In the writing room right now ...

In the writing room right now ... I am working on book #3 in the Winds of Freedom series, a teen adventure series set in the 1850s in North Danville, Vermont. My 1852 Vermont adventure THIS ARDENT FLAME is scheduled for June 2021 publication with Five Star/Cengage -- I will give you updates and early order information as soon as I know! I'm also writing a memoir; revising a mystery; in the midst of a novel about a grandmother and her granddaughter; and always writing poems. Yes, I guess I do like multi-tasking! How about you?

Saturday, July 4, 2020

The Fourth of July in America's Past—and Today

Daniel Webster in 1835, portrait by Francis Alexander, courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.
An 18-year-old country boy studying at Dartmouth College in 1800 was asked to give a speech at the Hanover, New Hampshire, Independence Day ceremonies. His words and his passionate delivery rocked the crowd, and the speech began his national career of service to the nation and summoning vivid language and performance, to in turn call people to action. Here is a bit of Daniel Webster's first public speech:
It becomes us, on whom the defence of our country will ere long devolve, this day, most seriously to reflect on the duties incumbent upon us. Our ancestors bravely snatched expiring liberty from the grasp of Britain, whose touch is poison... Shall we, their descendants, now basely disgrace our lineage, and pusillanimously disclaim the legacy bequeathed to us? Shall we pronounce the sad valediction to freedom, and immolate liberty on the altars our fathers have raised to her?
My second book in the Winds of Freedom series, This Ardent Flame, reveals how Vermonters took on this challenge after Webster betrayed their abolitionist goals, in forging the Compromise of 1850. It's fair to say that his legal maneuvering that year cost America dearly, in delaying the end of chattel slavery in the nation.

But the impact of giving speeches on the Fourth of July has been embraced by many another American leader. I reflect today on Abraham Lincoln's proclamation of war on behalf of the Union of American states -- which he gave on April 16, 1861, after Fort Sumter was seized by the Confederacy forces. Knowing the strands among the states were ever fragile, Lincoln deliberately called Congress to gather on July 4 to endorse his action.

In hindsight, it can feel like an intolerable delay, from April 16 to July 4. But Lincoln, portrayed by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin as a master in politics (giving, giving, and giving, until he'd call all to gather and get a task done), calculated that the patriotism of the Fourth of July would move the fragmented Congress to stand together. And he was exactly right.

The Ardent Flame was scheduled for autumn publication this year, but the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed the release until June 2021. Even so, I'm already grappling with book 3, Kindred Hearts, set in 1856 in "North Upton" (a pen name for North Danville, Vermont). In every page, in every shift of plot and character, is my own awareness that the nation was a mere five years from the war that would devastate it, far beyond any initial guesses. And I am walking with my protagonists, especially the teenagers, as they wake up to the cost of having deferred the abolition of slavery.

We, like they, are challenged to take action to address the damage done. It's a good thing to ponder on this 246th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. May God bless our efforts to unite this land and people in liberty and justice for all.
This portrait by Joseph Alexander Ames, believed to also be of Webster, hangs a mere 6 miles from my writing desk, at the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

When Is Your Writing a Calling?

“It is not light that we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.” 
― Frederick Douglass

Sometimes lately, I'm just bowled over by all the things I'm being offered within this pandemic.

It's actually a bit off target to say that writers get a gift of solitude from the lockdowns, isolation, and masking. Most of us need a rhythm of writing time (usually private but not always ... I've written some good things while trying not to hear the "kids" of whatever age) and interconnecting. The surprises and frictions of human contact help move the pieces of thought and emotion around, to the point where "we have to write about something."

But wrestling with meditation, deliberate choices, and targeted insight have been my "sports" lately. I've learned how my family of origin shaped and shapes my fiction and poems, in ways I hadn't realized before. I've gone back in time way farther than the catastrophic house fire that I usually see as the trauma marker for my novels. A memoir's been slowly taking shape, one often-painful realization at a time, as I confront how I've threaded the loom of my woven life.

The isolation of the coronavirus pandemic has also taken me to lectures via Zoom that I wouldn't otherwise have attended (too far to go, too long in the car, too costly) and to discussions I might back out of in person. It's thrown me face to face with my reluctance to take political action, and challenged me to find ways I can act effectively from my desk. It's shown me how frivolous a lot of my expenditures of the past have been -- fun maybe, but now it's time for a serious stage, testing whether each concern relates to a First World Problem (many do) and laughing more often about those.

There are some things I know I'm "called" to write. Let's not try to name the Caller. Let's pay attention instead to writing as the next right action. There is a form of worship and music named call-and-response. That's what I'm hearing, and singing, and if my throat gets a bit scratchy now and then, there's always a spoonful of honey waiting. And a glass of iced tea with mint.

