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?

Saturday, November 7, 2015

New Poems: BACK TO THE GARDEN



The series is piling up nicely. These are first drafts; I won't go to revisions for a while yet. I love the way first drafts pile up, like raked leaves, that same dry scent ...


The scent of the autumn woods, a leaf
caught in my hair – did we choose the place,
or did it pull us relentlessly (it was always
meant to be: this hunger you wake in me,
this place in the chest where October lives).
Once upon a time I thought each question
had to be asked. Now, I only want your mouth
against mine, your pulse, this answer,
real as the twig caught against my shoulder.
Say “maple.” Say “birch.” Say “yes.”

-- BK, 10/30/15
 
A Visit to the Old Place

Every year around this time
with the harvest in, oats, carrots, apples
dry leaves crunching underfoot
we pull the truck out of the barn.
There is room behind the seats for the big thermos
and sandwiches, whose fragrance
fills the space between us: garlic, onion, salt
(oh yes, salt asserts its own fragrance)
and behind us the house diminishes until
the road bends – we enter that wilderness
of need and complaint. Why would God invent
traffic jams, road construction, yellow diggers
surrounded by supervisors in orange vets –
things we have not missed during our autumn.
But we missed the home place, the well of grace.
He drives. I comment. “Things have grown up so much.”
There’s no answer to change, except to grow apples
somewhere else. Shopping mall, parking strip,
cluster of seedy brick shops. Declare MacIntosh. Cortland.
Golden Delicious. Are we there yet? He watches
the odometer, brakes, says “Here. It was here.”
One iron gate hangs loose from a stone pillar,
broken pavement beyond it. A red plastic cup and
crumpled paper on shattered tarmac. Leafless branches
bare and thin as arms escaping a white gown. Some sad smell.
“The angel stood: there.”

-- BK 11/7/2015

Hungry During Deer Season

Going “back to the land” meant hunting: the awkward feel
of cold steel, balancing the rifle, checking the calendar.
That first season of daily hunts, though, the man in my life
did everything the hard way. No snow to track with.
No high-tech clothing for warmth. Each day, perched in a tree
with a bow and arrows, tested at the suburban archery range.
And on the last day of the season, mid afternoon,
he ran breathless out of the forest, arms waving, stumbling:
“Come with,” he gasped, “need you. Carry.”
I wrapped my coat around my swollen belly and followed.

It was a small deer, as deer go. But male, and with antlers,
and the paper tag already fastened to the corpse
as if it needed a toe tag but the hoof couldn’t cooperate:
body, cooling, heavy with the day’s grazing. Close up,
it wasn’t Bambi at all, but coarse-haired, wild, muscled.
“Take the front legs,” my hunter directed me. “Don’t bump
the head into any trees. Lift.”

Even dead, the round eyes shone, ready to capture
the last sunlight. The sun sank into cold twilight
and we lifted, tugged, staggered. How heavy it was,
that awkward, stiffening body. When I stumbled,
he cried out, “Careful! Don’t hurt him!” But my hands
needed to release the hairy skin, the bony leg,
needed to rub in habit and comfort against
the baby bump. Oh child to come, oh little one,
already it’s you, most important in my life.
Not yet for him, bearing his first deer, his heart
wild in triumph and joy – yet the little fists in my belly
struck outward, toward that man becoming a father.

“I need,” I said. “I need to breathe. I need to stop
for a moment to rest my hands.”  And my heart.
Supper to make, but first the kill to report,
and the body to raise high into a tree,
its belly slit, its liver sliced and sizzling in a cast-iron pan.

From here onward, it’s all the other wants
that I’m hearing. I cook. I feed. When the baby comes,
it will be strong, healthy. Hungry.

-- BK 11/6/15

Saturday, October 31, 2015

"East Village" Vermont Fire of 1912: The True Story


The East Village fire of 1912: remains. Photo taken from behind today's Peter & Polly Park. Look for the bell tower of the church, toward the right rear in the card.
Dave and I enjoy collecting old postcards that show locations -- and sometimes people -- around our area, the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. We've done this since we met, back in 2002, and it's become an important part of the research we each do: Dave for his attention to the college where he worked for 19 years (Lyndon State College) as Assistant Dean of Residential Life (he stays in touch with SO many people, as well as the history of Theodore N. Vail, a founder of AT&T and donor of many of the college town's cultural treasures. And me, well, I'm always hunting down more details of "truth" to add to the historical adventures I write.

