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?

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Because Shadows Are Part of Life

It's been eight and a half months since my husband (= soulmate) died, and every day brings new ways to feel and learn. One important lesson has been to grasp the difference between grief -- which is a reaction to the loss itself -- and mourning, which has more to do with learning to live with an absence.

Recently a friend and I were discussing the Book of Job, a part of the scriptures (or haftorah in Jewish tradition) that can make people very uncomfortable, because the main speaker in it, Job, has an argument with G-d that seems to leave him at a terrible disadvantage, without any just cause for it. This poem reflects on that ... and takes its title, "The Storehouses of Snow," from the ancient text. And, PS, the photo is from a earlier winter; our snow is not that deep at the moment, but check back with my photos on Facebook when Friday's storm is done!

The Storehouses of Snow

First winter alone in the house on the ridge, where
mornings open gray and silver — when I follow the tracks

(deer, fox, squirrel, a flock of turkeys) and search the trees
there’s more blue sky than I first realized, flaming and yearning

oh how long, how deep does love root itself in the heart
—it aches to touch, to clutch the answers. But:

There’s a thing about blue sky. Sometimes I don’t realize
til the moment I lift the camera to the bare branches above,

backdrop of tenderness with sparkles; silken, with cloud streaks
look! without calling, two bluejays erupt and take wing.

Paired, they do not leave this place in winter. Nor do I.

Empty rooms echo, while the kettle hums, yes
the kitchen’s almost a safety zone, a place to make and taste

and the stacked dishes waiting to be washed proclaim
“life is messy; choose life; go on, try it, try it, try it”

wet-handed (soaped) I dry it. The dish. My cheek. Salt wet.

Beware the living-room couch, with its loose comfort
blowsy, ample, cushioned. Take a corner seat. Did you

bring a book? This program with the sound muted now
was one he liked. We had a little race to be the first to say

“re-run!” and be correct. Sometimes people die and it’s not
something you can prevent. Love can’t hold it back, although

my niece is worried that I seem sad. When she called, I was sitting
by a window as the evening ripened: snow in the forecast.

Shadows on snow are blue but sometimes purple; some pink
in surprising places. The storehouses of snow must be designed

like the bold striped houses of the Gaspé, blooming plum and orange
above winter’s etched certainties. Imagine the winter breath of G-d

throat cleared with a rattling cough, pillars of ice rising.

Grief is a clawed animal known to prehistoric souls
digging like a sabre-toothed cat or dire wolf

tearing the flesh; opening the chest; releasing the arc of bones
determined to delve to the heart. Wrenching apart fiber

piercing each wanton cell with chemical injections of pain
erupting in coarse sobs, in wracked wailing, in screams. And then:

nights alone. Salt rivers. Oceans of separation.

How strange the new sun of mourning; fire from the lens
as light flares from a disk of ice. Words that set sparks

paper smoking within a golden circle. Fingers that curve
around a mug of comfort. Yet not so fast! Rage, rage first,

rage against the jaws of death, against hunger and want, against
half-empty bed, against table for one. Rage, I say! G-d shouts.

Raw throat, scrubbed face, tumble of blame and rough words.

The saw blade rasps in the ash branch; scrapes past bark, wrestles
fiber and core, pinches under the arched arm. Prunes back rash hope

assaults the life force, demands a rush of sap from the roots
swelling, rising, dripping (sweet not salt) down the gray bark.

Let the storehouses of snow be opened. Blow, winter rages. Blow
and rant and make the mountains kneel. Remind me how fierce

is love itself; how clawed; how it bites until the lips intervene
the tongue turns loose and hands grasp. How the calendar

numbers the days of the season. Insists (shouting, roaring)
on April. On yellow, gold, and green. Which are not (except at sunrise)

present in the shadows on the snow.

-- BK


Sunday, October 20, 2019

Maternity Homes in Vermont: A Research Story (and Invitation!)

