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?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Friendship Bracelet: A Poem

Photo by eef-ink (thank you!)
This is the season of the
friendship bracelet.
You've seen them: twisted threads
knotted by a girl at summer camp.
Or the plain red ones that mean
something meditative. Mine is
crafted from four strands: black, white,
purple, gold. And made by Caroline.
I like to watch her working, her dark eyes sparkling,
her fingers deft -- who taught her this?
A friend in the back seat on the long road
to skating camp? A girl sharing her snack
behind the horse barn? She measured
my wrist, insisted that I choose my own colors.
An hour later, she asked for my arm.
She tied a careful double knot. "If it wears out,"
she told me, "I can make you another."

(Beth Kanell, 2011)

[How to make a friendship bracelet: one link here.]

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Book and Its Cover

Here are some photos taken by Harman Clark at the wonderful book launch party that greeted The Secret Room on Sept. 9 at the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum. I especially like the one that shows local student Maggie, with the cover for which she was photographed in the spooky basement of the publisher's house in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, months ago. (On the back of the book, Maggie is joined by her friend Katherine.)

Making the party especially exciting were 35 middle school students from the St. Johnsbury School, invited and chaperoned by librarian Beth Mallon and her team of volunteers. Mrs. Mallon, you rock! Thanks, all of you students and readers whoo hiked to the Athenaeum to join the fun (and solve some codes!).

"Story" and "History"

2010 photo courtesy of origamidon (thank you!)
It's been grand in the past two weeks to see The Secret Room reaching readers, with its lively adventure story of two Vermont eight-graders, Shawna Lee and Thea Warwick, who stumble into the controversial and rapidly changing landscape of Northern New England's Underground Railroad in the midst of a math project for school. The hiding place that they discover, as well as the secrets of their village and the strengths of their friendship, are in your hands. Thanks for the wonderful welcome to the book!

I promised that today I'd mention how to find out whether the "hiding place" in your own home or neighborhood is linked to the Underground Railroad. Here are two directions to try:

1. If you are IN VERMONT, your best resource is Rokeby Museum, which you can visit while the gentle weather lasts. Director Jane Williamson and her knowledgeable staff will welcome you to the evidence that history provides there. If you can't go in person, check out this report from the director, an essay on Rokeby's website.

Also available at Rokeby are copies of "Friends of Freedom." This 99-page spiral-bound report was issued by the State of Vermont in 1996. It's a history detective's treasure, because the investigators involved tracked down the evidence for 174 people and places around the state that thought they had ties to this most exciting history adventure: the effort before the Civil War to make sure that black Americans leaving the slaveholding South could find freedom and safety, whether in other parts of the United States or in Canada. Check the lists in this report to find out whether your location, like Rokeby, is well supported as "really truly" part of the Underground Railroad effort. And brace for the possibility that, like the cave at Hildene (a Lincoln family home in Manchester, Vermont), connections may be more based in oral tradition and wishful thinking, without real evidence.

2. If you live OUTSIDE VERMONT, check this site provided by the Smithsonian Institution, providing good facts and exposing a lot of myths. For instance:

The reality of the Underground Railroad was much less romantic. Escaping enslaved individuals often had no help or guidance from anyone throughout the majority of their journey. While it is a common belief that white Northerners were going into the South and bringing slaves from the farms and plantations into the North, the truth is that most enslaved individuals left on their own. When the enslaved did have assistance, the aid they received varied from being given a place to rest in barns and sheds to being provided with a small amount of food and sent on to the next location. Those seeking freedom would have had to place a good amount of trust in the people who were assisting them, for at any moment their safety could be compromised, leading to recapture.
It is also a common misconception that all people working to assist escaping individuals were white Northerners. The fact is that the majority of the conductors on the Underground Railroad in the South were Black, often still enslaved themselves.
You can also check with the National Parks Service, which answers questions on specific sites and also invites you to share information you might have. Here's the website for help from this group.

More comments and questions? Leave a comment here on the blog. I'll get back to you, time permitting!

