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?

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Values and Writing: What's Your Stand?

Around 2003, when I began writing THE DARKNESS UNDER THE WATER, I was well aware that outrage was one of the emotions driving me. I love Vermont so much that it's sometimes an ache inside me -- and reading (and copyediting) the nonfiction book Breeding Better Vermonters shocked me: People were verbally tormented, physically operated on (with the same motives as Hitler's), and made to suffer for generations, right here in my home state. Somebody needed to tell the story. And my way of "getting into" a story has often been through fiction. So, I decided to write a book from the point of view of a Vermont teen in 1930, coming to realize both the risk and the value of her Abenaki heritage.

With THE SECRET ROOM, I wrestled with some other areas where I thought things could be made more fair: in the way the history of the Underground Railroad is reported in northern New England, and in the important area of girls and math, an area dear to me because I've always been "good" in math and science, and in fact took a college degree in chemistry (there were two of us "girls" among the eight chemistry majors in our senior year at Michigan State University in 1969).

Now it's almost time for COLD MIDNIGHT to be published (the eBook is already available; the printed book comes out November 3). And again, I've pinned to a part of history (underneath the murder-mystery plot) that involves two issues that matter to me: the injustice of America's first federal legislation that discriminated against an ethnic group -- the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 -- and the class structure that can make things rough for kids from working-class families.

My own family, when I was growing up, lived in a house about three-fourths down the slope of the mountain that defined social status in Montclair, New Jersey. My dad moved into management during those years, but for a manufacturing firm where he still dealt with blueprints and machines. Neither of my parents knew much about four-year colleges, and I was the first in the family to complete a bachelor's degree. Saturdays were for yard work and housecleaning, not for "cultural enrichment," although sometimes Saturday afternoons could include a visit with our family friends the Buffingtons, where the dad was a teacher and the mom, like mine, mostly stayed at home until the kids were in high school.

In the past few years, I've come to understand something else about my family that probably helped create the way that I approach writing a novel: My grandfather Ernest, born a Jew in Germany in 1898, told me when I was about 12 years old that the most important value in the world is "Tolerance." He spoke from his observation of World War II, the concentration camps, survival of families, and much more. And on my mom's side of the family, the Quaker stance of my mother's mother's family was my mom's great source of pride, because she knew it involved taking a stand for justice when injustice flourished. Here are scans from a letter that my grandfather sent home to his two small sons, as he traveled in Egypt in the 1930s, probably on business:


What are your values? How do they affect what you write, what you read, who you share books with? Share a few sentences here; I'm interested.

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