In the writing room right now ...

In the writing room right now ... I have taken down the brown "butcher" paper that held ideas, photos, drawings, and my hand-drawn maps and plot outlines for the past five or six books. I've placed all those items into three-ring binders, and cleared the deck for paintings and photographs that involve courage, as I move forward in GHOSTKEEPER, the new novel set in Lyndonville, Vermont. My 1850 Vermont adventure THE LONG SHADOW is under contract with Five Star/Cengage -- I will give you a publication date as soon as I know! Scribbling lots of poems, too. And there's a possible route to publication of the "Vermont Nancy Drew" novel I built on Wattpad (see right-hand column). Yes, I guess I do like multi-tasking! How about you?

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Updated: Talking about THE LONG SHADOW: Events


“One can practically smell the stench of the town drunk and feel the cold in the root cellars . . . the characters are well-drawn. Both adults and teens should enjoy the story and look forward to Kanell’s next book.”
-- Booklist, The American Library Association


One of the pleasures of bringing out a new book is bringing it TO people! I'm looking forward to sharing some of the stories that led to THE LONG SHADOW as I meet with groups over the next few months. Here's the schedule for the near future:

Tues. June 19, 11:30 a.m., Danville, Vermont, the Pope Memorial Library. Let's talk town history, as well as why this book "belongs" here!

Thursday June 28, 10 a.m., Quail Hollow, Lebanon NH (closed event).

Thursday August 2, 7 p.m., Peacham Library's Art of Storytelling series. My topic: "stories of today take value from yesterday's rich lives." And, of course, The Long Shadow.

Saturday September 1: Barnet Historical Society -- more details soon! 
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And, way ahead: I'll be speaking at the New England Crime Bake in November. Lots to think about before then, though.

Watch for news about the Shadow Photo Collection ...

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Saying Goodbye to the Underground Railroad Myths


One of the hard parts of growing wiser and kinder is saying goodbye to some things we once thought were wise and kind -- but turned out not to be. For me, one of the sad farewells to make involved the Little House books of Laura Ingalls Wilder ... a series I enjoyed as a youngster, imagining myself as part of the cozy little family that moved West along with the American frontier.

When I "grew up" in terms of historical fiction, I began to realize the harm those books can do, in particular Laura's mother's opinion that Native Americans were dangerous and should be killed -- after, of course, depriving them of their lands and customs. It was a painful change to make, to see the books as only "reference" for folk ways and for traditional American White bigotry. It still hurts.

With that new awareness came the realization that many books for children in particular embrace myths that do harm. The books pictured here -- one of which is actually sold as nonfiction -- have problems in terms of the history they teach and the myths they encourage. Because I care about young readers having good books available that show more truthful accounts of the past, I dug into both American and Vermont research on the 1800s. And then I got to work and wrote THE LONG SHADOW, an adventure of three teenage girls in 1850 in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom. The book will be published in about 8 weeks, on April 18, 2018.

For a quick summary of "what's wrong with the Underground Railroad myths," check this succinct and authoritative version provided by Prof. Henry Louis Gates.

And for more discussion, join me to learn about my new book at a local bookstore, or on the radio, or invite me to bring the conversation to your club, church, or classroom. After all -- that's why I wrote this book. So that you and I could talk about it all.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Lincoln's Birthday ... and Thaddeus Stevens on My Mind


"President's Day" is still a week away, but today, February 12, is the date that is Abraham Lincoln's birthday. When I was growing up, schools celebrated it -- not as a day off, but as a day to pay attention.

Today in our era marked by harsh political conflict and skyrocketing awareness of the way America's centuries of enslavement have injured our people, it's a good day for learning more about our past and choosing ways to make the present and future better, I believe.

So I paused this morning to check what Abraham Lincoln was doing in 1850, the year when my "Winds of Freedom" series opens with the book The Long Shadow (publication date April 18, 2018). In that year, Lincoln was still practicing law in Springfield, Illinois, where he took on quite a few transportation cases. He also gained a patent of his own for a boating invention. He'd already served one term as a legislator, and opposed the land grab of the Mexican-American war; that war ended two years earlier, marking his first contribution to national affairs. He wouldn't speak out again until 1854.

But in 1850, an ardent freedom fighter from Vermont, transplanted to Pennsylvania, took a powerful stance in Congress to oppose slavery. That voice came from Thaddeus Stevens, and it echoes many others, especially the voices of America's Quakers, who pointed bluntly to the evil of humans being "owned" by others. "Chattel slavery," they spoke of -- "chattel" refers to personal property, and unlike, say, indentured servants, chattel slaves could be transferred by will or by bill of sale.

