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?

Friday, October 28, 2011

You Could Win a Free Copy of THE SECRET ROOM ... Or Reserve One to Purchase at a Vermont Author Event!

Visit this Minnesota mom's wonderful blog Hanging Off the Wire and try for a free copy of The Secret Room today. Do spend some time reading HayleyK's posts ... she's got a lot of good insight.

And then, to make sure you're going to have enough copies (one for you, one for your mom, one for your best friend at the holidays), please do mark your calendar for one of these upcoming events featuring the book:

* Sunday Nov. 6 at 1 pm at The Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne, VT, where kids and young adults come first (but there are great books for their "drivers" too!).

* Monday Nov. 7 at 7 pm at the church in West Barnet, VT, for the meeting of the West Barnet Women's Fellowship.

* Friday Nov. 25 (yes, the day after Thanksgiving, "Black Friday") at 11 am at Bear Pond Books in Montpelier, with an armful of other wonderful Vermont authors.

See you soon!

What's Ahead: The Writing Project List


F.D. Reeve and I completed the first draft of "Opal of the Mountains" last week; I'm working on the second draft now. That's the promised "novel in iambic pentameter" -- or, more to the point, it's a novel all in dialogue. It opens in a vegetable garden, and climbs steadily upward, including up some cliffs. More on this, later.

I've got two photos that I want to share, for their roles in possible novels coming up. The first, nicely labeled from its original newspaper use, is an old "tavern" in Hardwick, Vermont. These town or village meetingplaces were some of the largest houses around, and there are still many on what look like back roads today but were once the centers of life in "hamlets" (small villages) formed from working families living close together. The inn that features in The Secret Room is related to this tavern as a structure, but with more emphasis on overnight rooms for travelers. From the size of the pictured tavern here, I'd guess there were rooms for rent in the Hazen Road Warner Tavern, too.

Because inns and taverns were places for local people to keep up with each other's lives, and also to meet travelers -- either distant relatives, or intriguing strangers -- this tavern is going to appear in one of my stories soon.  There are two classic premises to begin an adventure: "A stranger comes to town," and "Someone leaves on a journey." A tavern or inn is the perfect place for both.

The second photo was sent by Harman Clark and shows the Vail Mansion, which stood on what
is now the Lyndon State College campus. Many who stayed there recall it as haunted. No doubt, it will appear in a story of "haunting" that's bubbling up for me to tell.

My list here at the desk also includes revisions next month on my 1850 novel, The Long Shadow; crafting a first draft of a middle-grades book I've called in my mind "the captive fortuneteller"; and a collection of poems. If only I didn't have to make supper and do laundry and finish digging the carrots from the garden, too!

Looking Into Claire Benedict's Heart: Deepening the Story

Cold Midnight tells the story of Claire Benedict and Ben Riley, teens in 1921 -- their night-time escapades in the town of St. Johnsbury, Vermont, and the moments when they see evidence that may tie to a murder of a local businessman, as well as to the "firebug" who's tormenting the local fire department with false alarms and worse.

I finished the first draft in December of 2010, sent it out to my trusty agent and an insightful editor in January, and received their comments and suggestions in early summer. Since then, I've wrestled with how to change the arc of the book to incorporate these wise notions of what it needs in revision.

Revision? Yes, in my experience, revision is the stage when a "promising" story becomes a really good one. And it requires investigating the heart of the main character of the book, asking questions within the "author heart" about why the person is and does the things in the novel. As the answers become clear, so does the path toward the deeper, better story.

And this week, I've reworked Claire's relationship with her dad -- because underneath all the plot twists and discoveries, that's where the pain of the book resides, and where the real satisfaction can happen, if Claire makes choices that come from both courage and love.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Like Peanut Butter and Jelly!

Photo courtesy of redjar.
I had a great time visiting Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, Vermont, earlier this month; chatting with readers about The Secret Room was fun and interesting, and a highlight of the visit was reconnecting in person with Jeanette Sessions, the store's "young adult" enthusiast, who often posts on Northshire's book blog. Here's the intro Jeanette prepared for the event; she cut it short because she knew almost everyone who came to the event (yay, community bookselling!), and I wanted to share it all. I love the peanut butter and jelly comment! Thanks, Jeanette -- you're terrific.

Hello and welcome to the Northshire Bookstore.  My name is Jeanette. I meet Beth Kanell about three years ago when she came to the bookstore for a reading of her first novel, Darkness Under the Water: a thought-provoking and unique story covering some of Vermont’s unknown history, set in the 1920s. Kanell opens the eyes of her readers with magical text and a perspective as honest as she is. Here we see Molly, her Abenaki family, and the struggles they face.
Now, I have the pleasure of introducing you to her latest work, The Secret Room. We find ourselves in modern-day Vermont. Shawna and Thea are as different as peanut butter and jelly: but go together just as nicely!  Shawna is a local farm girl. Thea, a “flatlander” whose family has just purchased a home that used to be an inn. When the two are teamed up for a math homework project to measure Thea’s house…the numbers do not add up! The outside numbers say the inside numbers should be bigger!
This mystery leads to them finding a secret room in the house's basement. But the fun does not end here! The facts lead everyone to believe that this room could have been part of the Underground Railroad! The girls learn not only about the history of the inn and Vermont, but Shawna learns about her own personal history and what friendship really means.

Before I hand over the stage to our guest (who will not only speak about her novel, but has a few goodies for you as well), I want to thank you for coming and please do not forget to purchase a book and have Ms. Kanell sign it for you after the event.  Not only will you experience this alluring and captivating novel yourself, but you will help us bring more great authors to the bookstore.  Now please join me in welcoming a great author and my friend, Beth Kanell.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

How to Get Writing -- and Keep It Going

I'm headed to a local high school today, to listen to readers of THE SECRET ROOM and to coach them -- teens and adults alike -- on how to get and keep a novel rolling. Here's the outline I'm working from:


The Writer’s Workshop: How The Secret Room Was Written,
and How to Start Exploring Your Own Stories

Beth’s Braid Method:
  1. A section of history that is changing in a controversial way (justice!!).
  2. A situation in Vermont that won’t resolve easily.
  3. A character who starts “speaking” to me.

Other Braids:
  1. A wish.                        1. A stranger.                        1. A journey ahead.
  2. A problem.                        2. A discovery.            2. A values collision.
  3. A friendship.                        3. A life change.            3. A sacrifice worth making.

A Toolbox
(a) Situations, places, newspaper articles, letters, poems, special words.
(b) Sensory triggers: candles, leaves, flowers, feathers, music, bells, tea, chocolate.
(c) Memory board: children, babies, pets, trees, roads, houses, postcards.

A Place to Dream and Draw
Notebooks: Adding color, size, organization.
Wall boards: brown paper, “white boards,” doors.
Computers: Files of images, words, outlines, messages. Sort and label!!

Keeping on Track
Goals and timelines.
Friends and mentors.
Rewards versus incentives.
Feeding the Curiosity Cat.

Writer’s Block, Revision, and Other Flashlight Moments
Picture the reader: What change or conviction or amazement or horror do you picture in your reader? How can you evoke this, more effectively? Often this kind of revision calls for structure changes: pacing through paragraph and sentence length, word choices, point of view. Try rewriting one paragraph in a different voice – “I” instead of “she” or vice versa. Past instead of present, or vice versa. Short sentences or long one … experiment, make smoke.

Cut to the heart of things: Ask, “What is this story ABOUT? How can it be more intensely about that?”  This might call for “poetic revision” or for cutting away “the trimmings.” Circle the best parts, mark the compelling areas. Try using only the best parts.

Hansel and Gretel”: What matters in this story? Why is each part in place? What parts are missing?

Have fun!! Read aloud. Picture a Haiku. Look for “growth buds.” Form a tree. Draw a landscape. Add color to your page. Change the music in your room or your mind. Visualize a flame. Fear and faith. Make a distance between “you” and your character. Close the distance between you and your character. Be a rude child – point fingers, ask why.