Category Archives: Novels of Carding, Vermont

Updates and news about the Carding books.

Secrets

It is so hard to resist the flowers of spring. And tomorrow, Carding’s renowned queen of mail delivery, Ruth Goodwin, is going to yield to temptation.

But you can’t tell anybody about this spot of hooky.

Here’s a sample of what’s store tomorrow when we invite ourselves into Ruth’s yellow Jeep and go along for the ride.

Welcome to Carding, Vermont where life always includes a dash of the unexpected. You can find the little town that no one can seem to find on a map right here in the Carding Chronicles and in the four novels of Carding, Vermont, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, and Lights in Water, Dancing.

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to subscribe to the Chronicle by clicking the link on this page. That way, you’ll never miss a story.

SH-Lilacs in bud

Modern Inconveniences

Weather is always the dominant topic of conversation in Vermont in winter. No matter what else is going on, precipitation in its various forms and amounts is the primary fact of life.

It’s always been my opinion that if you’re going to thrive in northern New England, you have to learn how to have fun in the snow. Yesterday’s blizzard in Carding has given a number of people the chance to do just that.

Welcome to Carding, Vermont where life always includes a dash of the unexpected. Carding is the small town (population 3,700 or so) that no one can seem to find on a map of the Green Mountain State. But you can find it any time, right here in the Carding Chronicles and in the four novels of Carding, Vermont, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, and Lights in Water, Dancing.

Here’s a sample of tomorrow’s Carding Chronicle. Hope you’ll come visit.

sh-modern inconveniences

Ephemera

Tomorrow’s Carding Chronicle is about recycling. Folks in Vermont are, generally, passionate about reusing and re-purposing, and that’s definitely true in Carding. It’s that impetus that led the town’s favorite eccentric, Amos Hardy, to lobby for space at the town’s solid waste site for a Swap Shed. It’s a place where folks can leave good stuff to be reused as well as rummaging about for free stuff to bring home. The most popular items are used books.

Welcome to Carding, Vermont where life always includes a dash of the unexpected. Carding is the small town (population 3,700 or so) that no one can seem to find on a map of the Green Mountain State. But you can find it any time, right here in the Carding Chronicles and in the four novels of Carding, Vermont, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, and Lights in Water, Dancing.

Here’s a sample of tomorrow’s story. Hope you will stop by and please share it with everyone that you enjoy sharing with.

SH-Ephemera 2

 

Lights in Water, Dancing

LiWD cover March 2018This week’s publications schedule here in Carding, Vermont is dedicated to sharing the back 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 earn their lattes by selling books. And with the holidays coming up…well…you get the picture.


Well, we’ve reached the point of talking about my “youngest child” today, Lights in Water, Dancing. In many ways, this is the conclusion of the story that started to unfold in my third novel, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life.

I left questions at the end of novel number three, a lot of questions, the most pressing of which was: “What happened to Boz Flaneur?”

Boz isn’t originally from Carding. In fact, what he knew about Vermont could have been contained in the dot at the end of this sentence before he showed up in Thieves of Fire.

As sometimes happens with characters, Boz was originally cast in a minor role because I needed a guy to do a job. But he turned out to be such an interesting person, I decided to explore the possibilities of keeping him around.

I dug around in his personal history and discovered that he had a family connection with the father of Edie Wolfe’s children. Then he got himself entangled in something of a three-way lover’s knot.

My coup de grace for Boz came at the end of The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life when I bounced his head off a concrete floor in Logan Airport.

Well, not me personally, you understand. It was my pen’s fault.

Lights and Dazzling also share an origin story that I heard from a quilting teacher named Jessica Leger. She came to the Upper Valley a few years ago to appear at my quilt guild and we had a quick bite to eat prior to the meeting. As we chatted, I found out that Jessica had been elected to the school board in her hometown in central Massachusetts.

