Tag Archives: the road unsalted

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

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

The Road Unsalted

TRU-2015 front cover onlyMy first novel of Carding, Vermont was inspired by a true incident that I heard about when I was a newspaper reporter. That “true incident” morphed over the course of writing The Road Unsalted as I got to know the wonderful characters who live in the town that no one can seem to find on a map of the Green Mountain State.

But I still marvel at how one person’s actions can change the course of events in a whole town, which is among the many things that happen in The Road Unsalted.

Now I freely admit to having a lifelong reading addiction. But, like most readers, I never feel I have enough time to devote to this wonderful, illuminating pastime. So most of my book reading happens just before I fall asleep at night.

Which means that anything I read can color my dreams so I write books that I would like to read just before I fall asleep at night. I think you will too.

The Carding, Vermont novels, starting with The Road Unsalted, are all priced at $14.95 and are available on Amazon. But you can support your local author by ordering right here.

Just go to our BOOK SALE page and fill out the order form. We will invoice you so you can pay by debit or credit card, and then the books will be on their way.

Testing, Testing

I’m working on the final draft of Thieves of Fire and have gone back to the crow on the cover because I want both The Road Unsalted and Thieves of Fire to have the same look.

test cover with crow 04252015
One of the downsides of being able to do this kind of work yourself is that you have the tools for endless tinkering.

I’m going to send this one out for feedback and then, I think, go with it.

Crowd Editing, Part One

I’ve recently had an interesting publishing experience that I want to explore over the next couple of days. It involves the difference between editing and proofreading as well as, believe it or not, marketing.
TOF with Ruth's edits for web
Last month, I printed 100 copies of Thieves of Fire for marketing purposes. This was a “private” print run done before releasing the book to the public.

My first task was to share copies of Thieves with folks willing to review it on Amazon. Some of these folks I know but many of them are readers who contacted me about my first Carding novel, The Road Unsalted, because they liked it. My hope was that they would like Thieves of Fire as well or tell me honestly if they didn’t.

Either way, their opinions matter to future readers. (A side note here: No matter how much folks want to believe that the internet has changed marketing “forever,” word of mouth is still the most important marketing asset anyone can have.)

I knew there were still some typos in the review copies and probably a couple of stray words left behind as I made my final edits so I invited everyone who accepted my invitation to let me know about any mistakes they found.
TOF book wrap for web
Much to my surprise, people loved having the opportunity to interact with my book in this way. It has been such fun to read their feedback, to hear what they think about the cover, what characters they liked, how the book kept them up at night reading (oh yes, I love hearing that), and oh-by-the-way, here’s a list of the typos that I found.

I need to interject here to tell you that Thieves was edited before I sent it to the printer to make review copies so I was confident it didn’t have any structural problems that would call for large amounts of rewriting. To me, publishing an unedited book is a sign of disrespect to readers.

But we all find typos in books. We all find extra words or punctuation errors. Correcting these is a process called proofreading, and readers are very, very good at it because errors interrupt their reading experience. Finding a typo is a lot like stubbing your toe when you’re out for a walk in the woods on a beautiful day.

Unpleasant.

So I was not surprised when folks contacted me with corrections. What did surprise me is how much they enjoyed being an intrinsic part of publishing Thieves of Fire.