Yes, you'll find actions by Thaddeus Stevens influencing Vermont village life in The Long Shadow. Importantly, the choices taking place in this book are made by women who choose to take action -- protagonist Alice Sanborn, her best friend Jerusha, and their younger and very dear friend Sarah, with her dark skin and desperate longing for her family, still enslaved but with hope of purchasing their freedom. And Miss Ruth Farrow and the Mero family -- historically "real" Black Americans who lived in my part of Vermont in 1850.

Each of us has something to contribute to making the world a more just and valued place to live. For me, it's speaking of how things really were in 1850 -- here in the Green Mountains of Vermont, where reading the words of Thaddeus Stevens gave a fierce and upright example.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

An Update to Eleanor Perry Conwell's Provincetown Story


Research always makes up the background of the Vermont fiction that I write. A few years ago, I pulled out "consumption" statistics for this area in the early 1900s -- that was the final stage of tuberculosis (TB), in general. Last week, I found the death record for 4-great grandmother Eleanor Perry Conwell, whose "portrait" (by William Matthew Prior) goes to auction at Sotheby's this week. What a shock to see the cause listed as consumption. I hope the sale of her portrait will help her story of courage and New England initiative to live on.
 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Weather Inside and Out (A Robert Frost Moment)



As I've listened to guests from around the world coming to explore "America," and especially New England, I've found Robert Frost's poems are among the ones they have most often memorized. People who live around here, in Vermont, also mention two of this California transplant's most significant poems: the one about good fences making good neighbors, and choosing which of two roads to follow (choosing the one less traveled by). In this season of frequent snowfalls and deep plunging temperatures, Frost fans also gravitate to the poem about the man who stops his horse while on errands, and wraps up by saying "I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep."

I have three favorite Frost poems, and one matters a lot to me today: "Tree at My Window." You might be aware that it's a violation of copyright to post an entire poem by someone else (actually most people don't know this! I found out when I erred by posting one, blush). So I'll just give the final verse of this Frost poem here, which begins with the poet's persona talking with the tree just outside his window:
That day she put our heads together,
Fate had her imagination about her,
Your head so much concerned with outer,
Mine with inner, weather. 
Out on the mountainside today, the snow keeps taking different shades of white, oyster, light gray, even a very pale blue, as the clouds thin and thicken again in front of the well-hidden sun. A few snowflakes fall occasionally; steadier snow is expected this evening, when I'll be doing some errands of my own, so I'm paying attention to the forecast. It's a classic January day, but it's also a bit March-ish, that sense that the snow's been here a long time and isn't in any hurry to leave.

Interior weather: I've just let go of a manuscript that's lived in my heart (and on scraps of paper, in notebooks, and on the computer screen) for three years. It's both wonder-filled and terrifying to send it out into the world, where the staff of a publisher will look at it in very different ways from mine.

At these moments, I usually change the writing room, to find fresh vision and focus for the next effort. I have three books being built now: one just at the starting point, with the title "A Necessary Holiness"; another, poems of prayer and praise, perhaps half assembled; and the third, the set of stories I completed as 2017 raced to an end, where a good two days of rigorous revision should wrap up the project. But you know how life is ... setting aside those two important days will take planning.

So the room, especially the desk and walls, become part of the preparation. The photos here show what I've changed -- and where I'm going, I think.

All of this is especially necessary because I'm also stepping into the final 100 days before publication of my new adventure novel The Long Shadow and I'll be talking about that book often ... but the deep digging of the work-in-progress must continue. Wish me luck. No, on second thought, please wish me a well-crafted balance. And good weather.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

This Strange and Exquisite World

Red eft, courtesy of Vermont Fish and Wildlife.
It's good to have "city" company hanging around -- someone who is as astounded by the greenery and the explosions of blossoms as I was when I began garden-tending in Vermont. These many years later, I am still daily astounded, but in different ways: I see things with fresh eyes on the best days, honoring that joy that seems to link our eyes, breath, mind, and soul together. But I also look harder, with questions.

In the past week or two I've indulged in evening walks. They are by definition very different from morning ones: The light is fading instead of brightening, the breeze quiets to a whisper, stars begin to show up in the darker segments of the sky. This week there's the arc of a waxing (growing) moon, too; when it's full, we'll start the countdown of another month left before we have to watch for early frosts. But not yet.

Still, the evenings can be chilly here on the mountain ridge. I saw a skunk hump across the road two nights ago, fur fluffed up for warmth. It crossed where I saw the porcupine last week. With this year's questions and hypotheses, I make a guess that the marshy area that lies on both sides of this stretch of road is more than a deer path (I've seen their tracks, no need to guess that part), is also -- maybe because its vegetation is low and soft -- a path for other mammals.

The chill of the evening caused one "crossing creature" to be stranded on the cold road a few evenings ago. Its bright red skin and delicate limbs fascinated me. Definitely a red eft, the juvenile stage of the Eastern spotted newt. Without enough air or land warmth, and without the ability to make its own, the creature stood still, about a quarter of the way across the road. Car alert! Hazardous crossing!

