Saturday, April 19, 2014

Book Launch Event for SNOW-DARK CROSSING

I am excited to announce the official launch event for my latest mystorical novel, SNOW-DARK CROSSING, on May 1st at the beautiful Kellogg-Hubbard Library in Montpelier, Vermont.

 Meanwhile, the book is available for purchase at amazon:

Would you like to start reading now? Here's a short excerpt:

                                                                Chapter One

            I do my best to believe, in the light and shadow of what I came to know about Elaine Bliss and her quest, that the sounds of March snow-melt trickling from slate hills, of red-winged blackbirds echoing their hollow and rattling arrival calls from the marshy thicket, were the last things she took notice of as she lay—cold, in shock, and bleeding out—on wet sedges. That as she took her final breaths, those sounds called her to remember only the true meaning of her life and work, and replaced all fear and all thoughts of the cruelty of what had been done to her.
            In my best moments I think these things and hold to them. Perhaps it’s because I have to.


            I was home for the evening when Vermont State Police Lieutenant Timothy Handler called.  It was Shawn who went for the phone, moving slowly toward the counter, her pregnant belly plowing through the warm and cozy kitchen air like a filled-up sail in front of her. We’d just had some of her slow-simmered chili for supper, and the beef and spice and hot pepper aromas were still strong, mixing with the fresh spring smells of mid-April mud and new green growth that came in through the open kitchen window.
             “Hello,” Shawn said into the receiver of my old black bakelite rotary phone. I caught her quick frown, a narrowing of her mocha-colored eyes as she listened to the caller.
             “Sure, he’s here,” she said, pushing dark curls away from her forehead, looking over at me. “It’s Handler…” The troubled look was still clouding her face as she passed the phone to me.
            Now I understood the reason for the frown. Handler calling our home was a reminder to both of us of some dark and difficult things, things that all too often came back to us, and sometimes stole a good night’s sleep. Of memories we hoped might somehow go away forever, but that we feared never would.
             “This is Liam,” I said.
            “Are you still teaching history at that prep school, Dutra?”
            Hearing Handler’s voice again, I could almost see his coiled energy and distracted manner, the tense light of his slate-colored eyes. I imagined I could see his relentless pen-clicking, the way he gulped hot coffee without seeming to taste it, to even know it existed.
            “Part time. Yes.”
            “Excellent. That means we can probably pay you. We’ll call it an expert consultant’s fee. Listen Dutra, what I’ve got is a research project for you. Nothing dangerous to you. It’s just that we have a possible homicide case that involves a University of Vermont history professor, and I’m thinking you might be able to give us some background, see if what she was working on, some of her research, might have any connection to her death.”
            “Okay,” I said, “I’m listening…”
            “It’s some stuff she seemed to be looking into, happened in the 1920s. Kind of things that you don’t necessarily think about when you think about Vermont, especially back then…”      I remembered now I had heard mention of her death on the news, with very few details given beyond her connection to the university, UVM. That there might be something Handler thought I could help dig up got my curiosity stirred, of course. And if anybody knew how much I could get stirred up by the power of things that had happened in the past, it would be Handler.
           And Shawn, too, who was seven months pregnant, and sipping herb tea now at the table beside me, listening in.
            Just a few days back we’d been talking about how peaceful and settled and steady our lives had become lately, and about how much we appreciated this feeling.
            Despite that, I found myself taking the bait that Handler put out. I wanted to know more about this strange story, whatever it might be… I pushed away the little waves of apprehension that I felt rising inside me. I told Handler he could come by my office at school after my late-morning class the next day.

            The next morning, all caffeinated up with dark roast coffee, and wearing shorts, fleece shirt, and running shoes, I left Shawn still snoring, and headed out the door.
            It’s a bit more than eleven miles from my house in Montpelier, Vermont to Granite Ledge, a boarding preparatory school where I teach American history to high school students. This spring I had taken to running the distance to work once a week, arranging for rides home with Shawn in the afternoons. A river fog hung blue-gray over the Winooski River, rising and engulfing my little white cape house and its neighbors as I loped down the hilly street. The maples lining the street were past bud-break now, I noticed. Their fresh, fragile green and russet, muted by the fog, had a slick, wet sheen.  At the bottom of the hill, my street met the main route into town. Here I ran easily, at warm-up pace, along the flat pavement for a while, beginning to sweat by the time I reached the old iron truss bridge that crossed the river and led to long Barre Street, with its neighborhood lined with railroad tracks. From the fog rose the rectangular bulks of the big old sheds that had once housed a busy industry cutting and carving local granite, much of it quarried from the hills around Barre, Montpelier’s twin city, six miles to the east. A few of the old sheds along the river had been renewed and renovated, converted to apartment and office buildings. But most of the long industrial buildings were battered and empty now, abandoned time-and-weather-worn hulks.