Vermont “Maternity Homes”

by Beth Kanell

It began with a postcard. My husband Dave (who passed last April) collected them: colorful Vermont scenes, yes, but more importantly the black-and-white ones from the late 1800s and early to mid 1900s that showed actual scenes, especially in the Northeast Kingdom. There are hundreds of St. Johnsbury and Lyndonville images in his collection—but, proportional to both town size and events that seemed worth marketing as photographs, there are very few from, say, Granby or Victory in Essex County.
            Or from Concord.
            Dave plunged me into a new research project when he found a card labeled “Quimby Maternity Home, Concord, Vt.” His knowledge of postcard publishers and some quick investigation prompted him to added the information “1949–1953.”
            As we, and then I, probed further, we found more than 50 documented births that took place, not just in the Quimby (also called Graves, for nurse Ardella “Nana” Graves) Maternity home, but also in the Austin Maternity Home in the same small town (this one, run by Leah Virginia Austin). And both were clearly “supervised” by the local doctor, Frederick Russell Dickson, M.D.
            “Maternity homes” in the rest of America seem to have often been places for unwed mothers to give birth and send their babies out for adoption. Dave and I found a single request from an adoptee born in 1946 at a Concord maternity home for clues to his parentage. But that turned out to be the exception. Online access led us to birth certificates of many babies simply born in these more supportive, medically encouraged “homes.” Mothers could arrive a day early, stay a few days afterward, have a break from parenting and get a good start with the new arrival.
            But such maternity homes were not well documented. In the case of the ones in Concord, Dr. Dickson worked under contract for the local paper mill, which provided him space for a “dispensary,” and cared for many more illnesses, injuries, and preventive cases than the babies being born—and no records from the two maternity homes have been located.
            So Dave and I went to local Facebook “pages” and “groups,” where residents current and past share their memories. To our astonishment, we discovered another maternity home that took patients at the same time period, the early 1900s, and it was about 20 miles from Concord, in Lyndonville, Vermont. Then word of a second Lyndonville maternity home came, with oral confirmation that it had started in Burke and relocated.
            This is how a small postcard research project begins to spin outward!
            The community of local history researchers is compact and supportive. This summer and fall, I began writing to others in other towns, to see whether the maternity homes of this part of the Northeast Kingdom were an isolated phenomenon or part of something wider.
            After several negatives, I heard from local historian Joan Alexander of Glover, who passed along work by Darlene Young in her “A History of Barton, Vermont” (1998). Young outlined Barton’s medical providers in the late 1800s and mentioned Dr. Percy Buck, born in Charleston, Vermont. Dr. Buck arrived in Glover in 1914, and in 1935 moved to Barton. Young wrote, “During his career, he delivered over 2,000 babies, many of them at the Cottage Hospital.”
            I hope your reading “ears” just perked up the way mine did. Eagerly, I discovered from Young’s account that the double factors of the 1918 “Spanish” influenza outbreak and the changes in World War I era medicine resulted in nurse Harriet Austin in 1913 working in Baron at the “Sunshine Sanitorium,” which Young said “served a number of functions, providing both professional nursing care as well as a suitable place to handle surgical procedures. Increasingly, the sanitorium attracted maternity patients as well.”
            Then in 1923 a new medical graduate in Barton, Dr. Elwin M. Nichols, purchase a large home “with plans to establish his own hospital,” Young wrote. “He hoped to provide patients with both a comfortable, homey atmosphere and state-of-the-art medical equipment.” Soon the Nichols Hospital took over for the late 1920s.
            When Dr. Nichols yielded to his own medical problems, nurse Bernice Atwell opened the Cottage Hospital in Barton. Her particular focus was on maternity patients. Young noted its advantages over home delivery, including sanitary conditions, modern equipment, and rest for the patients. The percent of births held there increased steadily, drawing from as far away at Coventry and Craftsbury. Around 1950, however, trends shifted, and in 1954 Atwell, then aged 65 herself, closed her little hospital.
            Cottage Hospital! I darted to records of the historic Cottage Hospital in Woodsville, New Hampshire, across the river from Wells River, Vermont. It began in 1903, in a building that dated back to 1795, when it was the Cobleigh Tavern. Then it yielded to a “modern” and larger hospital opened in 1960.
            Now the tiny maternity home trend of the Northeast Kingdom had merged into a statewide trend, for I found another Cottage Hospital at the opposite end of the state, Grace Cottage Hospital in Townshend, Vermont. Its timeline differed a bit, but it clearly belonged.
            It’s surprising to realize that even in medicine, which relies so much on records, the phenomenon of maternity and birth has been relatively unrecorded. I hope this research will trigger more—in the footsteps of midwife Lydia Baldwin of Bradford, Vermont, whose records are represented at Dartmouth College today: 926 births from 1768 to 1819, of which only 2.9 percent were stillbirths, despite the challenges of conditions and knowledge.
            Know more about maternity homes in your area? I hope you’ll share the knowledge!

