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?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Butternuts: A Kitchen Story

butternut tree


We have an enthusiastic Waterford History group that meets at the local library, the Davies Memorial Library, here in Vermont. Part of our tradition is to consider all of us to be "amateur historians," and we all make discoveries -- in the attic, in old books, behind stone walls suddenly glimpsed through November's bare woods. So each meeting begins with going around the circle, making sure anyone bursting with a new discovery (or, more likely for us, reservedly admitting they've made one) can speak up.

Somehow, last summer, we got onto talking about the old trees that are vanishing. Elms are one of them, of course; every New England town used to have some of these giants, but most were felled by a parasite known as Dutch elm disease, and few remain. Another one (I am sure it was Helen who mentioned it) is the butternut -- and people put their memories and ideas together to talk about where they might have seen a butternut tree in the past decade.

Then, of course, memories of cracking open (actually, smashing with a hammer) the tough nuts came from the oldest among us, who remembered what hard work it was! "I had a recipe for a chocolate butternut cake that was wonderful," Geneva mused. Her relatives asked, "Do you know where it it?" "No," Geneva said with a smile.

(see top recipe)
After the meeting, I went searching for butternuts online, and discovered Native Nuts, a small local firm about an hour away, up by the Canada border (website here). Brigitte at Native Nuts allowed me to reserve two pounds of butternuts from the fall harvest. Then one of Geneva's daughters asked for a two-pound addition. "They should be ready around November first," Brigitte advised.

Next came the recipe question. I didn't find a butternut cake in my own books, so I asked Lois, who has a lot of old recipes from her family. She sent me this one, from Hood's Practical Cook's Book for the Average Household, published around the end of the 1800s. "Add two squares of melted chocolate to turn it into a chocolate cake, she advised.

Today the nuts arrived! As soon as you touch one of the ridged, hard, tough exteriors, you understand why they are smashed with hammers, not politely cracked over a bowl. I'm looking forward to trying this, but ... not alone! I'll save my half of the nuts for the next meeting of our history group, which is in February, weather permitting. It clearly takes a village to prepare a cup of butternut nutmeats for this recipe!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

"The silence woke her." New Book in Progress! And a Contest!!!

It's that time of year. Snow filters onto the back field. Birds visit the feeders. Deer leave tracks at night. And I start a new book.

Except. Gulp. This time I'm starting three of them. It can't be helped. They are all whispering to me and the time to get the words into place is NOW.

The one I want to talk about today doesn't have a title yet. As I've worked on the research over the past few years, I've just called it "the Lyndonville (Vermont) mystery." But a few weeks ago the main character suddenly waltzed into my life and I had to start ... her name is Almyra, and she's 16, in November of 1899, in East St. Johnsbury, Vermont. And yes, the action up ahead will take place in Lyndonville.

People often ask about a writer's "process." Mine has less to do with what time of day I write, and more to do with how I prepare. I do literally years of historical research. Part of the background of Almyra's story is this information sifted from the 1910 version of Walton's Vermont Register:
In Lyndon, millinery, Mrs. E. M. Swett; in Lyndon Center, none; in Lyndonville, tailor, J. C. Stevens; clothing and gents' furnishings, S. Stern; millinery, Mrs. E. Bigelow, Mrs. F. J. Willey, Mrs. H. Duston, Mrs. W. Barber.
But I also prepare in "five or six senses," and this time one of the necessary elements is a necklace of amber beads. Amber isn't a stone -- it's a fossilized resin. And amber comes particularly from the Baltic (those now-reappearing nations of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia -- which have sometimes been part of Russia), but there is also a noted deposit of amber in Kansas, the state where so many pro-Abolition Vermonters made their homes in the mid 1800s to try to sway the new territory toward becoming a "free state."

So, here I am, happily at work, with an amber necklace in place. I love the variety of colors in it. Even more, I am enjoying knowing the role that amber will play in Almyra's story.

Last bit of process: I've purchased paperback copies of two books (well, one is a 10-book series, repackaged in one volume) that I enjoyed reading years ago, and in their titles is the word "Amber." 

CONTEST!! To the first person who can correctly guess BOTH the book titles (for the series, you can either name the first book OR the series, but you have to also name the other book), and place them here as a comment, I will mail a signed copy of my most recent mystery, Cold Midnight. Looking forward to your replies.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

ALWAYS Read the Book Before the Movie ...

This is a rule I learned from my parents when I was a kid. Why do it this way? Because you get to have your own images of the characters, savor the plot without being pushed by the music (or, even worse, laugh track), and know much more in detail than the film will ever be able to tell you.

But that said, I've been laughing at myself as I realized that on top of all the book release dates I'm watching for, I'm also excited about three movies in the next few weeks based on books that I love.


November 21, first half of the third (last) book in the Hunger Games trilogy from Suzanne Collins. (And now, the final performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman; what a heartbreak.)















December 5, the real-life adventure that Oprah's Book Club pulled into bestseller land ... and I could not put the book down, WILD by Cheryl Strayed.


December 17, the final in the three (!) films made from one Tolkien book, THE HOBBIT -- The Battle of the Five Armies -- and by the way, when are we going to see female characters take on quests as powerfully written as Frodo and Sam's?



What about you? Are you marking your calendar with any books-to-screen adventures this season?

Saturday, November 1, 2014

November: Month of Gray Poems and New Writing Projects

On this first day of November 2014, I'm celebrating -- most especially, the gift of photography that a smartphone makes so accessible. Here is the vista from the end of our road:


And here is a lovely detail from the little cemetery that I walk past, in order to get there. It's the edge of the stone for George Russell, at the Cushman Cemetery in Waterford, Vermont. I love the detailing, making even the edge of the stone cared for and lovely. I hope Mr. Russell's life felt that way too, at least from time to time.


Writers have fresh reason to look forward to November 1, as it's the start of Nanowrimo, a brilliant way to encourage us to start new work and perhaps even finish a first draft by the end of the month. Really! Check out the details at the official website. I haven't signed up on the site (I tried it once but it rubs my introvert nature in the wrong direction!), but I'm starting another adventure novel today, with much exhilaration. I'm happy the outside world is a bit less exciting in this month! (Yes, this means I'm working on two novels, one poetry collection, and one Christmas book this month. And then there's my day job ... and cooking for Dave.)

Finally, for all of us who know tidbits of this poem, the full version from London poet Thomas Hood, dated 1844:

NOVEMBER by Thomas Hood (1799-1845)

No sun - no moon!
No morn - no noon!
No dawn- no dusk - no proper time of day -
No sky- no earthly view -
No distance looking blue -

No road - no street! -
No "t'other side the way" -
No end to any Row -
No indications where the Crescents go -

No top to any steeple -
No recognitions of familiar people -
No courtesies for showing 'em -
No knowing 'em!

No mail - no post -
No news from any foreign coast -
No park - no ring - no afternoon gentility -
No company- no nobility -

No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member -
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,
November!