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?

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Stepping Into the Next Chapter

Since I last posted here, I've walked hour by hour, minute by minute, through the final days of my husband's life. Seen his body buried. Shared his passing with friends near and far, and wept with many. And learned how the loneliness of being "half a marriage" brings sobs, tears, and sometimes screams of grief in the various darknesses.

Then, of course, you make your feet take the next steps and you extend your arms in that darkness, feeling for what's hidden. A flashlight comes in handy now and then.

I'm writing poems again, more than two months into the "After" that I long realized would some day arrive. I also wrote recently about Sam Wah, the historic figure whose murder sits at the center of my novel COLD MIDNIGHT; about the three Lee brothers who went to war in the 1860s -- and only two came home to their parents' arms (certainly connected to my ongoing Winds of Freedom novels); agreed to begin a Vermont history column for the magazine Vermont Views; researched a Vermont Supreme Court justice of the 1800s who grew up near here; and, painfully but inevitably, packed much of the house and placed it on the market. (Five bedrooms, mature apple trees, a permanent aura of love. Ready for its next family.)

The writing life goes on. I have a couple of poetry collections to polish, am in the research and plotting stage for Book 3 of Winds of Freedom (Book 2 went to the publisher in mid February under the working title This Ardent Flame; Book 3 has a rough working title of O Fierce and Kindred Heart but I suspect it will go shorter). Although I'm writing poems of mourning, I'm not sharing all of them at this time -- some, however, go onto my Facebook writing page. So do some joys.

There. That's the next chapter. Complicated, isn't it? I think it needs an index of its own.

Most of all: I could not keep walking this journey if it weren't for the supportive love of so many friends. Thank you. Let's see what's up ahead.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Thinking Pink, A Happy Year from My Last Radiation Treatment

Last weekend the Boston Globe ran an opinion piece that said people shouldn't have to crowdfund to pay for their health care. The piece described a man with critical diabetes who fell $50 short of his fundraising goal -- and as a result, the piece implied, he died.

I'm not sure the article made complete sense. But I get the point: Health care should be better than this. Sick people shouldn't have to go out and ask their friends and total strangers to donate, to save them. It's terrible.

Equally shocking, a quick Google search shows that crowdfunding is now supporting cancer research (both breast and prostate, say the articles, showing gender equity).

Wait, does that mean if the lab falls $50 short on donations, it doesn't get the testing equipment or microscopes? Sheesh.

I'm happy to celebrate a year this month since my last radiation treatment for very ordinary, very treatable, and still very scary breast cancer. Great treatment doctors and teams, top-notch support. And thanks to waiting until I was over 65 for the diagnosis, my health care insurance (part Medicare, part gap coverage) took me through this, brilliantly. Without added health care debts. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! (I try not to remember that if I'd dared to get the diagnosis a year before 65, which might have been wiser in terms of cancer's action, I'd be hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. Truth.)

There is one other small downer, though: Since I'm self-employed, even though I worked really hard and completed every assignment last year, I didn't have the extra energy for a while to go chasing extra work—and these days, the routine assignments don't cover all the living expenses. Fact of life. For 2019, I'll do better. But gosh darn it, I've still got to make up for that slowdown in 2018.

So I've taken a tip from the Big Research Labs and the little uninsured and everyone in between who's running behind these days financially, and done it my way:

Crowdfunding publication of my awesome (and already award-winning!) Vermont mystery, ALL THAT GLITTERS.

It's simple: Pre-order a copy of the book (click here to see it and browse). You get your money's worth as the book goes to print (we need 750 pre-orders for that), and I'll get a share after that happens, which ought to make up a chunk of the difference in what I needed last year, versus what I earned.

Oh, and if you pre-order three copies -- you get your name into the book as a sponsor. (So, like, you could sign the book next to your own name, really!) One thing I especially like about this route is, you can read the book for free on the website and make sure you're going to like it. (Sure, click here.)

