I love August because so many in our family are born in August, and are Leo the
Lions, my husband Joe, daughter Lia, daughter-in-law Catherine, and Grandson,
We are out in the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts for the summer, as my husband
Joe, plays the Double Bass in the Boston Symphony Orchestra. I have several
childrenís books with musical themes, BERLIOZ about a bass playing bear, and
GINGERBREAD CHRISTMAS, where inside you can see instruments of the Symphony
Orchestra made of gingerbread, as well as the gingerbread baby himself.
Much has been written about art imitating life, and how the everyday world
inspires the imaginary world or when the two merge. An interesting incident
happened as I was hard at work on my new book THE SNOWY NAP that is a curious
example. My studio is part of a sprawling log cabin set up on a cliff
overlooking Goose Pond. I share my studio with Little Snow, who became our pet
when I needed a model for the white rabbit in THE ANIMALíS SANTA. He lives in a
fairly large, open area in the cabin also made of logs, raised up on legs, and
he is close enough that I can look over my shoulder at him. You may have seen
him when I went on the three week book tour in 2014 on our bus, he came too. I
was intensely working, listening to an audio book when out of the blue there
came a hard rap, almost a bang. We live in the woods and thought a branch had
come crashing down on the roof over my head. I took a quick look out the
windows, fore and aft, but didnít see anything, so I went back to work. Again I
was startled by a resounding, sharp, very loud rap, only this time, I realized
it came from Little Snowís corral. I got up again and realized he had thumped
the floor with his strong back foot. Weíve had little snow for four years and he
does all sorts of antics, but he has never made this very loud bang. I knew that
wild rabbits thump the ground when they see danger to warn other rabbits so I
checked out the windows again. It was morning, and the woods and lake were
sparkling in the dappled sunshine. Little Snow seemed a little frozen in place,
but seeing nothing, I turned to go back to work, peeking out the hard to get to
window beside his pen as I did so. There was a black bearís face looking up at
The amazing thing for me was that Little Snow is a domesticated rabbit. I canít
imagine how many generations his ancestor bunnies have lived under human watch.
Yet he recognized that the bear was not in his comfort zone. Then, not two days
later, a friends brought their chocolate lab to visit. He ran into my art studio
and looked right into Little Snowís corral, itís hinged door wide open. This
time Little Snow ran to the other side but didnít make his alarm thump.
As long as we have had Little Snow heís never even seen a dog. I am left
wondering about animal intelligence and instincts and I am waiting for the next
alarm thump to help with my theory that our pets have complex behaviors that are
sometimes hidden from us.
In THE SNOWY NAP, I overstate the interaction between Hedgie the hedgehog and
the farm animals as my imagination takes my story into fiction. Hedgie takes a
last ramble around the farm before the snow flies, and for him, hibernation.
When the animals gently taunt him about what he will be missing, Hedgie tries to
stay up to see winter. This doesnít work out, and luckily, before he is frozen,
he is rescued by a little girl who brings him inside for warmth and food.
Outside, the animals can see his wonderful life inside as he views winter scenes
from his cozy window. At the first opportunity the outside animals move inside!
I am working on the finishes of THE SNOWY NAP, and the beginning pages are
sequential. I have a book dummy that maps out the exact 32 pages the book will
be. My next spread will skip ahead to one of the snowy scenes, and then Iíll do
the farm animals and wild animals in the house scene which is uproarious and
funny. The publisher, Penguin Random House likes to have a partial dummy to
promote the book early on, way before the book is due which is why I do it this
way. I love this stage of the book when I feel I can enter the world Iíve
created, it seems real.
I will probably get started writing the book that will follow. It is set in
India, and has a tiger as the main character. The working title is THE RUNAWAY
SLIPPERS. Four years as go I went to India and saw a wild tiger in a large game
reserve from a jeep. It was very cat like and very large. You know when a tiger
is on the move because the deer bark, and the monkey scream warning. Nothing can
prepare you for the sound of that roar that makes hair stand up on the back of
your neck, or the sight of the slinky, cryptic, majestic striped presence.
When Iím not looking forward to the next book, I am getting excited about my
first early book signing on Cape Cod. I hope Cape Codders will stop by their
famous historic bookstore, Eight Cousins, to let me sign them a copy of THE
MERMAID. It will have been just published. My usual national book tour will
start the day after Thanksgiving. All the details will be on my website. I am
about to send copies of THE MERMAID to Bailey and Tony at the New England
Aquarium. They introduced me to ďSyĒ, the Giant Pacific Octopus who features
largely in THE MERMAID. Every year I make a picture of a momentous day in our
year for my husband. This year I painted us at the aquarium, the day of our
amazing visit. I made copies for Bailey and Tony, only I think their minds are
totally emerged in the fascinating work they are doing with the aquatic
creatures that make up their world at the New England Aquarium.
When Iím not painting I have been trail running on the stretch of the
Appalachian Trail two miles from our cabin. The ďthruĒ hikers, the intrepid
people who have hiked from Georgia, are traveling North in large numbers this
month. Upper Goose, the lake connected to us by a small channel has Appalachian
club cabins for hikers to stay at if they choose. I really enjoy meeting the
hikers who tell me their ďtrail namesĒ which I then put up on my wall. The trip
to Mt. Katadin in Maine from Georgia takes six months. It takes a lot of mental
fortitude and physical endurance. They hike through weather extremes and with
heavy packs. The tradition is that if you share the trail, or just want to show
your admiration, you can offer trail magic. I tried to perfect my choc chip
cookie recipe when my daughter was in Iraq as a US Marine and I was told my
recipe was good, so thatís what I bring on my runs to give as trail magic.
Here is my recipe, which is off the choc chip bag with a few modifications. I
mostly concentrate on really good ingredients.
Sift 2 and 1/4 cups King Arthur flour
3/4 teas sea salt
1 teaspoon of baking powder
Combine after mixing the following:
1 and 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 cup Kateís homemade butter, softened
3 of my chickenís eggs( they are bantams), use 2 store eggs
1 teaspoon Baldwinís vanilla extract or substitute high quality
1 bar of Ghiradelliís white choc bar chopped up into small chunks
I LG packet of Ghiradelliís semi sweet choc morsels.
I cook at 375 degrees for 8 minutes, but adjust to your own oven
So far, the thru hikers Iíve met are:
Honcho, Shop Teacher, Chugging Along, All Aboard, Speedy, Night Hawk, Slim Jim,
Bear Pop, Capt Bob, Hiking Home, Young Gandolf, Blue Bird, Dr. GO- MO, Ogi, Two
Step, Pio, Stack, and Warden.
I hope hikers stop at Goose Pondís AT Cabins, Iíve only seen the cabins from the
lake, but Upper Goose is a beautiful clear lake with great swimming.
Tonight I will go hear Joe play at a Symphony concert and let the music take me
away to more interior worlds. Maybe weíll see meteors over Tanglewood since we
are near the Perseid meteor shower time, when the earth is going through the
tail of 109P/ Swift-Tuttle Comet
Good luck with all your creative projects, and Happy Birthday Leo the Lions!
Your friend, Jan Brett