Lamprey River Band

This country dance band has been together since 1983, performing principally in the Seacoast Region of New Hampshire. Its first-Thursday-of-the-month New England contradances in Dover’s city hall welcome sit-in musicians and guest callers. That event started out in a neighboring town as band practice … and if the band was practicing, so could the callers … and if they were calling, why not have dancers? It’s a great event, and beginning dancers are always welcome.
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My existence as an ‘extra’ in the photos

Curious to see if Portsmouth had its Greek festival last year – an event that was cancelled the previous summer – a Google search informed me it had returned but, alas, I had missed out. Besides, the date’s been moved up a few weeks.

So with the web page announcing this year’s event still up before me, what dawned on me that the featured photo was from the previous occasion. While staring idly at the screen, I recalled being at that dance demonstration and, lo and behold, I then noticed an acquaintance watching from one of the tables under the big tent. Finally, in the shadow beside him, there I was, too, quite faintly.

Well, a similar thing happened in the online videos of the Dover festival where I’m moving in a line of dancers. I’m not exactly a standout.

In any number of photos of my choir in performance, the same thing happens. I usually need a magnifying glass – and that’s if the conductor’s head is not in my way. (See that bald spot? The top of my head, the only part visible.)

Makes me feel something like Woody Allen’s Zelig. If only I could intentionally be such a “human chameleon” in so many major events.

Yes, I know a good journalist tries to render himself invisible when covering a story, unless it’s a rowdy news conference, but this is ridiculous. It could lead to an inferiority complex, no?

So how do you think you look in a photo?

On to a new generation

My newest novel, What’s Left, springs from the ending of my first published novel, where her future father lands in a bohemian band of siblings who’ve just taken over the family restaurant after a car crash killed their parents.

It’s a lot of responsibility on young shoulders.

~*~

Sometimes, when you put a dish together, the balance is off. It can even mean starting all over. What do you think of this?

At home, Tito and Diana, still in school, need to make sure their siblings are up to the job of parenting and running a house. What about their grades, the laundry, cleaning the bathrooms? Who pays the bills? Who’s really in charge, for that matter? The two youngest do work part-time at Carmichael’s, where they don’t need to be told they’re under public scrutiny. The balance at Big Pink, meanwhile, is undergoing adjustment.

The two youngest do work part-time at Carmichael’s, where they don’t need to be told they’re under public scrutiny. The balance at Big Pink, meanwhile, is undergoing adjustment.

In his final half-dozen years Pappa Stavros had been uncharacteristically aggressive in his dealings, not to mention bad loans to his buddies or timing.

~*~

What I know of the food business is all second-hand, but I still wonder about taking leadership of an enterprise as a young adult. In my early 20s as second-in-command of a small newsroom, I was given surprising leeway and yet I’m still grateful for the stability provided by my older boss – even though I’m not sure he was always the most mature in some of our gunfights with the wider community.

We did have a great corner restaurant, though, run by two brothers and their wives. Just a coincidence, if you’re thinking of Cassia.

Have you ever worked in a restaurant? Doing what? What’s your strongest memory?

~*~

A large Queen Anne-style house with a distinctive witch’s hat tower something like this is the headquarters for Cassia’s extended family in my new novel, What’s Left. If only this one were pink, like hers. (Manchester, New Hampshire.)

Mixmaster? Just look at ‘Daffodil’

What, me as a Mixmaster?

Just look at the topics percolating in my novel Daffodil Uprising.

Anybody got a boxed cake mix? That was a popular use for this kitchen gadget. Here’s an English Sunbeam Mixmaster model A24, circa 1969–72. (Wikimedia Commons photo by Mitch Ames.)

Here are ten:

