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?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Apprenticeships and Indentures

I've had my head in the 1840s and 1850s and even 1860s (and back to the 1600s for background) for the past few months; with luck (and if we don't have too many visitors), the first draft of THE LONG SHADOW will be complete next week.

Today I needed to know more about documents of indenture -- can't tell you why, it would give away an important plot twist. To my amazement, I discovered that Vermont not only has apprenticeships, but also still provides "agreement to indenture" forms. Check out the "FAQs" list from the Vermont Department of Labor.

We are not as far away from 1604 as I thought.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Poem

Someone reminded me today that for people living outside the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, my poems aren't easy to find. Sorry! Here's one to celebrate the season. It's more or less the same time of year that I'm working on for "The Golden Chain," too.

Skunk Fever
(revised from Mud Season at the Castle)

Sun heats the tree trunks, and the dry scent
of their hot bark blesses the air.
The deer come down,
thin and rough-coated,
for the swelling buds along the treeline.
I rarely see them, but
their tracks are always just before me
or just after.
Boots slipping on wet browns and grays
I reach the stream, where green shoots
rise like fever.
I never knew how starved I was
till I plucked a leaf, just to savor
the eager green of
skunk cabbage.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Abenaki in Vermont: A resource from the Vermont Historical Society


I was browsing the site of the Vermont Historical Society today, looking for resource material, and realized sadly that the "store" on the site isn't selling the updated history kit that the VHS offered in 1998 on Abenaki in Vermont -- but there are still copies available of the Teacher's Guide that went with the kit, titled: Abenaki in Vermont, A History for Students & their Teachers. It's a good outline for a classroom discussion, and costs only $4 plus postage. A bit more costly ($35), but more recent and more detailed, is the video Abenaki of Vermont: A Living Culture, with its emphasis on contemporary life.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Daniel Webster and Historical "Epics"


I'm wrestling with my second work of historical fiction/mystery, the book with the working title "The Hungry Place" -- a title that's going to change this month, as a new set of opening chapters unfolds. It's taking me back and forth, like a weaver's shuttle, among the details of the 1850s in Vermont. Today I'm studying Daniel Webster and his speeches. I grew up with a mild case of hero worship for Webster, thanks to my mother's happy gathering of family genealogy. She didn't always dig into what people had done and said, but she was just happy that they had a place in history books.

To many northern New Englanders, Webster's 1850 speech urging compromise on the issue of slavery, in order to hold together the Union of states, smacked of moral depravity and betrayal of a God-given imperative: that all people be honored as created by the same Creator, for lives of dignity. Dartmouth College provides a link to the text of this speech.

Webster's last speech, in 1852, is called "The Dignity and Importance of History." Ironic that he would let go of insisting on the dignity of humans, but mark instead the dignity of history! But there's a portion of the speech that does appeal to me, because it seems to apply so well to what I'm struggling to do:

Well written history must always be the result of genius and taste, as well as of research and study. It stands next to epic poetry, among the productions of the human mind. If it requires less of invention than that, it is not behind it in dignity and importance. The province of the epic is the poetical narrative of real or supposed events, and the representation of real, or at least natural, characters; and history, in its noblest examples, is an account of occurrences in which great events are commemorated, and distinguished men appear as agents and actors. Epic poetry and the drama are but narratives, the former partly and the latter wholly, in the form of a dialogue, but their characters and personages are usually, in part at least, the creations of the imagination.

Severe history sometimes assumes the dialogue, or dramatic form, and, without departing from truth, is embellished by supposed colloquies or speeches, as in the productions of that great master, Titus Livius, or that greater master still, Thucydides.

The drawing of characters, consistent with general truth and fidelity, is no violation of historical accuracy; it is only an illustration or an ornament.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Stories Worth Reading: Robert Pike


At the start of The Darkness Under the Water, the days of log drives down the Connecticut River are ending. They began to wane around 1915, as manufacturing needs changed and railroads and trucks took over where the river once had priority. But the construction of Commerford Dam -- the first on the river to have no sluice gate for logs to pass through -- sealed the era.

To read tales of the logging days from Waterford, Vermont's own Robert Pike, pick up either his SPIKED BOOTS or the companion volume, TALL TREES AND TOUGH MEN. And get some up-to-date perspective on the books and the vanished days of river runs from Pike's daughter, Helen Chantal Pike, at her web site, www.helenpike.com.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

History/Fiction: How Historical Fiction Works


Where are the "lines" in a book of historical fiction, so you can tell what's really from history and what's the story crafted by the author? Gosh, it would be nice in some ways to have the sections in different colors of ink on the page, so readers could know for sure!

But that's not what historical fiction does -- and I don't think it should. I think historical fiction lets readers enter into what a fictional person could have experienced during a particular time period in a particular situation. The best historical fiction, like THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND by Elizabeth George Speare, or like JIP by Katherine Paterson, or M. T. Anderson's THE ASTONISHING LIFE OF OCTAVIAN NOTHING, TRAITOR TO THE NATION, keeps you reading while also traveling in time and tasting another person's life -- along with its complications, risks, adventures, and often courage and success.

This Saturday, January 10, when I visit Otter Creek Used Books in Middlebury, Vermont, owner Barbara Harding and I will pull out books from the crowded shelves there, to demonstrate how to start the historical research that lies behind each such novel -- and also how to chase down the tiny details that add reality and truth to the story as you write. I'll talk about how this applies to THE DARKNESS UNDER THE WATER, and maybe to some of the other books in the shop. Hope to see you there!

I'll also visit Northshire Books (Manchester, VT) at 2 p.m. on the same day. We won't have such an unusual program format there -- but Northshire has a stunning selection of books, and if your travels are more likely to take you to Manchester, I'll see you "down south" for sure. Many thanks to both of these shops for making these special times for talking about books, about story, and about why we read!