Category Archives: Novels of Carding, Vermont

Updates and news about the Carding books.

The Benefits of Fame

SH-Holland Pond sunriseIf you keep yourself open to creative ideas, you’ll soon discover that inspiration can come from any direction.

For example, my first novel, The Road Unsalted, was inspired by an incident that I heard about when I was a newspaper reporter.

Thieves of Fire, on the other hand, grew out of question that I’d left unanswered in Road—why did Carding’s best-known artist, Joseph Stillman Croft, abruptly abandon his home in 1929, leaving it to two women he was known to detest?

And why does his will mandate that the large painting in his home’s foyer, entitled Thieves of Fire, hang in that prominent place until his true heir is found?

And who is Croft’s true heir? I wrote Thieves of Fire to answer these questions.

This is how the book begins. By the way, Senator Danielson Wolfe was Edie Wolfe’s father.

You can visit Carding any time in my novels, The Road Unsalted,Thieves of Fire, and The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life. The fourth in the series, Light in Water, Dancing, will go on sale on June 15, 2018.

You can subscribe to the Carding Chronicles by clicking the subscribe button on my home page. When you do, my stories speed from my keyboard to your inbox every Thursday without any further effort on your part.

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“Old sins cast long shadows.”

—Senator Danielson Wolfe (R–Vermont) in a speech against the actions of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, 1953

If you will allow me, dear readers, I will tell you a story about a man who loved fame. Not fame in general, you understand, but his own fame.

His name was Joseph and he was a painter. Over time, he became an artist of great renown, and his work was beloved by millions. Consequently, he made a great deal of money, which is probably the part of being famous that he liked the best.

But he also loved the greasiness of fame, the way it opened doors for him without any effort on his part. This greasiness allowed him to ooze over people until they deferred to him, let him have his way, let him do exactly as he pleased wherever he pleased and, unfortunately, to whomever he pleased.

Joseph was born a shallow man, and he liked it that way. To his mind, shallowness gave him the right to ignore the needs of others, especially if those needs interfered with his work. And as you will see, Joseph Stillman Croft’s life was all about his work because that is what brought him fame.

Like most artists of his time—the late 19th century, the years dubbed “the Gilded Age” by Mark Twain—Joseph gravitated to New York City from wherever he was before that. He told everyone that he moved “to practice my art” but he really moved to make money from the rich and corrupt people who had also gravitated to the city.

With a small inheritance from his hardworking, self-sacrificing preacher father, Joseph set himself up as a portrait painter, someone who could make the captains of industry appear noble and their wives beautiful, even though it was quite rare for either of those things to be true. The problem was, lots of other young men who had talent equal to Joseph’s had moved to the city to do exactly the same thing, and there weren’t enough wealthy, corrupt people to go around.

One summer, Joseph decided to get away from the suffocation of New York to enjoy the cooler climes of northern New England. Since the train lines followed the path of the Connecticut River, that is the path that Joseph followed too. He’d heard about an artist’s colony—the so-called Cornish Colony—in one of the valleys where Vermont and New Hampshire cuddled up to one another. The famous sculptor, Augustus St. Gaudens, and the celebrated illustrator, Maxfield Parrish, both lived there.

Since Joseph had no interest in sculpture—too big, too difficult and too much work—he spent little time visiting with St. Gaudens. But Maxfield Parrish’s success was one that Joseph felt he could emulate for his own profit. So he squeezed as much information as he could from the renowned book and magazine illustrator then headed deeper into Vermont on a rail route that paralleled a body of water called the Corvus River. That line ended in a small town named Carding, a knot of population centered around the railway station, an inn, a mill that processed raw wool into useable yarn, a tiny newspaper, a campground of small cabins where folks of a religious persuasion spent their summers, and a store run by a family named Cooper.

