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, November 30, 2012

"Snow Day": Perfect for Writing!

Last night's steady "flurries" gave us about four inches of snow by morning, and long before I got out in it, the deer had tracked all around the front and back yards, "pruning" the apple trees again. Darn! Well, I'll put up more fencing on Monday, after the weekend rain clears the ground.

Meanwhile, it was a perfect Snow Day. After routine morning chores (getting the papers for my husband, for example) and a happy-booted walk up on the ridge, I reached the desk, happy to escape to the three writing projects underway. Three!! Well, part of this past few weeks of silence has been spent in research and thinking, and I knew where each one was meant to go.

And now it's suppertime, but I've had a perfect writing session. PUNCH, the sequel to The Secret Room, is well underway, with chapter 1 expanded and ramped up to the tension that I wanted in it: http://www.wattpad.com/8080389-punch-a-vermont-mystery. (If you live in northern New England, you'll recognize the friction that "four wheelers" evoke in the community, as Shawna and Thea face the first day of school -- under circumstances that distress them both.)

Second, the new book CHARLIE'S PLACE is off to a great start -- again, chapter 1, but this chapter reflects a 3-hour planning session with co-author Sue Tester, as well as 10 days of wrestling for the perfect words and images. I can't share that one yet, but I'm very, very excited about it.

Third is the new chapter -- chapter 28! -- of ALL THAT GLITTERS, a chapter that's confusing and stressful and part of the turning point of the book, as it's going to explode in two kinds of risky behavior within the next two chapters. Teen sleuth Felicity "Lucky" Franklin is in deeper than she knows ... thank goodness Michelle and Sandy are there with her. And a few other friends, too. Click here to start reading.

What's left for the day? Book reviews, of course! Watch the Kingdom Books review site this evening. I've got a lot to talk about -- and hope you'll join some of the conversations that these trigger.

PS -- EVENT COMING UP for COLD MIDNIGHT: Sat. Dec. 8, 10 a.m., at the Davies Memorial Library in Waterford, Vermont, I'll be talking about the Northeast Kingdom in 1921 and sharing photos and research that lie behind the unsolved "real" murder in the novel. Hope you can join us. If you can't, you can still order a signed copy at www.BethKanell.com (or pick up the book or e-books at local Vermont shops or online).

Sunday, November 18, 2012

From COLD MIDNIGHT, to American Anti-Chinese Expressions in the Late 1800s and Early 1900s

Thomas Nast cartoon of "John Confucius"
St. Johnsbury, Vermont, had an unsolved murder in 1921 -- of a Chinese laundry owner named Sam Wah. Because the murder is at the center of my new YA mystery, COLD MIDNIGHT, I talk a lot at author events about the "historically real" murder and the way the local newspaper handled it at that time, as well as in later retrospectives.

One aspect raised a good question from a careful listener at Boxcar & Caboose, the town's welcoming bookshop.

"If Sam Wah was only hosting an 'endless' poker game for the local businessmen, why did the newspaper say he had a 'gambling den' instead?"

The sad answer is the anti-Chinese racism that thrived in America at that time.

Think back to the great era of building railroads across the nation -- most of them were done by the time of the Civil War. After the war was over, many Chinese men who had been kidnapped from their homeland to labor on the rails were suddenly out of work, and willing to take very low wages for other jobs. In the sluggish economic period that followed the war, this became an issue that we today recognize still: "Those Chinese are taking our jobs. Get rid of them! They're criminals and not like us, and besides, they are dirty!"

Those phrases come up in almost any form of racism or anti-group expression. In the late 1800s they led to federal legislation barring further Chinese entry into the country (except for "professionals" -- which included laundrymen!), forbidding Chinese women to arrive ("they would multiply like rabbits"), and saying Chinese could not become naturalized American citizens. The 1882 law actually broadened over the years, being used against all "Asians," until World War I sharply increased the need for males to go to war. Even without the law's force, though, the racism survived.

At that time, the term "Chinaman" was derogatory -- much like "Nigger." Cartoons created a persona of the ignorant, lazy, dirty, immoral Chinese, calling this figure "John Chinaman." Here's a short related piece particularly for educators (including relationships to state standards) that accompanies this image of "John Chinaman":



  I thank my husband Dave for continued research on this, including the images that follow here:
"John Chinaman" postcard
Dated on rear May 27, 1910, in Indiana.

Chinese women finally arriving in the US after World War I -- part of a needed workforce.


Chinese laundry prices, circa 1940

 A special note for those who appreciate exploring through music: American song lyrics also showed the feelings against Chinese at the time. See in particular "John Chinaman, My Jo," from Conner's Irish Songbook, 1868. And here is a link to the lyrics for "John Chinaman" and "The Heathen Chinee," from 1855 and 1870, respectively.


Saturday, November 3, 2012

One Book Arrives, One Book Being Written -- Mysteries!

Although today is the Big Release Day for COLD MIDNIGHT, I'm also working on three (gulp) other books. Here's one of them: Late in the evenings, I write chapters of All That Glitters, the first of eight teen sleuth books featuring Felicity "Lucky" Franklin, in Montpelier, Vermont.

You can watch the book being written -- read the chapters as their first drafts are posted! -- at WattPad. Click here to peek!

On November 5, this writing project gets featured on the blog of author and editor Penny Lockwood Ehrenkranz. Watch for a link to Penny's blog that morning!

82 Years Ago, in St. Johnsbury, Vermont ...

In the holiday season of 1921, local men who survived the terrible trench warfare of the Great War -- later known as World War I -- were home. But they hadn't been here long: Although the war ended in 1919, many soldiers remained in Europe for another year and a half, either taking part in "the peace" by choice or by orders, or detained in medical treatment. That means they came "home" in 1920 and 1921.

Claire Benedict's father in COLD MIDNIGHT is one of these men, and as the autumn turns to winter in 1921, Claire is increasingly upset that her father, home for a few months, hasn't yet gone to work. Shell-shocked and coughing, her dad is not able to come through for Claire and her mom, the way Claire had imagined things would work out.

At the same time, a very different holiday season is unfolding for a man Claire doesn't even realize lives in her blue-collar Vermont town: a Chinese man who owns a laundry not far from the railroad station.

COLD MIDNIGHT -- which releases today, at stores in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont (and Montpelier's Bear Pond Books), and also at www.BethKanell.com -- is a mystery and adventure novel that draws firmly on the real town of 1921 and a real murder that took place. I don't want to spoil the story by telling you too much now, but when you've read it, you'll find notes in the back of the book to make connections to what took place here.

Meanwhile, to get you in the mood, here is a real postcard, sent in 1921 as a holiday greeting, postmarked St. Johnsbury. It's a small world, so if you happen to know something about the sender, or the addressee, please do let me know!


UPDATE, November 7, 2015:  Earlier this week, I enjoyed a phone conversation with Tanya Conly, who lives in a part of East St. Johnsbury that was once known affectionately as "Conlyville," for all the family members living there. She reported with pleasure that John Conly -- who, with his wife (Mr. and Mrs.), signed this postcard -- was her the brother of her grandfather Herbert William Conly. It's a very small world, because Tanya Conly lives about half a mile from Dave and me! I'm glad she spotted this post and let us know that the card does indeed connect "here at home."

PS -- There are many more postcards and photos of the town here: http://pinterest.com/bethkanell/cold-midnight-climbing-on-roofs-at-night-solving-c