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, 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!