            I sometimes felt I could sense ghosts of the past here, especially on quiet mornings like this. I could almost hear the ring of hammers and whine of the big rock saw, the roar and rumble of trains that used to transport raw material and finished product, but now don't come through here anymore.   Fully warmed up now, picking up my pace, I reached the end of Barre Street and turned onto Montpelier’s Main Street. The wood and brick downtown buildings were quiet in the grayness, a few people out starting their day, carrying coffee mugs, briefcases, cell phones. Just outside of the downtown, I slipped between two quiet backyards on a residential street, headed up a switchback deer path that made a good shortcut, through second-growth thicket, to the steep climb of the dirt road headed north. I was feeling strong and fast this spring, a benefit gained from a winter of long snowshoe runs on hilly trails. Free of snowshoes and winter layers of clothing lately, I was feeling light-- unfettered and invincible—totally in the zone.   

( excerpt from SNOW-DARK CROSSING by Kevin Macneil Brown)

Sunday, April 06, 2014

April Meditations, Morning

April Meditations- Photographs by Kevin Macneil Brown, 4/6/2014

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Snow-Dark Crossing: New Book Coming Soon.

I am excited to announce that  my newest Liam Dutra New England Mystery, SNOW-DARK CROSSING, will be out in late April!

Here is the Author's Note, which gives a sense of where this book came from:

   In common with my other six novels, Snow-Dark Crossing was born when my own memories, imaginings, and explorations of certain places crossed paths with historical writings that showed upfortuitouslyon my horizon.
            In the case of this book, there were two dominant places: the Barre Street/Granite Street neighborhood of Montpelier, Vermont, with its vestiges of the once-strong granite industry, and the rural River Road area along the Winooski, just outside of town. (This latter area also haunts much of Highway In The Blood.)
            As for the history: in my first year of work as library assistant at Montpelier’s Main Street Middle School, I came across on our shelves a book by Maudeen Neill entitled Fiery Crosses In The Green Mountains (Greenhills, 1989.) The  accounts inside, in particular those of the occurrences at Saint Augustine’s Church in November of 1925, stayed with me,  eventually meeting  up with the story emerging from my imagination as I explored the aforementioned places. This led to further research, and a deepening story.
            While the events at St. Augustine’s really happened, there is no evidence, historical or anecdotal, that anything like the dark and depraved deeds described in this novel ever really took place along the River Road. But in writing mystorical fiction I have learned that it is crucial that I trust the story that arrives, and the voices that bring it to me.


I will be posting the first chapter soon--   I hope you will stay tuned!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Way Beyond Words (some thoughts on writing)

"If the mind were constructed on optional lines and if a book could be read the same way as a painting is taken in by the eye, that is without the bother of working from left to right and without the absurdity of beginnings and ends, this would be the ideal way of appreciating a novel, for thus the author saw it at the beginning of its conception."

I bookmarked this passage when I first came across it in Nabokov’s LECTURES ON LITERATURE, because it resonated so fiercely with my own experience as a writer. I come back to it now, because I have somehow found myself in the position of making final edits on a soon-to-be-published book and also at the very start of a new book’s fresh and raw first draft.
Each of my novels has begun as a sort of yearning energy summoned from, it seems, the act of moving through certain places and feeling a sense of something powerful going on there in a simultaneous past and present.  This “yearning towards” may go on for a while—weeks or months--but then there seems always to come a time when things focus and the book suddenly appears to me whole and finished—I can feel the weight of it, see the words and spaces on the pages, understand absolutely in a way beyond words what the book has to say and transmit.

Ah, but then I have to write it.  That becomes the daily work, sometimes flowing and effortless, other times close to impossible. Each draft does seem to bring the book closer to that initial vision. And eventually, first readers’ and editor’s comments and suggestions will be taken and addressed in the light of that first apparition. Details may shift and change, but the book will, for better or worse, arrive at being itself: Paradoxically, words will accrue to transfer the wordless energies that inspired in the first place

All of this was clarified to me further yesterday, when I came across another passage in my reading, this time the story of the bell-stand carver in THE WAY OF CHUANG TZU ( Thomas Merton’s translation is the version I was reading.)

