Guest Dispatch: Lake Champlain Valley, New York

Kate Messner (kmessner) is the author of the forthcoming children’s book Sugar and Ice, which I’ve been looking forward to ever since I read and enjoyed her The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. She also writes picture books, and during the school year inspires middle schoolers to read as an English teacher. I’ve been enjoying her sense-of-place posts about living just south of the Canadian border for years, so was delighted when she agreed to write a guest dispatch for me. Here’s what she had to say about writing in the Lake Champlain Valley, in a house that does, indeed, look right out over the lake:


Setting is one of my very favorite things to work on when I’m writing, so it’s probably not surprising that my first two novels with Walker/Bloomsbury have strong connections to the Lake Champlain Valley, where I live. It’s a pretty inspiring place, after all…

[Lake Champlain pic]

While The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. celebrates autumn in Vermont through the eyes of a 7th grade girl collecting leaves for a school project, Sugar and Ice is a bit of a love song to another season I love: sugaring time.

The nay-sayers among my Northern New York neighbors call it mud season, but I know better. Every year, the last weekend in March or the first weekend in April, my family bundles up for an outdoor pancake breakfast. We zip sweatshirts, pull on gloves, lace up mud boots, and drive to one of our local sugar houses. You can see the steam way down the road, just pouring out the chimney from the sap boiling down to syrup inside. We order plates of pancakes – two or three to start, and they’ll keep bringing you more until you’re full – and find spots at picnic tables, usually not far from a guy playing acoustic guitar under a tent.

This local tradition says home to me, and it says home to Claire, the main character in Sugar and Ice, who lives on a maple farm near the Canadian border. She’s a figure skater who’s learned most of her moves from her cousin on the frozen cow pond, but her life changes when an elite Russian skating coach spots her at her local ice show and offers her a scholarship to train in Lake Placid. Claire accepts it, but she finds that her sweet dream come true has some sharp edges and wonders how she’ll make it in this new world of mean girls on ice.

It was the contrast between Claire’s two worlds – the sweet, slow, tradition of sugaring and the fast-paced, uber-competitive world of high level figure skating – that really made me want to write this novel. My editor says every time she read one of my drafts, it made her crave pancakes. I’m hoping that’s a good sign!


Sugar and Ice comes next week, on December 7, and is a Junior Library Guild selection for Fall 2010. Want a signed copy? The Bookstore Plus in Lake Placid is hosting a launch party from 3-5 pm on Saturday, December 11th. If you can’t make it but would still like a personalized book, just give them a call at (518) 523-2950 by December 10th. They’ll take your order, have Kate sign your book after the event, and ship it in time for the holidays.

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