Now Jessica’s a sharp-eyed woman with a no-nonsense attitude, someone whose flair for fashion and love of color would make her a natural for Advanced Style. (Seriously, you’ve got to check out this website and the documentary dedicated to the beauty and flair of older women.)

Anyway, Jessica told me that while she was campaigning for the school board, she had a conversation with the town’s chief of police about the suspicious nature of the school superintendent’s finances. How could someone on an education administrator’s salary afford a second home in an upscale resort in North Carolina and a rather large boat, she asked.

At the time, the police chief brushed her questions aside. It’s nothing, he said. Probably a trust fund or good investments.

But not too many weeks later, this same superintendent was arrested for embezzling millions of dollars from the school district, something that the police department was already investigating when Jessica asked her questions.

Having sat in on countless school board and district meetings here in the Upper Valley, I know that that these budgets are regularly torn apart in search of excess pennies. So I found it hard to understand how a superintendent could get away with such a theft.

“Easy,” Jessica said. “Those board members were just collecting credits for their resumes. They never looked at anything or questioned anything the superintendent did. They just let him run the show as they rubber-stamped his decisions.”

That conversation made my head buzz buzz buzz. It made me realize that in many ways, local governance boards, particularly in small towns, are as vulnerable to exploitation by the unscrupulous as they are to destruction by the incompetent. In fact, you could argue that small towns are sitting ducks for tricksters.

So I wondered what would happen if I made Carding the target of a pair of swindlers and stocked its school board with toadies and lickspittles?

In other words, what would happen if I sowed distrust among the folks in my favorite small town?

As it turns out, skepticism and doubt are as toxic as spent fuel rods in a nuclear power plant, a state of affairs that we see played out—sadly played out—on our national stage every day.

I think—I want to believe—that Carding will recover from this blow to its self-confidence and pride but I can’t be sure.

Hmmm, would you excuse me for a moment? I think I just tripped over an idea for another novel of Carding, Vermont.


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:

The Road Unsalted

Thieves of Fire

The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life

Lights in Water, Dancing

I hope you’ll read my books and subscribe to this website so that you can enjoy stories about Carding, Vermont every Thursday.

And if you’d like to get in touch, you’re always welcome to do so through email at Sonja (at) SonjaHakala (dot) com.

 

 

 

 

The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life

Dazzling 2018 front coverThis 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 LifeMy 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.

Twinfields cleans up

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:

The Road Unsalted

Thieves of Fire

The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life

Lights in Water, Dancing

I hope you’ll read my books and subscribe to this website so that you can enjoy stories about Carding, Vermont every Thursday.

Thieves of Fire

TOF 6x9 2018 coverThis week’s publications schedule here in Carding, Vermont is dedicated to telling the back stories behind each of the 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 earn their bread and ale by selling books. And with the holidays coming up…well…you get the picture.

Among writers, there’s a general opinion that writing a second book is far more difficult than writing the first. I can testify that that is true.

After I published The Road Unsalted, I felt like my wheels were spinning. I recognized the sensation as a plea from that part of my brain that needs to cogitate before it can act so I let myself wander in the wilderness for a while.

I knew it wouldn’t last long.

And it didn’t. Before long, Thieves of Fire was pounding on my door demanding to be written.

In a very general way, writers fall into two camps when it comes to their approach to books. There’s a big group dedicated to making detailed road maps of what lies ahead, figuring out the details of their tome chapter by chapter before they begin.

Then there’s another group who look at the journey ahead the same way that J.R.R. Tolkien’s Bilbo Baggins looks at his journey when he sets off from his home in the Shire with Gandalf and the dwarves. Bilbo knew they were on some sort of adventure with some sort of a destination (if you can call tussling with a dragon a destination) but the details were just so much fog lying low on the Brandywine River.

I am definitely in the second category.

It’s not that I haven’t tried to plan out my novels before setting out. I have. But I find that the more I plan a book, the more bored I become. To me, all that planning takes the air and creativity out of the process. All of my dead novels—the fragments lying about in notebooks or on my hard drive—shriveled up when I tried to plan them.