The Facebook piece that Dave Kanell posted, which launched our grass-roots research into how maternity homes functioned in the Northeast Kingdom.

Mrs. Ardella (“Nana”) Graves, who ran one of the Concord, Vermont, maternity homes. Photo from the Facebook feed of the Concord Historical Society.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Vermont Begins to Honor Indigenous Peoples' Day, 2019

It is with great relief and some pride that I note that Vermont no longer has to depend on governors' declarations for each year's Indigenous Peoples' Day; beginning tomorrow, Monday October 14, the Green Mountain State honors its original residents and the continued presence of Abenaki/Wabenaki peoples with an official holiday.

That this happens during a time when almost all the traditional history guideposts are in flux is no surprise. We now know and understand more about the slaveholding positions of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and other founders of the nation. (I find some of the powerful art of Titus Kaphar remarkable in his vision of this.) We can finally look back and acknowledge that the verdant lands of the New World were fully occupied by people who had respected, insightful cultures. We can admit that this nation began in genocide and land grabbing ... while at the same time seeing, as Benjamin Franklin did, that the deep culture of America's native peoples had much to offer in framing what we now treasure as our nation's ethical frameworks.

But we have more to learn.

I was fascinated to discover today, through a New York Times piece, that "Columbus Day" was created as part of the struggle for Italian Americans to take their place as respected citizens. If you have a few minutes, I hope you'll read the article, which is accompanied by stunning photographs. Those familiar with the history of Jews in America will recall a parallel trend, when the need for soldiers for World War II assisted in the delayed acceptance of Jews into the American mainstream. The same demand for "cannon fodder" during World War I began the dissolution of laws that had blocked Asian Americans from full citizenship, something I pondered often during the research and writing for my novel Cold Midnight.

May we all stand for this continued process of reassessing our past, facing our mistakes, and making a fairer, more just future for all.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Investigating a Postcard of the Concord Coach

My husband Dave, who died in April, did enormous amounts of research for details I needed as I wrote my historical adventure novels set in North Upton (loosely based on North Danville), Vermont.

On September 1, 2019, I started writing the next book, tentatively titled O FIERCE AND KINDRED HEART. It will follow The Long Shadow (2018) and This Ardent Flame (accepted by the publisher, Five Star/Cengage; I am hoping for autumn 2020 publication). So this will be "Winds of Freedom" Book 3! And again it begins in North Upton, this time in 1854.

So of course, I went to Dave's stacks of postcards, and found right away this image of a Concord Coach: the kind of horse-drawn vehicle used to transport passengers and mail around New England and beyond. The card came from Franconia Notch, New Hampshire, mailed in 1961.

Notice the addressee? It's Flora Austin of Franklin, Vermont, and the sender is clearly her daughter or daughter-in-law, Susie. She starts by mentioning "Albert" and that she doesn't know when he'll be down, then says that Albert Jr. will soon be home for good.

It's easier to read this way, right?

Research, which Dave and I would have collaborated on after he'd identified the postcard publisher and probable photographer and photo year, becomes a chase for family details. And here's what I found:

Flora Bell (née Garrett) Austin was born about 30 September 1881 in Franklin, Vermont. She married Willard Charles Austin (born about 1861), and they show up in the 1940 Census. He was her second husband; her fist was Peter Chagnon (1863-1913), whom she married in 1897.

Flora's marriage to Willard bore a son Albert Willard Austin (1917-2000). His son, Flora's grandson (and either Susie's nephew or son), was Reginald Albert Austin -- presumably Albert Jr.

What fascinated me among the details is, this card's presence in the Northeast Kingdom was no accident: Willard Austin died in Lyndon on 29 April 1972, and although the recorded birthplace for Albert Willard Austin is Franklin, he died in St. Johnsbury, Vermont.

Those details make me wonder whether that the Austin family connected to this postcard may also connect to Lyndon's noted Dr. Venila Lovina Shores, whose paternal grandmother was an Austen (spelled with -en, not -in); could that be? It's the kind of coincidence that often arises when working with Northeast Kingdom history!