Because when it's a calling, my only answer is yes.

What about for your writing life? How are you uplifting the world -- and how is it cradling you today?

Monday, May 11, 2020

Acceptance Can Take Time

Dad, around 1965.
One of the gifts of history is understanding.

I say this today with a lot of gratitude. It's an intense writing time for me, working on several books at once, with each one approaching Life from a different angle. The most directly personal is a memoir that I'm gradually building, each chapter created when I have time for it, in an online publication called Medium. It has a "pay wall" but you can access quite a few items before it will ask you to ante up. (So far, my biggest paycheck from writing there was $1.09, for a month of labor. I guess I'm not one of those wealthy writer types. But I love being able to share the material.)

You already know that writing changes with time -- the hope of any writer is that it gets better, gets more "worth reading." Maybe we forget that it also has to be worth writing. And that's where yesterday's writing surprised me with an enormous gift:

I adored, and still deeply love, my dad. As a kid, I never questioned his opinion; as a teen, I wrangled with him about the Viet Nam War, but his knowledge always overswept mine (though my sense of what was wrong and right grew in power).

When, at midlife, I found myself in recovery from alcohol abuse and trying to clean up some major messes, I tried to hold my dad to account for some things he'd taught me about being a woman, that had resulted in, to put it kindly, an Epic Fail. He laughed at me and made a rude joke. It was one of those unforgivable moments that life hands out sometimes: someone I idolized, making me smaller.

Yesterday's memoir piece, which dealt with my college escapades, also framed some "life instructions" my dad provided. How amazing it was to discover that I'm no longer enraged at what he taught and said! Learning more about his life, especially his childhood as the Nazis overtook his birth country and turned him into a refugee (an identity that I never associated with him when I was a kid, honestly; he was just smart, educated, funny, and all-powerful of course) ... well, I have learned what History does to people's thinking and to the soul. And somehow, in all that learning:

I learned to accept and forgive my father.

Looking back, I don't think that was on the goals list for Advanced Placement History class. Guess I learned something more this week. Glad to be paying attention.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Always a Blue Sky Just Ahead

It's an April Showers week according to the forecast here in northeastern Vermont, but there have been long stretches of blue sky anyway, and I'm touched by delight many times in each day.

For me, it's also a writing week. I'm working on a memoir at the online site Medium, trying to forgive and enfold the past and see how its tough moments made room for the delight of 17 years with my beloved, my b'shert (meant to be), Dave. Now that I've walked into the second year of mourning, I spend fewer minutes in pain, and more in appreciation. That's a good trade.

I'm also writing a couple of novels (they are very different from each other; one historical, one present; one YA, one much older characters). And of course the poems. Mostly I post the poems in "second draft" form on Facebook. Please stop in to visit when you can.

I wish you solace today, and joy in the small lovely portions. Love your neighbor as yourself -- which means, start with yourself. It's time to put the kettle on again.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

"Wrap Yourself Up in Art": Clarinet, Accordion, Percussion, Voices, and a Father's Love, from David Chevan

This letter reached me recently, and the video gave me such joy that I figured I'd better share it! So, with permission from David Chevan, here you are (don't worry about the YouTube link looking like it's to a very long piece -- it's actually cued to a shorter portion):

LETTER:
Since you can’t go out to hear live music, I thought I’d share a live music recording with you.

Last year I premiered a new work that I composed using letters written by the artists Edgar Degas and Camille Pissarro.  What I’m sharing with you is a song I composed from a couple of letters written by Camille Pissarro. 

One thing that attracted me to Camille Pissarro was how many of his letters were about his love for his family. He and his wife, Julie, had 8 children, one died at childbirth, while two others, his daughter Jeanne and his son Felix both died at relatively young ages. I was moved by a series of letters he wrote to his oldest son, Lucien, as he shared with him first the news about Felix contracting tuberculosis and then only a few days later a letter about his brother dying from the illness.  If that wasn’t enough, Lucien was, at the time of his brother’s death, recovering from a brain illness that had almost cost him his life.  In those letters I saw a father struggling to console his son while dealing with his own grief.  And in those letters and in this song, I see a parallel to our own moment.  How do we deal with our sadness and our love when we cannot be with one another?  For Camille Pissarro the answer was art.  Pissarro urged his son to use his art as way to recover from his illness and as a way to deal with the death of his brother.  “I want you to wrap yourself up in art,” he wrote.  I was so taken by this that I shaped those words into the chorus of one of the songs of the work. 