As Joseph hiked the hills around Carding, he realized he’d discovered a landscape and way of life that he could sell. He sketched like a madman, capturing the swoop of a mountain named Merino on the far side of a local lake as well as weathered barns, the intense wrinkled expressions of the town’s older inhabitants, meandering sheep and cows, moonrise and sunrise over the river, and light streaming through trees.

At the same time, he calculated how far the weight of his fame would carry him in Carding, and came to the conclusion that he could get pretty much anything he wanted without a struggle. The locals tolerated him as something of a harmless eccentric, and were inclined to grant his requests. Only Kitty Wolfe, who ran a newspaper called the Carding Chronicle with her husband, seemed curious to know more about a painter named Joseph Stillman Croft. But news from New York City was thin on the ground in Vermont back then, and her curiosity remained unsatisfied…for the time being.

Who Steals Fire?

TOF 6x9 2018 coverThe word “fire” carries many meanings in the English language. It can mean the mean the warmth of burning logs in a wood stove. It can mean criticism as in “they trained their fire on the administration.”

It can mean the discharge of a gun.

And it can also mean passion, energy, zeal, and ardor.

Using that last meaning, what are the consequences when you steal someone’s fire, their passion, their dreams?

Thieves of Fire, the second novel of Carding, Vermont, explores that question in two parallel stories about two women living in two different periods of time.

By the way, the photograph that I used on the novel’s new cover (shown above) was taken on a late September morning on Holland Pond (shown below). Holland Pond is a remote body of water in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.

Folks have asked if I enhanced the color in the photograph but it’s never been touched. This is truly what it looked like.

Amazing, eh?

I hope you will stop by tomorrow to enjoy an excerpt from the beginning of Thieves of Fire. And if you’ve read and enjoyed by books, please review them on Amazon.com. You have no idea how much your opinion matters to other readers.

SH-Holland Pond sunrise

Grade A Dark Amber

SH-Maple Syrup jugEvery novel gets rolling with a key event, one that in the grand scheme of things doesn’t appear to loom large but, in retrospect, can be seen as important.

In my first Carding novel, The Road Unsalted, the pebble that shoves the plot into action is the arrival of a 12-year old girl named Suzanna Owens. She’s the niece of the town’s postmaster, Ted Owens.

Suzanna’s mother, Ted’s older sister Allison, unceremoniously dumps her daughter on Ted’s doorstep. This excerpt from the novel takes places at Ted’s breakfast table the morning after Suzanna arrives.

The book’s title, by the way, refers to Class 6 or abandoned roads in Vermont. These (mostly) dirt roads are not maintained during the winter. Since they are not cleared of snow, they are not salted either. One of the plot twists in The Road Unsalted involves such a road.

You can visit Carding any time in my novels, The Road Unsalted,Thieves of Fire, and The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life. The fourth in the series, Light in Water, Dancing, will go on sale on June 15, 2018.

You can subscribe to the Carding Chronicles by clicking the subscribe button on my home page. When you do, my stories speed from my keyboard to your inbox every Thursday without any further effort on your part.

Enjoy!

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Ted Owens watched sunlight ooze across his kitchen table as he stirred half-and-half into his second cup of coffee. The knot of anxiety in his belly tightened as his niece poured milk on her cereal. When she first arrived, Ted was inclined to think of Suzanna as “that poor kid” but the child would have none of that nonsense. In their short conversations over a Sunday-night supper of BLT’s and soup—Ted’s culinary skills were limited—the girl expressed no eagerness to see her mother again nor any contempt for Allison’s actions. In fact, Suzanna’s demeanor reminded Ted of the resignation of airline passengers who just learned their flights had been delayed…again.

He’d asked her timidly about school, and was informed that until last Thursday, she’d had a seat in a sixth-grade classroom in Las Vegas, and she expected her mother to drag her back there soon enough. So, Suzanna announced, it would be a waste of time to attend school at Carding Elementary.