This crazy notion comes via Inkshares, which is printing some really lovely books, on nice paper, well bound, well made ... and without a fuss. I love it!

So if you're in the mood to "Think Pink" may I suggest buying this mystery? You'll have a lot of fun, and you won't have to walk five miles or make people sign your pledge page or call the radio station or any of that. Just click here, and sign up for a book.

Then tell a couple of friends about it. That's how the real "crowdfunding" works. Because getting through modern life takes a lot of help. And trust me—I'll be signing up for YOUR crowdfunder next year.

Hugs and hope to you all!

Friday, March 8, 2019

Virginia Woolf, Vermont's Alison Bechdel, and ... Me?

Mom and me ... way back when.
My mom died suddenly, at the appallingly young age of 53, not quite done with child-raising. So in a real sense, I didn't get to see who she might have grown into as an independent woman. I picture her taking up oil painting seriously, and going to amazing lectures, and expanding the new career she'd started, creating recreational crafts at a local nursing home.

I imagine now things we might have started to do together, too: She would have adored 12-Step group meetings, for instance, I'm sure of it! (All those stories ... ) Schmoozed excitedly at Sisters in Crime gatherings. Hosted a book club (or two!). Maybe we would have taken some trips as "just the two of us," too.

Most of all, I wonder how she would have adapted to today's feminism. She was always, at heart, a woman who didn't stand for discrimination. But in her time (she was born in 1927), marriage was WAY different, and so was employment.

Still, I am certain she'd be calling (and e-mailing and Facebooking) all her friends near and far about the "Break the Bechdel with Strong Female Characters" badge that landed on my mystery, ALL THAT GLITTERS, this winter. I'm elated that this "syndicate" on Inkshares chose my teen sleuth mystery set in Vermont for the honor. Here's the reason:
All that Glitters hooks you in the first paragraph and doesn't let go! Beth Kanell has crafted a main character who feels real from the first page, and has already introduced a mother whose voice is all her own-- and certainly someone to reckon with! We can't wait to follow Lucky as she tracks down the person who shot her father, with the help of her two friends who also already show great potential for fully developed roles!
(Pre-order link at end.)
With my eager, curious mother in mind, I've been trying to figure out how to explain this award. It's about a "test" named for Vermont graphic artist Alison Bechdel (who's said she wished it were the Bechdel-Wallace Test, because it came up on conversation of two people). And in turn, she was thinking about Virginia Woolf's comments in Woolf's 1929 essay A Room of One's Own:
All these relationships between women, I thought, rapidly recalling the splendid gallery of fictitious women, are too simple. ... And I tried to remember any case in the course of my reading where two women are represented as friends. ... They are now and then mothers and daughters. But almost without exception they are shown in their relation to men. It was strange to think that all the great women of fiction were, until Jane Austen's day, not only seen by the other sex, but seen only in relation to the other sex. And how small a part of a woman's life is that...
To run the "test" today, you look at a film or novel this way, which originally applied to a movie in Bechdel's comic strip:
  1. The movie has to have at least two women in it,
  2. who talk to each other,
  3. about something besides a man.
 Well, yeah. I mean, sure. I mean, isn't that a big part of what a "girl sleuth" is doing, in the best books? Nancy Drew didn't talk with her sort-of boyfriend Ned much -- she confabbed with her "chums" Bess and George (both of them young women like here). And although Flavia de Luce, my favorite recent "girl" sleuth, depends on her dad's assistant to help her think through how to use her amazing science skills, her most important discussions are with the other women in her home.

It's not that we sleuth typed don't enjoy all of life -- but, as the Grand Sophy emphasized in a Georgette Heyer novel that I adored in my younger years ... there's a time and place to pay attention to some things (like what you're going to wear). And another time and place to focus on what needs to be solved.

Come to think of it, when Sherlock Holmes focused on "that woman" in his life, his detecting skills weren't quite as good, right?

Mom would have completely understood.

