All Children, Except One, Grow Up

Peter Pan Audiobook

Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else. ~ J.M. Barrie

The Story Behind The Story
I discovered the quote above a few days ago, by chance, as I put the finishing touches on my Peter Pan audiobook, a project I’ve been working on for my own pleasure for a number of years.

Before my son learned to read for himself, I thought it would be fun to record a public domain story for him. I wanted him to have something to listen to while I was away on a business trip. As a child, I loved to listen to stories on my plastic record player. The best kind of stories were the ones that had the little bell that jingled to remind daydreamers like me to turn the page.

For my bedtime story project, I chose Peter Pan – a fairytale I had always adored, but had never taken the time to read aloud to my own kids. I recorded the first few chapters and burned them onto a CD, but months went by before I got around to recording any more. When months turned into years, the famous words, all children, except one, grow up, became my reality.

Even though my own kids were no longer interested in fairytales, Peter Pan kept inviting me back to Neverland. Since this project never felt like work, I continued recording all seventeen chapters, even if at times I missed a whole year, just as Peter did with Wendy.

This summer I vowed to complete the editing of this project and get it out into the world. I rerecorded those first few chapters with my newer recording equipment and wrote chapter summaries and worksheets for any teachers or homeschool parents who might find them useful. Finally, as a treat to myself for actually finishing this non-work project, I hired a young artist from Ireland (Inga Hampton) to do the cover art.

Listen Online or Download & Study
If you or your own children enjoy listening to audiobooks (or if you’re learning English and want some listening practice), I hope you’ll check out my Peter Pan audiobook on SoundCloud (free). To download the tracks and/or chapter summaries and worksheets, visit my Selz page.

Children’s Hospitals
In 1929, J.M. Barrie handed over all future Peter Pan royalties to London’s Great Ormand Street Hospital for children. The novel, published in 1911, is now in the public domain (the hospital still earns royalties from the play, which was published later). I hope to find a way to get this free audiobook to children’s hospital rooms. If you have any ideas or connections, let me know.

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70 Years After The Hartford Circus Fire

70 years ago today, many parents took their excited children to the circus in Hartford, Connecticut. A day of family fun turned into a nightmare when a fire broke out under the Big Top. Though thousands of people escaped the smoke and flames, hundreds were injured, and 170 people lost their lives. Many of the victims were women and children.

I first heard about the Hartford Circus Fire over ten years ago while I was exploring random books at a library. I started thinking about what it must have been like to be a child at the circus that day. I wondered how many kids were at the circus celebrating a birthday. I wondered how many became orphans on their birthdays. I wondered, and then I wrote. I wrote and then I wondered. Eventually, I published a novel. And yet, still, I wondered.

Today, when my husband surprised our kids with a trip to a family fun park, I couldn’t stop thinking about the date. I wondered how many fathers surprised their kids with tickets to the circus 70 years ago. I wondered how many returned home alone that day. I wondered and then I wrote. It seems I’ll never get that circus off my mind.

Your Discouraging Words

I’m shy when it comes to my fiction writing life. I don’t go to a lot of events for writers. I’m not in a writer’s group. I study writing every day, but I haven’t taken a creative writing class since high school. Occasionally I go to author readings. I like going to readings because I can sit in the back of a room where nobody will notice if I don’t raise my hand. I won’t get called on to share my opinion.

I like going to readings, but I don’t like when published authors begin by telling an audience of writers how impossible it is to sell books these days. Some even carry official statistics from a guild that they belong to that says how few books were sold last year. This happened at a reading I went to this week at my local library. After a brief hello, the author took out a piece of paper and shared the grim numbers. In case we didn’t get the math, she paraphrased it for us:

You don’t stand a chance at making money from your fiction writing. And sorry, but it’s just going to get worse.

Then she told us to write anyway because writing is the best feeling in the world. I liked and agreed with the second part, but it was too late when she said it. She could have started with the part about the best feeling in the world. She would have hooked me there.

The main purpose of the event was to give a chance for some of the author’s workshop students to get up and read from their works-in-progress. Three writers were chosen. Though not yet published authors, their writing was polished. They read beautifully. In fact, the author seemed stunned by the quality of their writing. She even admitted to feeling a bit nervous about following up with a reading from her own up-and-coming book. But she read and her piece was good and funny as we all expected. After all, she has sold lots of books.

When it was all over one of the audience members took the time to tell the author she had a lovely jacket. Others waited for their turn to offer a compliment. But, it was too late for me. I couldn’t shake off that sour introduction. The note from the guild. The statistics. The warning not to try to write fiction for money, even though she did. That’s the thing I will remember about this author, unfortunately. Those discouraging words.

A New Preface

When I heard the news about Maya Angelou’s passing today, I immediately went searching for proof. How could it be? She seemed to be glowing in this interview with Oprah that I watched the other day. I remember thinking how young and wise she seemed.

I spent part of Mother’s Day reading through Maya Angelou’s new memoir Mom & Me & Mom. I was intrigued by her relationship with her mother, and it reminded me of something. Not my own relationship with my own mother, but someone else’s experience. I couldn’t pinpoint which mother-daughter duo I was thinking of at the time.

In the BBC article that confirmed Maya Angelou’s death for me, I spotted a tribute tweet from JK Rowling. A quote:

“If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.” ~ Maya Angelou

I knew instantly that if I had seen this quote before publishing my novel, I would have used it for a preface. Not only because Maya Angelou’s mother (like Caroline’s) thought she was special, but didn’t know how to show it. But because this truth represents exactly what I was trying to write about in The Proper Order of Things. What is normal anyway?

My novel currently begins with a dedication: “To Mama Bird. You were always there.” Unlike Caroline and Maya’s mother, my own mom was there. I was one of the lucky ones. Tonight I’ll be opening up that old manuscript and adding a preface where I always knew one belonged. I just hadn’t read the right words yet. Thank you, Ms. Angelou.