Hello again from Sarah Graves, who has planned for traveling but has not been doing so. For instance: The 2014 Crime Bake in Dedham, Massachusetts was great, I hear. I was supposed to learn this in person, but with my bags packed, registration long accomplished, banquet ticket bought and bus fare in hand, I was instead felled by a virus of unknown origin pretty much as I walked out my back door. While I might’ve attempted the trip anyway, I made the on-the-spot judgment call that maybe a 6-hour bus ride was not such a good idea under the circumstances. So I pouted instead, which turned out to be just about all I could accomplish for the next 48 hours, and I’m still disappointed. I do, however, have a virtuous feeling about all the people I did not infect with an ailment whose intensity was matched only by its unpleasantness. You’re welcome, everyone.
This is a print of a sardine label, from back when people ate sardine sandwiches for lunch. I personally can’t even look at an anchovy. Popping a whole fish of any size into my mouth — and then, dear heaven, chewing it! and swallowing it! — just isn’t in my DNA, it seems. But at one time those sandwiches were as common as PB&J is now, and plenty of people on the Maine coast made their living by catching, cutting, and packing the small fish into tins, and labeling them like the one at right. Here in Eastport there were several “sardine factories” where mostly women (and children, wielding knives as long as their arms and standing on boxes to reach the cutting tables) prepped and packed the catch. Different factories had different whistles, so that wherever you were in town you knew when “your” factory’s load of sardines had come in, and you should hurry down to work.
It’s cold here now, but last week we were still enjoying the fool’s gold of early November. Leaves were raked and newly planted garlic beds were covered with straw while we asked one another if maybe it wasn’t too soon, because if it stayed this warm for much longer the bulbs would sprout early. We put the straw down anyway, though, because in our hearts we recognized what none of us wanted to admit, and now we’re nodding sagely at one another: we knew it all along.
I see these decoys in antique stores and think of the ones that used to be in our basement when I was a kid. There were big burlap bags full of them, all glass-eyed and painted to resemble the birds that flew in by the thousands to Horicon Marsh in northern Wisconsin. Near the bags stood the huge hand-built table with the shotgun-shell reloading press bolted to it. On the bench too were the bags of shot, the gun powder, the wadding disks and small bright metal primers. Often there were bags full of spent shells there, as well, and on Sunday afternoons we kids went down and reloaded shotgun shells for fun. I can still feel the heavy, solid ka-chunk! of the shell press coming down to mash all the contents together and crimp the end tightly closed. (I can still feel my tooth coming down on a stray bit of birdshot when we ate roasted duck, too, but that’s another story.)
One plan that has not changed is for WINTER AT THE DOOR, still due out January 6, 2015. I distinctly recall writing the first few words of this, feeling that stepping-off-into-the-void sensation of starting a novel, knowing there were 89,995 words of it left to write and that I had no idea what any of them were. I mention this now because, had I been at Crime Bake and had anyone asked me, I’d have said it’s the same whether it’s your first book or your many-eth: there is really nothing else you can do but go on. Page one is as blank for the old writer as for the new, the words as unknown until they’re written. Fortunately, the only thing you can do — keep at it — is also the main (some say only) requirement, when you get right down to it.