PS - Ready to pre-order your first-edition copy of ALL THAT GLITTERS? It's the first in a series of eight, and I bet each of them will make a good run for the Strong (and Smart and Sassy) Women category. We need to line up 750 orders to get this into print, so it really matters when you opt for a copy (or the special for three, which puts you into the published book as a sponsor!). It's easy to pre-order, just click here.

Friday, March 1, 2019

How to Rely on Your Best Friend: A Sisters in Crime Story

Remember those "series" books from way back when? Nancy Drew, Happy Hollisters, Cherry Ames, the Hardy Boys? (Also Swallows and Amazons.) They got me through the toughest years of learning how to be and have a friend.

Think it looks sort of Nancy?
Jennifer Fisher, the American expert on Nancy Drew history, writes about the teen sleuth this way: "She offered American girls a sense of resourcefulness. She taught us to signal S.O.S. with a tube of lipstick, to break out of a window using spike heels and to keep an overnight bag in our car — a girl never knew when she’d encounter a sleuthing adventure. Real-life kidnapping victims have said that Nancy Drew stories inspired them use their wits to escape."

Years ago, I joined Sisters in Crime (New England and National) because of the annual get-together, called the Crime Bake: a cheerful, noisy, exuberant gathering where my husband Dave and I could meet more mystery authors, seek their signatures (he's a VERY serious collector), figure out trends (for our mystery book business at the time, Kingdom Books), and delight in knowing that if we said "what are you reading?" to anyone, there'd be an interesting answer.

I knew, also, that I'd be sharing my own mysteries with authors (published and not yet) at the Crime Bake: my very New England YA (young adult) mysteries Cold Midnight and The Secret Room, as well as my history-hinged adventures that rely on a teenaged "girl" to figure out how to handle risk, danger, and crises (like The Long Shadow, an 1852 adventure).

What I couldn't know ahead of time was, I'd make new friends. Well, sure, we all hope for that, in any big gathering or organization. The nice thing is, I'm now old enough to know the basics of "how" and to apply them:
1. Pay more attention to the other person than to yourself. (You can talk with yourself later.) Find out name, home, work in progress, and what kind of sense of humor the person has.

2. Remember that their work matters to them as much as yours does to you -- so if you have a chance (at a shared table, or co-leading a panel), point others' attention to what you've learned about them and their book. I saw Nancy Pickard do this with intelligent grace, for five authors in a row. (She'd read a book by each and had great comments, too.)

3. Watch for their "posts" during or after the conference -- leave a hello or "like" to assure them you think they are interesting (maybe even nice!) and will write an awesome book, if they haven't already.
Those sound pretty ordinary, right? Here's the tough one:
 4. When you next wish you had a friend to lean on -- be a little bit open about it. Leave room for someone to step forward, with words or a hug or a "like." Just the way you'd do for them, if you knew they were having a challenging day (or month, or year). 
That's where the Nancy Drew roots, and the "Sisters" aspect, come into play. We're more than just "people working in the same field" -- we're people who, in our own way, CARE. We do it in the stories we write, and we do it in person.

So this is a thank-you to two special groups of friends from Sisters in Crime New England:
(a) The ones who said "oh, your books are good for Nancy Drew readers? give me one" and thus inspired me to write my teen sleuth mystery, All That Glitters. Thank you so much!!

(b) The ones who heard me whisper "oh sh**, I've got breast cancer," and made room for an extra seat at a book event, an extra Facebook message, an extra steady hand while I wobbled through the year of revelation, treatment, recovery, and buckling down to writing the next book. I really COULD NOT have done this without you.
Bottom line: You've helped me to be sure I could still and always be my own core self: a little shy, a little nerdy, always "in" a book, and totally aware that I can't be here in this way without you.

Two short notes:

* You can pre-order All That Glitters here. It really matters ... it only gets published when we reach 750 pre-orders (gulp), so I'd love your help.

* And don't forget that I still review mysteries that are not self-published (because this is a resource for collectors), at, and more at the New York Journal of Books, and would love your comments there, on the wonderful books coming through!