So this postcard became one of our Big Finds for 2015. It is what's called a "real photo postcard" -- someone photographed an actual scene and event, and had the picture made into cards. Three things alerted us to excitement here: the scene, which is after a disastrous fire; the postmark and hardwritten date, August 26 (25), 1912, in St. Johnsbury, Vermont; and the writer, L. D. Weston, who notes that he's writing to "Dear" Mrs. F. Weston, in Marbleton, Quebec, Canada.


We were wrong in almost all of our early assumptions about the card, though! The name "Weston" immediately rang a bell for us, as we know there's a household including that name in East St. Johnbury today. We wondered whether it was connected to today's family, and whether the image showed a farm fire.

Each of us -- Dave and I -- investigated in different directions. Soon we learned that today's Weston family didn't have a record of someone of that name in East St. Johnsbury (then known as "East Village") in 1912; then we found that L. D. Weston had lived in Lyndonville but was employed for a while by the railroad in St. Johnsbury. Finally Dave used the Library of Congress archives to unearth newspaper coverage of the 1912 fire -- which, oddly enough, turned out to have happened in East Village after all! I typed the news report up, and circled back to Edward Lee's "East St. Johnsbury Vermont" (1984) booklet to confirm the story from another direction. Lee's account makes it clear that the devastation of the East Village fire on August 7, 1912, had three contributing factors: no firefighting system in the village beyond the traditional "bucket brigade"; the fact that when the first motor-powered firetruck in St. Johnsbury itself (some 5+ miles away) tried to reach the fire, it was interrupted (according to the newspaper, three times!) by frightened teams of horses along the route; and a delay in getting a hand pumper from the Fairbanks Scale factory (about 6 miles way) to the fire via the railroad -- the pumper was placed on a flat car for transport along the rail line that linked the two villages, but had to wait for the passenger train from Portland, Maine, to arrive first.

Lee's account also includes the intriguing mention that firefighting villagers considered dynamiting the Moulton house next door to the church to stop the fire from traveling as far as the church! It appears this was a last resort that didn't actually happen.

A final note from Lee's accounts: By 1928 the East Village had its own fire station, next to the large store built a century earlier by Silas Hibbard. Perhaps one of today's readers can tell us when firefighting left East Village again, to be focused in "downtown" St. Johnsbury instead.

Here is the promised newspaper article:

-->
St. Johnsbury Caledonian, August 14, 1912

FIRE IN EAST VILLAGE
Four Houses and Four Barns Completely Destroyed and other Buildings Damaged.

            The little village of East St. Johnsbury suffered the worst fire it its history last Wednesday afternoon when in about three hours four houses and four barns were completely destroyed and another house and the Congregational church were considerably damaged. It was a case of no water system and all that save at least three more houses and the church was the sending of a hose cart and a hand pump with several volunteer firemen from this village to assist their brethren in misfortune.

            The fire was discovered about half past twelve when smoke was seen pouring out of the roof and along the ridge pole of John Nolan’s house on Main street. All the men in that section were away at their work and Mrs. George Dodge spread the alarm along the street. When the flames burst through the roof the top of the house was all on fire and all it was possible to do was get Mr. and Mrs. John Nolan Sr. out of the house and the family’s furniture, clothing and bedding were all lost. The fire quickly reached the barn which was filled with this season’s cut of hay and everything there was burned. Mr. Nolan received $1930 insurance on the buildings and furniture and that practically covers his loss.

            George Dodge’s house stood next to the Nolans and the fire soon leaped across the space and began devouring those buildings. Enough people had gathered by this time to remove most of the furniture and articles from the barn and they were saved in a somewhat damaged condition. The Dodges received $1,000 insurance which practically covered their loss on the buildings. There was a loss of over $200  on the hay, wood and furniture.