Singing the words of Camille Pissarro is Cantor Malachi Kanfer.  He’s accompanied by members of the Afro-Semitic Experience including Adam Matlock on accordion, Will Bartlett on clarinet, Jocelyn Pleasant on percussion, and Alvin Carter, Jr. who both plays drums and has the part of the narrator.  If you’re interested, you’re welcome to watch the whole work (which means you’ll also get to see Cantor Martin Levson who sings the words of Edgar Degas), but this link is cued up to the song, “Wrap Yourself Up in Art.”

https://youtu.be/XL2Uipt05lQ?t=1878

I hope you are staying safe. I hope you all stay healthy. And I hope you can find something meaningful and satisfying to do with this time apart.  “Wrap yourself up in Art.”

Looking forward to seeing you all on the other side of this.

All my best,

David

www.davidchevan.com (http://www.davidchevan.com)

Saturday, March 28, 2020

It's All About Exposure (to What?)


I went grocery shopping this morning.

Context: The Covid-19 pandemic has not yet peaked here in northern New England, but we have reached the point where it's personal -- I know a family that's battling the infection, and they live about 10 miles from my place. At least two in our nearest shopping town have tested positive.

So I made a mask from a pleated paper towel and rubber bands and staples (thank you, Internet), added a pair of reading glasses for eye protection and nitrile gloves left from nursing my husband last year, and headed to a town where there's a friendly "food cooperative."

On the way, I stopped at the transfer station (what we used to call the dump), to drop off a bag of roadside trash. (Farming keeps Vermont green; picking litter up helps you be able to SEE the green, without cringing.) And things had changed. A lot.

"The dump" is where many of us count on a few minutes of old-fashioned socializing. Retired men in hunting jackets or ball caps exchange news. Fussy individuals drop their recycling into the correct bins and pull out the mistakes made by less fussy ones. Town trucks are parked nearby, at the town garage and the fire station.

And everybody smiles and says "how's it going" and "what a day!" and "I hate to let go of this old lamp but we're moving, know anyone who might want it?" Sometimes the school kids collect redeemable cans and bottles to fund end-of-term trips. Once in a while there's a lost dog poster.

Today: A stop sign. Directions to form a single lane. "Social distancing," one vehicle at a time, for those bringing bags of trash to the big compactor. And the young man watching over the recycling shed wore a bright green mask over his mouth and nose.

When I'd delivered my blue bag to the compactor, an older man in charge, with bristling winter beard and mustache, exchanged smiles with me from a safe dozen feet away. He called out, not "stay warm" or "keep out of trouble" (to which one may either grin wickedly and say "who me?" or nod and say "will do"), but "Stay safe!"

Things change.

Then I drove more back roads toward the food cooperative, and along the way I passed a few couples walking along the edge of the road. Eager to add a little cheering up to the usual "I see you" wave that a polite driver offers around here, I waggled my brightly gloved hand and beamed a big smile at each.

One couple didn't even look. The other pointedly gazed the other way.

I want to guess they were among the folks who mostly live out of state and have come to their "summer place" in Vermont this month, seeking safety from the virus, seeking a place where they won't be exposed to how tough life can be, and how scary it is to be ill. I want to be kind and tolerant, and not picture how they'll react if they "have to" call for emergency services, which around here are often staffed with highly trained, compassionate volunteers as well as EMTs. I want to call "Stay safe!" out the car window.

But those folks are more than a little lost, "sheltering in place" in a Vermont that's hardly what they expect: no green grass yet, no pretty gardens, no festivals. It's March, it's mud season, and it's pandemic season.

Besides, they haven't had much exposure yet to how we all depend on each other and come through for each other up here. And I don't want to scare anyone. So I park at the food cooperative, pull my paper-towel mask into position, and wish I'd drawn the smile onto it that I pictured this morning. Nope, on second thought, next time I go shopping, I'll take a red crayon and write words on my mask. "Stay safe! And keep out of trouble. Smile!"


Thursday, March 19, 2020

It's Been Almost a Year Since -- Well, I Love Him Always

There isn't a way to measure mourning, the long process of missing someone vital, important to your heart. At least, for me there isn't. And with each day closer to March 23 -- the Jewish calendar 1-year mark since Dave's death -- and to April 3, the calendar date last year when the husband I adored gave his last breath, I become more of a spashing sea of saltwater. Be careful, this week I weep or holler at the drop of an emotional moment, and I don't expect to "get over" it. But on April 4, I promise to take a deep breath and focus on what's ahead more than on what's unreachable to hands and lips.

Just for perspective, here's the electric company's graph of how the year has gone. No dueling TVs drawing power as Dave keeps tabs on the 24/7 news cycle. No air conditioning. One person's lighting use, minimized as much as possible. Still bread being baked, but far less laundry to wash and dry.

So here's my wish/prayer/petition of the day: Let me take all that "saved energy" and all Dave's love that I know is still with me, and infuse it into some darned good writing coming up. To life. L'chaim.