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, February 8, 2013

History Mysteries: Beverly, Mass.

Me, happily preparing for another session at The Waring School
Recently I visited The Waring School in Beverly, Mass., where students filled me in on Waring's two basic commandments ("Don't be mean. Don't be stupid.") and what it's like to take part in this intense and people-focused 15-student college preparatory school. I learned a lot -- and enjoyed sharing writing skills, revision systems, and the three books I've brought forth so far that are historical fiction, hinged where our view of "what happened then" is being changed by our culture and our ability to study the past. These books are also mysteries, with young adult protagonists fighting for truth (The Darkness Under the Water; The Secret Room; Cold Midnight).

Here are some possibilities for launching "history mysteries" set in the rich history of Beverly, Mass.; if you teach a group where your local version of this could be of use, or are a student who'd like a set of these for your classroom, e-mail me (BethKanellAuthor at gmail dot com) and I'll be glad to work up a set for your town!

BEVERLY, MASS., HISTORY MYSTERIES STARTING POINTS

1.  1626, Richard Conant and his "company of fishermen" arrive from Cape Ann, in Naumkeag territory: (a) Who were these fishermen? What secrets did they leave behind them in Cape Ann -- could one have "needed" to leave the larger town, due to a feud or other family disaster, and drawn the group along with him to disguise his real motives? (b) The Naumkeag river Native American village was "ancient" and was a "trading center" in the past. Suppose one of the traders had been immoral in some significant way -- and the new settlement reveals what he did. Who will "police" the settlement? Can justice be served? (c) (for those who like paranormal thrillers) Just how "ancient" was that Native American village? Do the voices and passions of its leaders linger? How might they appear, even today, if not yet appeased in terms of who is using their land?

2. "The John Balch House (circa 1679, but for many years was purported to have been built in 1636), located at 448 Cabot Street, Beverly, Massachusetts,  is one of the oldest wood-frame houses in the United States." The age of the house was established in 2006 through "dendrochronological testing" (that's related to trees and wood, right?). Find out the details of the testing. Who could have had a motive for wanting the house to stand as 1636? Who could have set the testing equipment (maliciously) out of kilter, or broken it the first time it was used? Maybe the testing team includes a descendant of John Balch ... and the timing of the house will determine whether this person might inherit rights to some extremely valuable land, or to a painting, or to water rights. Also, who was John Balch -- could there be a mystery about why certain people in his family die young??

3. Beverly is the "Birthplace of America's Navy" because the first US military ship, the schooner Hannah, was outfitted at Glover's Wharf and first sailed from Beverly Harbor, Sept. 5, 1775. Marblehead disputes the claim of birthplace. (a) Set a mystery on board the Hannah where an important Revolutionary War battle or declaration could depend on what or who the ship is carrying. (b) Try a modern-day feud between Beverly and Marblehead town leaders that seems to be about water treatment but in reality is about being able to claim the naval birthplace title -- for the sake of, say, being able to host a prestigious sailing regatta. Crime involves both the research into the schooner, and a drug run during the regatta.

4. Why did Beverly become the site of America's first cotton mill in 1787? Set a mystery among the child laborers there, and it can include a cache of gold dubloons from piracy (common in the early years of the nation). Add a romance component -- were women allowed to work in the mill? How could you find out?

5. Beverly's separation from Salem took place during a religious disagreement. Track down the parties who disagreed, and their descendants. Can you tie this to the Salem Witch Trials (which took place on terrain that's now part of Danvers)? (for those who want to write paranormal thrillers) Could there be something geological or geographical about Beverly that draws religious controversy? What if a witch trial arose there today, based perhaps on resistance to vaccinations (which many people now believe could affect the incidence of autism spectrum disorder)?

6. The buildings that were once the United Shoe Machinery Corporation (1902-1987) developed in the late 1990s into a campus of high-tech companies and medical offices. Suppose the x-ray and other imaging technology accidentally revealed a double wall in one of the buildings, and evidence suggested a 20th century Mafia connection, long since vanished -- who would want to silence the discovery? Who might profit from it?

7. How did President Taft decide to rent a summer White House in Beverly? (1909, 1910, 1911, 1912). What made the experience so important -- as revealed by Beverly Hills, California, being named for Beverly, Mass., in 1907, because Taft had vacationed there? What secrets do Presidents leave behind? Could the start of World War I have been avoided, if Taft had made a different choice during his vacations in Beverly? Look into whether there were German residents at the time, and whether any diplomatic visits from England or France took place in Beverly then.

8. Beverly's current groundwater pollution issues stem from (presumably) the old Nike missile site on L. P. Henderson Road, and the Casco Chemical company. Suppose a whistle-blower had brought attention to the issues earlier; what atmosphere of threat could have followed? Would the town leaders have wanted the issue covered up at a particular time -- say, when the Vietnam war protests were happening? Who might your lead characters be: perhaps a draft protester? A reclusive chemist? A fishing captain who suspects why the catch has changed?

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