Welcome to the Spotlight: Tamra Wight and Cooper & Packrat!

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I’m super thrilled to be shining the spotlight on Tamra Wight and her brand new middle grade book, Cooper & Packrat: Mystery On Pine Lake! Stay tuned below for a chance to win this fabulous book!

PineLake350Cooper & Packrat: Mystery On Pine Lake by Tamra Wight (illustrated by Carl DiRocco)

Islandport Press 2013

Cooper Wilder lives on his family-run campground. He doesn’t much care for cleaning bathrooms or doing trash runs, but he loves getting out on the lake and watching the loons. With his new friend Packrat (who wears a big trench coat with pockets full of cool things), Cooper sets out to protect the nesting loons and to solve the mystery of who is trying to scare them off. A mystery filled with adventure and heart. Each chapter starts with an interesting loon fact. I fell in love with Cooper and Packrat and hope to read more adventures about them.

Spotlight on Tamra Wight:

Okay, I love everything about this book! Cooper and Packrat are fun, brave, and caring boys. I’m a huge fan of the campground setting and the wildlife. What was the initial spark for this story? How did you come up with the mystery aspect?

Thank you, Debbi!  Cooper and Packrat are near and dear to my heart.  Nature geeks, like me.  But this book’s journey didn’t begin with them.

One really rainy spring back in 1997, campers reported the loons were trying to push the nest back, out of the rising lake water, but to no avail.  Their eggs were lost.  My heart broke as I listened to the pair wail that day.  A couple weeks later, campers happily reported the loons had gone on to re-nest.  I didn’t even know this was possible!  Two healthy chicks were raised that year.  The whole experience stuck with me, and I spent the winter writing a picture book based on it, in which a little girl and her grandmother help the loons re-nest on their lake.  It came close to selling several times over the next few years, but I heard over and over how quiet it was and how the story was bigger than a picture book format.  So I tucked it in the back of a drawer. Fast forward to 2006, when I’d been trying my hand at writing middle grade novels for a couple years.   I pulled out the picture book, dusted it off and tried to think of ways to take the basic storyline from quiet to exciting. I went from a girl character to a boy, just to help me transition from one storyline to another.  I used a campground setting, because it would be unique and could give Cooper many interesting friends and characters to work with.  I wanted a mystery as well, because I knew it would add tension and conflict, but what kind of mystery?  And then I overheard a conversation in a restaurant where the speaker was grumbling about the loons on their lake.  To think someone wouldn’t like the loons! It had never occured to me and was an  “ah-ha” moment.

As you know, I’m a big fan of birds. I don’t know much about loons and only saw my first one this past winter after we moved to New England. You share interesting facts about loons at the start of each chapter. Tell me about your experience with these birds. How much research did you have to do for this book?

I was 29 years old before I saw a loon; when I moved to Maine in 1992 to begin my new life as a campground owner.  Their call fascinated me.  To this day, it can pull me lakeside.  I began to research them, and became obsessed with catching a glimpse every time I could get myself down by, or on, the lake.  I saw their nest flood.  I watched as they turned their eggs, switched places on the nest to keep the eggs protected and warm, carried their chicks on their backs and taught them to fly.  I started with binoculars, but now I document what I see each year with my large lens and post updates on my blog so everyone can see what a wondrous creature a loon is.  I didn’t set out to make Cooper and Packrat a “learning book”.  But when I shared chapters of it in my classroom, I found students were curious and wanted to know more about loons.  They asked questions like, how far can they dive?  Can they really see underwater?  Where do they go in the winter?   That’s how I hit on the idea of starting each chapter with an interesting fact.

In addition to what I’d seen first hand, I also researched through books such as Loon Magic by Tom Klein and Loon Song by Paul Strong.  I read the Maine Audubon Loon Project and New Hampshire’s Loon Preservation pages on-line. And I watched Larry’s Loon Cam to get a feel for a real, on-the-lake loon raft.

Re-reading that last paragraph, it all sounds like hard work, but it wasn’t.  I love to research!

Like Cooper and his family, you run a campground. What’s the best part about it? What’s the most challenging part? Any funny stories to share?

Challenging things?  The long work days.  Only having seven full days off between May and October.  Not being able to camp ourselves.  And of course, grumbly campers!  😉  Luckily, there’s not too many of those.

