By Dan King
Johannah Spero was always fascinated by Whitehall – particularly Skene Manor.
That fascination led the award-winning novelist, who writes under the pseudonym JD Spero, to base her most recent novel “Forte” in a fictionalized version of Whitehall.
The fictionalized Whitehall where the novel is set is called “Skenesboro” a play on Whitehall’s original name “Skenesborough.” Spero said she chose the name because it was easier to type repeatedly without the “ugh” on the end.
Spero is from Lake George, went to school in Massachusetts and lives in Queensbury, she has no family in Whitehall and she has no friends from Whitehall, so why is she so fascinated with the Birthplace of the U.S. Navy?
“I lived in Newbury Port, Mass. So instead of taking the Mass Turnpike when I would come home to see my parents, we would drive through New Hampshire, Vermont and Whitehall,” she said.
When driving through Whitehall, her eyes were always drawn to the “Castle on the Hill,” Skene Manor.
“It was so fascinating to see this building that sits on a mountain and overlooks the whole town,” she said.
So, Spero began researching more about Skene Manor.
“I had heard that it was haunted,” she said. “So I did some research and took a tour. I loved the idea that it was once used as a residence, and I loved that Whitehall had the wherewithal to preserve it.”
Skene Manor was the catalyst for her interest in Whitehall, however it was something else that made her fall head over heels for the town.
When Spero and her husband were getting married, they still lived in Massachusetts and were told they would both need to be present for the signing of a marriage license. However, both were going to school and working, which made it difficult to get the time to be there.
So, Spero called her father, who had a suggestion.
“He said ‘give the town of Whitehall a call’,” Spero said. “We called town hall and asked if the clerk could sign our marriage license. She said, ‘sure, I live right down the road, call me when you’re coming through and I’ll come open town hall up for you.’ That was above and beyond. The small town hospitality was just great.”
Whitehall’s town clerk at that time was Janet Jillson.
Spero’s interest in Whitehall doesn’t stop there, either.
“Another thing about Whitehall I find interesting is the canal, how it goes through the center of town and the role it played for businesses,” she said. “The original title of this book was ‘Lock 12’ but my publisher thought it was a little too regional.”
Spero said she has spoken a couple times with Whitehall High School English teacher Karen Short and hopes to speak with Short’s class at some point this school year.
About the book
“Forte,” which was published in July, is Spero’s second published novel.
The novel involves the arts, sports, a little bit of magic and the day-to-day life of a high school student. The last of which was inspired by Spero’s time as a high school teacher.
“The experiences I had teaching inspired both of my books,” she said. “You can’t help but notice the cliques that form, especially in a small school like Lake George or Whitehall.”
Sami McGovern is the name of the novel’s protagonist. She moves from New York City to the fictionalized ‘Skenesboro.’
In New York, McGovern’s life was filled with playing the piano, but in an attempt to fit in at Skenesboro High she joins the volleyball team. While playing volleyball, she takes a super-charged sports drink – made from rocks quarried on Skene Mountain – which makes her volleyball skills blossom, while stunting her piano talents.
Spero described the book as “a young adult book,” but said she’s heard readers of all ages enjoying it.
“It tackles bullying, fitting in, pretty much everything a high schooler goes through. It’s a very impressionable time in people’s lives,” Spero said. “I have a lot of readers tell me how frustrated they are with Sami’s decisions and how she doesn’t listen to her mom.”
She said the book has suspenseful moments that keep the readers hooked, including a few that take place at Skene Manor.
“There is a whole family living in Skene Manor in this book,” she said. “And there’s a scene where Sami finds herself in front of Skene Manor, in a very compromising situation.”
The book has some tendencies toward the mystery genre, but Spero said “I’m intrigued by the genre but I don’t consider myself a mystery writer.”
According to Amazon, the book’s genre is urban fantasy.
Her first novel, “Catcher’s Keeper,” was self-published and received awards and praise from the likes of Amazon. That novel was inspired by “Catcher in the Rye” as well as Spero’s fascination with John Lennon and his death at the hand of John David Chapman. That novel focuses on the idea of “what if Holden Caulfield were around when John Lenon was shot?”
Sunday at 2 p.m. Spero will be at Skene Manor to give a reading from the novel and speak with guests.
“I’ll read a scene that takes place in Skene Manor and touches on the haunted rumors of Skene Manor,” she said. “’Forte’ has a lot of scenes that take place in Skene Manor.”
Sunday’s event is free and open to the public.