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?

Monday, April 29, 2013

Recovery from the Christmas Fire: More Photos (St. Johnsbury, Vermont)

Fires continue to ravage the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, to the point where we need our own version of the Three Little Pigs story ... because the buildings have wood frames, even when the outsides are brick or stone, and we continue to be vulnerable. Saturday night a home in Concord, Vermont, was lost; Sunday, oddly, one of the commuter buses burned.

Today Philip C. Marshall ( generously gave permission for use of his St. Johnsbury photos, and here is one of the 1879 building -- Bruno Ravel's building, where his parents long operated the Landry Drug Store -- before the Christmas 2012 fire struck.
photo by Philip C. Marshall

And here are some pix that the construction crew allowed me to snap last week: reconstructing the brick frame for the shop windows; the room where the drugstore used to be (see the tin ceiling?); and the back exterior.

Progress indeed ...

Readers of COLD MIDNIGHT: Claire and Ben did not climb this structure (although the author has, from the inside); the Saturday night activities on Railroad Street in 1921 made it far too risky. But it will reappear in the 2014 book I'll be writing, The Fire Curse.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

African Americans in 19th-Century Vermont: Fresh Resources

Rokeby's new and exciting exhibit opens May 19, 2013.
Rokeby, Vermont's principal verified "Underground Railroad" historic site, will open its new exhibits on May 19, inaugurating the freshly constructed building that the site's team will use for group visits, teaching, and especially making history accessible to young students (say, fourth grade). I'm a fan -- and here's a news interview with director Jane Williamson as the space gets its finishing touches:

Williamson has quipped that the Vermont version of the decades just before the Civil War should be called the "above-ground" railroad years instead, and her exhibit title is "Free & Safe" -- a good description for Black Americans who arrived in the Green Mountains in the 1830s through 1850s. Elise Guyette's book "Discovering Black Vermont: African-American Farmers in Hinesburgh, Vermont 1790 - 1890" won a 2010 Award of Excellence from the Vermont Historical Society and offers an extensive exploration.

I just realized that there's a phenomenal hour-long presentation by Guyette available on the Net, thanks to Marlboro College: -- a great way to catch up on her work and catch some of the flavor of this lively presenter.

If you're teaching or gathering in Vermont and want to check whether a site near you with an Underground Railroad reputation is historically significant, I recommend the State of Vermont report "Friends of Freedom: The Vermont Underground Railroad Survey Report." This 1996 document peels open the evidence for (and against) 174 of the 19th-century individuals and sites that have been mentioned in this context. I still have a few copies available at $15 each (postage included); let me know if you'd like one.

This year Vermont provides a heritage trail to explore the lives and impact of Black Vermonters of the 19th century, too -- as noted in this Burlington Free Press article (I contributed information on the Coventry location). With this comes fresh attention to Alexander Twilight, probably the first mixed-race Vermonter to graduate (in a remarkably short time) from Middlebury College in 1822. There's a good VPR interview on Twilight and his "race" in Vermont's Census records:

These are great resources for classroom use and for a break from books and paper, as spring makes the classroom -- or home office! -- seem a bit confined.

PS -- If you're new to this blog: One reason my writing-room reference shelves keep filling with more materials about Vermont's Black residents is my 2011 novel, THE SECRET ROOM. Signed copies are at several Vermont bookstores or you can order them at; video support on this history-mystery set in North Danville, Vermont, can be found here:

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Research Bookmark: Matching the Photo and the News Report

I've had this photo (blurry though it is) on the Pinterest site for COLD MIDNIGHT for a while now -- it's the result of the 1909 fire in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, which retired firefighter Dave Brown told me was the disaster that moved the town to purchase up-to-date firefighting gear; the ladders then in use were simply not long enough and fatalities resulted. Now, thanks to Researcher Extraordinaire Dave Kanell (yes, I'm married to him), here's a news report of the fire. Thanks also to Stu Beitler, who posted the piece online in 2007.


St. Johnsbury, Vt., Suffers Great Loss of Life.

Four-Story Block Burned so Rapidly That Firemen Were Helpless to Save Imprisoned Victims.

