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?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Picture Tells a Story With Heart

I love this image, which began with a photo I took a week ago inside the farm shop at the Langmaid farm in North Danville. You can see the rows of jellies and jams (I'll re-show, below, my other photo from that day, which shows the baked goods -- the donuts were flying out of there at 3 for a dollar).

And here are some parts of the story that come with the photo:

* North Danville, Vermont, is the location that inspired -- and really is the home of -- my 2011 mystery adventure THE SECRET ROOM. This little farm store is roughly where the imagined village store is, in the novel. And each time I'm in North Danville, I'm haunted by Shawna and Thea (from the novel) moving back and forth to each other's homes and discovering the secrets there.

* The jelly-jar labels include "Curtis Vance Memorial Orchard" as their first line. Curtis Vance lived in North Danville; he was a cousin of teacher and librarian Mary Prior, who insisted that I place a book in this place! The community that gathered around Curtis Vance during his long illness (familial ALS) was wide, deep, and loving. I enjoy seeing his name on the jars, even though I can't ever see him in person again.

* Autumn is my favorite season (is it yours, too?) -- my birthday is at the start of September, and I always have that "first day of school" excitement in my chest too. Most of all, I love the crispness, the scent of the air, the colors of the leaves, and the activities of harvest. "Putting food up" as jams, jellies, pickles, applesauce -- what could be a better statement of faith in the future?

* Last but not least, I just took a class (yes, you can take classes from home, when you're a writer who loves to be at her desk) on Pinterest (ultimate in "new" -- contrast with the eons-old skills of preserving foods!) and figured out how to add this blogsite as an insert on my photo. It's still a bit basic; I'll be better next week. But I'm happy to be learning, and joyful to open the window and smell Autumn, and -- full circle -- thinking quietly again about Curtis Vance and Mary Prior. Life passes, and we are fortunate to preserve some of the "good food" to sample again later.

Friday, September 14, 2012

History Behind the Story: From Vicki Delany, Author of MORE THAN SORROW (2012)

By Guest Author Vicki Delany

History, they say, is written by the winner.
It’s also written differently depending on what side you happen to be on.
My newest book, More than Sorrow, is set in Prince Edward County, Ontario, where I live.  I moved here four years ago and one of the first things I noticed was the sign as you approach the main town, Picton (pop 4,000) proclaiming “A Proud Loyalist Town”.  Highway 33, which runs through the County along the north shore of Lake Ontario to Kingston, is named The Loyalist Highway, and signs depict a couple in period dress.  What, thought I, is all this about?  Then I began seeing flags – Union Jacks? Not quite. One of the stripes was missing.
In Canada we have a reputation of ignoring our history.  I can’t really be counted among those, as I’ve always had a keen interest in history.  I majored in Modern History at University. (Although my major was Modern European History.)  I knew something, vaguely, about the Loyalists who settled Ontario, but obviously not enough.
So I set about learning.
As Americans you might have been brought up to think that all but a few scoundrels and traitors were keen on independence.  Not so fast. Apparently something like 30% of the residents of the colony thought it a bad idea. Only a few years prior to 1776 almost no one in the colony, including those who became the leading “patriots”, was arguing for independence, but for a slightly fairer tax system.  It can be argued, and often has, that the revolution could easily have been prevented if the British had merely bent a little rather than remaining stubbornly intransigent.  See  The March of Folly by Barbara Tuchman.  (Highly recommended - one of the books that has had the most influence on my political thought.)
Many Loyalists simply thought there was no reason to go to war over a tax dispute.  Many agreed with aims of eventually achieving some degree of independence, but thought that Treason was not a good way to begin a county.  Many were appalled at the actions of the mob – outright ‘confiscation of property’ aka theft, beating and killing supposed opponents – and thought no good could come of it. (In the famous quote attributed to Mather Byles, Boston Clergyman, “which is better – to be ruled by one tyrant three thousand miles away, or by three thousand tyrants not a mile away?”) Many simply didn’t want to take sides, and found themselves being forced to when their homes were torched and their property taken. 
 When all the smoke had cleared, there were in excess of 60,000 people who chose to leave the new United States.  (
They were refugees in every sense of the word.   The British army and government remained loyal to those who’d been loyal to them, and provided transportation away from the States for anyone who wanted to leave.  Many went back to England or Scotland, many to parts of North America that were not yet American, such as Florida, and many to the West Indies. When I was in Turks and Caicos in the winter, we visited the remains of a loyalist plantation.  Slaves who had supported the British side were given their freedom and a spot on a ship out. Many of them settled in Nova Scotia, where their descendants live today, and some went back to Africa.  (If you are interested in the Black Loyalist story, try the superb Book Of Negroes by Lawrence Hill.  That’s the book’s Canadian name; it has something different in the U.S. [Someone Knows My Name -- BK]  The Book of Negroes was the list the British kept in New York of blacks wanting to flee.)
Flora McDonald
People you might think had no love for the British remained loyal.  I was surprised to learn what firm Loyalists many Scots were.  One would assume that having fought so hard against the English in 1745 they would be on the anti-British side. Nope.   A lot of Scots who’d come to America after the Battle of Culloden were Loyalists.  One of Scotland’s greatest heroines, Flora McDonald, savior of Bonnie Prince Charlie after Culloden, moved to America, and became a staunch Loyalist.   After the American Revolution she returned via Canada to Skye, where she remained until she died.  According to a source I read, the Jacobites did not consider themselves to be ‘rebels’ in any way. They supported what they considered to be the true King of Scotland. Thus were not inclined to support rebellion in America.
A great many of these refugees came to Canada, over a thousand to what is now Prince Edward County.
What I hadn’t fully realized is that Ontario was almost totally unsettled at that time.  Canada consisted of French Quebec and some settlements in Nova Scotia.  A small township had been established in the Niagara area. And that was it.  So when the new settlers came to this area there was nothing but wilderness.  No roads, no towns. Nothing but dark, impenetrable forest. 
Molly Brant led Mohawk Loyalists
Not even Native Canadians.  There’s a big Mohawk Reserve near the County called Tyendenaga.  It was settled by Loyalists also. The Indians fought on the side of the British in the Revolution (as they did in the War of 1812) and when their side lost, they lost their land and became refugees.
Many of these refugees were not farmers: they might be townspeople, shopkeepers, newspapermen, tradesmen, maybe soldiers. As is the case with refugees down through time, most of them lost everything except the clothes they stood in when they fled their homes.   The British government gave them transportation, and some supplies with which to begin.   Imagine facing the true North American Wilderness, with a handful of seeds, a hand-made axe, maybe an ox to share with your neighbours, and no farming experience.  The first order of business would have been to chop down a patch of ancient forest, to clear land and get wood to start building. They lived in tents or rough shacks the first years.  In Ontario – in winter!
When I decided I wanted to write another stand-alone suspense novel,   I knew I wanted it to be a modern gothic, a book with strands of the past and hidden secrets affecting people today.  I am interested in how war affects lives, particularly the non-combatants, and quickly came up with the idea of a war correspondent injured in Afghanistan and a young female Afghan refugee.  Refugee? Where had I heard that before?
Thus, in telling the story of Maggie Macgregor, a Loyalist refugee, I hoped to draw parallels between the refugee experience of Canada’s original settlers with those arriving today.   And hopefully I have also had something to say about universal truths, particularly of women caught up in a fight that is not their own.

