Hey, guys, Molly the Adventure Dog again! Guess what? My girl is letting me post TWICE this month!
That’s cuz it was one year ago this August that my girl and I first set foot and paw in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin – the real-life setting of her upcoming suspense novel Mailboat. We went on an 800-MILE CAR RIDE just to do research for the book! And now … she’s going back!
See, she’s got a writer’s conference to go to in Wisconsin, and Lake Geneva wasn’t so far away, and she just knew she couldn’t be that close without dropping in! Great opportunity for a little extra research!
On our trip last year, I was so proud of myself, cuz I got to help! Yep, I’m gonna be in the official, end-of-book acknowledgements! She wanted lots and lots of photos and videos from all over town to use as reference while she’s writing the book. So she strapped the GoPro camera to my special movie-making harness, and I recorded my first ever Dogumentary! For a day, I was the most popular dog in town. Sooo many snuggles.
That movie originally appeared on my old blog, but lots of you have never seen it before. We figured now was the perfect time to share it. Grab your favorite chew bone and enjoy!
As soon as I left Lake Geneva last year, I couldn’t wait to come back. And that time is finally here!
I’d hoped to have a finished book upon my return, but 1/3 of the way through first draft, I realized I had a series on my hands and not a stand-alone. Since I’ve always viewed the story as a single book, I’m writing the first draft of the entire series (two or three books, I’m guessing) all at once, after which I’ll go back and find where to divide it. The plan is to have the first book out this year, and the next two in 2016.
While I’ve been away from Lake Geneva, I’ve been trying to keep in touch with the residents and local businesses. I’m happy to say that 2016 might see one or two book signings there!
I’m also looking for beta readers – people to read the book prior to publication and let me know how they like it and if I made any mistakes. I’d especially love to have residents of Lake Geneva on board to help me write the setting right. If you’re interested, leave me a comment!
If you want to stay in the loop about progress and publication day, you can sign up to my blog (where I post once a week) or my newsletter (which goes out only when I have special announcements). Just click the button!
Bailey Johnson landed the coolest summer job ever: mail jumper on the historic Lake Geneva Mailboat. Falling into the lake is pretty much a hazard of the job. Finding a dead body underwater is pretty much not. Turns out the first victim was only the ripple before the storm. Read an excerpt.
June 15th is a big deal. Well, for me and a small number of other people, at least. That’s when the Lake Geneva Mailboat begins its summer deliveries, pier-to-pier. (As my regular readers know, I’m writing a novel about it.) My summer hasn’t begun until I’ve found the annual blitz of newscasts and newspaper reports showing spring try-outs. This was last year’s (2014), and under different circumstances, I would have been there to see it myself:
Alas, family obligations intervened – and stubbornly continued to intervene – until August, when the kids were trickling back to school and the Mailboat season was winding down. But I finally arrived in Lake Geneva, minus my original car (that’s another story), and saw the mail jumpers for myself. The Lake Geneva Cruise Line was amazingly supportive, and allowed me to job shadow the kids and the Mailboat captain for a few days.
Many of the current Mailboat’s features were specially-built for mail delivery.
I’d hoped that seeing the mail jumping in person would give me a better feel for what they were doing, and help me put the right words on the page as I wrote the story. But after two days on the Mailboat – while I enjoyed every minute – I felt no closer to my main character Bailey’s experience than I had been before.
So I gathered up my nerve and walked into the floating office barge to speak with Ellen, the office manager, who had been my primary contact in arranging my visit to the Mailboat.
“Would it be possible for me to shadow the Mailboat crew one more time … ?”
“Sure!” she said.
“… and maybe try a few jumps myself?”
She hesitated. “We don’t really let guests jump mail anymore. But you can ask Captain Neill.”
The next morning was cold and drizzly with a wind – a nasty day to jump mail. The boat would be harder to maneuver, and the piers would be slippery underfoot. But it was also my last day in Lake Geneva. I went ahead and asked the Mailboat captain if I could try a few deliveries.
