Category Archives: Carding Chronicles

Short stories about Carding, Vermont

Cloud Collectors

Did you know there was a website and book dedicated to cloud appreciation?

Early morning clouds over the White River
Early morning clouds over the White River

I just love that idea.

I bought the book for my husband for his birthday a couple of years ago and picked it up last night, intrigued anew by the idea.

So when I went out for my early morning walk today, I decided to start my collection. The combination of the river, the magical quality of light in Vermont, and the ephemeral nature of clouds is a perfect combination, in my book.

Reader Reviews

Most readers don’t realize how much power they have in the brave new world of publishing.
Thieves-front cvr only-6x9-04272015
You see, back in the traditional-publishing-only era, reviews were all written by professionals who served the interests of the publishing establishment. This is not to say that reviewers wrote what publishers wanted to hear. For the most part, that is definitely not true.

But publishers fed reviewers the books they really wanted to sell, and didn’t bother with the rest.

If you were the author of “one of the rest,” getting reviewed was nigh near impossible.

But then Amazon tore that whole cozy relationship to pieces when they created a review mechanism that was open to EVERYONE!!!

Gasp! Horror! Readers can’t write reviews, the establishment said.

Ah ha, but they can. And they do. And they’re really, really, really good at it.

Reader reviews drive book sales. A lot of reviews raise a book’s visibility. A lot of bad reviews can sink a book. Pointed comments about a lack of editing can get a book pulled from the Amazon shelves.

Yep, readers are powerful.

My latest novel, Thieves of Fire, has just opened up for reviews on Amazon and I have been so touched and honored by what folks have to say. I’ve always believed that books are incomplete until they are united with readers so hearing what folks have to say about Thieves is crucial to me.

Here’s one of my favorites so far:

I loved this book. I am an avid reader and do not say that about many books, but this one creates a world that I wanted to inhabit, with characters that I felt I knew, both the endearing and the annoying, and a story that kept the pages turning. The back story within the story was far more complex than I expected at the outset, and the way that it intertwined with the main plot was masterfully executed.

I live in Vermont (only 25 years years so no delusions that I’m a Vehmontah) and am a bit skittish about books that are set in our just about perfect world. Thieves of Fire hit all the right notes and showed us for what we are: a rugged, quirky, individualist bunch of interesting (on a good day)/curmudgeonly (the rest of the time) people who like to be left alone except when someone needs a hand or has a good story to tell. Well done, Sonja Hakala, you’ve done us proud!

Revision Is the Soul of Publishing

Every creative being revises. Does the soup need more salt? Thyme?

Does this scarf go with this jacket? Does this fabric make this a better quilt? What happens if I move this plant from here to there?
TRU-2015 front cover only
If I change this word in this sentence here, does that make the story flow more smoothly?

One of the many benefits of independently publishing my books is that I can change and revise as I see fit.

My thinking about the covers for my Carding novels has evolved a lot since I first publishing The Road Unsalted in May 2013. Back then, I was wedded to using quilts for the covers. But I’ve been reminded that when you change a medium (book-to-movie, quilt-to-book cover), you change the viewer’s perception.

While I love the quilt made for the cover of The Road Unsalted, I realized it had too many elements in it for a book that’s only 5 x 8 inches in size.

So I downsized, sort of, keeping that lovely yellow VW that Nancy Graham made for the original. And while experimenting with that, I scanned the black and white background from another piece of fabric in my stash and suddenly realized that the wavy effect is just what roads feel like this time of year, all bumpy and wiggly with frost heaves.

With Thieves of Fire charging up to the publishing gate, I figured it was a good time to revise the cover of The Road Unsalted and fix some of the little stuff that others have found in the text. I also changed the description of the quilt made by one of the characters so that it coincides with a quilt I’m working on for an upcoming quilt book that’s a companion to The Road Unsalted.

That one is called String Theory I: Quilts and Patterns for the Parkinson’s Comfort Project. That one’s coming out in May.