Vicki Delany's newest book, MORE THAN SORROW, is a "modern Gothic" novel reviewed at the Kingdom Books review blog; for more of this author's insight into the genre, see her other article here. Thanks, Vicki, for sharing your history and story with us! 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Calendar Alert: Coming Soon (Sept. 14), A Guest Appearance from Canadian Author Vicki Delany

Vicki Delany
Vicki Delany's new book MORE THAN SORROW pushed me to grapple with the situation in America and Canada in 1776, when rebellion overtook the American Colonies and "Loyalists" either fought against the prevailing mood, retreated to England, or escaped as refugees to Canada. I was surprised at how strongly I felt about those Loyalists! It took a couple of chapters of Delany's very good "modern Gothic" mystery, set in Ontario, Canada, to push me into giving them a fair shake.

So I'm very excited that Vicki plans to post here on "Stories That Matter" -- tentatively scheduled for Sept. 14. I can already promise this: She'll get us thinking, and we'll be intrigued.

Chinatowns: From Exclusion to Pride

Behind the story of COLD MIDNIGHT, my new Vermont mystery that will release on Nov. 3, are a lot of scattered people and facts, ranging from finding out that high school and college students really do challenge themselves to climb up the outsides of buildings (without getting hurt or caught -- believe me, I would not do this!); learning about an unsolved murder in the neighboring town of St. Johnsbury, Vermont; and having in mind the lack of treatment for "shell shock" for veterans of World War I.

But as the story grew, so did my attention to a terrible piece of U.S. federal legislation from 1882 (and not really disbanded until World War I), the Chinese Exclusion Act. It is in large part because of this act, which prevented Chinese from becoming naturalized U.S. citizens, that Chinatowns became part of American life.

Somewhere in the 20th century, though, Chinatowns became a source of great pride: They are the homes to many Americans who treasure their Chinese heritage and savor the sound of Chinese languages, the scent and flavor of long-familiar recipes, the "at home" feeling of being among people who understand more of your background and who don't make casual assumptions based on the shape of your face or color of your skin.

Chinatowns are also "destinations" now, where tour guides or guidebooks direct eager visitors. And they are places where festivals are celebrated, inviting local news teams and photographers to delight in the activities they can capture on film.

There's much more to be said about Chinatowns, and wonderful books that say some of it -- including the mysteries written by Henry Chang, who sets his books in the New York City Chinatown where he grew up (three available through Soho Crime; the fourth is on its way). I emailed to Henry a copy of the postcard shown here, a festive tourist scene if ever there was one, and here's what he told me:
the postcard is accurate for Mott St. looking toward Pell, circa 1950's maybe. The names of the restaurants and shops are places I remember, growing up. Tai Yat Low restaurant was on the corner of Mott and Pell sts. The bldgs on the left are accurate as some I recognize and the rooflines are pretty much the same today... [He then added] Correction,- Tai Yat Low was on Mott as depicted, and further toward the left, a red sign that looks like a music note, was Lee's Restaurant, on the corner of Mott and Pell sts. Btw I've used the corner bldg on Mott and Pell as a location in Book Four ( the first draft of which I've just finished...)
Also, here's a photo that I snapped in Boston's Chinatown, which I toured in 2010 through the Chinese Historical Society of New England (thank you again!).

Which Chinatowns have you visited (or lived in)? What did you experience there? When are you going to take part in one again?