Count me as someone who relishes figuring it out as you go along.

Sometimes, as with The Road Unsalted, I start with an incident that kidnaps my attention. I start playing with it—how did these people get themselves into this situation? Did they think about the ramifications of their actions or was it all a surprise?

Other times, I have a character or characters floating around in my head and I like them well enough to hang out with them for a while. So I start poking around to figure out how they live and how they feel and what they see and how their childhoods were spent and did they like their parents.

But sometimes, books and stories start with a question. That was the case with Thieves of Fire.

There’s a small detail in The Road Unsalted that set Thieves in motion. It’s the description of a painting, a big canvas, a rather gloomy scene of a crow sitting in a tree looking down on a young woman. The artwork, which is entitled “Thieves of Fire,” dominates the foyer of the Carding Academy of Traditional Arts.

Nobody in Carding likes it, and if Edie Wolfe (she’s the executive director of the school) had her way, the painting would be off the wall and out the door in a heartbeat.

But if she does that, the Academy would lose its campus. That’s because the main building and grounds are held in the thrall of a strange clause in the will of artist Joseph Stillman Croft. You see, the Academy is located in the home he built in the center of Carding at the end of the 19th century. And Croft’s will stipulates that Thieves of Fire must remain where he left it until his rightful heir is found.

So the wretched thing stays on the wall.

The idea for that painting and the will that keeps it in the Academy’s foyer was inspired by Isabelle Stewart Gardner and the museum in Boston that bears her name. Gardner and her husband were avid art collectors and their acquisitions are considered some of the finest pieces of their kind in the world.

After her husband’s death, Isabel built a museum for the Gardner collection in the Fenway area of Boston, opening it to much fanfare in 1903. When she died in 1924, Gardner’s will left a bequest for the maintenance of the museum and a stipulation that the collection remain permanently on display as she had left it.

But why would Joseph Stillman Croft, who was regarded as one of the leading illustrators in the late 19th century, make a similar stipulation in his will? (By the way, the character of Croft was inspired by illustrator Maxfield Parrish who lived and worked in the Upper Valley in the late 19th and early 20th century.)

I had to find out. So I started Thieves off by writing about Croft. Why would a man renowned in the cultural circles of New York City live in a small town in Vermont? Was he shy? Did he want to be a big fish in a small pond?

Or was there another, more sinister reason?

Now writing books without a net (or a plan) means you have to accept that digressions happen. And sometimes, these various and sundry digressions look and feel a lot like a ball of yarn that just lost a battle with a litter of kittens.

That happened to me with Thieves when I reached what turned out to be the halfway point in the novel. I had Joseph Stillman Croft over here and another character named Lydia Talbot and her daughters over there and a would-be heir dragging Edie Wolfe into court and my first draft was just one big mess.

In fact, I almost abandoned the book because I couldn’t find the key that would draw all the parts together.

Then one evening at a holiday party, I got into a conversation with my friend Peg who told me a story about a young woman we had both known as a teenager. This young woman married a man who had been her teacher and lover while she was still in high school. (Believe me, it was as messy as you imagine it was.)

The week before our conversation, Peg had coffee with the young woman. They had visited for just a while when the young woman abruptly excused herself, explaining that her husband and their children were waiting for her in the car.

Peg said her surprise was visible. As the young woman turned to go she explained her predicament: “He stole my life,” she said, “and I had nothing to say about it.”

When I woke up the next morning, I suddenly realized that Peg had given me the missing puzzle piece to Thieves of Fire.

When you steal someone’s life, you steal their fire.

As readers of the Carding Chronicles know, my stories and novels are records of the very human endeavors in the extraordinary lives of the people we pass by every day. They’re meant to entertain, to make folks chuckle with appreciation or reach for a tissue to soak up a stray bit of water gathering in the corner of an eye.

On top of that, you get to enjoy some of the beauty of the special place I call home.