Meet Chloe Cooper’s new quilt:
Chloe's quilt top-2015

Betcha Can’t Write Just One

True confession—I am so not a fan of the New Yorker’s short stories. To me, and this is a heretical act in the literary world, none of their stories contain anyone to like. There’s just angst, angst and then…nothing.
Peanuts for web
With so many lively, entertaining, thoughtful, and funny things to read, why spend precious reading time on such depressing stuff? And wouldn’t the authors have benefited more from having coffee with a close friend instead of inflicting their psychoses on the rest of us?

I guess my pronounced apathy (antipathy maybe?) to those short stories made me think I would never want to write them.

Oooh, I was so wrong.

With two Carding novels at different stages of development (Thieves of Fire is at the proofreader’s and Dazzling Uncertainty of Life is in its first incarnation), I needed something to finish in a shorter period of time. For my quilting friends, a short story is the written equivalent of a wallhanging instead of a bed quilt.

The more I work in Carding, the more enchanted the place becomes to me, and the more I realize how many stories there are tucked among my characters.

So last month, I wrote my first Carding short story and shared it with my quilt guild, Northern Lights, at our January meeting.

I had such fun doing The Tennyson Free Range Christmas Tree Farm that I immediately started another short story. I posted The Spirit of Aisle Two yesterday.

And now I’ve started a collection because stories number three and four are in the gate just waiting for pen time.

“They’re like peanuts,” I told my husband the other day.

So here’s the plan—ten short Carding stories published here, each one appearing on the new moon (I love lunar stuff) from December 2014 to September 2015. Then I’ll collect them all together for a book, adding an eleventh story to the pot. The book, tentatively called Carding Myths and Legends (though if you have a better title, I’m all ears) will be published in November of this year.

The Spirit of Aisle Two

This is the second story in Carding Myths and Legends, a collection that I will publish in November 2015. In all, ten stories will appear on my website, every month on the new moon.

Have each story delivered to your inbox by subscribing using the button over on the right side or, if you’re on a tablet or phone, down at the bottom.

Enjoy!
Bottle and glass
If you live in Carding, Vermont, sooner or later you’ll walk through the front door of Cooper’s General store. This venerable family-owned business dominates the corner of Meetinghouse Road and Court Street on the southeast corner of the village green. It shares a parking lot with the town hall, a parking lot that’s locally renowned for its frost heaves in March, its potholes in April, and its pond-sized puddles whenever it rains too hard.

Successive generations of the Cooper family have tried to fix these problems by alternately building up the surface of the lot, amplifying its drainage or cramming copious amounts of cold patch into its potholes. Despite all these efforts, the Coop’s parking lot always settles back into its original condition like a corpulent dowager who’s glad to let her diet lapse after the urgency of her New Year’s resolutions has passed.

The only people in town who welcomed this perpetual insistence on parking lot normalcy were the owners of the local auto repair shops—Stan’s Garage on Route 37 and Mr. T’s Auto Repair over on the Carding Turnpike. When the weather conditions are just right, these two places spend a lot of time fixing tires and rims, leading one local wag to speculate that the garage owners prayed regularly to the god of potholes.

Andy Cooper runs the family business now, the seventh Cooper to do so. His younger brother, Charlie the lawyer, lends a hand and advice when asked but otherwise steers clear of “stacking beans and carrots.” Their younger sister, Nancy, keeps the books, pays the bills, and manages the avalanche of paperwork that flows through the office. Andy’s sons, Barry and Nathan, handle the large (and growing) hardware side of the business. That leaves Andy free to tend to his favorite parts of the store—the beer and wine section, the deli, and the coffee corner. He likes to refer to these areas of the store as “the soul of the Coop” but his family knows that Andy just loves to talk more than anything so tending to these parts of the store keeps him out of their way.

Cooper family tradition dictates that the spacious living quarters above the store go to whoever takes on managing it. When Andy finally married Yvette Clavelle, they became the head household among the Coopers. The upstairs apartment was ready for them as soon as they returned from their honeymoon on the Maine coast. Sons Barry and Nathan were born there, Yvette died there, and Andy would have vacated the space long ago but there was no one ready to take his place. Nathan and his wife Tracy owned a house in the next town over from Carding and didn’t want to move. And Barry had never loved any woman as much as he loved downhill skiing in winter and boating in summer. So Andy stayed put though he found living above the store lonely without his Yvette.

