A few years ago, I was asked by Penguin UK to write a foreword to a volume of Washington Irving’s work. Insanely honored by the request, I immediately said yes and got to work. I chose to focus one story in particular – my favorite – Rip van Winkle. The volume, part of a classics series Penguin has recently issued, is now out. It’s a beautifully designed series and I hope that through it, many young readers will discover Irving’s work and come to love it as much as I do.
My foreword is below; I hope you enjoy it.
* * *
The way it works for most people is this: You hear a ghost story when you’re little and you believe it because hey, you’re little and you don’t know any better. But as you grow up, you stop believing ghost stories because you’ve learned to reason. To be rational. To tell fact from fiction.
Well, that’s not the way it works for me.
When I was small, I heard the story of Rip Van Winkle and I didn’t believe it. Because I was a little smarty-pants who knew there were no such things as ghosts.
Do you know the story?
Here’s the gist. Poor hen-pecked Rip lives in a little village founded by Dutch colonists in the foothills of the Catskill mountains. It’s a few years before the American Revolution. One day, to escape from his nag of a wife, Rip goes hunting. He climbs way high into the mountains, dawdles around up there, and doesn’t start back for home until dusk falls.
As he’s making his way down, he hears a voice calling his name. He can’t see anyone at first but soon he spies a strange-looking man who’s carrying a heavy keg on his back. The man asks Rip to help him and together they carry the keg to a dark ravine. Thunder rumbles as they walk. Once they reach the bottom of the ravine, Rip sees something even stranger – a whole group of men, dressed as if they came from a much earlier time, playing nine-pins. Rip knows he should get home but instead he hangs out and has a drink from the keg. And then another. He closes his eyes and falls asleep – for twenty years.
Turns out Rip had been drinking with Henry Hudson, the English explorer who gave the Hudson River its name. Only thing was, Henry Hudson had been dead, at that point, for over a hundred and fifty years.
I know what you’re thinking: What sane adult would believe all that hooey?
Because if there’s one thing my grown-up self knows for sure, it’s that there is such a thing as ghosts. Look around if you don’t believe me. They’re everywhere.
They’re in an old photo. And in the words of a song your grandmother sang. They’re in the lines of a birthday card sent long ago. Ribbons you won, now faded and dusty. Names on a plaque on a wall in your school.
Close your eyes, just like Rip, and suddenly you’re not in school anymore. You’re in your dad’s car on your way to college, watching all the familiar places of your childhood fall away behind you.
Close your eyes and it’s your first day at work. Your wedding day. The day your first child was born. The day you bought your house.
Close your eyes and your babies are children. Your children are grown. The dog is old.
Close your eyes and the ghosts crowd in.
I write in a room in my house, high on a hill in the Hudson Valley. From my window, I can see the Catskill mountains. I look at them every day, in all kinds of weather, and I can tell you that even on the brightest days there are shadows on the hills – thin, snaking lines that mark the lonely glens and dells.
As I look at those shadows, I know he’s there – Henry Hudson, in his laced doublet and high-crowned hat.
Playing nine-pins with his men.
Oh, children, never close your eyes.
* * *
With best wishes,
June 14, 2016
SEA SPELL is on sale now!
SEA SPELL, the fourth and final book of the WaterFire Saga, is out!
What a wonderful experience it has been for me to write in a new genre for a new audience. To work with the extraordinarily talented artists and designers at Disney. To create a world within something so fascinating, so mysterious and so inspirational: the sea and all its amazing creatures.
I was fifteen when I saw David Bowie perform on Saturday Night Live and what I saw that night changed my life.
In one song, he was a pale, unsmiling man in eyeliner and an ugly skirt. In another, an out-of-control puppet telling me how great it was to be a boy. But not really. For a third, he was a scary man-doll who sold the world.
My first thought was, “That guy’s going to get his ass kicked.”
My second was, “Wait….people can do this?”
The performance rocked my little suburban world. It was disorienting. Unsettling. Thrilling.
