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, April 13, 2012

Clues About an Intriguing Building, Montpelier, Vermont

Sometimes 90 percent of the historical research is done before I begin writing a book. At other times -- and this is one of them -- about 30 to 50 percent is done in advance, and the rest of it is a constant pressure of interest and investigation as the narrative of the story unfolds.

VPR news photo by Bob Kinzel
For the new book ALL THAT GLITTERS, featuring teen detective Lucky Franklin, I'm writing a chapter every three days on a public site, Wattpad (see yellow box in right-hand column of this blog page). There are two particular settings involved in the book, other than the modern hospital where Lucky's gunshot-wounded dad is recovering. I chose them for their intriguing past. One is the Vermont State House; the other is the Blanchard Block, which once included the town's Opera House. Now it's the home of the amazing shop Bear Pond Books, a real store whose owners are guests in the novel (smile).

Here's a bit about the structure, from the Central Vermont Walking Tour page:
2. Blanchard Block, 67-77 Main, 1833-4 and 1890
This impressive block still dominates this section of Montpelier. It was the first and tallest example in town of this type of commercial architecture which remains a major component of so many "downtowns" in America. The architect, George Guernsey, designed attractive storefronts, as well as a full-sized auditorium, known as the Blanchard Opera House. Unusually fine musical entertainment graced the stage largely because it was located between Boston and Montreal and seated 800 people. The building was extended on the right to provide a larger stage and space for the Brooks Post G.A.R., but by 1910 the hall closed permanently, heralding the coming of the moving pictures. The upper floors are now all used for offices and apartments; little evidence remains of the stage and galleries.
I have confirmation from two different sources that the Opera House used to host the visiting circuses. Now, picture this lovely performance venue on the SECOND FLOOR of the structure -- and add to your mind's-eye image the fact (confirmed!) that the elephants, as well as other performing animals, used to wall UP THE STAIRS to meet their audience!

Well, how could I resist?

Megan Morse at architect George Guernsey's house. Photo by Jay Ericson.
But tracking down information goes one step at a time, and that's not quite enough for the level of detail I need for this story. So the next step, for me, is to track the architect mentioned, George Guernsey. Happily, I've found that a Norwich University student, Megan Morse, began a survey of Guernsey's work in 2009. In fact, here's a photo of Ms. Morse at Guernsey's Montpelier home.

Onward!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Birth Certificates, Farm Locations, Single Parenting, and More

http://www.ancestry.com/1940-census
This is a quick bonus post, to accompany today's release of 1940s-era material by Ancestry.com -- which is where I generally go to find the documents that can confirm or reject a picture I'm forming of a particular time in US history. Today I took a look at that collection's Census enumeration maps, to see how they might fit into my search for "Little River Farm," where I think my mother lived in the 1940s.

Most of the time when I'm using this website, though, it's for work on novels that are just coming together in my planning: I have one in mind that's set in the late 1800s on Cape Cod, as the whaling industry waned. It goes with a woman whose life I know the outlines of: married to a whaling man, widowed in her early 20s while expecting her second child, then starting her own business, which (in real life!) would grow to one of the largest in Provincetown. This isn't even on my "wall maps" in my writing room yet (three or four other books are getting written before then!), but I'm filling files with the documents that go with the story. And the new 1940s-era material will help with the second half of the novel.

So much for the notion that writers "just imagine" their stories! Some do ... but for me, the process usually begins with a real moment in time, and a few people whose life decisions at that moment fascinate me.

PS: From the Ancestry folks:
 The National Archives and Records Administration will open the 1940 U.S. Federal Census on April 2, 2012—the first time this collection will be made available to the public. Once we receive the census, we will begin uploading census images to our site so the public can browse them. Initially, this collection will be what we call a browse-only collection. This means a person can scroll through the pages of the census districts much like you would look at a microfilm or a book. At the same time, we will be working behind the scenes to create an index of the census that will eventually allow people to search for their family members by name as they currently can with all other censuses on Ancestry.com. Note also that the 1940 U.S. Federal Census will be accessible free of charge throughout 2012 on Ancestry.com.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Welcome to April: National Poetry Month

Strawberry plants are waking up!
After the April Fooling of the morning is done, it's a great day to sign up for receiving a strong poem in the e-mail mailbox each day this week, thanks to the Knopf publishing group, which is featuring work by Jack Gilbert today (perhaps all month?). Click here and enjoy!

Here's one of mine, a "sequence" made from poems that I wrote to place on plants I contributed for a local fund-raising plant sale. See if you can figure out what the plants were ...