It took a while but Andy eventually established a routine that kept him out most evenings. There was the Chess Club at the library on Tuesdays, dinner with Charlie and his partner Agnes on Wednesdays, supper and cribbage with Edie Wolfe on Thursdays. It all helped ease his missing-Yvette feelings a lot.

On the night of this story, a rather chilly Thursday night in late autumn, Andy walked quickly across the green from Edie’s house to the store, his normal pace accelerated by a desire to get out of the icy wind. Since the residents of Carding are renowned for their frugality when it comes to spending their local property taxes, only half of the streetlights were on, casting a pale, fluorescent glow over the evening.

As always, Andy’s eyes scanned the store’s exterior, checking for irregularities—lights left on, open doors or windows, cars in the parking lot that didn’t belong there. That’s when he spotted Evan Eakins, Carding’s night patrol officer.

“I was about to go get you,” Evan said as he lowered his car window.

Andy laid a hand on the car’s roof as he leaned in for a chat. He liked Evan, had given the boy-now-man his first job when he was in high school. “Something wrong?” he said.

“We got a call that there was a light moving around in the store,” Evan said.

“Like a flashlight?” Andy asked, glancing toward the large front windows of the Coop.

Evan shook his head. “The description was that something was glowing inside. Could be electrical.” He put the cruiser into reverse. “Let’s go look.”

Andy picked up his pace even more, pulling a large ring of keys from his pocket as he did so. Thievery was so rare at the Coop, he needed only one hand to count the incidents that had happened in his lifetime. To him, the threat of leaving a coffeemaker on and unattended was far more real than a burglary. Since the original part of the store was more than 200 years old, there was a lot of dry wood to burn.

Andy and Evan stood in the doorway for a minute before stepping inside, each of them sniffing the air like a dog on the hunt. Evan shook his head. “I don’t smell anything. Do you?”

“No.” Andy flipped on the overhead lights. “I’ll check the deli if you’ll take the coffee pots.”

Together, the two men toured the store, checking every electrical device to make sure it was unplugged and cold. Even though his employees grumbled, Andy insisted that every electrical device be unplugged at closing. “No sense taking any chances,” he’d say.
“Everything seems fine up here,” Evan said. “Shall we check the furnace?”

“Might as well,” Andy said. “I have to stock it for the night anyway.”

Andy had always been slow to make changes in the store or his life. He was one of the last people in Carding to get a cell phone, and it took his sons years to convince him that scanners at the cash registers and credit card readers were a good idea. He modernized the refrigeration system when Nancy proved he could save money on electricity, and even installed a new grill in the deli for the same reason. But he refused to convert the Coop’s heating system from its wood-burning furnace.

“I like buying my fuel locally,” he’d say. “I like keeping the loggers in business. They buy my groceries and I buy their wood. Keep it simple, I always say.”

Evan took a deep breath as they descended the stairs. His first job at the Coop had been stacking seasoned wood for the coming winter, and he still loved the scent of split logs. There was always a crew of three assigned to that task, and its repetitive nature guaranteed a lot of storytelling to pass the time. His favorite tales were of the local ghosts, of which Carding had an abundance.
Andy flicked on the hodgepodge of overhead lights, some fluorescent, some still near descendants of the ones that Thomas Edison invented. Somehow, their combined illumination never reached all the corners of the cavernous space. As the electricity zipped through the wiring to wake up the bulbs, the ones in the center began to flicker.

“Ah, there’s your intruder,” Evan started to say. “Or it would have been your intruder if these lights had been on.”

The two men looked at one another, and then Andy quietly picked up a nearby log while Evan pulled a baton from his belt. With a nod to one another, they stepped forward on little cat feet, Andy scanning the woodpile to his left while Evan did the same to the right. The shadowy knots in the stacked wood kept them tense—watchful—but they reached the opposite wall without incident and breathed sighs of relief.

“Mystery unsolved,” Evan said as they turned back the way they had come.

Then the two of them froze in place, and Andy felt the short hairs on the back of his neck prickle as an amorphous green light quivered through the basement.

“Did you see that?” he asked the younger man.

“Yeah,” Evan said. “Reminds me of the northern lights my wife and I saw when we were in Alaska. What do you suppose that was?”
Andy shook his head slowly from side to side then he said, “Something’s been moved down here.”