Ted felt his eyebrows rise at this pronouncement, and the hatred he harbored for Allison kindled anew. It was all well and good to ruin your own miserable life but to drag a child through your muck…

“Does your mother do this sort of thing often?” he asked. “Drag you off in the middle of the night, I mean.”

The girl nodded, spooning up her milky breakfast. “Sometimes it’s because she gets fired but sometimes it’s because there’s a new Bruno,” she said.

“Bruno? You mean that man who drove you here?” Ted had never laid eyes on anyone named Bruno before. He always imagined a man with a name like that came standard issue with a broken nose, and biceps the size of full mail sacks. Ted worked in the Carding post office, and moved a lot of full mail sacks so he knew what he was talking about. But the man behind the wheel of that large black car had been skinny with a face like a tack. Bruno didn’t fit the profile.

“Oh, I don’t remember what that guy’s real name is,” Suzanna said. Ted’s eyebrows reached  for his thinning hairline. “I call all my mother’s boyfriends Bruno because it’s easier to remember that way. Can you get some Cheerios next time you’re at the store? And maybe some bananas, too? I like fruit on my cereal when I can get it.”

Ted winced. She calls them all Bruno because it’s easier to remember? How could a mother do that to her child? Aloud he said, “Would you rather have something besides cereal? Eggs? Pancakes?”

The girl stopped spooning soggy flakes into her mouth. “Pancakes? Can I have them with maple syrup? I had some once, in a restaurant, from a bottle shaped like a leaf. Mom said it was made here in Vermont but that was before I knew where Vermont was. It was very good.” She stopped moving for a moment to listen intently to a passing car.

“That’s a taxi delivering Lydie Talbot,” Ted said. “She’s takes care of her sister, Millie Bettinger, across the street. It’s not your mother.”

The girl relaxed, and they exchanged their first conspiratorial look. “I kept the leaf bottle. It’s in my suitcase,” she said. “You can see it if you need to know what I mean by maple syrup.”

Ted smiled. “No, it’s OK. We see those little leaf bottles around here a lot. Andy Cooper, over at the store, he sells a lot of them.” Ted stood up, opened his refrigerator then placed a small glass jug in front of the girl. Dark brown liquid filled it to a point where sugar crystals marked the line between syrup and no syrup.

Suzanna pulled the jug closer and tilted it in the light. “Are you sure this is maple syrup?” she asked.

“Yes. I helped make it, in fact,” Ted said. “A friend of mine owns a sugarbush up on Belmont Hill.”

“Maple syrup comes from a bush? I thought it came from a tree,” the girl said.

Ted laughed. “No, though now that you point it out, I suppose bush is kind of a strange term for a place where lots of maple trees grow together and get tapped for syrup. Try pouring a little on your cereal.”

Suzanna looked doubtful. “It’s darker than what was in my leaf bottle. Will it taste different?”

Ted’s eyebrows, which had climbed down from his hairline, now bunched up against one another. Suzanna thought they looked like two fuzzy caterpillars coming together for a kiss, and she quickly put her hand up to her mouth to scratch an itch that didn’t exist in order to hide her grin. She didn’t want her uncle to think she was rude. Since he was now her only friend in the world, that wouldn’t do at all.

“It probably tastes even better than what you had,” he said as he pulled a spoon out of the silverware drawer. “You see, there are different grades of maple syrup based on their sugar content and color.” He lifted the jug, slid its spout open, and dripped a little of the brown liquid into the bowl of his spoon. “I think that the grade A dark amber is the one most worthy of pancakes.” He handed the spoon to the girl. “Here, try it for yourself.”

She obeyed, tasted, and then let a pent-up grin rip across her face. “I can put this on cereal?” she asked.

Ted poured a thin spiral of syrup over what remained of her breakfast. “Have at it,” he said.

Suzanna dug in with relish, and Ted let himself think that maybe this uncling business had a lot going for it after all.

He stood up, and stretched his back. “I need to get to work,” he said. “Since you’re not going to school, you need to come with me.”