  1. The Sixties. As the subtitle says, this book is about the making of a hippie. It’s a turbulent time.
  2. The Establishment. The military-industrial complex and its old-boy network hold undue sway on the direction of the university, often at the expense of the students or faculty. How can their power trips be thwarted?
  3. Marijuana and other illicit drugs. Recreational substance use become commonplace, a unifying element for many youths. But it comes at a cost.
  4. Free love. The Pill changes sexual relationships, no doubt about that. But romantic relationships are still tricky.
  5. Antiwar protests and the military draft weigh heavily on young adult American males. It fuels anger, fear, and a sense of helplessness.
  6. Mentors and elders. While Kenzie comes to Daffodil to be nurtured in a fast-track fine arts curriculum, the place he really finds guidance is among his peers – especially the elders in his dorm and his future sister-in-law Nita. They are crucial to his personal growth.
  7. Community and network. Kenzie’s interactions with dormmates and, later, his housemates plus select others are essential for his survival and advancement. It’s not healthy to be alone, no matter how independent you imagine yourself to be.
  8. The practice of an art. Photography is central to Kenzie’s self-identity, but he is still looking to see exactly where that leads. Having a concert pianist as a roommate adds to his comprehension as an artist. And then there’s his dorm’s little literary enterprise, pushing him in an entirely different direction. How far can he bend?
  9. High hopes and broken promises. Kenzie and his circle are so green and full of dreams. The university itself recruits him for an enterprising career track, and then his passionate embrace of the lover who fuels aspirations of soul mate send him even higher. But not everything is rosy, and the disillusionment can be crushing.
  10. The American Midwest. Kenzie’s roots in Iowa and his new surroundings in southern Indiana give a particular flavor to the developments. It’s not as out-of-the-way as they think.

Be among the first to read my newest novel.

Bringing better order to the series

Do we all work differently, at least when it comes to something like writing? Maybe those of you who have been to week-long writing workshops or taken seminars can better answer that, but I am amazed to hear of women who have created wonderful works in short takes between changing diapers and preparing dinner and doing the laundry. Me? I need chunks of time, and that included those years when I was working in a newsroom for a living.

My hippie novels were originally one very long work, as was my Pacific Northwest series. For practical reasons, I cut them apart, and in doing so, they lost their continuity.

Rather than being the ending to the hippie run, Subway Hitchhikers wound up appearing first – in print, at that. In the novella’s distillation for publication, some of the backstory needed to be inserted. By the time the opportunity finally came to issue the earlier parts as ebooks, those manuscripts had been reworked into independent stories, or so I thought.

With the books before the public at last, I thought I could move on.

Given the distance of a few more years, though, unfinished business nagged at me, prompting me to begin work on the volume that grew into What’s Left. Frankly, it was the most difficult writing project of my life. Just what had happened to the hippies, anyway? And why should anyone care?

Unlike my earlier writing sprees, my attention was no longer diverted by employment elsewhere. In having more time to ponder the characters and implications, my focus shifted in stages from the action itself and more into feelings. Lately I’ve become aware of how much that in itself differentiates journalism from fiction. This was a huge step from my career as a newspaper editor, no matter how much I had been looking to literature as a means of personally overcoming the limitations of communicating in the lowest common denominator – I had always wanted a bigger, more expressive vocabulary, for one thing, as well as longer sentences for variety and sweep. There were many times I longed for something other than “said” as attribution for quotations. People do shout, after all, or whisper or hiss or sigh, but that all injects the reporter’s interpretation into the account. Remember that objectivity goal? Just how objective can a novelist be, in contrast?

So much for my professional training or my literary ambitions.

Revision by revision, the focus of my new novel shifted away from what Cassia hoped to recover of her father and on to his reasons for joining in her mother’s extended family – especially the clues she gleaned from his amassed photography – and from there to his legacy and her role in preserving it. And then she started talking in her own voice and taking over. The book quite simply became about her discovering herself and her mission as she recovered from her profound personal loss at age eleven. It was no longer about the hippie era at all but rather her own times.

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Winter heating costs in historical perspective

In earlier times, so I’ve heard, a normal house on Cape Cod used forty cords of hard pine firewood a year. That was back before chain saws or splitting machines, so felling the trees and cutting them to fit a fireplace or stove was largely handwork, even before getting around to stacking. My muscles and back ache just thinking about it.

Mind you, a typical Cape was not a large dwelling – two over two, as they say – or two rooms downstairs and two under the rafters above.

Like many New Englanders, we heat part of our house with wood. It also functions as backup for energy outages, just in case. Since we live in a small city not far from forests, obtaining firewood is rarely a problem. I have no idea what it’s like in a city like Boston or Providence, but the going rate here, delivered, is $300 a cord.

Imagine needing forty cords to get through a year – that would cost $12,000 a year … for a small house! And we think $2,500 a year for natural gas is excessive? I’ll have to ask around to see what folks using fuel oil or propane are shelling out, but it’s still bound to be cheaper than the Colonial alternative.

Two cords of new firewood sit stacked inside a seasoned shell in early September/ Stacking it was a lot of work, but not nearly as much as earlier generations put in on their yearly supply.