Meanwhile, I am content to know that the Concord Coaches once drove just a few miles from where I sit writing today -- and to find that "DK" was ahead of me, leaving more for me to investigate in his collection.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Discussion Questions for THE LONG SHADOW

Even as teenager Alice Sanborn begins to question the boundaries of life in her Vermont village of North Upton, her boldest actions come from taking seriously the "rules of life" she's grown up with: education, friendship, moral imperatives like correcting evil, and of course working together to make life reasonably comfortable through four seasons. Vermont winter is a force to reckon with! Consider Alice's experience as she rides up Sheffield Heights in a March blizzard:

As the sleigh tilted sideways, I found my wits and scrambled out of my side of it, struggling to pull downward and keep it from completely capsizing. Sarah and Jerushah clung to the back of it, crying out.
            So much noise and commotion—perhaps it helped to keep the invisible animal in front of us from coming closer. Its growl rose in volume, however, and the horse reared onto its hind legs. Solomon still clung to the bridle. I grabbed Sarah and pulled her free from the sleigh, and Jerushah scrambled out, just before it capsized fully into the snowbank at the left side of the road. The horse managed to come down in a half turn, dragging the capsized sleigh back the way we’d come. Solomon yelled and swore. One of his legs, caught in the leather straps of the reins and harness, jerked him so hard that he let go of the horse’s head at last and fell, yelping with pain as his shoulders struck the roadway.
            But I had eyes only for what stood revealed in front of us, a dead lamb dangling from its jaws, and the crescendo of its growl rising into a high-pitched threat: wild-eyed face suddenly visible in a gap in the snowfall, legs tensed to leap, body easily three feet long and muscular, and the long tail slashing back and forth behind it. A catamount. The fierce and powerful beast of the mountains stared at the three of us as we clung to each other, unable to think beyond the screams that erupted from all of us at once.
Here are some issues to consider after reading the book:
  1. Would you want Alice for a friend yourself? Why or why not?
  2. How different are the roles of teen boys and girls in the 1850s? In what ways does Alice fit the expectations -- and how does she push back against them?
  3. The "Underground Railroad" is an exciting part of American history -- but it doesn't fit well into Alice's experience in Vermont. Name three things that show why Vermont in the 1850s had an "aboveground railroad" for dark-skinned people traveling north.
  4. Readers often groan at the amount of work Alice does, just to get through an ordinary day. Which tasks surprised you? How has daily life changed so that you are not doing those tasks?
  5. Alice, like her neighbors in the village, sees slave-holding as a sin against man and God. A decade after THE LONG SHADOW, a "war between brothers" will split America around this issue. Problems that remain in today's America would be, for Alice, part of the "wages of sin." Do you agree? Give examples of some of these problems.
Curious about a detail or can't decide about an issue? This Vermont author makes book-group visits, in person, via email, and via Skype or FaceTime. Get in touch!

Friday, July 19, 2019

Vermont Digging: Waterford's "Business Community" in the 1800s

The trouble with research -- and also the delight -- is that it takes on its own compulsions. The further I get on exploring a piece of Vermont history, the more I want to know.

Yesterday I followed threads on Waterford's merchants and manufacturers. To the publishers of "Walton's Register," a business directory combined with weather almanac and political "who's who," these were the prime categories of the people who kept Vermont growing. Manufacturers created goods. Merchants sold them.

The earliest "Walton's" that I have is from 1840, and cost me a pretty penny, as the expression goes. Sometime after after 1870, for a while, and then after 1931, these little guidebooks took on a new name, the Vermont Year Book. I'm sure it felt more modern at the time!

I was looking for details on these businesses in my town, a Connecticut River settlement at the southern edge of the Northeast Kingdom. Along with looking for trends and growth areas, I especially wanted to find out something about Edward R. Goss, whose name is on the general store pictured above.

The hunt took me through a volume of family history, dozens of Ancestry documents, and volume after volume of Walton's. A Vermont Village:
To my enormous relief, I finally found Edward in the 1910 Walton's -- then realized I could have saved a lot of searching if I'd gone first to the (not always fully reliable) town's volume of history written by Dr. C. E. Harris:

I finally lurched toward sleep, rather later than I'd planned. Proving once again the adage, "You find something in the last place you look for it."