They probed the nooks and crannies with their flashlight beams again until they converged in the darkened center of the room. Three large barrels and a couple of bushel baskets lay in a haphazard pile. One barrel, the largest of the trio, was on its side.

“Apple Betty,” Evan breathed.

Andy’s glance was sharp. “Do you believe that old ghost story?” he asked.

“Sure. Don’t you?” Evan said. “Wasn’t she your aunt?”

“Great aunt, actually. Elizabeth Cooper. She made the best applejack in this county during Prohibition,” Andy said, and the pride in his voice was almost visible. “My father could tell some stories about her. In photographs, she looks so meek and mild but Dad said she was a wild woman for her times. Traveled all the way around the world on her own. Set up housekeeping in White River Junction with a man she never married.”

Evan laughed. “Scandalous. So why is she haunting the Coop?”

Andy’s mouth flattened. “Great Aunt Betty isn’t haunting the Coop, and I’d thank you not to spread that story,” he said. “It would be bad for business, scaring away the timid and attracting the weird. I don’t need either of those things to happen here, understood?”

“Sure, sure,” Evan said. “There’s no law against protecting a ghost, as far as I know. I’ll leave you to figure this out on two conditions.”

“And they are?”

“First, you get an electrician into this place to fix some of that.” Evan pointed his flashlight toward the ceiling where a variety of wires snaked from one place to the other. “You’ve got some very old stuff up there, Andy.”

“Umm…,” Andy began.

“No umms,” Evan said. “If this light thing we saw isn’t Betty—and you don’t seem inclined to think it is—then you’ve got an electrical problem. And no one in town would thank me if the Coop burned down because of a problem that I knew about, and didn’t push you to fix. Am I right?”

Andy sighed. “Hoisted with my own petard,” he muttered. “OK, I agree. What’s your second condition?”

Evan’s grin grew wider. “Why would Betty haunt here…,” he raised his hands to stop Andy’s protest, “instead of where she lived in White River?”

“I don’t know. Because she was living here when she died, I guess,” Andy said.

“If she was so independent, why did she move back to Carding?” Evan asked.

“For the oldest reason in the world—money.”

“So if you tell me the true story about Apple Betty, I’ll never tell anyone about the green light I just saw, OK?” Evan said.

Andy reached down to right the barrels and arrange the bushel baskets. “There’s a couple of chairs over there,” he pointed. “Drag them over and we’ll sit a minute. It’s not that long of a story.”

Once the two men settled, Andy sighed. “Cooper family legend has it that my great-grandfather—that would have been Betty’s father—was something of a religious nut, a strict Presbyterian or Methodist or Unitarian or some such.”

Evan laughed. “My wife was raised Unitarian, and they’re great liberals. It would be hard for me to believe there’s any such thing as a strict Unitarian.”

“Really?” Andy shrugged. “Well, maybe he was a Lutheran or a Baptist. I don’t know. There are so many flavors of religion, I can’t keep track.”

“What you’re saying is that the reason Betty was so wild was that her father had no sense of humor,” Evan said.

Andy laughed. “That sounds about right. Anyway, when Prohibition got started in 1920, Betty and her friend…” Andy hesitated. “Gawd, what was his name? I only heard it spoken once.” He snapped his fingers. “I think it was Dalton. ”

“Well, given the times, it’s not surprising that your family wouldn’t talk about him,” Evan said.

“Yeah, I suppose. Anyway, Betty and Dalton saw Prohibition as a business opportunity, seeing that we’re so close to the Canadian border,” Andy said.

“So they started bringing booze in from Canada,” Evan said. “I heard there was a lot of that.”

“It’s a long border,” Andy said, “so there was lots of opportunity. I gather they started doing it just for family and friends but the demand grew so they started making more trips.”

“Did someone twig to what they were doing?” Evan asked.

“Yeah. They always used to cross in Derby, and from what I heard, the guards up there looked the other way,” Andy said.

“They were probably running booze themselves,” Evan said. “Hard times. Easy money.”

