This week’s publications schedule here in Carding, Vermont is dedicated to sharing the stories behind each of my four novels about the small town that no one can find on a map of the Green Mountain State.
I’m a professional writer, after all, and writers keep their internet connected by selling books. And with the holidays coming up…well…you get the picture.
This is the birth story of The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life. My third novel about Carding was born in a hurricane. Here’s how it happened.
In Vermont, 2011 was a very, very, very wet year. On the western slopes of the Green Mountains, heavy spring rains brought Lake Champlain up to record flood levels. Since it’s a HUGE body of water, it took forever for it to drop back down to normal, doing a lot of damage along the way.
The rains continued all summer, with the kind of storms that make it impossible to drive because you can’t see more than six feet in front of you.
And then in late August, a hurricane named Irene took a look at the Connecticut River and decided to follow it upstream because she’d heard that Vermont was pretty this time of year.
By the time it reached the area where I live with my family, the storm had been downgraded to one of the tropical variety. In other words, it had no wind to speak of.
But boy, did it have rain…lots and lots of rain on top of an already soggy landscape.
At our house, which lies on the White River (the largest un-dammed river in the state), eleven-and-a-half inches of water fell in about twelve hours. The river, which normally chuckles between its banks about thirty feet below our house, rose to within an inch or two of where I’m writing this.
The last time the Green Mountain State experienced such a catastrophe was in November of 1927. In fact, it was something of an article of faith around here that all hurricanes died before they reached northern New England.
So much for Yankee hubris.
For months after Irene’s visit, my family and I teetered on the knife-edge of uncertainty. The flood waters may have missed our house but they had weakened and saturated the bank on which it sits. Could we save our beloved home? And what would we do if we couldn’t?
The trauma was, of course, widespread. Roads were impassable. Bridges were missing. Riverbanks had collapsed. We lost much of our state infrastructure when the Winooski River swept through our government buildings in Waterbury so all the folks who would normally be on the front lines of disaster recovery had nowhere to work.
As so many before us have learned, it was going to be a rough slog back to whatever normal is.
But we’re a tough old crowd up here, and the state’s innate sense of helping others kicked in while Irene was flirting with Canada.
The day after the storm was sunny and beautiful and one of the first people I saw was this wonderful guy with a tractor who showed up to clear the thick, sticky silt from our road. He was the first in a wave of folks all over the state, young and old, who pitched in to clear debris, rescue houses, and feed people.
Here’s just one example from our experience. The crew pictured below are from Twinfields School in Plainfield, Vermont. They showed up here one day in late fall to clear the flotsam and jetsam on our land closest to the river. They were amazing and wonderful and we filled the Dumpster that some of them are sitting on in the back with five-gallon pails, refrigerator carcasses, cans, bottles, swimming floats, part of a piano, etc. etc.
We still smile when we think about them.
In contemporary America, more and more people are having their lives shredded by natural and man-made disasters—monstrous hurricanes, wildfires, floods, volcanoes, mass shootings, and tornados. I used to think we were well insulated from “all of that” up here. Yeah, we had to deal with winter but what was a snowstorm when compared with a hurricane?
Now I recognize the hurt and fear and confusion on the faces of people who are on their own marches to survival.
About six months after the flood, I had lunch with my friend, author Ernie Hebert. He checked in with me, of course, as in “how are you doing?”
“Okay, chugging along.”
And then he asked: “Are you going to write about this?”
It was too soon to say, I replied.
“Hmm, but you will,” Ernie said. “You’ll have to. It’s what writers do.”
Now the most famous bit of writerly advice in the universe is: “Write what you know.” By that measure, hurricanes should be good material for a book, right? So I set out to write about Carding, Vermont as if it had been hit by a big, fat rainstorm.
But I didn’t like what was coming out of my pen. (My first drafts of fiction are written longhand.)
Frustrated, I put it to one side as I re-doubled my efforts to (eventually) save our house.
But Ernie’s comment kept buzzing away in the back of my mind. He was right. I did have to write about the hurricane and the trauma it caused.
It took a while but what I finally realized was that what I “knew” from my experience with Hurricane Irene wasn’t the rain. It was the messy soup of emotions that accompanied it.
After Irene, nothing was certain and human beings love certainty (or the illusion of certainty) above all else.
I finally realized that that’s what I needed to write about.
One of my favorite minor characters from The Road Unsalted and Thieves of Fire is fifteen-year old Faye Bennett. She’s smart and feisty and blunt and very sure of herself. How would Faye react if the rug was pulled out from under her world?
The possibilities were…well let’s say that I liked the possibilities very much. So that’s where I started.
I’m not giving anything away to tell you that Faye eventually comes out of her traumatic experience all right though she is changed. Nowadays, she’s more suspicious of the world and a bit fiercer. But as far as I can tell, she’s all right.
I like Faye Bennett. I think you will too. That’s why she’s the star of The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, the book born in a hurricane.
The four novels of Carding, Vermont are available for order from your local book store or online at Amazon.com. They are great gifts for everyone who loves to read.
They are, in order of appearance:
I hope you’ll read my books and subscribe to this website so that you can enjoy stories about Carding, Vermont every Thursday.