Today I added one more top note to this stack: the origin of the Goss surname, which turns out to center in the West Country of England in the 15th century. Now to the next stage: adding this to my other research on local businesses in the 1800s, and figuring out how to present it all as an engaging story for people who don't suffer from "find out more" compulsion!

If you live in northern Vermont, I hope you may be able to join me on Wed. July 24 at the Davies Memorial Library in Lower Waterford, to look at all this, together, for the Waterford Historical Society meeting. And if you don't live nearby -- relax, you'll get the best of the results packaged into the series of historical novels I'm writing, Winds of Freedom. I've just started Book 3: O Fierce and Kindred Heart. What do you want to be the title gets shortened to Kindred Hearts along the way?

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Hunting for Images of Vermont's History

It's postcard season. Actually, for my husband Dave, it was always historic postcard season, since he bought many of them online. But this is also the time of year we always made road trips to small, promising shops. So today I packed his love in the car with me, and went to explore an antique shop that mentioned postcards:

With a time limit (for me, a good way to shop) enforced by an alarm on my phone, I dipped into the Vermont postcard and found three that I think will inform my next novel. From least to most amazing, here we go ... First, here's an interior shot of a granite shed, one of those workshops where stonecutters turned Vermont's foundation rock into monuments of all sorts. No guarantee which shed it's from, but I like the busy-ness and the fact that there are SO MANY men working here. No wasted space! (Wouldn't want to be in there on a hot humid summer day.) Note that they are also all wearing their hats and caps. Food for thought.

Second, this shows "cream" being received at the Lamoille Valley Co-operative Creamery. I was surprised at the notion that the cream might be separated before transporting the milk cans from the farm! If you know more about when farmers would have separated their cream before filling the milk cans, please do let me know. Note the horse-drawn wagon and the ribbed umbrella being used by the lady in the seat. Also the workers' hats. The back of the card says in pencil "Where we sold cream the first ten years of farming in Walden."

Now the grand finale -- especially significant because it has a penciled identification on the back, not quite the same "hand" as the other postcard but still a hopeful sign that this card too might have come from Walden. It says "Dell Babcock," and I was thrilled to locate the death certificate for Della Babcock of Walden (1859-1939), so I'm pretty confident this is a match. Note that her father was a Bailey, and her mother came from England! The conveyance she's driving -- can you name it? -- will appear most surely in book 3 of my Winds of Freedom historic novels series.

And that's how research becomes an amazing adventure, on a warm July day in Vermont.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Friendship, Books, and the Delights of Writers' Community

As any "pro" book reviewer will tell you, you're "not supposed to" be friends with the person whose book you're reviewing. On the other hand, as most mystery authors today will confirm, it's a small world out there for authors who choose to support each other ... so, sooner or later, you're going to be acquainted. My own revised guideline is: Speak the truth, for the reader, and it will be OK.

The connections among authors mean more than just talking about each other's books. They reassure deeply as we all reach the same challenges in the Writing Life: how to be a loving family member while reserving time to put pen (or computer) to paper; how to best credit those who contribute to the work; how to promote work without sounding like a puffed-up peacock; how to surf the changing marketplace without selling one's soul. These friendships matter intensely.

This spring I reviewed the new and fascinating Pennsylvania Dutch historical mystery by Charles Fergus with much pleasure -- he lives about 10 miles from here and I'm slowly getting acquainted, more so with the books than the person (he's as private as most of us writers are, and his use of a trauma of his own life in the new mystery is a courageous risk to take, and one that paid off in making the book really good). Here's the cover, along with the review:

But Charles (Chuck to friends) has the honor of launching TWO books this year, in totally separate genres. To keep things honorable, I purchased a copy of his other 2019 book, MAKING A HOME FOR WILDLIFE, and have it in one of my reading "corners" of this place, so I can enjoy it and absorb the information. But, life being what it is, I haven't made time to review it. So it was a delight to see this review this morning by Gary Moore, who writes knowledgeably on outdoor topics for our regional paper The Caledonian-Record. It solves my quandary of how to handle reviewing this nifty title, while also letting me tip my hat to both Charles Fergus and Gary Moore. Nicely done, friends!