“Probably. So Betty and Dalton got used to driving across with nothing more than a wave, and maybe a well-placed bribe or two,” Andy said. “My grandfather—that was Betty’s brother—told me they used to pile cases of whiskey in their back seat and even tied it to the top of their car. Then one year at town meeting in Derby, people voted in a new chief of police, and he was a rigid teetotaler.”
“And Betty and Dalton got caught,” Evan said.

“Almost. Everyone who knew her swore that Aunt Betty had this sixth sense about her. She wouldn’t necessarily know what was going to happen but she could feel things coming,” Andy said. “When I was a kid, I remember my parents both paying attention when she’d get uneasy.”

“So she knew something was wrong,” Evan said.

Andy nodded. “Once she got to thinking it over, Betty realized that none of the guards had looked directly at them when they crossed into Canada. She thought that that was what made her uneasy.”

“So what happened?”

“The American border guards were so eager and whipped up by the teetotaler police chief, they started shooting at Betty and Dalton before their car had crossed the line. Betty said the chief kept screaming ‘Shoot! Shoot!’” Andy shook his head. “Zealots. What good are they?”

“Shades of Bonnie and Clyde,” Evan said. “Were they hit?”

“They dove out of the car and ran while the Canadian guards yelled ‘Arret! Arret!’ at the American guards. The Americans shot up the car. Bullets zinged over Betty and Dalton’s heads. By all accounts, it was crazy,” Andy said.

“Did they head for the woods?” Evan asked.

“Yeah, and they’d almost made it when that police chief caught up with them,” Andy said. “He winged Betty in the shoulder.”
Evan leaned forward, his elbows resting on his knees. “I had no idea. Then what?”

“Dalton lunged at the guy. Can you imagine lunging at a nut case who’s got a loaded gun and likes using it?” Andy said. “Betty had passed out so she never got to see it but I gather Dalton made hash out of that police chief. And the Canadians just watched for a while before they stepped in. It made a big stink in the temperance newspapers down here because they literally threw him back across the border.”

“I’ll bet there was a stink,” Evan said. “That guy was gutsy.”

“Yeah, I’ll say. Betty and Dalton stayed in Canada for months after that. My grandfather drove his motorcycle up to see them a couple of times,” Andy said. “He owned an Indian. That’s the gas tank from it up there.” He pointed to a shelf nailed to the side of the stairs. “It was a fabulous bike. Somewhere around here, there’s a scrapbook of Betty’s where she pasted in articles that ran in the Montreal newspapers around that time. Seems that Dalton got to be something of a hero up there. By that time, the Canadians had had enough of America’s Prohibition because of the bootlegging over the border.”

“So when did Betty come back home?” Evan asked.

“I guess she and Dalton came to an understanding because she wanted to come back to Vermont and he wanted to stay in Canada,” Andy said. “Betty’s mother was very ill, and she wanted to nurse her.”

“Did she ever make peace with her father?” Evan asked.

“I don’t know if I’d put it quite like that,” Andy said. “The old cuss was the one that bought the Cooper family cabin down in the Campgrounds. After he moved there, nobody in the family saw him much. His wife, her name was Penny, died surrounded by family. Everyone adored her.”

“I’m guessing the great-grandfather died alone,” Evan said.

“Alone and unmourned, from what I’ve heard,” Andy said. “Do you know he’s the only Cooper not buried in the family plot. No one wanted to be next to him for eternity. Anyway, the ending of the story is this. The Depression started in 1929, and everyone was hurting in Carding. This store was struggling to survive when Betty set up her applejack-making enterprise down here. She’d learned how to make it when she was in Canada. I guess she had quite the reputation because Stanley Wilson, who got elected governor in 1932, ordered a case of it to celebrate his win.”

“So everybody knew what was going on down here?” Evan asked.

“Well, you did if you knew where to look.” Andy aimed his flashlight’s beam at the ceiling. “See that?”

It took Evan a minute but he finally saw the outline of a trap door. “I’ve never noticed that before. Where does it come out upstairs?”

“You know that funny jog at the end of aisle two?” Andy said.

Evan laughed. “Where you stock the wine now?”

“Yeah. There used to be a half-wall there, like a curtain,” Andy said. “You could come into the Coop at certain times with your empty pail or growler, walk around the wall, down the steps that used to be here, and Aunt Betty would fill you up from one of these barrels.” He let a hand rest on the nearest cask.