Assistance From St. Johnsbury

            When it was seen the fire would spread the authorities of St. Johnsbury were telephoned, and they ordered the new automobile fire truck to the scene. The truck had to come to a full stop three times on account of frightened teams and then made the trip in nine minutes. The buildings were so far done before the truck arrived that the chemicals were of no use and as the village had no water pressure the hose could not be used. Word was sent back to St. Johnsbury and an out of town alarm was sounded. The firemen quickly responded and soon had the hose cart with a hand pump loaded on a flat car and with about 20 firemen was ready to start. The special train was held however until the eastbound express pulled out and then was run to East Village. The firemen arrived there about quarter of three and soon had the pump throwing a good stream of water from the river on the fire.

More Buildings Destroyed

            Before the St. Johnsbury men arrived the fire had swept through the house and barn of Miss Charlotte Morrill a[n]d practically leveled the house and barn of Francis Brown. It had also caught on one side of the buildings of Lois Moulton and an attempt was being made to tear down that house in an effort to keep the blaze from the Congregational church. In their fright the people damaged the furniture considerably and they tore out the pews, windows and carpets of the church and some furniture was taken from the house of Eugene Shasteny beyond the church In a few minutes after the stream from the pump was started it seemed that the blaze would be stopped at the Brown house and the destruction of furniture was stopped.


Sick People Carried Out

            During the excitement Mrs. Moulton and Mrs. Shores were nearly overcome by fright and had to be helped to places of safety. Aunt Honor Brown, a woman about 85 years of age who lay in bed with a broken hip, were carried out of the Brown house. George Babcock was quite badly cut over one eye by a piece of furniture which was thrown from a house. The Brown invalids were taken to St. Johnsbury and the whole Brown family are there at present stopping with relatives. The Brown buildings were insured for $800 which covers the loss of them but Mr. Brown lost a lot of nice wood and some furniture. It is doubtful if they rebuild.

More of the Insurance

            The church was allowed $200 damage by the insurance company and Lois Moulton was allowed $350 insurance which will hardly cover her loss. The loss on the Morrill house was $1,243 but the loss is above $1,600.
            John Nolan and his family stay through the day at the abandoned house on their farm outside the village, but they stay nights at Charles Bowman’s as they lost all of their bedding. Mr. and Mrs. George Dodge have taken rooms as Oscar Wallace’s and will rebuild their house at once. Miss Charlotte Morrill is stopping with the Rev. Edward Lee and he sister, Mrs. M. S. McCurdy, who was spending the summer with her. is stopping at George Copp’s. Mrs. Moulton is also stopping there until her house is made habitable.

The Morrill House

            The house of Miss Charlotte Morrill was one of the oldest and best known residences in the village. It was partly built by the Rev. Silas Gaskill in 1825 and completed by Judge Calvin Morrill in 1850. It has been the residence of the Morrill family since the marriage of Calvin Morrill and Sophronia Lee in 1834. The family consisted of one son and three daughters of whom only the daughters, Mrs. M. S. McCurdy of Andover, Mass., Mrs. Elizabeth Chapman of South Part and Miss Charlotte Morrill, a member of the faculty of Adelphi College in Brooklyn, N.Y., survive. For years it has been occupied by the Morrill family as a summer residence where they had entertained many other guests.
            Miss Morrill plans to rebuilt the house at once. ###

A final note from Beth: Each of my novels somehow includes a fire, I find ... probably because of the one that made such a change in my own family's life. More on that, some other time. Finally, Dave and I are pretty sure this postcard is indeed of the East Village fire -- but a curious side issue is, it seems to be the only existing image of the fire. So if, after all this, you think we are mistaken and you have a good reason to say the card is of some other place or time ... let us know. We are always learning, and eager to learn more. -- BK

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Learning More "Little Things": Connecticut Valley Lumber Company

This year our region of Vermont is marking 100 years since the grand finale of river log drives on the Connecticut River, by the C.V.L. Co., the Connecticut Valley Lumber Company, owned by a self-made millionaire, George Van Dyke. Using stories recorded and perhaps lightly embellished by Waterford, Vermont, author Robert E. Pike, I often tell some of the history of Van Dyke's life and his river logging operations. (I did in Barnet on August 1, and will again in Concord, VT, on September 26, joined at both events by Robert Pike's author-and-historian daughter Helen C. Pike, who recounts a different side of the era through the life of logging entrepreneur Ruth Parks.)

A remarkable thing about the writing that I do about those days in Vermont history is: The research never ends. In all kinds of small details, I keep piling up information that fits with Robert Pike's tales (see Spiked Boots or Tall Tree, Tough Men, his noted collections). This weekend provided a classic example.

