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?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Perspective: Now Is Not Then

The photograph here of an "elderly Chinese man with queue" (as it is described on a California website that doesn't identify the photographer or source) got me thinking in a different way about the (very real) basement laundry space owned by Sam Wah in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, from 1886 to 1921. Mr. Wah's murder, officially unsolved, is one of the centers for the background history of my book in progress, Cold Midnight. Knowing his shop was in a basement -- and knowing the damp fierce chill of most downtown basement spaces here in Vermont today -- originally gave me the sense that his shop location reflected both bias against strangers, and cheap rent available for unwanted shop space.

But at the start of last summer, I toured Boston's Chinatown, courtesy of the Chinese Historical Society of New England, and saw the many businesses that utilized cellar spaces. In fact, there seemed to be a loose arrangement of industrial-type businesses (like a print shop) in the basements, grocery stores and restaurants in first-floor rooms (slightly higher up than sidewalk level), and meeting spaces and residences above those.

Reflecting on this photo reminds me: Don't assume that a basement space meant the same thing to a Chinese immigrant in 1886 that it means to a downtown merchant today.

That's a crucial attitude to keep fresh during historical research and while writing: Now is not the same as then. And that's why the original material -- in this case especially, the writings in the local paper about Mr. Wah and his business, as well as the narratives that today's Chinatown residents share -- are so important.

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