LOW LIGHT, WATER ONCE A WEEK

My mother gave me one of these:
“for your first apartment,” she said
(graciously forgetting the student one)
and tagging the plant with both
my name and his: “For the Two of You.”
Its green stems cascaded from her old
blue teapot, chipped at the spout.
In a corner of the bare kitchen
it pretended that I could keep house.
No harder to pretend the realms of “wife”
than to forget the quarrels overheard,
all those years in my mother’s home:
time, like the green cuttings,
transferred to the next generation.

WATER ONCE A WEEK, LOW LIGHT

This one will grow: In spite of neglect,
and all the better if you forget it sometimes,
it will multiply in stems and leaves and strands
assuring you that all your mistakes
are forgivable by someone, somewhere.
You can even share it – take cuttings,
set them jauntily in a jar of water,
see them sprout roots. Your best friend
will always remember: This is the one
you gave to her, saying, “Now we are
sisters, now we are twins. Love always.”

OUTDOOR, PARTIAL SUN

These happy faces, purple and gold, will spread
without attention – you only need to set them gently
into a bed that’s not too crowded, read to them
a short and kind story, give some water
(not too much). Then walk away, read a book,
have a summer life – by the last page,
they will have seeded themselves
into another season. Rejoice! Unlike children,
they ask little, need nothing, except
your permission.

NEW HOME WANTED

This plant needs a strong vertical space
and a little support: It can’t be trimmed
because its life depends on standing tall.
Years ago, my girlfriend gave it to me,
warning me: “The nickname is …
mother-in-law’s tongue!” Sharp, deliberate,
as if a spouse’s mother always came
with resentments. I was lucky: Mine were
happy to see me take over, giving me
favorite recipes, old photos, ways to love
their boys. But now, I confess, I’ve had
my share, and this tall plant (which loves
a dim corner) needs a new home. Is there
room for her in your collection? She promises
never to speak too loudly, and always
to thank you, for taking her in.

WILLOW, BUT NOT WEEPING

If you have a very wet spot in the yard
here is your candidate to correct the situation:
a willow, not the weeping sort, but
quick-growing, happily rooting in puddles,
soaking up the overflow and holding even a slope
in place. Expect spring “pussy-toes” at the tips
of the growing twigs. Believe it or not,
five years from now this tree will stand
six feet tall or more, bushy, green, glorious,
a summer adornment. Aren’t you lucky?
Only G-d could have an idea this good.

MINT JULEPS AND MORE

Summer! Bare skin, sweat, sun on your shoulder:
that’s why this ardent cluster of mint
is meant for the June garden, sprouting
into the hot afternoons ahead. Make iced tea,
squeeze lemons, stir up iced pitchers of
relief – and set a sprig of mint in every glass.
How to plant it? Choose a cool, shady place
where there’s room to spread, and let it grow.
Like the morning after a headache,
it feels so good. It smells so good. It grows,
like a weed, exuberant and hardy. Life is hard.
But mint is easy. Thank goodness,
something finally rewards us just for
being. 

BK

Goodbye to March 2012

Sometimes life provides "coincidences" that couldn't be believed in a novel. Really. (There's a saying that I like: "Coincidence is God, acting anonymously.")

My mother's heart stopped beating on March 26, 1984 -- was restarted after "too long" and mercifully failed again in the wee hours of the next morning. Her unexpected death at age 53, when I was still a very young woman, heavily pregnant with my second child, meant I had a lot of grief to handle -- and yet didn't want to give way to it very far, because I wanted to keep my almost-born baby healthy, as well as take good care of my toddler and husband.

This past week, on March 26, our community was shattered by the murder of a wonderful 33-year-old science teacher and mom and engaged member of multiple communities -- and I cried. A lot. So did a lot of other people. I actually didn't even think of my mom's death until five days later, when our local paper printed a banner headline "LOVE WINS" along with the dates of Melissa Jenkins's life.

In so many ways, our region has insisted that love win this time. It's for Melissa, who taught people around her the saying, "We need to love those the most who need us the most."

Most poignant to me today are: (1) The recollection of overhearing a busy woman Friday, as her friends tied pink balloons to parking meters, so that even the rough March downtown sidewalks proclaimed Melissa as the area adopted her favorite color. This woman, racing past a balloon-tying friend, called out, "I've made pink roses for us to wear in the bar tonight." (2) The lingering pink balloons, tied to railing, fenceposts, mailboxes, and more.

The stories that matter are often true stories. The story of Melissa Jenkins and Vermont matters. And it always will.

PS -- The front page of the Burlington Free Press shows a number of male political leaders greeting President Obama on Friday in Vermont. My husband pointed out their pink shirts. "For Melissa," he said. Love wins.