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, August 16, 2019

Discussion Questions for THE LONG SHADOW

Even as teenager Alice Sanborn begins to question the boundaries of life in her Vermont village of North Upton, her boldest actions come from taking seriously the "rules of life" she's grown up with: education, friendship, moral imperatives like correcting evil, and of course working together to make life reasonably comfortable through four seasons. Vermont winter is a force to reckon with! Consider Alice's experience as she rides up Sheffield Heights in a March blizzard:

As the sleigh tilted sideways, I found my wits and scrambled out of my side of it, struggling to pull downward and keep it from completely capsizing. Sarah and Jerushah clung to the back of it, crying out.
            So much noise and commotion—perhaps it helped to keep the invisible animal in front of us from coming closer. Its growl rose in volume, however, and the horse reared onto its hind legs. Solomon still clung to the bridle. I grabbed Sarah and pulled her free from the sleigh, and Jerushah scrambled out, just before it capsized fully into the snowbank at the left side of the road. The horse managed to come down in a half turn, dragging the capsized sleigh back the way we’d come. Solomon yelled and swore. One of his legs, caught in the leather straps of the reins and harness, jerked him so hard that he let go of the horse’s head at last and fell, yelping with pain as his shoulders struck the roadway.
            But I had eyes only for what stood revealed in front of us, a dead lamb dangling from its jaws, and the crescendo of its growl rising into a high-pitched threat: wild-eyed face suddenly visible in a gap in the snowfall, legs tensed to leap, body easily three feet long and muscular, and the long tail slashing back and forth behind it. A catamount. The fierce and powerful beast of the mountains stared at the three of us as we clung to each other, unable to think beyond the screams that erupted from all of us at once.
Here are some issues to consider after reading the book:
  1. Would you want Alice for a friend yourself? Why or why not?
  2. How different are the roles of teen boys and girls in the 1850s? In what ways does Alice fit the expectations -- and how does she push back against them?
  3. The "Underground Railroad" is an exciting part of American history -- but it doesn't fit well into Alice's experience in Vermont. Name three things that show why Vermont in the 1850s had an "aboveground railroad" for dark-skinned people traveling north.
  4. Readers often groan at the amount of work Alice does, just to get through an ordinary day. Which tasks surprised you? How has daily life changed so that you are not doing those tasks?
  5. Alice, like her neighbors in the village, sees slave-holding as a sin against man and God. A decade after THE LONG SHADOW, a "war between brothers" will split America around this issue. Problems that remain in today's America would be, for Alice, part of the "wages of sin." Do you agree? Give examples of some of these problems.
Curious about a detail or can't decide about an issue? This Vermont author makes book-group visits, in person, via email, and via Skype or FaceTime. Get in touch!