My husband Dave and I traveled an hour east, into the White Mountains, to savor a postcard show, where cards that were printed and often mailed from about 1890 to 1980 or so are marketed to collectors. Dave brought home some wonderful photos that fit the towns whose history he often promotes: Lyndonville and St. Johnsbury, Vermont.

Me, I brought home in elation (!!!) this postcard:



This boardinghouse and office of Van Dyke's C.V.L. Co. were in Bloomfield, Vermont -- most likely South Bloomfield, which was the earlier logging and milling center of the Essex County town. Today there are only about 265 residents of the town, but in the logging days it was a very busy place.

I was able to locate this information today, provided by the state of Vermont with its description of adjacent West Mountain Wildlife Management Area (WMA):
Timber harvesting on the WMA land begin in 1800 when the [neighboring] town of Brunswick issued a 400-acred "pitch" on Paul Stream to Ethiel Cargill. A large mill and small village were located further up Paul Stream at Brown's Mill. In 1900, the Connecticut Valley Lumber Company (CVL) moved its headquarters from Pittsburg, NH to Bloomfield, VT. This was the result of the discovery that the old-growth spruce south of the Nulhegan [river] was dying due to an infestation of spruce bark beetle.
It sounds like the company office was moved to focus more easily on this dying section of forest, to facilitate the harvest, doesn't it? That's what a map tends to confirm, too.

For me, one of the next questions is, what changes in forest health are now taking place due to climate change? And what will we see as people and logging businesses adapt to these, the way that George Van Dyke's company once did? Also -- what traces remain of the C.V.L. Co. boardinghouse and office shown here? I may need to plan a hike.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Harper Lee, "Mockingbird," and "Go Set a Watchman"


Today I left this "comment" for Laura Tavares at the "Facing History Blog," and look forward to more conversations on the topic. This morning, I want to bring you all into this ... and hope you'll write something about your own perspective on the Harper Lee books, as well as family secrets that propel you toward seeking justice, or perhaps on The Darkness Under the Water.

My mantra for the examined life has become: "We are all in this together." Right?
Thank you, Laura Tavares, for writing of this new publication as "an invitation to read both books with a more realistic, complex, and sophisticated analysis of morality." I find the sequence of change in the two books very believable, because the same thing happened in my life while writing "The Darkness Under the Water" -- a book that first was "only a mystery" and soon became an effort to probe the Vermont Eugenics Project and its generations-long effects on those of Abenaki heritage. At the time of publication, I carried my own secrets and guilt based in a dual family heritage of Surviving the Holocaust (my father was a German Jew) and certainty that we are morally obliged to step forward against injustice (my mother was a lapsed Quaker). In the seven years since my book's publication and very mixed reception, I've learned far more history and gained further moral imperatives toward the endless struggle for justice. Just as my first and second versions of the book were vastly different, so would be the book I would now write. Harper Lee may well have had the same experience. I hope so -- there is goodness in growing and deepening. 
See more of the Facing History and Ourselves conversations at http://facingtoday.facinghistory.org.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

A Conversation in Lines of Words

Looking up Eastern Avenue in St J during road repairs. The café is at ground level, at the rounded corner of the brick building.
Can you find Heaven in a coffee shop? How would you look for heaven at the Café at Gatto Nero, the coffee shop on Eastern Avenue in St. Johnsbury, Vermont? Wordsmiths are invited to provide poetry and short prose at the CGN Facebook feed -- or in the notebook at the coffee shop, marked "Heaven, Looking For" --  and to come join me for a poetry conversation on Pascal's wager, life in "God's country," and other sorts of heavenly topics, Wednesday July 29 at 7 pm at the CGN. 

Postscript, for a question that Michale asked:

This poetry conversation can take place anywhere, but to connect with the others (and make it a real conversation!), post your poems at the Facebook page for the Café at Gatto Nero (https://www.facebook.com/cafeatgattonero?fref=ts), or write them into the notebook at the café counter. We'll gather on Wed. July 29 at 7 pm to hear some of what we've all been writing or thinking about as we consider looking for Heaven at the Café at  Gatto Nero.

