In the writing room right now ...

In the writing room right now ... I am working on book #3 in the Winds of Freedom series, a teen adventure series set in the 1850s in North Danville, Vermont. My 1852 Vermont adventure THIS ARDENT FLAME is scheduled for June 2021 publication with Five Star/Cengage -- I will give you updates and early order information as soon as I know! I'm also writing a memoir; revising a mystery; in the midst of a novel about a grandmother and her granddaughter; and always writing poems. 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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