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What are you writing this summer?

posted: 8.9.13 by Andrea Lunsford

I’ve always thought of summer as a time for reading:  when I was in elementary and middle school, we got prizes according to how many books we read, and I remember trying to read the most every year.  Those were the days of Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, and Cherry Ames, Senior Nurse, after all.  Today, my grandniece Audrey, who just turned nine, is reading away, only on Harry Potter:  she has finished book three but says she’s heard that book four is “a little too scary, so I’m waiting just a bit for that one.”  On a recent car trip, her dad made up a four-page quiz on the first two Harry Potter books, and she got every single one of the answers right, saying, with a sly smile, “I am a bit of an expert.”

So I’ve been enjoying some summer reading as usual, polishing off several Martha Grimes mysteries and most recently reading Walter Mosley’s new Easy Rawlins adventure, Little GreenAnd just this week I found a fairly recent book by P. D. James, that mistress of mystery, called Death Comes to Pemberley“Hmmmm,” I thought as I picked it up, “Pemberley. Rings a very big bell.”  And sure enough, it is about the characters in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, beginning a few years after the marriage of Darcy and Elizabeth.  In the Author’s Note, James says

I owe an apology to the shade of Jane Austen for involving her beloved Elizabeth in the trauma of a murder investigation, especially as in the final chapter of Mansfield Park Miss Austen made her views plain:  ‘Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore everybody not greatly in fault themselves to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest.’  No doubt she would have replied to my apology by saying that, had she wished to dwell on such odious subjects, she would have written this story herself, and done it better.

But I can’t start reading James’s novel until I finish a book that I just received in the mail from Emma Zavala, with whom I traveled during a Semester at Sea round-the-world voyage during spring, 2012.  Emma was in 4th grade then and a great writer: she often visited the Writing Center on board the ship to work on a story and we had many conversations about characters and twists and turns of plots.  So I was thrilled to get a note from Emma along with an autographed copy of Alcatrapped! A Thrilling New Adventure Novel by the students of Mr. Nitikman’s Fifth Grade Class at Washington School.

And what a read it is!  Chapters are written by different students, and one of the techniques they have absolutely perfected is the cliffhanger ending that leaves the next author with a big, big challenge.  But they are up to it:  the novel begins with a school field trip to Alcatraz Island and features the adventures of ninth-grader Kaity and her brothers, Myles (12) and Charlie (8).  Almost as soon as they get to the Island, these three decide to ignore the principal’s directions and explore on their own, heading for a deserted lighthouse.  From the top of the lighthouse the kids look out to see . . . their ferry pulling away from the island.  And they soon know why, as a big earthquake hits and they watch the Golden Gate bridge sway and buildings collapse in the city.  As Emma writes,

This time the shaking was more severe and the rumbling was deafening. The fragile old buildings began to topple.  The cold white pavement started to split while windows shattered and shards of glass shot to the ground.  The fifty-seven year-old water tower began to lean like the great tower of Pisa.

So how’s that for the first two chapters?!  And the excitement just goes on from there, as the kids meet the ghosts of Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly and a mild-mannered ghost named Bernard who wants to help them. In the meantime, those on the ferry get across the bay and begin to have adventures of their own, including being held hostage on a runaway bus.  I had to keep my wits about me to follow the many strands of this exciting story.  And I’m not about to give away the surprise ending of the book.

I believe it’s still possible to order your own copy through the school or from Chaucer’s Books in Santa Barbara.  All profits go to local charities.  And here are the proud authors!

So now I’ve started to think that perhaps summer should be a time for writing as well as reading.  I’m going to see if Audrey wants to start on a story with me right now—and if so, we will send it back and forth over email, since she has her very own account at a kids’ email service called Zoobuh.  If you have kids, check that out too.

Happy Summer everyone!

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