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QUEENSBURY  With a little imagination, you can see Whitehall the way Johannah Spero sees it.

The mansion perched high on a hill, towering over once-grand Victorians, is evidence of former splendor, of a town once bustling. There’s mystery there, a sense of foreboding, maybe even something a little magical.

Spero looked up at Skene Manor as she drove through Whitehall each time she made the trip from Boston to visit her parents in her hometown of Lake George.

“It’s so interesting there’s a mansion on the side of a mountain, overlooking the town, almost like guardian of the town,” Spero said.

“It’s like a character in its own right,” she said.

And so it became one in Spero’s latest book, “Forte,” based in Skenesborough, a fictionalized version of Whitehall.

The Queensbury mother of three — who writes as JD Spero — graduated from Lake George High School, went to college in the Boston area, but returned to the area to raise her children.

She studied English literature and Russian in college, rode the tail end of the dot-com boom in the advertising field, then got her master’s degree in education and started teaching.

“I felt I needed to find more meaning in my life,” she said in an interview at Spot Coffee in downtown Glens Falls, where she frequently spends hours writing.

Once her children were born, she wrote every minute she could, as the boys — A.J., 10, Adam, 8 and Chaz, 5 — were napping, or as they grew, when they were in preschool.

Her first book, “Catcher’s Keeper,” was inspired by her teaching experiences. In her lessons about “Catcher in the Rye,” she showed her classes a video about Mark David Chapman, the man who murdered John Lennon in 1980 and read from the J.D. Salinger novel during his arrest, saying it was his statement.

“I couldn’t stop thinking about it,” Spero said. “I couldn’t wrap my head around it.

I said, ‘I have to write this down,’” she recalled.

She pounded out the first draft in three months, then spent two years perfecting it.

“I am really proud of it,” she said. “I think it stands on its own.”

In it, Holden Caulfield, the protagonist of “Catcher in the Rye,” is 40 years old and has his journal published. He meets Chapman, realizes who he is and tries to stop history from happening.

She submitted the book to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest and was named a runner-up. She self-published the book in February 2014.

“That gave me the validity I needed to do it myself,” she said.

“Catcher’s Keeper” was a finalist in the 2014 National Indie Excellence Awards.

With the experience of self-publishing one book under her belt — “there’s so many details to keep track of,” she said — she planned to do the same with “Forte,” which is about 15-year-old piano prodigy Sami, who moves from New York City to Skenesborough, where her single mother grew up.

Sami finds herself a bit lost in a town where athletics rule high school and, to fit in, ends up drinking a potion that gives her extraordinary abilities on the volleyball court, but silences her musical gift.

A friend of Spero’s was doing publicity work for Xchyler Publishing, which specializes in fantasy, and encouraged her to submit “Forte.”

“They offered me a deal, which was a dream come true,” she said. “If you get an agent and a book deal, it’s like you get a starring role in a Broadway show; it’s that rare.”

She was a little worried about signing on and what it might mean for her writing. But despite months of hard work — eliminating the father from the book; writing a synopses of another book to fully develop Sami’s mother’s backstory; writing in-depth character sketches that included details as minute as what a character eats or how she gets ready for bed at night — she’s glad she did.

“It’s the best decision because they made it so much better,” Spero said. “I cringe to think about it being published without their expertise.”

Her early drafts were, she said, lacking in ways she hadn’t realized.

“Because I was writing in the first-person and as a 15-year-old, it was really short-sighted because you didn’t get to know her,” she said. “Throughout the drafts, I realized if readers were going to root for her, you have to know how her heart was broken, that she never met her father, how she feels at the piano and how intoxicating it is to be embraced by a new group.”

“Forte” was released July 25.

As Spero was writing the book, she took a tour of Skene Manor, snapping “a million” pictures. She read up on the canal and considered how it running from Whitehall to New York City became symbolic of Sami and what she is.

“I have a soft spot in my heart for Whitehall,” she said.

Rhonda Triller is a features writer for The Post-Star. Contact her at


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