Pascal's wager is a way of thinking about whether it's better to live according to the guess that god and heaven exist -- you can find it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pascal%27s_Wager

I look forward to sharing poems with you!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Real Houses, for the Stories: The Paddock House


My husband Dave recently gave me a postcard image that shows one of the important locations in my 1850 Vermont adventure, THE LONG SHADOW (busily seeking a publisher). This is the house where Alice Sanborn and her friends decide they have no other choice -- they race for the horse and carriage and ... but I'm getting ahead of myself. Here, instead, is how the book begins:


THE LONG SHADOW


North Upton, Vermont, March 1850
             
           
            Uncle Martin wiped his plate with a thick slab of graham bread and pressed the gravy-soaked slice all into one mouthful, brushed his hands off on his jacket, and pulled a rustling handful of newsprint out from under his chair with a flourish.
            “Your man’s gone soft of thinking,” he told my father as he shoved the pages toward him. “Webster the golden orator has turned coat on us. What use is the Union to us all, if we let the stinking reek of slave-holding move into the Territories after all?”
            My mother made a small sound of protest. Thump, came my uncle’s fist on the table, and the dishes rattled. At the same moment, I heard a light tap at the kitchen door. At my mother’s nod, I rose to see who had arrived.
            Standing in the dooryard, faces flushed with cold, were my two sweetest friends, both speaking at once. “Alice, school’s finished for the week, the doctor said it’s too close a space, and the Hopkins twins are fevered,” Jerushah announced in a burst, overcoming Sarah’s softer voice. “So will you come across after supper to sew with us? We’ve only one guest at the house, you know, and there’s no stage arriving until Monday, and my mother said to ask your mother.”
            Jerushah was the most beautiful girl in North Upton, Vermont. Her hair shone like black silk, and her clothes were always the latest styles. I loved the way her eyes crinkled with merriment, and her mouth smiled naturally, even when she was at her books. And Sarah, well, she was our adopted sister, we say: a sister dark as tanned deerskin, with deep brown eyes that hold the hurt and horror of all the Africans pressed into Southern slavery. The moment we first saw her, bundled off the stagecoach into the inn as a frail armful, Jerushah and I had pledged ourselves to her. Sarah’s parents still lingered under the wicked South’s cruel lash. But transported north, Sarah stayed safe with us. Though as best anyone can tell she was only some twelve years of age, she had brightened and sharpened in our care so that she studied with Jerushah and me at the schoolhouse. We were both more than fifteen years of age ourselves, nearly out of the schoolroom and into an age of preparing our womanly selves for the years ahead of us.
            I held up a hand to my friends for their patience and slipped back into the steam-fragrant house to ask my mother’s permission. Distracted by a loud interchange between my father and his brother, she gave a short nod and told me to send the others on their way, for my own dinner lay cooling on the table. This I did, dashing back out the kitchen door to brush a quick kiss onto Jerushah’s cheek and then Sarah’s, promising I’d be at the inn across the road as soon as the day gave way to dark evening.
            A roar and more table thumping came from within the house, and I told my startled friends, “It’s news of the Senate and Daniel Webster himself. I’ll tell you everything, later.” They laughed with me, knowing how men love to argue politics, and I watched them pass back to the road before I took a final thirsty breath of the clear March air and returned to the family dinner.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Every Postcard Tells a Story -- This One, in Vermont in 1907

(front)

(rear)
One of the mysteries I'm now writing is set in 1899 -- which makes this 1907 postcard "close enough" in terms of noticing how people write to each other. I find it particularly intriguing because of the sender's signature. But that's getting ahead of the story.

Charles Augustus Choate Jr., known to his friends as "Chubb," lived and farmed in Barnet, Vermont. He was born in 1871, and on August 19, 1903, he married a "girl" 10 years younger than himself, Pearl May Field (born May 9, 1881, in Brookline, Vermont). In the records that refer to his wife, she's always called "Pearl M. Choate" -- very reasonably.

But on this postcard -- showing a photo of the stream near her farm home --which she sent to her somewhat older friend Mrs. Jessie M. Titus (b. 1862) in Springfield, Vermont, with Christmas greetings in December 1907, she signs herself "Pearl Field Choate." Why?

The suggestion is that her friend Jesse may know the Field family in a meaningful way. Some confirmation comes in looking up where Brookline, Vermont -- Pearl's birthplace -- is. It turns out it's a small town south of Springfield. Good backing for this guess!

