New chapters for several Vermont writers

by Stephen Morris

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I have just finished reading Training a Young Pointer: How the Experts Develop My Bird Dog and Me by Joseph Healy (Stackpole Books, 2005). There is absolutely no reason for me to read, let alone enjoy, this book. I don't own a dog (alas). I don't hunt. The author is, by his own admission, not an expert, and he enlists the services of a professional trainer to get his English pointer Reilly to hunt properly.

But the book is absorbing, partly because the author is as eager to please the reader as is the dog his master. I share the writer's heartfelt emotion when, after countless hours and several thousand dollars, he experiences success:

"A grouse goes up. It levels off near the tops of the pines. I shoot. The bird folds and falls. I just shot my first pointed wild grouse over Reilly. I turn toward Jerry [his hunting companion] and shout: 'I have a pointing dog!'" And then no kidding the author tears up and has to turn away. I had the same reaction the first time I landed a large trout.

Later Joe reflects on his faltering relationship with a woman whom he once considered marrying: "C. [his girlfriend] and I slept together one last time, with Reilly between us."

(Hmm, this might be a clue ... The author then goes off to cover a fishing tournament.)

Healy continues: "I spent the days of the tournament fishing with masterly guides and anglers and the nights thinking of Reilly and C. Good-bye, I thought of C. Can't wait to get home, I thought of Reilly."

There's a man with clear priorities! Since Joe is a Vermont writer (also editor of Vermont Magazine), I contacted him to learn how his book is doing.

Healy says: "This is a 'guy and his dog book.' The publisher lists it in the 'Pets' section of their Web site, showing that Training a Young Pointer is a title for any pet/dog owner, and not only hunters."

This, by the way, is not a mere how-to book. "I have suffered through too many such how-to tomes on fly fishing and hunting, and thousands of those types of articles, in my editorial career, to write that kind of book," says Healy.

The author has done bookstore readings, and a review is coming in the magazine, Shooting Sportsman. "I'm planning to set up a website in a few weeks," he said, adding he might even start "a dog owner's blog."

Healy is in the initial phase of being a famous writer. The process begins with modest signings at local bookstores and then, if all goes well, ends with the million-dollar advance on the next book and the Pulitzer Prize. I called around to check in with other Vermont writers with recently released books to see how they are progressing on the path to fame, fortune and Oprah.

Helen Husher, author of Conversations with a Prince: A Year of Riding at East Hill Farm (The Lyons Press, 2005), says: "I've been doing readings here and there. When I wrote Prince, I thought the main audience would be people who liked horses, but I keep being told by readers that they also gave the book to a parent or partner who was baffled by the whole obsessive horse thing. 'Prince' seems to do the trick. One reader told me that her husband has gone from complaining about the bills to asking her what time her lesson is."

The squire of East Hill Farm is Con Hogan, a familiar figure in political circles, but also a newcomer to Vermont's literary scene.

His Met Along the Way: Short Stories About People in Vermont (Sutter House, 2005) will be excerpted in The Herald of Randolph. As a new author, Con is finding the experience fun and rewarding. He is receiving reorders from bookstores.

Every year sees a hot new diet book, and this year's answer to the South Beach Diet is for your house, not your body. Paul Scheckel, with his Home Energy Diet (New Society Publishing, 2005), is helping homeowners across America combat the increased costs of energy. At a time of daily reminders in the headlines and at the gas pumps, his book is a soothing antidote to the insanity of runaway energy costs. His employer, the Vermont Energy Investment Corp., has even donated a copy to each library in the state.

Tim Brookes, author of Guitar (Atlantic Monthly Press), reports having a genuine "famous writer" moment in the San Francisco airport: "I was coming back from a series of readings in California based around a big festival. I was playing my guitar in the departures area when a guy came over and we struck up conversation. He had been at the festival, too, and when he asked me what I'd been doing there and I told him about the book, he opened his backpack and pulled out a copy. "That's what I'm reading right now," Brookes quotes him as saying.

Even more cool is the news Tim received recently that a chapter from The Driveway Diaries (Turtle Point Press) called "17 Ways of Looking at a Dirt Road" is going to be excerpted in the "Readings" section of Harper's. The University of Vermont English instructor, who for years was a columnist for the Vermont Sunday Magazine, is clearly climbing the literary ladder.

Nancy Jack Todd contacts me from Nova Scotia just before beginning her book tour to promote A Safe and Sustainable World: The Promise of Ecological Design (Island Press, 2005). Her tour takes her from the Maritimes to California for the Bioneers Convention where she and husband, John, will be duly acknowledged as two of the individuals who, through their work at The New Alchemy Institute, defined sustainable living.

She describes her book as "chugging along pretty well," with a great review in the Christian Science Monitor, but I suspect she'll be glad to get back to Vermont to rest her weary arm (from signing so many books at the Bioneers Convention).

Joe Citro has a dubious distinction. When Sterling Publishing (the publishing arm of Barnes & Noble) was looking for an authority on all that's unusual, curious and bizarre, they turned to Joe. I've always found him to be a nice guy, but there must be another side. The result is Weird New England due out shortly. Joe describes it as "a grand volume, coffee-table sized and full of pictures, most by me. There is a lot of new material in the book and some interesting spins of stuff previously published." If you can't wait for the book, you can look for it on Joe's website.

In the meantime, Citro's Cursed in New England: True Tales of Damned Yankees (Globe Pequot, 2004) continues to sell well. He also reports that he is trying to learn how to make his wireless laptop work while trying to raise money to produce a video on some of the most dramatic Vermont stories he's collected over the years.

Published October 23, 2005 in Vermont Today

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cover: Home Energy Diet by Paul Scheckel
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