Monday, November 10, 2014

Meet the People of Northam



Today, I was supposed to interview Matthew Whitman, Chairman of Wheaton Bank, but it seems he’s out of town. Again. Never fear, we’ll find someone. Look, there’s Gertrude Mason working in her flower garden.

I don’t see Gertrude out and about much, but I know she’s a homemaker with two children. And though their house isn’t in the best shape, it’s surrounded by lovely gardens. Let’s surprise her.

Hello, Mrs. Mason? Yoo-hoo—can I talk to you?

GM: About what? You sellin’ somethin’?  If you’re one of them Avon women, I ain’t interested.

No, please, Mrs. Mason—Gertrude, I’m not selling anything. I just want to ask you some questions. It’ll only take a few minutes of your time.

GM: Well, okay, as long as you’re not peddling nothin’. We can’t go in the house though. I, ahh…just mopped the floors. They’re still wet, all of ‘em. You can’t come in.

That’s fine. Why don’t we just sit in those lawn chairs over there?

GM: I guess. Watch yourself. That chair’s a little rusty, but it’s still good. I can only sit a few minutes. I gotta pick some yellow beans for supper before it gets too hot, and then I need to finish sewin’ dresses for the girls.

How nice you sew for your children. Speaking of children, what’s your best or worst childhood memory?

GM: Huh? I don’t know. That was a long time ago. My folks were--well, there just weren’t any good memories. There was this one time though, someone left a box outside our place when my Ma wasn’t home. Me and Stanley, that’s my brother, we opened it. There were some clothes in there, but under those we found a doll and a baseball glove and some candy. We left the clothes, took the toys and ate the candy. I loved that doll. The tag said her name was Betsy. She had beautiful blue glass eyes. If you laid her down they opened and closed just like a real baby. I got to keep Betsy for two months before Ma found out where I hid her and tossed her in the fire. My Ma used to say we was the devil’s spawn and didn’t deserve toys. I know she was talkin’ about our pa. She was right. He was evil and mean and drunk—all the time. They both were. Alcohol’s the devil’s brew and I don’t allow it in my house. Do you drink?

Me? Rarely. But we’re not here to talk about me. This is your interview, Gertrude. Let’s see…how about this question? Vermont has four very distinct seasons. Which is your favorite?  

GM: Favorite? Well, fall’s nice with the trees and all. I hate winter. It’s cold and everything’s dead and then you throw Christmas in there to boot? Just a money makin’ scheme, like a body don’t got enough else to pay for. Spring’s better, but I like summer best. My babies—my plants, that is, come back to life. Everything’s green and real pretty.

Summer is lovely. What’s one thing you’re proud of?
My gardens, of course. My gardens look as good as anybody’s in town. Even better than some, I think. And I didn’t pay for one plant. Dug up lots of them by the road, some in the woods. Even traded a couple with Fred Winslow. You know Fred? He runs the dump. He has that yappy dog, Freda. I’ve found a lot of good things at the dump.

Yes, I know Mr. Winslow and Freda both. And I agree, your gardens are beautiful. One last question, Gertrude. It’s hard to keep a secret in a small town. Any chance you have one?

GM: What? What are you talkin’ about? Who’s been talkin’? Was it one of my girls? Emma? No--it must’ve been Wilhelmina. She hates it when we lug stuff home as she calls it. It’s all good, usable stuff. People are always throwing things away that still work. It makes me sick. Did she tell ya I have five blenders? It’s not true. I only have four. It turns out, one was broken and my husband couldn’t fix it, so we had to throw it away. And maybe I do have twelve cast iron fry pans, but you can never have enough cast iron. Is it the fire hazard thing again? I did tell her I’d get rid of those newspapers stacked up in the hall. I just keep forgettin’. She knows better than ta tell outsiders our business. I’ll be talkin’ to her--

No, wait, your daughter didn’t tell me anything. No one did. It was just a random question, but now that you’ve brought it up…are you talking about hoarding? I can see from here your front porch has a lot of boxes and bags on it. It that a fireplace?

GM: Yeah. It’s electric. It costs too much to run.

So, why don’t you get rid of it, if you’re not going to use it?

GM: ‘Cause it’s all good. There’s nothing wrong with it. We might need it someday.

