories he told to his son.

He had already published two books of stories for children, but The Wind in the Willows was rejected by publishers because it had talking animals in it. At the time, talking animals were considered too fantastic. Teddy Roosevelt, a fan of Grahame’s earlier work, convinced a publisher to take the book. It was a huge success, and it continues to sell well, over 100 years later.

Grahame was able to retire from his bank job because of the book. He lived for another 25 years, but he never wrote another one.

From The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor