In Vermont author Beth Kanell's THE DARKNESS UNDER THE WATER, teen Molly Ballou confronts the risks of her Abenaki heritage. In THE SECRET ROOM, Shawna and Thea unearth the Underground Railroad, through evidence "today." In COLD MIDNIGHT, follow teens Claire Benedict and Ben Riley to the roofs of downtown St. Johnsbury, Vermont, at night - and a murder. Order books at www.BethKanell.com or locally.
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?
Thursday, October 4, 2012
Setting a New Novel: Getting to Know Montpelier, Vermont (Better)
"The Sleuth of Montpelier, Vermont"
A Writer's Research Adventure
In a little “study” under the stairs, my father labored with
ruler and Number 4 pencil on a single sheet of blued paper on which he could
make scaled drawings. Nearby, curled in an armchair, the 10-year-old “me” read
her Nancy Drew books, and understood that the secret panels and hidden rooms
within the mysteries began their lives with someone else’s version of Dad’s
There were trap doors, like the one in the floor of the
wardrobe in “The Secret of the Wooden Lady,” which also included two cleverly
crafted panels that Nancy discovered with her careful fingers; in “The Sign of
the Twisted Candles,” the girl sleuth examines a camouflaged back stairway,
then with her boyfriend Ned begins a hunt for the dead homeowner’s treasures:
“Every panel in the ceilings, walls, and floorboards was carefully examined. …
Ned cried out, ‘Nancy! Come here! I think I’ve found something!” She ran to his
side in the rear hall. ‘Look! The grasss cloth on this wall is a little different
from the rest and a twisted candle has been worked into the design.’” There’s a
safe hidden behind the significant design element.
Now that I’m writing a “Vermont Nancy Drew” series set in
Montpelier, I’ve tuned in to the wide range of design trends that resulted in
the many-aged downtown architecture of Vermont’s capital. If I want my sleuth,
Felicity “Lucky” Franklin, to discover a hidden room or secret panel, what
structure will she explore? In this case, it has to be (for plot reasons) both
the State House and the Blanchard Opera Block, now home to the bookstore that
belongs to Lucky’s mom (the real store owner is collaborating) and once host to
grand performances in the early 1900s, including the arrival of young elephants
with the touring circus!
A behind-the-scenes exploration of the State House with
ardent conservation curator David Schütz convinced me that the structure’s
major idiosyncrasies lie in its dome, which sits atop the legislative “box” but
is a unit unto itself. “My” sleuth will find clues there, among the oddly
positioned timbers and scrawled graffiti. In the Blanchard Opera House, though,
she’ll discover an actual hiding place.
Could Montpelier architect and sometime mayor George
Guernsey, who designed the Blanchard Opera House, actually have ensured a
concealed area in the building? Norwich University student Megan Morse and
Putney preservation pro Lyssa Papazian tracked Guernsey’s work and life (1839-1900)
in detail. The era fits that of Lambert Packard, St. Johnsbury’s major
architect (1832-1906), and at least one of Packard’s buildings has a hidden
panel next to a fireplace. Guernsey himself favored intricacy and Italianate detail.
Although none of his documented structures in Montpelier show false walls,
hidden doors, or secret panels, the grace of fiction allows me to insert one
with a relative amount of believability.
But that’s not quite enough for the kind of fiction I’m
writing, which always hinges on some aspect of Vermont history, as well as a
puzzle rooted in the life stages of teenagers. So I have two more components of
Guernsey’s real life to weave in: his local nickname of “King George,” and his
death of tuberculosis.
In the process of crafting
these mysteries (the first of is “All That
Glitters”), I hope to also bring attention to George Guernsey himself and to
his structures, which probably number in the hundreds, whether churches, houses,
commercial blocks, or public buildings like libraries and schools. A little
extra knowledge may yet make the difference in a decision to maintain a George
Guernsey building at a valued town or city location – whether there is a secret
panel in it, or not.
[Photos of details of a George Guernsey building, the Edward Dewey house, courtesy of Don Shall.]