A Universe of Books at The Galaxy Bookshop

Hold on, let me catch my breath -- it's been a whirlwind of wonderful events with readers, librarians, teachers, students, bookshop staff  ... actually all of those are readers! ... all over the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, and in gracious Littleton, New Hampshire. Tuesday evening's visit to The Galaxy Bookshop in Hardwick, VT, capped the delights, with an Underground Railroad game created by owner Linda Ramsdell, and the presence of a little angel of a bookseller, baby Ivy, keeping her mom Sandy company.

Handouts included secret codes (solved right away by Adrienne, who should receive her historic postcard from the author -- me -- in tomorrow's mail) and a researcher's "code sheet" of 19th-century abbreviations for names and accounts, often found in record books. Four historians added extra details from the audience, too!

My one regret was not being able to slip away into the children's book room, where I always find good books to bring home. But I'll be back, to browse!

What a wonderful evening; thank you, Linda and Sandy and guests. One of the bookstore cats came out to say goodbye.

Jem the cat, at The Galaxy
Tomorrow: How you can check whether your favorite "hiding place" or 1850s activist in Vermont was involved in helping fugitives on the road north to freedom. What's the difference between "story" and "history"? Huge. Shawna and Thea in The Secret Room are after the truth. You can be, too.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

It's Finally Time -- THE SECRET ROOM Debuts This Week!!

Yes, that's why I've been a little quiet online lately, with a LOT to do to get ready. The brand new novel is coming out at the end of this week. It's THE SECRET ROOM, a Vermont adventure set in a fictionalized version of North Danville. Here's the scoop:
Shawna and Thea are working together on a math project for their eighth-grade class. But the numbers don't add up, and they make a startling discovery: a secret room in the basement of Thea's house, an old Vermont inn. The code on the walls makes the girls and everyone in town wonder why there was a secret room. Was it part of the Underground Railroad, or perhaps something less, well, heroic? Discovering the truth is harder than they would have thought, especially when the truth is not what some people want to hear.
The first review for the book came from New England novelist Howard Frank Mosher, whose books Disappearances, Where the Rivers Flow North, and A Stranger in the Kingdom are much-appreciated classics on our shelves. Mr. Mosher wrote:
American history, friendship, family ties, nature, community. These are some of the themes that Beth Kanell explores in this beautifully written and ever-so-timely novel. The Secret Room is at once a superb, young-adult suspense story, and one of the best, and most realistic, literary mystery novels I've ever read. At its heart are two wonderful young friends and not-so-amateur detectives, Thea and Shawna. What they learn about themselves, their community, and their state and country, past and present, will astonish and delight you. The Secret Room is a masterwork in which every sentence is lovingly crafted and written straight from the heart.
And as you can tell, this is an author who quickly recognizes work "straight from the heart" because that's what he does in his own novels. Thank you again, Howard!

If you're a Goodreads fan, you can find teacher Tim Averill's appraisal of the book online there; if you like Amazon, you'll see what MamaBear wrote.

Best of all, find an independent and order the book there. Or, in New England, come to one of the celebrations that begin this week:

New North Danville Adventure Story!

THE SECRET ROOM
by Beth Kanell

Meet the author:
Fri. 9/9, Open Party, St. J. Athenaeum, 4 p.m.
Sat. 9/10, Cobleigh Library, Lyndonville, 11 a.m. (sponsored by Green Mountain Books)
Sat. 9/10, Boxcar & Caboose, St. J., 2 p.m.
Mon. 9/12, Danville Inn, Danville, 9:30 a.m., with coffee and donuts provided by Steve Cobb, who appears in the book!
Sat. 9/17, Davies Memorial Library, Waterford, 10 a.m.
Sat. 9/17, Littleton (N.H.) Library, 2 p.m.
Tues. 9/20, Galaxy Books, Hardwick, 7 p.m.

Books can also be ordered at www.thesecretroombook.com
from the publisher, Voyage/Brigantine, St. Johnsbury, VT