Well, of course talking to it wasn't any use. I tenderly lifted it onto my palm -- the warmth turned the eft into a lively squirming tangle of legs and tail almost immediately, and I had to hurry across the road to release it before my fingers -- so much larger than its limbs! -- would damage it. It immediately hurried into the greenery, vanishing at once. Then I finished my walk, happy to have seen something that so rarely crossed paths with me.

This week I also read the novel BORNE by Jeff VanderMeer. It's a dystopian novel, set on a world or part of a world where an inventive "Company" has destroyed natural life and seeded the terrain with "biotechs" that can be very threatening and smart. The protagonist, Rachel, sets a new pattern in motion when she gives maternal attention to a bit of tech-made flesh that she takes home -- something that was clinging to the fur of a monster, and which becomes her pet, or her child ... she has "borne" it, and names it "Borne."

The powerful thread that ties the characters and their perils together in BORNE is a question: What is a person? If you love some creature, and it loves you in return, does it have personhood?

(I hasten to say the book does not appear to be indicating anything about the age of personhood for a human fetus or baby.)

Rachel, her friend Wick, and Borne become the testers of their world, determining whether compassionate survival is possible. I like the book; I'd recommend it to anyone curious and questioning and willing to suspend disbelief in what the future of Earth could be. Age 10 and up, I think. It will mean more to adults -- and to those who've read other dystopian novels -- but the tenderness and kindness embodied in VanderMeer's world, page after page, fit the book for skilled younger readers as well. I'm glad it was on that list of "7 Books to Read After ..." (see my earlier post).

Yes, this is how I feed the source of All Good Writing. By reading, exploring, and asking questions. Hope you have a few minutes to explore the rest of this writer's blog.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The "Wonder Woman" in My Heart

It's been a busy few months -- I resumed writing short stories, thanks to a crazy Saturday spent reading the stories I wrote in the 1980s that I'd forgotten all about. Still pushing daily for the "handles" of entry into the poems for a collection of "Pleas and Praise/Prays." And, of course, editing (my income-earning task). Hiking the ridgelines. And tending the gardens.

But above all, this season took me back into my newest novel, which Five Star/Cengage will release in April 2018: THE LONG SHADOW. Working with an insightful editor, I didn't just tidy up loose ends (fresh eyes help so much!). I looked into my heart to discover why I wrote this book, in which three teenage girls in 1850 confront Vermont's confusing mixture of attitudes toward abolition ... try to take care of each other ... and suffer the consequences.

As I wrapped up the responses to the editor, the film Wonder Woman arrived at the local theater. By that point, I needed to catch up on editing again, though, and with a sense of loss, I missed the chance to see the movie. (Hope I'll catch it in a few months when it's on a streaming service.) The reviews made it clear to me I'd missed a really good one -- one that asks questions about what it is to be both a woman and a hero. The questions I tackle in every book, story, and even poem that I write.

So when I saw a related list online, "7 Books to Read After Watching Wonder Woman," I figured I'd at least start tucking those books into my evening reading hours. My fabulous local librarian, Jen, tackled getting the books with enthusiasm and power, and I've just finished reading the one I chose for "first": AMERICAN WAR by Omar El Akkad (publisher's author website here; public radio interview, not so great but still interesting, here).

What a novel! Dystopian in the sense that The Hunger Games series is ... featuring a strong and relentless woman ... set in the American South, which I always realize is like another country, for this Yankee woman to visit ... and testing what people will do to each other in the name of politics and manipulation, as well as love.

Most important to me at the moment is also the detail that the woman of interest in AMERICAN WAR, Sarat Chestnut, is dark-skinned, tall, and with frizzy hair, and loved wholeheartedly by her not-identical twin sister, who is shorter, light-skinned, and has the smooth hair that I always envied in my own sister. (It's the little things, it's always the little things. My sister will read this -- her courage astounds and touches me. Meanwhile many Other Big Things sneak up on us, in fiction and in life.)

What will our nation be like after climate change forces the seas to rise above the coastal cities? How will religion-based terrorism ever resolve? Will our nation of 50+ interdependent states remain United? And what do we exchange, for the satisfaction of following through on our own longing to become Wonder Woman within the bounds of our very diverse lives?

AMERICAN WAR spoke insistently to me. I expect some of the echoes to penetrate what I write next: the sequel to THE LONG SHADOW (already underway), the prayer/praise collection, the long work on aging, the very personal novel I'm working on for an editor who trusts my ability to get there in the end. There are things worth crying about. And many, many people worth supporting, as we all struggle to make a good life, one that's honest and deep and caring.

Onward.