Monday at school, I was right back doing what I always did – wearing my turtleneck with hearts on it, eating Twinkies, cheering for the home team – but not quite as wholeheartedly as before. Because the man in the ugly skirt was still there. At the edge of my consciousness. Singing. Laughing. Taunting. Beckoning. Daring me to look past the endless sunshine of morning in Ronald Reagan’s America to bolder, wider, darker horizons.
The man in the ugly skirt has been with me ever since, but today he’s gone. His magnificent voice has been stilled. And yet, in this awful silence, a single black feather drifts down. Like a gift from a raven-king. Like a talisman. A dare.
And when he finally shows up, look him in the eye, and sing him a song so he understands that there’s a hero in the room, and it’s not him.
September 10, 2015
Win A Signed, Advance Copy of THESE SHALLOW GRAVES
I'm giving away three signed Advance Reader Copies of my upcoming historical novel, THESE SHALLOW GRAVES. Get a sneak peak before it comes out next month!
Here's what the press is saying about the book:
BOOKLIST: [STAR] "Donnelly has crafted a remarkable portrait of a girl struggling with the constraints of an overbearing society and looking for answers in the midst of deep grief. The writing is lovely and nuanced and the plot fast-paced
and thrilling ... a smart, insightful, timely depiction of a young woman poised on the brink of a new world
after the shattering of another, armed with the qualities and the companions to see her through."
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY: [STAR] "Donnelly’s (Revolution) action-packed chapters propel this compelling mystery. Through Jo’s sheltered perspective, readers learn about class disparity right alongside her, and Donnelly is as adept at describing an opulent ball as she is a seedy neighborhood."
SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL: "A beautifully written mystery that will appeal to a variety of readers."
I can’t wait to share THESE SHALLOW GRAVES with my UK readers, and I hope they love the characters every bit as much as I do!
December 28, 2014
Three New Books in the New Year
Whew! What a year!
It’s been all work and no play, but I’m SO excited to tell you that I have three books coming out in 2015!
ROGUE WAVE, the second book in the Waterfire Saga, launches on January 6. In DEEP BLUE, worlds blew apart. ROGUE WAVE follows our mermaids as they figure out how to pick up the broken pieces – of their realms and their lives – and fit them together. It’s not easy. Or pretty. To triumph in their changed world, the mermaids need to change, too. As they hunt for their talismans, they find reserves of courage and cunning they didn’t know they had. They face down danger and death, only to endure a game-changing betrayal. And one comes face-to-face with a seriously bad dude – but will she live to tell the others?!
That gets answered in DARK TIDE! I just finished the first draft a few days ago. I’m polishing it a bit, and then it goes to my editor. First drafts are such weird things. You feel great because the dragon has been slain – but then your editor gets hold of the manuscript and tells you, “Um, actually it’s not dead yet. In fact, it’s still burning down the village.” You get an editorial letter – aka a bucket of cold water over your head – which tells you everything that’s wrong. After you get done stamping your feet and throwing things, you get busy again. And again. And again. And bit by bit, as you cut and polish, the book gets better. Tighter. Harder. Brighter. I’ve gotten to know Astrid better in DARK TIDE, and Ling, too. It’ll be out in the Fall of ’15. I’ve had a sneak peek at the cover – and I can tell you, it’s gorgeous! Maybe the best one yet!
Also coming in Fall ’15 is THESE SHALLOW GRAVES. It’s a return to familiar ground for me in that it’s historical fiction, but it’s new, too – because it’s my first full-on mystery. Set in Gilded Age New York, it follows the story of an American aristocrat, Josephine Montfort. Jo lives a life of old-money ease. Not much is expected of her other than to look good and marry well. But when her father dies by an accidental gunshot, the gilding on Jo’s world starts to tarnish. With the help of a handsome and brash reporter, and a young medical student who moonlights in the city morgue, Jo uncovers the truth behind her father’s death and learns that if you’re going to bury the past, you’d better bury it deep. I love, love, love the cover for TSG and can’t wait to share it with you!