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:

The Road Unsalted

Thieves of Fire

The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life

Lights in Water, Dancing

I hope you’ll read my books and subscribe to this website so that you can enjoy stories about Carding, Vermont every Thursday.

And if I can ask one more favor, please review all the books you read online. Online recommendations help us all to figure out what to read next.

Thank you.

HalfMoon Lake at sunrise 2
This photograph is the one I used for the cover of Thieves of Fire. It was taken at sunrise on Holland Pond in Holland, Vermont, almost in Canada.

The Road Unsalted

TRU-2018 coverThis year, I published my fourth novel about Carding, Vermont (Lights in Water, Dancing). Carding is a small, rather quirky town that is a distillation of life in the bi-state region of Vermont and New Hampshire that locals (like me) call “the Upper Valley.”

I grew up in Massachusetts in a place like Carding, a town with churches in several different flavors, an elementary school in every quadrant, dirt roads, lots of hills, a mountain for skiing, and great places to swim in the summer.

So yeah, I love town life in New England.

This point of view was reinforced by the five years I spent writing for the Upper Valley’s local newspaper, the Valley News. Much to my delight, reporting gave me the opportunity to watch the ebb and flow of local politics and the lives of fascinating people up close and personal.

It was the best education a newbie writer could ask for. I discovered that there’s a lot of wisdom in our hills and rivers. All of these experiences and locations make up the river that flows through Carding.

In all the years I’ve been entertaining readers on this website, I don’t think I’ve ever taken the time to write about the background of the little town that no one can seem to find on a map and how it coagulated into a physical form that I see in that mysterious place we call “the mind’s eye.”

Isn’t that a great descriptive phrase, “the mind’s eye?”

Here’s one of the starting points. When my family first moved to this area, we rented a house on 75 acres of land in one of its very smallest towns. I’ve always maintained that Carding has a population of 3,700 people which is small by many standards. But Carding’s size dwarfs the real town of Dorchester, New Hampshire (population 300 at the time).

In Dorchester, we were, literally, a 45-minute ride from everywhere, living on the top of a small hill surrounded by bigger hills. There wasn’t a street light to be see for miles around.

And it was very, very quiet.

That first winter was INTENSE with more snow than we’ve seen in any winter since. Our mailbox and newspaper box became holes in the snowbank on the side of the road. When the snow from the roof of our living room slid off to the ground, it piled up so high, the bottom half of our windows were covered.

One of our closest neighbors was a woman who had lived in the same house all her life. She cooked on a wood-burning stove and was fond of saying: “Anyone who talks about the ‘good old days’ didn’t live through them.”

Her name was Francis and she once told me that “it snows in Dorchester when it doesn’t snow any place else.”

At first I dismissed her remark as just so much “Yankee hubris.” But Francis was absolutely right.

Geographically, Dorchester was settled on a curved ridge that functions much like your hands do when you scoop up water. Just north and east of the hills of Dorchester, the formidable White Mountains rise up to scrape the sky.

Every time a storm ventured in our direction, the clouds struggled to rise above Dorchester’s long incline. Like hot air balloons trying to cross mountains, the clouds had to lighten their load in order to keep going so they released copious amounts of snow on our very small town.

And that meant we’d be shoveling again.

And again and again.

Snow softens sound just as surely as it softens the contours of a landscape. It’s a hush like no other. I loved the intense silence and undisturbed darkness so on clear nights, I got into the habit of taking a turn down our driveway—it wasn’t very long—to enjoy the starlight and moonlight undisturbed by anything manmade.

We don’t get the chance to do that very often in our estranged-from-nature world, do we?

I remember one windless night in particular as I watched the Milky Way wheel overhead. For just a few moments, I sensed the Earth’s orbit and heard her turn.

It was an exquisite sensation.

Or course, the Upper Valley isn’t all wonder and beauty. It’s got people in it, after all. There’s plenty of personal sturm und drang to go around. And then there’s politics, local politics. It was in local politics (which I covered as a reporter) where The Road Unsalted began.