  Khing, a woodcarver, is asked the secret behind the beauty of the bell-stand he had carved. He explains that there is no secret, but that the wood itself—and his own focus on the “single thought of the bell-stand”--tuning out all distractions--was necessary to the outcome.  
 What Khing says next makes deep sense to me:

   “Then I went to the forest
    To see the trees in their own natural state.
     When the right tree appeared before my eyes,
     The bell stand appeared in it, clearly, beyond doubt.
      All I had to do was to put forth my hand
      And begin.”

   I’ll be keeping these words in heart and mind as I explore the surprises of a first draft, as I ferret away at the fussy details of a final proof.  And I’ll do my best to keep my focus and desire on the original vision as it first appeared: clearly, beyond doubt.


Monday, March 17, 2014

Winter's Edge-- One Last Painting

Toward Lost Ranger Peak, Winter Dawn
Painting by Kevin Macneil Brown, watercolor and graphite on paper, 2014.

              Only a few more days until spring, or so I hear. It has been a cold winter here in Vermont. I am almost out of the paint that has made up my winter palette, so that's pretty good timing, I think. Here's what will likely be my last finished painting for this winter. This is a view toward the Continental Divide, from Clark, Colorado, made from sketches done last December.
And now, with spring on the horizon, I'll be switching focus for a while, getting my newest book ready for publication in late April. I will be reporting further before long.-KMB

Saturday, March 01, 2014

A Writer's Window

     I am far from the first to share the feeling that writing fiction can feel like a lonely pursuit at times. I am fortunate to have a few creative venues in my life, and I have learned that surrendering to the sustained alternate reality of writing a novel day after day can be fulfilling in a way that is opposite to the fulfillment that comes with, for example, performing music for an immediate audience. That said, when an appreciative letter or email from a reader comes along, it can really make my day. Such letters have let me know that I am on the right track, that what I feel resonating might indeed be transferred to resonate with another person as they read.  I can’t help but think of what John Cheever said so elegantly:  “The room where I work has a window looking into a wood, and I like to think that these earnest, loveable, and mysterious readers are in there.”
 A few years ago I experienced a moment when that window opened in another way. I had finished my first two novels, and though neither had been published yet, I had made some headway selling articles about running and outdoor exploration to magazines and newspapers. I was working as a record store manager in downtown Montpelier, Vermont at the time, and had just had a very personal essay about running, history, and memory in Gloucester, Massachusetts published in the magazine NEW ENGLAND RUNNER.   I was at work in the store one busy Saturday when a young woman and man walked in. The young man roamed the CD racks. But the young woman was obviously not interested in shopping for music. Instead, she stood in a quiet corner, reading a copy of NEW ENGLAND RUNNER—bought most likely at the sport store across the street. It was clear from her body language that she was utterly lost in what she was reading:  there was no page-flipping; her eyes stayed on the page; a focused intensity was visible on her face. Somehow, I knew exactly which article she was reading.

  I helped some customers. A few minutes later I walked past the young woman, who was still reading quietly. Of course--and I will admit that it felt invasive to do so-- I could not stop myself from taking a very quick glance at the page open in her hands. Yes, she was reading the Gloucester article. I felt a little chill as I went on to greet another customer.
  It might be that famous authors get used to seeing their words read by strangers in public places.  But for me it felt like I had received something sacred--experiencing through outward signs that my words could be read deeply.  Though part of me still needs to make peace with my actions in sneaking that glance, the larger part remains grateful for what I received that day.

  Now, with plans to delve into a new first draft on the horizon, along with final edits on a novel that will be out in the spring, it is almost time to sit down again with the screen and  page before me.  Also before me will be windows that look into the woods, toward those mysterious, welcoming readers in there, out there, and beyond. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

From a Journey, Part Two: Colorado Watercolors



       Paintings by Kevin Macneil Brown, watercolor and graphite on paper, 2014.

Moving through this winter, I have been working from my Colorado sketchbooks to make some finished watercolor paintings. I remain deeply haunted and awed by the shapes, colors, and textures of the mountains in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area, along the west side of the Continental Divide, up near the Wyoming border.
Here are two paintings made at home in Vermont, working from pencil sketches I did while on a snowy trail run near Vista Verde Ranch in December.-KMB