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?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Election Fever Can Mean Collecting "History" and Testing Data

Vermont Edition radio host Jane Lindholm
From now until November, Americans will hear a lot about politics and government. It's tempting to support candidates who believe the same things we do, or who seem to face life the way we do.

But there's another way to see political speeches: In what they say and do, candidates to lead our country reveal what they believe America's history is, and what should be done about it, in order to shape the future for all Americans. That means, if we want a well-led country, we need to be history evaluators ourselves, in order to notice how good -- or not so good -- each candidate is in sorting out what really happened and what might happen in the years in front of us.

Shawna and Thea begin to sort out historical "facts" in this way in The Secret Room. Their eventual conclusions about the "real" Underground Railroad events in their village of North Upton are very different from where their opinions started. A fun way to evaluate their work might include listing their opinions from when they've first discovered the secret room, the kinds of research they do, and their opinions by the end of the book.

Looking for a real-life application of the same skills? Try listening to the speakers on this Vermont Public Radio broadcast from November 2011: host Jane Lindholm (an anthropologist as well as journalist), history professor Ray Zirblis, and me, your author of The Secret Room. Jot down what opinions are expressed by each speaker, and the evidence each one offers to back up those opinions. Then work slowly through the listener comments and questions posted on the radio station website, in response to the show. What opinions can you determine among the listeners? How are they responding to what they've heard?

Let me know what you find. And if you are trying this in a classroom or group, at any age, I'd love to know how it works out and where it leads you next.

[PS - If you're teaching with The Secret Room -- or any other YA historical fiction -- you might want to joint the teacher collaboration at http://www.facebook.com/groups/198457003547529. You're invited!]

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

And the Mountain Is Connected to the Valley ...

two collapsed shrew tunnels
Pygmy shrew.
Yesterday the odd markings of a tiny shrew crisscrossed the backyard. The smallest of mammals, a shrew looks like a mouse that never had a neck, with an added layer of fur. In snowy terrain, shrews travel underneath the snow, along the frozen ground. So how do you see their tracks? It's wild -- you see instead the lines of collapses at the snow surface, where the snow sinks down into the tiny tunnels beneath. Love it.

Also in the backyard is a set of deer tracks leading directly to the wall of the house and back. Turns out the deer spotted the green grass revealed under the outside vent of the clothes dryer. I bet that was a tasty snack.

Although my heart and books are always in Vermont, this snowy, windy ridgeline (this morning's wind is literally roaring) is also connected to the roads that go "elsewhere," including the roads of the Internet. Today they connect to Little Willow, whose website is a mountain-size resource room for readers. I especially like her list of books that deal with "tough topics for teens." And today I'm honored to be her guest for an interview about writing and about secret rooms. Thank you, Little Willow. It's wonderful to "be here."

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Brighter the Light, the Darker the Shadow

This photo is from a tiny cemetery just up the road from where I live; the stones in it mark deaths that took place about two hundred years ago, but -- they also mark lives. They stand for people who chose to farm and raise children on a high ridge of land where they could look west toward an amazing landscape of rolling mountains. And at that time, most of them probably had no idea what lay beyond those mountains. One of the markers here (the left-hand one; click on it to make it larger) is for Mrs. Submit Adams -- whose heritage, according to local writer Alan Boye, probably included Abenaki (Native American) family members. She may have been the earliest part-European to live on this ridgeline.

I think that the more we learn about the people who've gone ahead of us, the more courage we can summon. We see how they lived with the darkness of winter nights, and the darkness of their souls sometimes. And for many of them, we see how they pulled themselves together. They witnessed wide skies of brilliant stars, or big-bellied glowing full moons; they woke again in the morning to the winter calls of chickadees (tiny birds that refuse to leave here in winter), the sparkle of sunlight on icicles, the bright ring of harness bells on horses. They left us their names, and sometimes their stories.

When a good novel follows a character's path through darkness, it shows where the light is also rising. It calls us to take the next right choice, take another step forward, sing something out loud for the friends following us through the woods. It was Carl Jung who said, "The brighter the light, the darker the shadow." But for the stories I want to research and tell, the saying may sometimes go the opposite way: "The darker the shadow, the brighter the light."