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?

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.