“So that’s why they’re always here,” Evan said. “For Betty.”

Andy nodded. “She saved this store. You and I wouldn’t be here now if it wasn’t for her. I think of it as her memorial. It’s the least I can do.”

“So you think that she got upset because it was all messed around, and that’s why…?”

“No, I’m sure that what you saw was electrical,” Andy said. “You’re right about it needing to be looked at. I’ll call an electrician in the morning.”

Evan’s radio squawked and he jumped up. “Oops, gotta go,” he said. “Glad nothing serious was wrong, Andy.”

“Can you see yourself out?” Andy asked. “I still need to put wood in the furnace.”

“Sure, sure.” Evan took the stairs two at a time. “I’ll lock the door behind me.”

Andy waited until all was quiet then he made his way to the wood-burning furnace. He hummed what he remembered of the Canadian national anthem as he stacked logs on the pile of pulsating coals then shut the door. He waited until he heard the muted road of flame that let him know the fire had caught then adjusted the controls.

When he got to the shelf attached to the stairs, he reached behind the gas tank from his grandfather’s Indian motorcycle, and fished around until he found a cloth bag that held a bottle and shot glass. He carefully set the glass in the center of the largest barrel and poured a measure of golden liquid into it. He smiled as he re-corked the bottle, and checked that the chairs were in the right place.

“Sorry about that, Betty,” he said quietly. “Some new kids just started in the store and they didn’t know about leaving your stuff alone. Is everything OK now?”

Andy didn’t know what to expect. Betty had never answered him. After a moment, he sighed and reached up to flip off the lights. When his fingers got close enough to the metal face plate, a spark of static electricity arced across the space. The spark was green.
Andy chuckled. “Well, you’re welcome.”

And then he went upstairs to bed.

Transforming One Pile of Paper into Another

Did you hear those loud cheers coming from somewhere in eastern Vermont yesterday?

No?

I guess I’ll just have to shout louder.

Notebooks for Thieves of Fire
Notebooks for Thieves of Fire
Proof copy of Thieves of Fire, the 2nd Carding, Vermont novel
Proof copy of Thieves of Fire, the 2nd Carding, Vermont novel

Yesterday, I finally printed out a complete edited draft of Thieves of Fire, ready for my proofreader.

Can you see the date on the notebook on the top of this pile of four? That is when I started writing Thieves of Fire, May 15, 2012.

Let me repeat that. I started writing this book 31 months ago.

At that moment in time, my family was deep in recovery mode from Hurricane Irene. We were involved with building a new structure to take the place of the office and workshop that we lost.

We were scrambling to figure out how to pay for and construct a retaining wall on the river side of our home so that we could save it.

My son had just met the woman he’s now married to two days before I penned the first words of this novel.

Since then, we’ve built the retaining wall, saved our home, constructed the marvelous “cute little building” where I write and sew, watched our son fall in love and get married, lost my brother Mark, seen our nephew Andrew graduate from high school, and worked to grow the Parkinson’s Comfort Project from a tiny idea to a full-blown non-profit that’s now getting national attention.

I’ve produced books by other authors through my company Full Circle Press LLC, conducted a lot of publishing workshops, spent (not enough) time with friends and family, nursed our dog through some pretty serious ear infections, stacked wood, weeded gardens, and even got in a couple of kayaking trips.

Unlike most authors, I have to write my first drafts of fiction by hand. I have to feel the stories. For me, when the writing is going well, it is absolutely one of the most joyful sensations in the world.

My personal euphoria.

But first drafts are just that, first. They’re rough, full of stuff you don’t need in the final manuscript and missing stuff you do need. The sentences aren’t clean and smooth but jagged and sharp. They need honing so that readers never realize where one starts and the other ends.

That’s what editing is for. And editing takes time, lots of it.

So now, at last, I can turn all of my attention to marketing Thieves as well as the first Carding novel, The Road Unsalted. I’m looking forward to that.

Thieves of Fire will be launched to the public on May 19, 2015, just about three years to the day since I penned its first words.

Stay tuned. I’m hoping lots of you will join me on this long strange trip very soon.