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Luck and Faith in the Writing Room

Old-time authors used to say the bare necessities for writing were paper and pencil (or pen). That's where I started, some 40 years ago, when I wanted to move from writing poems for myself, into writing stories and novels for others.

It wasn't enough.

And in 1984, when my home caught fire on a harsh subzero December night, one of the unexpected benefits of losing all our possessions was the ashing of a couple of really bad novel manuscripts, as well as old poems written more to please myself than to reach out to others.

Today, I'd say there are three things that keep me writing:
  1. Seeking fresh experiences. Some are small and almost routine, like climbing the ridge here and asking questions about the plants and animals and weather along the way. Some are life-shifting, like a course in how character development meshes with plot, or an afternoon spent listening to poets read their work aloud and talk about how their writing connects with what they want to give or receive.
  2. Making lists. I know that sounds odd, but there are many moments—a muggy afternoon, a frustrated morning, a tired evening—when I don't actually itch to sit down and write. Having a list of what I expect from myself helps a lot. And if I can't summon up the energy and enthusiasm for item #1, I may find it's still a good moment for item #4.
  3. A place that's intended for writing.
For me, a writing room includes scraps of knowledge that resonate for me ("Can you be grateful for everything? No, not for everything. But in every moment. It is a chosen response." -- Brother Steindl-Rast), objects that have meaning (a quilt; a special seashell), and work by others that I want to live up to. I keep relatively few books in the room with me, just the ones that seem to mean the most for this time. The rest sit in the next room, the "research room." And beyond.

My house is on the market now, because many of the outlines of my daily life are shifting. I'll carry the objects and confidence of this room with me, wherever I go. And with those, I'll tote a sort of faith that's come partly from experience, partly from determination to listen for and work with a Higher Power that gives meaning to my actions. For me, that's a combination that's effective and joyous.

What about luck?

Six full-length books came to life in this room, and five of them have publishers. (I haven't given up on the sixth and I'm still revising it.) If luck is a matter of considering the odds, this place has been lucky for me. I suspect it will give the same kind of track record to the next person who jumps into creative labor here.

But I'd rather say that "luck" is a shorthand for the results of something else: Long-term love. From the quilt on the wall to the seashells to the paintings and to the quotations treasured, and even the computer here, most of what surrounds me is evidence of love ... from my husband, sons, brothers and sisters-in-law and sister, friends, and colleagues. (And that Higher Power.)

I know there's a New Family who'll discover this house and its blessings sometime soon, and I'll move on to a smaller place and my own next chapter. Maybe they'll move here because they already love the place, its many rooms, wide vistas, ample gardens, eager apple trees.

Maybe they'll fill it with their own love. And get lucky.

[Here's the link for the house.]

Sunday, July 7, 2019

A Mountain Hike that Changed the History of New Hampshire's White Mountains

This is NOT about one of my books! But what a treasure ... I wanted to make sure to talk about it here, because it's an inspiration and an example of how real-life mysteries resolve sometimes.

A remarkable set of parallel discoveries, all tied to a 1902 walk in the White Mountains, resulted in a marvelous book published last winter: GLORIOUS MOUNTAIN DAYS. The size of a school notebook and issued in full color, the book reveals photos of hikers and trails, but also lifts the curtain on a secret love affair and the career choices of Edward Everett Hale (1822-1909), chaplain to the U.S. Senate and a vigorous force toward passage of the Weeks Act -- as the Forest History Society describes this on its website,
March 1, 2011, marked the centennial of the Weeks Act — the "organic act" of the eastern national forests. Signed into law by President William Howard Taft, the Weeks Act permitted the federal government to purchase private land in order to protect the headwaters of rivers and watersheds in the eastern United States and called for fire protection efforts through federal, state, and private cooperation. It has been one of the most successful pieces of conservation legislation in U.S. history. To date, nearly 20 million acres of forestland have been protected by the Weeks Act, land that provides habitat for hundreds of plants and animals, recreation space for millions of visitors, and economic opportunities for countless local communities. As one historian has noted, "No single law has been more important in the return of the forests to the eastern United States" than the Weeks Act.
But the remarkable long-term effect of the law is only a postscript to the human interconnections that this amazing album-like book details.

