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Donna Fletcher Crow

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Donna Fletcher Crow (US) is the author of forty-some books, mostly novels dealing with the history of British Christianity. She is the author of The Monastery Murders series; The Lord Danvers Victorian True-Crime series; The Elizabeth & Richard literary mysteries, GLASTONBURY,A Novel of the Holy Grail and more. www.donnafletchercrow.com

Fay Sampson

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Fay Sampson (UK) is a writer of adult and children's fiction and non-fiction, including A MALIGNANT HOUSE, #2 in the Susie Fewings series, a British Crime Club Pick. http://www.faysampson.co.uk

Stories From Cemeteries

By Donna Fletcher Crow ~ September 29, 2012

I'd like to welcome Beth Kanell, one of my fellow authors from the brand new e-book 25 Years in the Rearview Mirror, 52 Authors Look Back.  Beth is stopping by as part of the 25 Years in the Rearview Mirror Blog Tour. If you enjoy magazine columns and Chicken Soup for the Soul books, then we're sure you'll enjoy our collection of essays, designed to warm your heart, raise your spirits and compel you to examine your own life. Get a full listing of authors, essay titles and retailers here: http://ning.it/OHLH0y

With leaves turning autumnal and the stores filling up with trick-or-treats and spooky decorations, Beth is going to help us get in the mood for Halloween by writing about

STORIES FROM THE CEMETERIES— A Halloween Preparation

In St. Johnsbury, Vermont, where history educator Peggy Pearl literally grew up in Mt. Pleasant Cemetery (her dad was the caretaker or sexton; the family lived next door, and Peggy often picnicked in "her" adjacent park), there's an annual walk through the green and leafy grounds, listening to Peggy talk about the residents of town from the past two hundred and fifty years or so.

Joining the tour a couple of years ago, I remembered to take along with me a pencil and pad of paper, so I could jot down some of the remarkable stories Peg pointed out. There was the plot for the town's wealthy industrialists, the Fairbanks family; here, the Civil War soldier monument; there, a crypt she'd never seen the inside of, since the door had jammed so long ago.

But my thoughts were still back in the Fairbanks plot, where three humbler stones stood to one side, with Irish names on them. I tugged at Peg's sleeve. "What about those?" Peg brusquely said something, then went on with her presentation about a woman who'd been a slave before arriving in Vermont and was buried further along the trail. Did she actually tell me the small stones were the markers of the family's the Irish cooks, refugees from the great Potato Famine of 1845-1847? I jotted it on my page, although I can't swear now that she was the source— I could have put that part together on my own. The coincidence of those markers being close to the one for Chinese laundry owner Sam Wah, the only Chinese man buried on the ridge, struck a chord that insisted on becoming a novel.

I write at the hinges of history— where, as our culture changes, we see the past in new ways. The arrival of Chinese men in Vermont in the late 1800s reflects the young nation's first ethnically biased legislation: the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. By closing the U.S. borders to more Chinese— even though there had been already many Chinese men "shanghaied" into the country to work as if slaves on the transcontinental railroads— the act encouraged border smuggling of Asians who wanted or needed to enter America. Vermonters had much experience in smuggling, having practiced it in both the Revolutionary War and War of 1812, as well as during the Civil War and the state's two generations of "early" Prohibition of alcohol. Escorting Chinese men from Canada to Boston fit right in. Sam Wah may have arrived in town this way. At any event, he set up his laundry in 1886 and won a cherished place in the community, lunching with the businessmen, working for their wives, and in the evening, hosting an ever-running poker game locally called his "gambling den."

My books feature teen protagonists, wrestling with discoveries of the world beyond their homes, trying to decide the kind of adults they want to be. Soon, the 1921 high school freshmen characters of Claire Benedict— with her shell-shocked father and angry mother and Canadian roots— and Ben Riley, son of an Irish cook up at the mansion, began to tell me their story of detection and danger, and I watched them stand in the darkness outside a lit window as they stared at the Chinese man inside.

By the time I'd written the novel, Cold Midnight, which comes out in November, I'd developed a new relationship with Mt. Pleasant Cemetery.

For me, it's haunted by a girl, and a boy, and a old Chinese man who still wears his native attire and the long plait down his back. I hear their voices whispering, whether it's dark or light. The cemetery brought them to life. I never realized the dead could rise in quite that way!

I know I'm not the only mystery writer to find "her" story at a cemetery— why not comment here about your own?

[Beth Kanell lives in Vermont, where characters rise up from the cemeteries, the village commons, the barns. . . Compelled by such hauntings, she's written three adventure mystery novels to give those characters room to tell their stories and work out their destiny: The Darkness Under the Water (2008), The Secret Room (2011), and Cold Midnight (Nov. 2012). Follow her research and other exploits at http://bethkanell.blogspot.com; she is also a National Book Critics Circle member and reviews mysteries at http://kingdombks.blogspot.com. With her husband Dave, she promotes mysteries and their collecting at Kingdom Books in Waterford, Vermont. For extra photo images that fed the Cold Midnight story, see the novel's Pinterest board: http://pinterest.com/bethkanell/cold-midnight-climbing-on-roofs-at-night-solving-c.]

Donna Fletcher Crow (US) is the author of forty-some books, mostly novels dealing with the history of British Christianity. She is the author of The Monastery Murders series; The Lord Danvers Victorian True-Crime series; The Elizabeth & Richard literary mysteries, GLASTONBURY,A Novel of the Holy Grail and more. www.donnafletchercrow.com

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Reader Comments:

Very interesting post, Beth! Cold Midnight sounds like an intriguing book.
-Stacy Juba, October 1, 2012

No stories from cemeteries, but walking a ruined castle in England would give me the same haunted feeling.
-Sheila Deeth, October 1, 2012

Thank you, Donna, for hosting this on your intriguing blog! I'm looking forward to reading more of your work, and enjoying the comments of other readers.
-Beth Kanell, October 2, 2012

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