Tag Archives: thieves of fire

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

Thieves of Fire

Thieves-front cvr only-6x9-04272015Thieves of Fire is the book that almost didn’t get published.

Let me explain.

If you ask 20 writers about their writing process, you’ll probably get 40 different answers. Some love their old typewriters. Some outline their whole books before penning a word. Others just start with a general idea and figure it out as they go along. Etcetera, etcetera.

Well, I started writing Thieves of Fire in order to answer questions left hanging around unanswered in The Road Unsalted. For example, I wanted to know why Carding’s most famous resident, an artist named Joseph Stillman Croft, made the two women he hated most the heirs of his estate. And why would his will stipulate that the massive, dark and forbidding painting known as Thieves of Fire hang just where he’d left it or that estate would be forfeit?

To tell you the truth, I had no idea how to answer those questions when I began so my writing process was actually a process of discovery.

Which sounds like it should be fun but at one point, I wrote myself into a big knot, and struggled to pull the parts of the story together.

But then one night, at a party, I got into a conversation with a friend about a young woman we both knew whose life had taken an early twist with life-shaping consequences. I had never heard the end of that young woman’s story but my friend had, and she filled in the blanks.

The next morning, I realized that I now knew what happened in Thieves of Fire. The book was finished a month later.

Now, I have two versions of Thieves of Fire in my inventory. I have a small number of Advance Reading Copies (ARCs) and a much larger number of first editions. Let me explain what an ARC is so you can decide which version you want.

Advance Reading Copy (ARC) of Thieves of Fire
Advance Reading Copy (ARC) of Thieves of Fire

In publishing, review copies (known in the trade as Advance Reading Copies or ARCs) of a book are printed months before the finished copies. This long lead time allows critics to publish their reviews simultaneously with the appearance of finished books.

Because ARCs are printed before the final proofreading of a book, there are usually errors in the text, as is the case with my ARCs of Thieves of Fire. 

So here are the prices:
Thieves of Fire, first edition: $14.95 (includes shipping)
Thieves of Fire, Advance Reading Copy: $10.00 (includes shipping)

You can order copies by going to our BOOK SALE page and filling 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.

Thieves of Fire Reviews

Readers of my latest Carding novel, Thieves of Fire, have been very generous in their praise on Amazon.com. I consider myself a fortunate writer, indeed.
Thieves-front cvr only-6x9-04272015
I wanted to take a moment not only to acknowledge the praise but to let all readers know how very important reader reviews are to a writer and a writer’s career.

You see, reviews used to be the province of the media only, and publishers (and authors) lived and died by what the New York Times or Publishers Weekly had to say about their books. But that was back in the days when the publishing industry was monolithic, and what we now call “traditional” publishing was the only legitimate game in town.

But then Amazon opened up the review process, encouraging its members to voice their opinions about what they read. That’s when the tide started flowing in the readers’ direction, and now the power of reviews lies firmly in their court.

Here’s how this works: The quality of reader reviews (the number of stars given) has a definite impact on sales. How many of us are going to read a book with a one-star review?

But equally important is the NUMBER of reviews. Why? Because they foster links among books. For example, Thieves of Fire has been compared to works by Maeve Binchy and Alexander McCall Smith. The higher the number of Thieves reviews, the more likely it is that searches for books by Binchy and Smith will include links to Thieves.

And the more links, the more likely there are sales.

So if good books are important to you, then you need to support them by writing reviews on Amazon and elsewhere.

On behalf of all writers, thank you for taking the time to support us.

Carding Three

Yep, I know that Thieves of Fire is barely out into the world (and work on the ebook files will not be complete until next week). But a writer’s gotta write.
Index cards for TOF 2 for web
So I spent this week outlining my next Carding novel. The working title is The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life but don’t hold me to that because it could change several times between now and publication.

I’m still absorbing the lessons learned from Thieves, especially when it comes to planning before I write and how much time that can save.

Thieves-front cvr only-6x9-04272015

Thieves was launched at a crazy time in my life, the aftermath and recovery from the damage we sustained from Hurricane Irene. I was neck-deep in paperwork, trying to figure out how to do what we knew needed to be done, getting permits, following lines of possible funding (believe me, building retaining walls–LARGE ones–is an expensive proposition) and coordinating excavators, engineers, federal agencies, etc.

Yeah, crazy. But to give myself a little wiggle room here, I needed something that was stable in my life at that moment in time and writing has always been my rock.

Regardless of the reason why, I know that Thieves suffered from a lack of planning. Instead of starting with a story arc, like the one I had in The Road Unsalted, I started Thieves with a few pieces of knowledge about Carding, Vermont and a lot of questions.

Not the best idea if you would like to satisfy readers in a timely manner.

At one point, I was so discouraged, I almost gave up on Thieves entirely because it was so, so, so scattered. I can’t tell you how many months it sat on my desk while I scowled at it and it scowled back.

I finally decided I needed to impose order on the mess of words so I grabbed a pack of index cards, sat down with what I had written to that point, and noted each scene. This is an idea that I learned from an interview in the Paris Review with Vladimir Nobakov. (Did you know that he almost burned Lolita? His wife literally rescued the index cards for that book from a burn pile.)

Then I shuffled my cards around until the sequence of events made more sense. AND THEN I figured out where my holes were and noted the scenes that needed to be written in order to weave the book into a whole.

Then I sat down to write.

And write and write and write.

There were a lot of holes.

As I said, I learned a lot.

But the biggest lesson is this: A little planning goes a long way to saving time later.

I recently celebrated my birthday, a day that I treat somewhat like my personal New Year’s Day. I always make a resolution (OK, usually more than one). This year, it’s to up my game as far as writing output is concerned.

I have a lot of Carding stories crowding my head, a lot of characters I want to explore in much greater depth.

And readers who are asking when the next book will be out.

My goal is a new book in September. That’s THIS September.

I’ll keep you posted.

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!