The heart of the connections is unquestionably Randolph, New Hampshire, a small town today that's been in recent news as the location of a tragic motorcycle disaster (seven deaths and many people injured, caused by a truck driver who probably should not have been driving).

Allison W. Bell and Maida Goodwin co-authored GLORIOUS MOUNTAIN DAYS. Goodwin, an archivist, described the book's surprising background. "The paths all lead back to the Rev. Edward Everett Hale," she wrote in the preface, "Unitarian clergyman, auathor, avid hiker, and lover of the White Mountains. At 80 years of age in 1902, his hiking days were over, but his friends Hattie Freeman and Emma Cummings sent him an enthusiastic account of their [hiking] trip."

Goodwin was aware of some three thousand letters that Hattie exchanged with Edward -- letters that were donated to the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, as part of the papers of "an influential New England family."

A second thread involved an author, Allison Bell, assisting with preservation of Edward Hale's home in Rhode Island.

And the third was an unlabeled group of photographs that ended up in the archives of the Randolph Mountain Club, one of the most significant nature-preserving organizations in the White Mountains. By what can only be seen as an outrageous coincidence, Allison Bell's research took her to the club's archivists, who pulled out their photo collection of unidentified hikers, with each photo carefully dated -- and the dates matched the letters Allison had with her.
"You're not going to believe this," Allison told the Hudsons [the club archivists], "but I know exactly who these people are."
As if that weren't amazing enough, the letters themselves hid yet another mystery: secret messages coded into them, of deep expressions of love between young hiker Hattie (Harriet) Freeman and the married, elderly clergyman.

Locally to where I am writing today, in the nearby town of Littleton, New Hampshire, publisher Mike Dickerman of Bondcliff Books agreed to partner with Bogtrotters Press to bring the lushly illustrated "album" with its fascinating letters into print. Crammed with full-color botanical images, mountain scenes current and more than a century old, and photos of the week-long 1902 tramp through the Presidential Range, the book is a treasure trove of mountain glory, and a wonderful example of what the Weeks Act made possible: access to some of the finest hiking terrain in the world, and preservation of its plant and animal life, for generations to come.

The book's available from Bondcliff Books, directly (order here) or through the usual online retailers, as well as area bookstores. It's a gem, perfect for a local bookshelf or as a gift that will bring the mountains into the life of a reader who hasn't yet met them.

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

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Research: Vermont's Prohibition Laws, 1850 and 1852

An attorney with an office in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, made available to me this week the text from Vermont's early laws that prohibited alcohol sales, drunkenness, and more. They were earlier than federal Prohibition -- they were passed in 1850 and 1852, and their influence probably resulted in many of the "hidden rooms" of Vermont houses built between 1850 and 1930 or so.

The volume of laws, even though it had a lot of years of use, was in wonderful condition. Its original owner's name is stamped on it, as well as inscribed within. Of course, I wanted to know who "H. G. Edson" was. It turns out he was Henry George Edson, a St. Albans lawyer born in Swanton. I'm glad to have turned the pages of what was once his book ... and very excited to understand more about these laws, which will be in the background of the next crisis in THIS ARDENT FLAME, the 1852 adventure I'm now writing.


Monday, January 21, 2019

"Backstage" at Montpelier's Capitol Building, Looking for Lucky Franklin

A book buddy accompanied me to the State House in Montpelier, to "suss out" the terrain for the suspense scenes in ALL THAT GLITTERS. So she took photos, while I took notes, and Vermont State Curator David Schutz walked us up hidden staircases. We learned the gold on the dome was almost worn away -- that reporters know the back passages -- that the chandeliers can be lowered on powerful mechanical winches, in order to clean their lightbulbs today, or, before electricity powered them, to light the oil lamps in them.

I wish I'd taken David's photo, but if you don't already know him, just click here. He's charming, erudite, possessive of the sensational beauty that he stewards. And he had an idea: "Can you add homing pigeons to the story?"

Why not?

And so "scuzzy Sean," one of the most memorable side characters in ALL THAT GLITTERS, was born in a moment under the golden dome.

The novel is my best guess at what a smart, brave, tech-savvy Nancy Drew would be like today -- dealing with Vermont's crime issue of legal "weed." Check it out: You can read it for free here, and if you like it, please do place a pre-order ... we need to reach 750 of those for the book to be published at last!