Finally, one more curious note about this card: It's easy to find Pearl M. Choate's marriage, and the years that belong with her husband Charles (1871-1930) -- but the Choate family trees online don't show Pearl's date of death, and neither do the Vermont records. It took some searching to figure out what happened: In 1949, the long-widowed Pearl May (Field) Choate married Joseph Devins of  nearby Ryegate. Her Vermont death certificate is under the name Pearl Devins, October 17, 1962, in St. Johnsbury, Vermont.

I hope some of the keepers of the Choate family trees will ink in this detail; I think it's sweet that Pearl had another marital chapter, and hope it was a very happy one.

Friday, March 6, 2015

East, West, Home's Best -- For Writing, Too

My favorite from this winter.
"Think globally, act locally." I liked the expression when I first heard it. Today, it means a lot more -- because I apply it to what I'm researching, learning, writing ... and to conversations with readers (that means YOU!).

I can see a lot of the past winter in the photos I've taken: Many of them show the deep blue skies that a Vermont winter offers (Gail Pison Montany says they come that way in Colorado, too), but there are also simple homey moments with, say, a dozen lovely eggs from my neighbor Marsha's hens.

Here at the computer, I've reached back to the 1920s in recording oral history with Mrs. Irene Dolgin Goldstein, out across the oceans learning about Syrian migration to Vermont around that same time period and earlier, and into universities, asking very knowledgeable professors for help with, say, geology or archaeology or the stories of place names. And then there was the very nice person in New Jersey who provided permission to use a photo (shown here: Martin Turner, of Barnet, VT, and Monroe, NH).

One novel starts ... right here.
Although a lot of my writing time this past season has been revision for the three novels I wrote on most recently, I found two new ones starting for me -- each one beginning very close to my own home, and including research that reaches Russia and Kansas, as well as Boston and Lyndonville (VT) and St. Johnsbury (VT).

Although most authors dream of reaching readers across the country, I'm enjoying especially being in touch with my "neighbors" -- that is, people who live within an hour's drive of the back road where I walk most mornings. It's an honor to have a historical article on Martin Turner and his "very modern" 1929 house in Vermont's Northland Journal (check out this regional treasure on Facebook), and a deep and lasting pleasure to share my poems in the Green Mountain Trading Post, the little northeastern Vermont paper that's meant so much to me for 37 years (yep, that long; anyone recall the writing of Georgeanne Poe, who moved to Maine? -- her work gave me the courage to write from my own life and window).

Now spring's around the corner, and I know I'll be on the road a bit more often, listen to more people in different places, extend research, look for publishers. But I'm a hometown gal at the end of the day, and here is where I want to be. Glad to be able to share it, with you.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

New Term for the Day: "Wall Dog," and the Reason Why

Every writer's process is different -- and, making it more confusing, sometimes every book takes an author on a different kind of path. I'm crafting a mystery that is mostly set in Lyndonville, Vermont, in 1899-1900, and -- the same way I did with North Danville, when I was writing The Secret Room -- I visit the town often and take photos of places that might crop up in the book, like the railroad crossing, and a back driveway with a sign that says "Angie's Alley." But I've also become fascinated by the painted advertising signs lingering in town ... with no real expectation that they would show up in my novel.

Today I did some basic research into who painted such signs, and when, and how. I don't yet have the northern New England names of the (probably) men who did these, but I'm confident that I'll find them, eventually. And meanwhile, was excited today to learn a new term: wall dog. Apparently it wasn't entirely complimentary, but it fit the profession: painters who covered walls with signs, and "worked like a dog" for their wages, often in blistering hot summers. On the website PaintedAd.com are interviews with some wall dogs; here is a sample from site author Wm. Stage, who has a book on these (I'm ordering a copy!):
In 1983, I spoke with Art Hunn, then 82 and an administrator with the Painter’s District Council No. 2 here in St. Louis. His recollection of life as a signpainter stretched back seven decades to that day in 1916 when he signed on as an apprentice with the Thomas Cusask Co.
“Each spring as many as fifteen two-man crews would go out on the road three or four months at a time,” Art began. “We’d go into a town, and back then the Williams Company had lots of gas and oil signs leased, so we’d paint bulletins on filling station lots.” By 1924, Hunn and his partner were driving around Illinois, Missouri and Iowa in an “old broken-down Dodge,” punctuating scenic vistas with signs of the times—Bull Durham Tobacco, Pillsbury Flour, and Coca-Cola. Each crew, said Art, was expected to complete a sign a day.
Last week I showed this photo of the Gold Medal Flour painted ad in Lyndonville.

