While Dragonfly Summer, my upcoming Audible Original release, is not a true story, it comes the closest of all my books to being autobiographical. For its setting, the claustrophobic town of Clear Springs, I pulled heavily from the town where I grew up.
When I was seventeen, one of my closest childhood friends died suddenly in a car accident. This event profoundly affected me and greatly impacted the way I approached friendship. As horrible as this event was, at least I knew what had happened to my friend. Several years later, I watched a program featuring interviews with people whose loved ones had disappeared, and I thought this had to be one of the worst things that could ever happen to a person–to lose someone and not know what became of them. This was the idea that sparked Dragonfly Summer: what if your best friend from high school disappeared? How far would you go to find out what happened to her?
I had several false starts when writing this book. My main struggle was with the protagonist–I couldn’t figure out who was best to tell this story. Jo was, by turns, an architect and an advice-to-the-lovelorn columnist, but neither seemed to fit. Nothing worked until I decided to make her a retired journalist. Though Jo’s career path somewhat echoes my own (I was a newspaper journalist who once handled public relations for a museum), her character was really inspired by one of my heroes, a woman named Jackie Shymanski. Soon after graduating from journalism school, Jackie scraped together a thousand dollars and flew to the former Yugoslavia, where a horrifically bloody conflict was brewing. She went as a freelancer, hoping she’d be able to find a cameraperson to work with her (she did) and that she’d find a network willing to air her reports (she did–CNN).
Jackie was fearless. During her time overseas, she was shot at, the bullet missing her by the tiniest of increments, so that she could smell her hair burning as the bullet passed through it. A dictator once held her at gunpoint. She struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder in the time before people realized journalists could suffer from it, and ended up coming home and working in public relations. Jackie came to talk to my journalism class, and I never forgot her fearlessness, her integrity and commitment to tell the truth of what people were really going through overseas, and her sarcasm. She instantly become a role model, and I was thrilled when, years later, I had the opportunity to work closely with her at a cancer charity. We became good friends and spent many hours in her office talking about her adventures. When I told her she’d inspired the character of Jo, she seemed more bemused than anything, but sadly, she never got to see the book published. Jackie died from breast cancer on May 13, 2016. I miss her still.
Fun facts about Dragonfly Summer:
- It used to be 100,000 words longer! Believing that people wouldn’t buy Jo’s motivation for returning to Clear Springs, I devoted a lot of time and pages to torturing her until she finally broke down and decided to investigate what happened to her friend. In the end, I killed a lot of darlings and started the book when Jo first returns to her hometown.
- Jo is what my mother wanted to name me.
- The character of Jack is loosely based on a close friend from childhood who did his own disappearing act. I’ve never been able to track him down.
- The necklace Jo’s father gives her is a real pendant my father gave to my mother. As a child, I really did beg to borrow it.
- Halle Ephron, mystery writer and sister of Nora, made me cry with a harsh critique of an early draft of this book (back before the excess 100,000 words were removed). She said the first part of the book didn’t belong. It took a few years before I realized she was right.
- Daisy Hill is real, and what we really called our meeting place in elementary school. Sadly, it is devoid of actual daisies. Daisy’s story is something I made up when I was a kid.
- The “dragonfly summer” was an actual experiment that took place in my current home city, and it was just as beautiful as described in the book.
Dragonfly Summer is dedicated to two amazing women–Jackie and my childhood friend Darbi Donovan. I only wish they were here to see it published. It will be released as an Audible Only exclusive on February 13, 2020. I hope you enjoy it!
Jo Carter never thought she’d return to Clear Springs, Minnesota. But when the former journalist receives a cryptic note about the disappearance of her friend Sam twenty years before, she’s compelled to find out what really happened. During her investigation, she learns another high school friend has died in a mysterious accident. Nothing is as it seems, and Jo must probe Clear Springs’ darkest corners and her own painful and unreliable memories to discover the truth – and save herself from a killer who could still be on the hunt.
Deliciously twisty and suspenseful from the first minute to the last, Dragonfly Summer proves that no small town’s secrets can stay buried for good.
The perfect next listen for fans of Wendy Walker and Shari Lapena.
They would both be very happy for you and honored.
Thank you, Alex. I hope so.
Ah, now I get the Minnesota connection. I’m in central Minnesota. I’m excited to listen to your book. You’ve mentioned your friend in other posts. This is a great catharsis for processing the loss. Also, the premise of this fiction piece sounds compelling. Congratulations on another success! What a great role model in that reporter.
Most of my books were set in Minnesota (before GhostWriters), because it’s the closest in landscape and climate to my current home city, while still being in the States, where the vast majority of my readers live. 🙂
Never been a fan of Nora Ephron movies. Haven’t read any of her books, but now I like her even less! (Even if it was her sister that made you cry)
Dragonfly Summer sounds like a must listen to me even if I have to break my no Amazon rule!
Sorry for the confusion, Jim…her sister is the one writing the books, although I believe Nora herself wrote a few memoirs.
Thanks for the kind words, and all the encouragement and support!
I bet those two women would be thrilled for you.
And well done on cutting those words/killing those darlings. So not easy to do, but you listened to the critique and to your story, and look what amazing things happened. 🙂
Thanks, Madeline. It definitely was not easy. It would be a lot better today, because I don’t get so attached to my own work.
Will this be available in print in the future, or only the audio version?
It will for sure, most likely next year. 🙂
It’s great to see this book coming to life. That’s an interesting backstory, and I love how you actually got to meet and be influenced by Jackie.
Thanks so much, Loni. It was such a thrill to get to work with her, and a major factor that led to me taking the job in the first place. It was a horrible job, but my time with Jackie was a bright light in the darkness.
Congrats! I saw that on Instagram. Audio books are such a great addition.
Thanks, Diane. I don’t often crosspost content, but in this case, I thought it was a worthy cause.
All of my books are available in audio, and they definitely sell better than all other formats (for me).
I always enjoy your “behind the scenes” stories and blog posts. I remember you mentioning these two incredible women, when you shared the news about being contracted by Audible. Amazing. And, I’m sure they would both be so honored by and proud of you! I’m also curious whether the book will ever become available in print. And, who picked your current name, which is – obviously – not Jo. 🙂
Thanks so much, Liesbet. I can’t mention them enough, honestly.
As for my name, I’m honestly not sure. I believe it was still one my mother liked, but my grandmother was the one to veto Jo. Once I get my name officially changed, I may veto that decision!
Awesome behind the scenes for this story.
Thanks so much, Patricia. A lot of heart, soul, blood, sweat and tears went into this one.
As publicity for the audiobook, take some of the 100,000 words you cut and sell it as a prequel on Amazon for 99 cents.
That is a fantastic idea, Mark. I’ll have to look into that. Thanks for the tip!
This gave me chills. It’s one thing to lose a friend and know how that happens and quite another to never know. Sounds like a great story.
Thanks so much, Lee. Yes, I believe that would be one of the worst things that could happen to a person.