PS -- I got the next book written! It's called This Ardent Flame, and it went to the publisher last Friday. Fingers crossed that they like it and think it will earn them some money and joy!

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Cover Design, Teen Sleuth in Vermont - Updated! ("Young Adult Crossover")

When I started writing ALL THAT GLITTERS, my Vermont teen sleuth mystery, I knew a cover design would be critical to how I'd present the ongoing chapters on some online sites. I took the issue to my sister-in-law Cheryl Minden, whose graphic design career extends from gorgeous paper items and tags, to elegant signage (in some of the loveliest Montclair and Caldwell, NJ, structures), to art shows (she's #bravitasart on Instagram).

All I could offer her as a starting place was the classic #NancyDrew silhouette from those blue-board books of the old days:

And of course, a shot of the classic structure of Montpelier, Vermont, where the action takes place:

Cheryl looked at the first chapter and the synopsis -- the protagonist, Felicity "Lucky" Franklin, is adept with texting and related smartphone functions, and that's how she coordinates with her BFFs Michelle and Sandy. And the further tech expertise of these teens slips neatly into surveillance cameras, Google Earth, and more.

With her teenaged daughter as collaborator, Cheryl designed a cover that clearly states "student" (Lucky is a college freshman), as well as smartphone, and "Capitol" crimesolving.

The last touch turned out to be adding the line at the bottom left, because this is book 1 of a series that follows Lucky Franklin through her college and family and crimesolving crises, to the moment she submits her application for -- well, no, we can't tell you that part yet. But it's a wild ride!

Cheryl says she's not looking for more book design work, sorry ... but watch for her projects if you're in New Jersey. And watch where the book cover shows up next, en route to being published in the spring!

Monday, February 4, 2019

New Teen Sleuth Mystery ALL THAT GLITTERS Gets First Award!

Zowie! ALL THAT GLITTERS just won its first award -- and it's not even in print yet!!

The Break the Bechdel With Strong Female Characters Syndicate just named "All That Glitters" as its February 2019 pick. Here's why: "All that Glitters" hooks you in the first paragraph and doesn't let go! Beth Kanell has crafted a main character who feels real from the first page, and has already introduced a mother whose voice is all her own-- and certainly someone to reckon with! We can't wait to follow Lucky as she tracks down the person who shot her father, with the help of her two friends who also already show great potential for fully developed roles!

Hope you are following along, on this adventure in off-the-usual-route publishing. After all -- this is OUR Vermont Nancy Drew book (and, just a whisper to you ... like the original, this is a series, with seven more books plotted out already). I always loved Nancy Drew, and was ready for an update. Now, here it is.

Here's that link for the book, and you'll see the Break the Bechdel* "badge" on the page now. Then click the pre-order button (and note the 3-copy version that puts YOUR name in the printed book, too):

* Many readers don't yet know about the Bechdel test -- a relatively new way to look for books with strong, independent female characters. To learn more of its history, check out this link. It's named for a graphic novelist based in Vermont, so I'm especially happy to have it applied to ALL THAT GLITTERS. We're in this together, right?

Hugs and hope for today -- Beth

Friday, February 1, 2019

For Classroom Use: Black History Month and a Teen Poet

Teen poet Phillis Wheatley. (Photo courtesy of
Welcome to February 2019 -- designated as Black History Month for the year. Based on a recent school visit, I wrote up the "why" for celebrating Black History Month, and added material you might want to use in your own or your child's classroom. (If you're home schooling, it might also be a good fit.) I'd love to hear how you put it to use ...

Black History Month: February 2019

New England settlers from the year 1620 onward wrote a lot of things down: how they planned to make decisions together, who would own how much land, what the weather had been, and what the gardens and forests and hunting trips provided.

They passed this tradition to their children, who kept passing it on. As a result, lots of American history was written by people with roots in New England. They wrote about the world they saw and how they celebrated it.

What they wrote wasn’t complete. They left out things they didn’t care about, or didn’t trust. And of course they left out what they didn’t know about America and the world.