And here's one for Coca Cola, from the White Market outer wall:

Of course, wall art advertising isn't limited to the "old days" -- here are two (or more) pieces from Angie's Alley.

More to learn, every day -- and all of it keeps me writing.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

One Shelf Closes, Another Shelf Opens ...

Part of the research behind The Long Shadow (done, done, done -- for now!)
Last night at about 8 pm, in the little writing room at the far end of the house with one lamp on and deep winter darkness outside, I finished the revisions for an 1855 historical novel, an adventure/mystery set in northern Vermont: THE LONG SHADOW.

This journey included years of research, as well as asking a professional editor to help me prune an early draft in order to accelerate the pace and open the adventure further. Now, of course, the book moves to the part of the process where I feel much less skilled: looking for the right publisher. But I can do this!

And while that takes place, I have two more books in process that involve historical research (thank you, Dave!). Gathering the books and documents makes up maybe half of that -- and the rest is legwork and photos and thinking. For instance, here are some of the town record pages from the earliest settlement years in Barnet, Vermont. Look closely and the first one and you'll see shillings and pence! The second suggests the town was keeping track of people's work hours on some collaborative projects in 1789. Who would have guessed? There's no better way to put the late 1700s into perspective than to search for, find, gently touch, and think about pages like these. Right?




So I'm taking my vitamins, making sure to get out in the crisp January air for a bit each day, and reading the best material I can find by other authors, to keep myself overflowing into this writing life I've chosen. And, oh yes, I need to schedule a bit of work in the "reference room" to open up a new bookshelf. There's more research piling up, and it needs to be sorted, stacked, filed, and omigosh, kept in mind all the time. That's where the plot twists take root.

So, if you are reading this week -- what are you choosing to put into your own creative soil?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Research = Stories. Which is what I love about this stage of the book.

It's pretty cold up here in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont today. Morning began around minus 24 degrees (F), full of bright sunshine, and I pulled out my "long johns" and layered up for an excursion to the nearest frozen pond -- and also to deliver a book to a neighbor, and pick up our mail. It's good to realize, after more than half my life spent here, that I really do know how to dress for comfort, even in such extremes.

Plus, of course, it puts me back into the mind of Almyra, the young woman in the book I've just started writing (no title yet, but the first chapter begins right after a snowstorm: "The silence woke her. That, and the cold."

Almyra would be outdoors on a day like this -- she had little choice! And she'd add layers the way I did, although I doubt that she would have worn the pair of brightly striped Ecuadorean knitted legwarmers that made my final-layer fashion statement of the morning. But she would have loved my fuzz-trimmed hood! I already know that she seeks comfort, at the hardest moments of her life, in going to a quiet place outdoors and letting her heart become calm. Me, too.

But other than her personality, everything else about Almyra's story, set in 1899, depends on research to frame it. So I walk a lot in the nearby towns, looking for signs of the "old days" along the way. The "Gold Medal Flour" advertisement on an upper wall of the "Brick Diamond" building in Lyndonville (better known locally as the building where Edmund's Drug Store used to be) captures a bit of that 1899 commercial feeling.

The Census from 1900 also provides details that I need -- here is one of its pages showing my "target of reseacrh," Albert Stern, still living at home with mom and dad even though he's 19 -- but then again, so is his older brother Samuel, 23, and their sister Clara, 25 ... or was it just something like a family meal that brought them together with the younger teens at home, Isabelle (17) and Benjamin (15)? Here's where the author's choices take over from the facts.

Also on target this week: the Poor Farm in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, as mentioned in an article from the Vermont Historical Society; Census pages describing the Dolgin family, which didn't arrive in the area until 10 years later; an oral history project with a couple of the Dolgin family members, giving the feel of the early century; and photos of trains in snowstorms.

What's next? Well, I know it's hard to imagine, but in the next post here, I'll show you something with shillings and pence ... from Vermont!