In general, folks in the small towns of northern New England argue about pretty much the same things—schools and how to pay for them, property taxes (which is how schools are financially supported), town buildings and town equipment (as in how they are bought, managed, renovated and built), and roads.

In my experience, no subject is as touchy as roads.

Living in northern New England means dealing with weather, lots of weather, and it is a struggle that not made for sissies. Our roads bear the brunt of all this weather with temperatures that range from 90 degrees above zero and humidity so high you can barely breathe to 20 degrees below zero and coatings of ice.

For those of you who are into numbers, that’s a 110 degree difference in temperature over the course of a year and all of the physical adjustments that go along with it.

Roads up here are expensive to maintain. Asphalt, salt, sand, plowing, cutting back weeds, filling in potholes, digging drainage ditches and clearing drainage ditches, and grading dirt are all a part of this year-round struggle. And this work represents a significant part of every town’s budget.

Of course, everyone wants their road to be perfect every time they drive somewhere, and it doesn’t matter if that road is an interstate highway or a one-laner of the dirt variety.

So you can understand why towns elect not to plow or sand or salt some of the less-traveled dirt roads in winter. When they do, these byways become “the roads unsalted.”

Now a town can’t decide to do this willy-nilly. There’s a process they have to follow when abandoning what many Vermonters call “ancient ways” and that process can be very, very contentious with all sorts of repercussions when it comes to ownership and use.

This bit of esoteric knowledge lies at the heart of my first novel of Carding, Vermont called, appropriately enough, The Road Unsalted.

The story begins when one of the main roads in town becomes part of a power struggle between a woman named Edie Wolfe and her still-bitter-after-thirty-years ex-husband, Harry Brown

Edie, whom many in Carding consider the town matriarch, is the executive director of Carding’s best-known asset, an internationally renowned school called the Carding Academy of Traditional Arts. Harry owns Brown & Sons, Inc., a trucking and construction firm that’s the town’s biggest employer.

For safety reasons, Edie wants to stop Harry’s trucks from using the portion of Meetinghouse Road that passes in front of the school. One of her students had been hit by Harry’s eldest son, Gideon, giving her a legitimate reason for concern.

Harry’s having none of it, and when he discovers that Meetinghouse Road lies in legal limbo, he forces the whole town to take part in his effort to avenge himself on the woman who dared to leave him so many years ago.

But just at the moment when it looks like Harry will succeed, he discovers that this idyllic small town is not immune from the follies of human conduct. And one of these follies (based on a story that I witnessed as a reporter) has the potential to sabotage the best-laid plans of Harry Brown.

A note about one of the main characters in The Road Unsalted. When I started drafting the book, I figured Harry’s son Gideon would just noodle about in the background as a minor figure. But as my words became sentences and paragraphs, I developed a real fondness for this emotionally damaged man as he struggled to emerge from his father’s dubious shadow.

What I came to appreciate about Gideon Brown is his self-awareness. His actions hurt people, including the love of his life, but instead of taking the easy way out by blaming others for his loss, he faces his faults squarely. But the question is, will Gideon be able to change the course life has laid out for him?

It took me three more novels to answer that question.

As readers of my books and the Carding Chronicles realize, my stories and novels recognize and celebrate the very human experiences in the extraordinary lives of the people we pass by every day. They’re meant to entertain, to make folks chuckle with appreciation or reach for a tissue to soak up a bit of water gathering in the corner of an eye.

And you get to enjoy some of the beauty of the special place I call home.

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:

The Road Unsalted

Thieves of Fire

The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life

Lights in Water, Dancing

I hope you’ll read my books and subscribe to this website so that you can enjoy stories about Carding, Vermont every Thursday.

And if I can ask one more favor, please review my books online. We probably all turn to online sources to figure out what to read next and this way, you can show others the way to Carding.

Thank you.

River with snow 2