Missing from a lot of our written history is the history of people with dark skins in America. Whether they were Native Americans, or forced immigrants from Africa, their voices weren’t often heard in the pages of history here.

Two people who made early changes to that were named Phillis Wheatley and Frederick Douglass.

1. Phillis Wheatley was born in the beautiful lands of West Africa, probably in 1753. Find the countries of Gambia and Senegal on a map of Africa; that’s where she came from. When she was just eight years old, a local man sold her to a trader passing through, who took her on a ship to Boston, the biggest city of New England at the time. The trader sold her again, to make a profit, and she became a slave to Boston residents John and Susanna Wheatley. Their teen-aged kids Mary and Nathaniel began helping Phillis to read and write, and when she was 12, she could already read Greek, Latin, and the Bible.  At 14, she wrote her first poem, called “To the University of Cambridge, in New England.” Then she sent a poem to George Washington. Soon she began collecting her poems into a book. When she was 20, her book of poems was published, and the Wheatley family honored her by giving her freedom from enslavement.

I was sad to discover that as an adult, a hard marriage and a life of poverty followed for Phillis, and she died when she was only 31. But she still amazes us as a teenaged poet. You can find some of her poems in collections in books, and online.

Like Phillis Wheatley, you live in New England, and you have learned to read and write. What kind of poems might come from your life? Are there famous people you would like to share them with? Would you write differently if you thought your poem might last for 250 years? Who might read your poems?

2. Frederick Douglass traveled all around New England when he grew up, including visits to St. Johnsbury, Middlebury, Ferrisburgh, and Castleton. When he visited St. Johnsbury, he probably gave a talk at the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum – so when you walk up the stairs there, you are walking where he once stepped.

Mr. Douglass is celebrated as a Black American, and he had ancestors from Africa, as well as Native Americans and “white-skinned” settlers. He believed in the equality of all peoples, including women, recent immigrants, and people of various skin colors. He surprised many of his audience members with how sophisticated and elegant his speeches were. It was important for New Englanders to listen to Mr. Douglass this way, because it helped them remember that education and a desire to learn could make any person, of any gender or skin color or background, into a strong thinker and a good communicator.

He fought against racism all his life. But he also fought FOR people: for their freedom, and their right to vote. The last meeting he went to was about rights for women, in 1895, a few days before he died of a heart attack at about age 77. He didn’t know his real birthday, but he always celebrated it on February 14, which is now Valentine’s Day.

Black History Today

Written history still gives more pages to people who are famous, rich, and especially look important. We are still catching up with the life stories of people with darker skin.

You can find some exciting stories of the changes Black Americans have created, in their lives and in the world. Scientists George Washington Carver, Mae C. Jemison, and Neil deGrasse Tyson are considered Black Americans. So are musicians Marian Anderson, Louis Armstorng, Count Basie, and 50 Cent, plus of course Beyonce. You can look for Black American artists, writers, inventors, and explorers. Today there are also many Black American politicians, like former President Barack Obama and General Colin Powell. Local author Reeve Lindbergh wrote the story of pioneering airplane pilot Bessie Coleman, whose heritage was both African American and Cherokee. 

When you learn about Black Americans who have made a difference in our world, and tell their stories, you are helping to balance out the silence about Black Americans that Frederick Douglass and Phillis Wheatley found in the books they read. You are making a stronger, braver, more complete America with your own words about them.

One Special Note for Fiction and Poetry Authors

Because I write novels and poems, I am very interested in the idea called #ownvoices. You might recognize the label as a hashtag, like the ones you might see on Twitter or Facebook or other social media. #Ownvoices is a way to suggest that the best people to write about the experience of being different kinds of Americans are the people who really live that way. Like Black History Month, #ownvoices is helping to repair unfairness from the past, and to make the future more fair for people whose voices need to be heard. You might want to talk about this and think about how your own stories and poems reflect your own life – and what kind of imagined lives you’d like to write about, too.

-- Beth Kanell, author