Suzanna looked up, her eyes round as buttons. “Why?”

“Well, I can’t leave you here all alone, now, can I?” Ted said.

“Mom does, all the time.”

Ted smiled. “Well, I’m not Mom.”

Suzanna scooped up the last of her cereal. “That’s what I like best about being here so far.”

The Importance of Maple Syrup

TRU-2018 coverThe fourth Carding, Vermont novel, Lights in Water, Dancing, will go on sale on June 15, 2018 and to celebrate, I’m dipping into the preceding books in order to whet your whistles.

On the schedule for tomorrow is an excerpt from the first book, The Road Unsalted.

One of the first scenes in the book takes place at Ted Owens’ breakfast table the morning after his niece, 12-year old Suzanna, is unceremoniously dumped on his doorstep by her mother.

Like most Vermonters, Ted is a connoisseur of maple syrup. Here’s a sample of what’s in store tomorrow.

Oh, and while I have your attention, can I ask a favor of you? Book sales are important to every author and I am no exception to that rule. If you have read my books (thank you), would you consider posting a review on Amazon.com? You have no idea how much your thoughts can influence other readers.

Thanks.

SH-Maple Syrup jug

Re-imagining Dame Agatha

Witness 2I started reading Agatha Christie mystery novels when I was in my very early teens. If you become a mystery fan, she’s the next logical step after Nancy Drew and company.

Christie became the “queen bee” among British mystery novelists who wrote in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. In addition to Christie, this group included Dorothy Sayers, Josephine Tey, Ngaio Marsh, and Margery Allingham.

I read and enjoyed them all. Among them, they’ve provided the BBC (as well as other production companies) with an almost inexhaustible treasure trove of material, some of it good, some of it not so. But that’s par for the course, right?

I have to say that I find many of the Christie adaptations tiresome, particularly the ones that feature Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. Like the books, I look at those shows as fall-backs if there’s nothing else to read or watch on a dreary rainy day.

But there are exceptions such as the 2016 BBC production of a short story by Christie called Witness for the Prosecution.

It’s been made before, notably in 1957 with Tyrone Power and Marlene Dietrich. (That was the first film adaptation of a work by Christie, by the way.) But I think this new adaptation with Toby Jones and Andrea Riseborough is far more powerful.

In many ways, it’s a recognizable Christie plot—boy toy kills mistress, wife perjures herself to exonerate him, everyone finds out he’s really guilty once he’s beyond the grasp of the law because of double jeopardy considerations.

Oh, but it’s how they get there that makes this mini-series so fun to watch.

This was adapted from the short story by a writer named Sarah Phelps. Purists argue that she went too far beyond the original material but I found what she did fascinating.

The story takes place between the two world wars, in 1925, and Phelps places the action in this story squarely in the midst of the suffering in England at that time with its persistent food shortages and a people scarred by one war and fearing the next.

It’s the scars that Phelps illuminiated that I found so compelling. Trauma changes one’s psyche, and in this time period, that trauma is shared by everyone. The world is tilted out of anything we might accept as a norm.

It gave me another way to look at our present political situation and what I see in the future.

If you like Witness, I have another Christie adaptation to recommend done by the same people who produced Witness. And Then There Were None is the book that many folks believe was Christie’s masterpiece.

And then there were none

Published in 1939 two weeks before Germany invaded Poland, the book is a haunting allegory for the coming war. The 2015 miniseries stars Aidan Turner (Poldark) and Sam Neil and Charles Dance (you Game of Thrones fans will recognize him).

Ten people are invited to spend a weekend on an island with no other land in view. While there, they are accused of causing the deaths of others, crimes that they have buried in their pasts.

One by one, each of them is murdered until there are none.

Once again, writer Sarah Phelps does an amazing job of peeling back the veils hanging over the psychologies at work among the ten.

They’re well done and intriguing new works based on Christie. The Dame lives on.