He frowned heavily. “What kind of shoes do you have on?”
I lifted my tennie-clad foot. Neill looked disappointed he couldn’t veto my request based on footwear. He hesitated.
“Can I at least try a few dry runs while we’re tied up at the pier?” I quickly suggested.
He waved his hand and told me to eat my heart out.
I have over 50 video clips of the Mailboat in my files – newscasts and tourist uploads I’ve culled from YouTube and Vimeo over the past five years. Some of those videos include mail jumpers explaining how it’s done, or Neill giving advice to newbies. And … I confess, I practiced in my parents’ back yard. They have a tiered garden, bordered by railroad ties. The ties are about the same width as the catwalk on the side of the Mailboat, and the distance between them is about the same distance as between the boat and a pier.
Mail jumper Kylie getting back on board.
I stood on the catwalk at the bow of the Mailboat and tried to imagine the force of a 60-ton vessel pushing me forward. That was the part that worried me – the possibility of being thrown off the edge of a pier due to momentum. With the boat currently moored to the pier, I couldn’t really practice that part.
I was more confident about getting back on. Run with the boat, leap with your right foot, land with your left, and grab the hand rail with both hands. The most common newbie mistake was to run straight at the boat, grab on, and be swung backward like a door on a hinge, slamming your body against the side of the boat.
Neill paused in his busy comings and goings to study my technique. He nodded. “One thing I always tell the kids is to jump high. That way, if the boat tips away just as you jump, you’ll still land on the rub rail, instead of hitting your shins.”
This was one piece of advice I’d never heard before. Mail Jumping 201? I practiced the new technique a few times, adding a flight-like arch to my jump. It felt graceful.
As the morning’s passengers began to line up on the pier, I abandoned my practice session and found Neill up by the helm. I sat in the mail jumpers’ window. “So …” I asked timidly, “think I can jump mail this morning?”
He nodded. “Yeah, we’ll let you jump a few deliveries.”
I refrained from pumping my fist.
Fiona and Captain Neill delivering mail.
On my first jump, I found out that putting the boat in motion changed everything. Jumping off was easy – though I underestimated the boat’s momentum and ended up running past the mailbox on the long pier. Getting back on – the part I thought I had down pat – was hard.
I turned around and saw windows flying by. I couldn’t focus on anything to grab on to. Any second, I’d run out of boat, and my window of opportunity would be gone. I wanted to yell, “Make it stop!” but that was unlikely.
I can’t do this, I thought. I pictured myself cemented to the pier like a deer in the headlights, and Neill having to circle back for me. But who was to say I’d do any better given a second chance?
Then something one of the mail girls told me earlier came to mind. “You have to be 100% every day.” Slack off, and you’d either fall on a pier or miss the boat.
One hundred percent, I told myself. You know how to do this. Leap with the right, land on the left, grab for the handrail.
I eyed the distance to the edge of the pier. Calibrated the number of steps I’d need to lead off with my right foot. Factored in the three or four feet of open water I’d have to jump across. Located the position of the catwalk and the handrail.
And reminded myself to run with the boat.
I took off.
My landing was as good as I could ask for. Funny thing is … the real mail girl, Fiona, made a video of my first jump, and you can’t even tell I hesitated. You’ll just have to believe me when I tell you, I was that close to being a pier ornament.
Not bad, but I’ll never forgive myself for forgetting to kiss the goose. (It’s a tradition.)
In all, I made about a half dozen deliveries. Neill gave me progressively harder jumps, and I managed to get back on the boat every time. The real surprise came when we got back to shore, and Neill suggested I stick around for another month or so and fill in for the kids who were going back to school.
I would have loved to.
The Lake Geneva Mailboat at home port.
Click here for an excerpt from my upcoming novel, Mailboat!
And seriously – you need to go see this for yourself. This year is the Mailboat’s 99th birthday! The boat sells out almost every morning, so reserve your tickets!