June 12, 2014
Girls Got Game
You know what I love? What totally makes my day? Girls with game. Girls who won’t be stopped. Girls who grab the world by its tail and make it sit, stay, and fetch.
I met two girls like that in LA during my book tour. After my event with Bea Miller, two young women came up to me. They were toting a microphone and video camera. They introduced themselves as Kennia Cardenas and Zoe Johnson and asked if they could do an interview for their website,www.celebsecrets4u.com
They were totally gungho and so sweet, so I said sure. They set up their equipment and asked their questions. They were smart, funny, and professional, and I really enjoyed talking with them. When they finished, me being my nosy self, I started asking them questions.
Turns out they’re in college and journalism-
minded. So they decided to be journalists. Like, now. Without asking anyone’s permission. Because they want to. They and their celeb secrets colleagues – most of whom are teenagers – just pick up their mikes and cameras, set off after their subjects, and ask for interviews. I think that’s incredibly awesome.
Mainly they’re after Young Hollywood. (Exactly where I fit into that category, I do not know.) Sometimes the celebs they’re after grant an interview, and sometimes Kennia and Zoe get shut right down by an A-lister’s handlers. But it doesn’t stop them. They shrug the rejections off with a smile and keep going. They recounted some of their fails for me with grace and good humor and I thought, Wow, you guys are totally going to make it in whatever you choose to do.
So JLaw and Gaga and Biebs, if the girls from celebsecrets4u want to interview you, say yes. Because they’ll be so glad, and so will you -- especially in a couple of years, when Kennia and Zoe are calling the shots at Access Hollywood!
I finished my book tour last week and just wanted to say a HUGE thank you to all the awesome readers who came to hear about DEEP BLUE and to the wonderful bookstores who hosted me. One of the best things about touring is meeting people – living, breathing people, not the imaginary ones I hang out with all day! I met some young women who impressed me so much with their talent, drive, and spirit, I just have to talk them up. I’ll start with a very talented singer......
I was in the courtesy suite before the DEEP BLUE event at the Barnes and Noble Americana. I was talking with my publicist when Bea bounced into the room. My first impression of her was one of light and motion – a blond solar flare. She has a wide, engaging grin and the boundless, happy energy of Tigger times ten.
I hugged her and thanked her for her beautiful rendition of Open Your Eyes, a song inspired by DEEP BLUE, and for her hard work on the audiobook. We chatted for a bit, and then we both had things to do. An interview and vocal warm-ups for Bea, reading practice for me.
At 7 pm, we were on. I went first, talking about the inspiration behind DEEP BLUE and reading a bit of the book. As I did, I could see Bea in the front row. Her foot was jiggling slightly. Nerves, I thought. And then I wondered: How can anyone, never mind a fifteen year old girl, stand up in front of a crowd and sing?
The thought alone terrifies me. It takes a lot for me to just stand up and talk about my work. I get the deer-in-a-headlight thing sometimes, and suddenly I can’t remember my own name, never mind what I’m supposed to be talking about.
I finished my reading and sat down. It was Bea’s turn. She was going to sing three songs, accompanied by only her guitarist. No band. No auto tuner. Nowhere to hide.
She started with Open Your Eyes (see below). As I listened to the first few notes, I had my answer. People stand up and sing for the same reason they write. Or paint. Or act. Because they can’t not do it.
Bea Miller was born to sing. To live inside songs and make them her own. She has a beautiful voice, for sure. But so do lots of people. What sets hers apart? Emotion. There’s an old soul inside that girl, and it makes itself heard when she sings. Her voice expresses such a huge range of feeling that it’s as if somehow, at the age of fifteen, she’s already packed a lot of living into her life.
Bea Miller is the real deal – super-talented, genuine, smart, and dedicated. That combo can take a girl far and my fingers are crossed for her.
Katy, Rihanna, Pink – putting you on notice, ladies. Better make room at the top.
With best wishes,
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