But you just said—

GM: I know what I said; I ain’t senile. Waste not, want not. That includes wastin' time on useless questions. I got things to do. Don’t be in too big of a hurry to come around again.

Oh, all right. Thank you for your time. Wow, she can move fast when she wants to. Strange lady, but it takes all kinds, and we’ve got all kinds in Northam. Until next time…

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Vermont Vocabulary




I’m from Vermont--so are most of my characters. Vermonters, as well as others from many of the 
New England states, have “sayings” not as common in other parts of the U.S. These words and phrases often show up in my writing and my life. Every morning I get up and look in the mirror and think, Wow, I look like I got dragged through a knot hole backwards. A few days ago I asked my husband if a project he'd been working on was finished. In the stoic, short answer form Vermont men are famous for he replied, “Pret' near.”

I want to thank family and friends for contributions to this growing list. If anyone has other words or phrases they think should be on the list, please email me at info@clhowland.com

So, without further ado, I present Part 1 of “Things Vermonters Say”.

dinner (lunch)
door yard (front lawn or driveway)
dunagrees (blue jeans)
jimmies (sprinkles for ice cream)
johnny cake (sweet corn bread)
long johns (insulated underwear)
nightclothes (pajamas)
pocketbook (purse)
supper (evening meal)
Tarvia (pavement)
tin foil (aluminum foil)
toque (a wool cap)

 Longer Phrases: 
Slower than molasses running uphill in January
There'll be frost on the pumpkin tonight.
Scarcer than hen's teeth
Slicker than snot
I'm so broke I can't even pay attention.
Dumber than a rock
Tighter than the bark on a tree (stingy)
Pret near (almost)
A pissin’ match (an argument)
Right out straight (busy)
Thicker than thieves (close)

Cut cross-lots (take a short-cut)
Doesn't know enough to come in out of the rain
By gory (Damn!)
Sugar snow (big flakes that fall during sugaring season)
I feel like I've been drug through a knothole backwards.(all tuckered out, a mess)

Keep 'em coming....


Friday, August 22, 2014

Character Vs. Plot



Character vs. Plot

Character actions and reactions are what drive plot. How characters react to events is what moves the story forward.

You need to make sure your characters are taking the logical course in your story, based on the type of person they are. One of the ways to check that is to come up with a situation and run each of your characters through it. If you know your characters, you'll know right away how each will react to any situation or circumstance. Choose whichever possible action seems the most logical to move the story forward. This example uses the characters from My Mother Grows Wallflowers.

Situation:  A girl at a party gets very drunk. We don't know why. That's her story and one to tell another day. She ends up in a bedroom passed out, without clothes. Your character enters the scene.

Sam. What would he do?  Knowing Sam, he would cover her up. Maybe he’d glance at her body while doing it, he is 16 and healthy, but then he’d go find one of the girl's girlfriends, take her aside and tell her, so she could help her friend.

Mina. Well, chances are she wouldn't be at the party, but if she were—first, she would be embarrassed she saw a naked girl. Then she’d be embarrassed for the girl. She wouldn't touch her, but would back out the door and close it, trying to figure out if she should talk to Sam or Winona. She decides on Nona. She doesn't like the idea of Sam seeing another girl without clothes.

Robbie Fields. We all know someone like Robbie...he is going to take full advantage of the situation, depending the level of the girl's unconsciousness. And when he's done, he won't bother to cover her up or tell anyone--he'll just slither away like the snake he is.

Blair Whitman. Now, this is one vicious girl. Say the passed-out girl is her competition for prom queen. If it’s the 90’s, you know she’s going to take a ton of pictures with her Polaroid camera to post all over school or if it’s today, use her cell phone to take pictures to put on the internet and then invite everyone at the party to take a look.

Who else? How about Tom Evans?  I think he'd blush, back out of the room and go find Winona to ask her what to do.

Ori Miller. I had to think about him for a minute. I decided he would step in, see the girl, shake his head and leave the room. Would he even close the door? I think no at first, referring to her as a stupid Wasicu girl, but then he sees somebody like Robbie Fields in the hall. Not only does he close the door, he stands in front of it with his arms crossed, glaring at the kid as if daring him to say something until Robbie walks away. Though impatient, and not liking it one bit, Ori holds his position until a girl he deems reliable comes by--one of the girl's friends, or Nona or Mina.

These are my “people” and this is how they’d react. How about your characters?