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, May 25, 2013

Memorial Day Weekend, Concord, Vermont

Honoring the Four Chaplains.
A few weeks ago, Dave and I took a drive to Gilman, Vermont, a village of many names -- it's a village within the town of Lunenburg and was earlier named Fitzdale, but adopted the surname of the industrialist and philanthropist who changed its history: Isaac "Ike" Gilman. The lone Jew in town, Ike Gilman created employment, funded the church, provided in many ways for enrichment of village life. It's a bigger story than that, but I'm leaving it to Dave to collect the research and do the telling.

Just before reaching Gilman, we paused in another village, East Concord -- part of Concord, Vermont. Concord has an amazingly rich history, including the first teacher training school in the state (a "normal" school as the label was then), and a home where poet Robert Frost lived for a year or two. Home to many an agricultural enterprise, it also hosted Abenaki (Native American) presence, in part due to its location along the Connecticut River and its lakes and streams.

House where Robert Frost lived, Concord Corners.
East Concord has a serene white church building; a park; and a state history marker honoring the Rev. George Lansing Fox, one of the famous "Four Chaplains" whose sacrifice made such an impression during World War II. You can read the story here:

On this Memorial Day weekend, we motored over to the Concord Historical Society to see a special exhibit on Fox and the other three chaplains, including many magazine and newspaper articles, a video, and a state proclamation honoring Fox. It seemed a perfect time for the town to reflect on its homegrown hero, a man who never fired a weapon in the war but whose action saved lives.

We lingered among the other exhibits, appreciating the town's farm and logging heritage as well as its schools, doctors, and more. What I hadn't realized was the role of stone in Concord, until I saw this lovely old business sign up on the wall for Keach & Calacci -- Granite, Marble, Bronze. In Vermont history, the Italian stonecutters are usually found around Barre, where the Rock of Ages granite quarry continues to provide material for these artists. I knew they had also reached the Northeast Kingdom town of Ryegate, where there were (and still are!) also granite sheds. But I was surprised to find the Calacci family all the way over in Concord, and noted the business in records from 1928, 1930, and 1935 (listed here).

Last but not least, here are two posters that are tacked high over one of the doorways at the Concord Historical Society -- the one on the left is the shows at Tegu's Palace, one of the two St. Johnsbury theaters that I wove into my 1930/Waterford "history-mystery," The Darkness Under the Water. What a gem! And the one on the right, I am guessing, belongs with a street sign that I noticed outside East Concord during our road trip: Dance Hall Road. (It runs into Oregon Road -- more on that, another time.)

In case it needs saying, what these signs and stories say to me, more clearly than ever, is that hundreds of stories wait to be told, weaving the daily events and places of the past century into the adventures of the people, "real" and fictional, who live and lived in Vermont. I can hardly wait to discover more.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Farmer's Daughter, and Other Adventures with My Mom

Grand opening this weekend!! What a great new life for a terrific place.
My mother wanted to get lost, every time she drove the car out onto a back road. The five of us kids would play games with license plates we saw, or letters on signs, or anything else we could see through the windows -- we all got desperately carsick if we tried to read in the car, or else we would have opened our books. At least for the three older siblings, books were the magical escape into our own private adventures (my two youngest brothers did some things differently).

But on Mom's adventures, the idea was to discover unusual places (like the store on Route 23 in northern New Jersey that sold only buttons -- gallon JARS of buttons for sale!), special waterfalls (hidden ones are best), and places that connected with George Washington, General Lafayette, and "Mad" Anthony Wayne, all easy enough to find in north Jersey, crammed with Revolutionary War battlegrounds. And, incidentally, one "should" get lost.

Unfortunately, Mom's "direction bump," as she called it, kept her from ever getting truly lost. I think that was the biggest regret that she ever expressed around the group of us! Of course, it was also a source of pride and cheerful enjoyment.

When I first drove a car myself through St. Johnsbury, Vermont, and saw the Maple Grove syrup plant and the gift shop called the Farmer's Daughter -- sometime in 1978 -- I had a moment of déja vu. Surely I had been here before? And entered those doors?

I had indeed. Perhaps in 1956 or 1957! I recall the scent of small pillows of balsam needles, and tiny pillars of pine incense one could burn at a campsite to (hopefully) keep away bugs. I remember being barely tall enough to see what was on the shelves.

For a while last year, it looked as though the lifetime of the Farmer's Daughter had ended, and I mourned. Even with that crazy sign out front (the one that makes my Inner Feminist cringe -- I'm not showing it here), I love the place. My mom wouldn't have wanted to see it pass away.

But this spring, oh glorious news, the Cushman family has leased the building and the gift shop business, provided a fresh version of the "fresh" sign outside, added ice cream and homemade fudge (really, they are making it themselves!), and brought back the happy site with fresh paint, baskets of flowers, even a young goat in a neat little barn outside. I am SO happy!

I can feel my mother peeking over my shoulder. She says, "See, we came here when you were little. I love you, honey. Let's get ice cream cones and buy one of those postcards and maybe that jigsaw puzzle in case it rains later. And then we'll get back into the car and get lost. When we've had enough, we'll go back to the campsite and write a poem about this place."

Love you, Mom. Happy Mother's Day of the heart.

(Joan Lancy Palmer Minden, 1927-1981; a New Englander forever, even as she raised us on a mountain in New Jersey.)

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Great Gatsby Goes to the Screen: That 1922 Glamour and Risk

Baz Lurhmann’s adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby opens on May 10, and stars Leonardo DiCaprio (as Jay Gatsby), Carey Mulligan (as Daisy Buchanan), and Tobey Maguire (as Nick Carraway). For many moviegoers, there'll be some justified wondering about whether the film's version of the Roaring Twenties is exaggerated -- was there really such a gap between rich and poor, wealthy and hard-scrabble?

The short answer is: Yes. Although today's wealth gap is wider in terms of dollars, the 1920s showed Americans what that famous American Dream could look like in terms of costly clothing, money enough to eat and drink what and where you wanted, glamour and glitz. Fitzgerald's book is now a researcher's treasure trove, containing not only telling details about life, but also emotional levels that can be explored and used for measuring some points of view as we construct historical fiction dating back to the 1920s.

I kept Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and many newspaper articles on hand while crafting COLD MIDNIGHT. If I could have slept with them under my pillow, I would have! (But the print makes me sneeze.) It especially mattered in terms of the relationship Ben has in the novel with Colonel Bateman, as well as Claire's restricted grasp of her own town -- which had its "high life" way outside her own working-class experience.

I plan to see the film sometime in the next week or so, to enjoy Luhrmann's take on "what it was all like." I can hardly wait!