St. Johnsbury, Vt. -- Nine lives were lost in the fire which destroyed the principal business building of this town. Two other persons were fatally burned, and two were taken to a hospital suffering from severe but not dangerous burns. The property loss is estimated at $50,000, partly covered by insurance. Of the nine persons killed, two fell from the upper stories of the building in an attempt to reach safety by means of ropes, while seven were burned to death, their bodies not being recovered until several hours later.
The list of dead follows:
S. D. CUSHMAN and MRS. S. D. CUSHMAN and their child;
L. E. DARLING, forty years old, a laborer;
CHARLES TANNER, a painter;

MRS. JEANNETTE DAVIS and LOUIS POPE, thirteen years old, son of MR. And MRS. WILLIAM POPE, were those fatally burned. The others injured are WILLIAM POPE and ROY SMITH, who will recover.

The block, a four-story brick building, was a combination of stores, offices, tenements and assembly halls. It was owned by the Citizens' Savings Bank. The fire is believed to have originated in a restaurant in the basement.

Though the alarm was given on the instant and the firemen came in with all speed, the inside of the four-story building was a furnace before help arrived, an elevator well having furnished a flue through which the flames swept to all of the floors.

When it was seen that the ladders would not reach, ropes, which were evidently in the building for such an emergency, were brought into use. Women apparently feared the attempt at descent and RANLETT attempted to come down, hand over hand, to reach he top of the ladder. He lost his balance and fell to the sidewalk. His skull was fractured and he died instantly. DARLING, the other man, lost his grip and fell in attempting to grasp the swinging rope from a windowsill. He lived only a few minutes.

The Cranbury Press New Jersey 1909-11-05

Critical Thinking: Images and History, and Historical Fiction

When I visit groups to discuss COLD MIDNIGHT, I often point out the photo of the Chinese man that nearly led me astray when I was working out the plot of the book and its careful pinnings to the history of Chinese arrivals in northern New England in the 1880s. Here's another pair of items, located by my husband Dave, that could be deceptive. They seem to show a touring vehicle, with people on board to look around the town of St. Johnsbury, Vermont. You can see the date 1907 on the card -- the year when the noted postcard company Tichnor Bros. applied for a copyright on the clever pair of images.

However, although St. Johnsbury did indeed have plenty of tourism in 1907, these images doesn't show the "real thing." (The top one, though, has some real photo images attached to it with an accordion fold.) The cards are among many that were created where town names could be set into the card, and orders placed for "anywhere." Often the cards like this are amusing, and some are romantic, but ... they are stock images, made by the card company without ever visiting the town named on them! That also leads to another entertaining side of the cards as we collect them today: On quite a few that we've seen, the town name has been misspelled!

But it's all in fun, and it was a classic of a hundred years ago.

Just don't count on these for "pictures that show the real thing." They show effect of the tourist trade, instead!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Book Club Bounty: The Best Reason to Get Together!

Last Friday evening, eight women from my extended neighborhood (the closest lives a few houses away; at least one had an hour-long drive) gathered for their monthly book discussion, and I was honored by an invitation -- they had (all but one) just read my newest novel, COLD MIDNIGHT, so I brought a display of photos and old postcards that were part of the research for the 1921 setting, and told the tale of the historically read murder of Sam Wah, a Chinese laundry owner who was 75 years old in 1921, in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. (I keep an even larger collection of related images at the book's Pinterest site, here:

Like another book gathering that I attended a few weeks earlier, this one glowed with the seasoned experience of the women at the table, who brought their complex lives and wisdom to share. It also included a marvelous supper, and I took a moment to photograph my plate, so I could savor the meal in memory! The slice of meat pie at the center of the plate was a special treat for me -- it's the French Canadian "tourtiere," a dish I always enjoy. The crust was flaky, the meat and seasonings savory. And, as you can see, there were many other delights to go with it! But tourtiere was especially significant because of its origin; both COLD MIDNIGHT and my 2008 novel The Darkness Under the Water dip into French Canadian culture and traditions as they've arrived in this northeastern part of Vermont.

Do you meet with a book club? If your club selects Cold Midnight or The Secret Room, I can provide books at a 20% discount; for The Darkness Under the Water, which I have to order differently, I can give 10% off. Just let me know. (Books, prices, etc. here: Talking about a book with others who've enjoyed it -- "priceless."