But there ARE so very many cool things about running a campground!  My family and I meet interesting people from all over the world. It’s like having 100 families as company every weekend.   Dave and I work side by side, from home and office, with our kids underfoot. Then as my son, Ben and daughter, Alex grew, they began working with us.  It really is a family business.

I must say I enjoy my young campers the most!  They are so full of wonder.  They bring me interesting things all the time, like the dripping fish they’ve just caught, a flower they want to know the name of, turtles, frogs, salamanders, and once, what we think was the jaw bone of a young deer.

One of my favorite campground-owner stories to tell is from our early years of living in the campground, before we were wicked busy.  A gentleman who’d been working for us for three years or so, was grumbling good-naturedly one day about never having seen a moose.  So he asked for some time off, threw his overnight bag and camera in his car, asked us to watch his trailer and he drove north to Rangely to search for one. Two mornings later, a moose walked right down our main street and literally through his campsite.  We took photos of the hoof prints under his camper window as proof.

Tamra Wight lives in Poland, Maine where she runs Poland Spring Campground with her husband and two children.  Every summer she meets interesting families from all over the country.  In the winter, she’s a teaching assistant at Whittier Middle School.  Between the two, she has more writing inspiration than she knows what to do with.  She is also the author of The Three Grumpies, illustrated by Ross Collins.  Tamra also enjoys hiking, geo-caching, snowshoeing, power-walking, wildlife watching, and most of these with her faithful lab, Cookie. You can also see her wildlife photos on her website.

For more about Tamra and her books, check out her web site and blog and find her on Facebook. You can also check out her campground website.

Win a copy of Cooper & Packrat: Mystery on Pine Lake! Just follow these rules to enter the drawing:

1. Comment on this post, and for fun, tell me your favorite camping story! I’m not much of a camper at all, but I do recall camping on the coast of California as a young adult. The rocks poking my back and strange noises kept me awake. Plus I was worried about bears or having to go to the restroom in the middle of the night by myself. (Yes yes, I’m a city girl – you’d never guess that I was an outdoor educator for awhile.) But I will never ever forget the spectacular sight of all the many stars twinkling and shining in the night sky. That was breathtaking!

2. Leave your comment and email address by midnight EST Friday, August 23rd.  The lucky winner will be drawn at random and announced here on Tuesday, August 27th.

3. Entrants must have a U.S. or Canada mailing address.

Thanks for stopping by! Good luck and happy reading!

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26 responses »

  1. I read this book in a matter of hours! I am so proud of Tami for sticking with her dreams and making them happen. My favorite part of camping is the camp fires where so many friends and families gather and tell stories of the day. Nothing is greater than laughter around the campfire and making new friends while doing so. I also love to listen for loon at night. Even though it is a sound at times of distress it is a magical sound.

  2. Debi,
    I am one of the luckys that attended Cooper and Packrat book launch. It was kind of like being inside the book, with author, illustrator, editor and a few of the”main” characters present.I love the book and it’s author,Tami!
    I have 2 signed copies already, one for me and one to donate. Would love to have another to give away. Thank you.

  3. This sounds like a really fun mystery that the kids would enjoy a lot. Please enter my name in the draw. carlscott(at)prodigy(dot)net(dot)mx
    I remember one camping trip where my friends were driving along the beach playing with the waves when one of them accidentally turned the wrong way and drove his father’s car into the lake. We had a bit of explaining to do when we got home.

  4. Love these fun stories! But Tamra – did the man ever see a moose himself on that trip? I will definitely be looking for this one because I love birds and can’t wait to see life from a camp-grounder’s perspective. Thanks for the interview, Deb!

  5. Wow! These are all great camping memories 😉 Julie – no he did not! Poor guy! He just stood on his site with his hands on his hips, shaking his head.

  6. I’d like to see a moose too! I’ve never camped at an official campground, only at the beach. I remember a few memorable times when the extended family on my mom’s side all camped together. Best part — all the food! Worst part — no toilets.

    Congrats to Tamra on what sounds like a very interesting and fun book!

  7. Sounds like a fantastic read. I grew up listening to the call of the Loon in Northern MN while on family vacations. Its still one of my favorite sounds. I look forward to check out your book. Thanks for sharing Debbi.

  8. My favorite story is one night just before midnight and we were camping by the ocean at Hermit Island. We woke up our two young boys and laid on a blanket under the stars and watched the meteor shower. Such an amazing time and no ambient light. Our boys still talk about those days.

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