Stolen Mountain

The story of Trowbridge Vermont looks as messy and chaotic as the forests here. The first novel in the series helped me scrape the rust off the process of writing novels freeing me from the structures of technical writing, but I stuck too close to exposé. When done with the novel called “Trowbridge Vermont”, I called it a flop.

I jumped into a second book about Trowbridge. This book, being released in September of 2024, starts in metro-Boston then lands in Trowbridge twenty or more years later. That book earned the name “The Little Ambulance War of Winchester County“.

Needing a book to release in 2025, I put my focus back onto the flop called “Trowbridge Vermont”. I re-wrote it from scratch. I think I kept part of one chapter. When done with the manuscript, I looked at the nameless digital manuscript. T2 is a terrible name. I don’t need Arnie Schwartzenegger telling us all he’ll be back

How to Create a Title

Me, I had a lot of bad ideas before a good one. In a book about fraud, started thinking about stealing things. Fraud is theft. Theft of confidence. Theft of property. Theft of money. I played on that idea. Stealing Monday. Stealing Tuesday. Tuesday’s on the phone to Wednesday. Wednesday was in a movie I watched recently. I wonder what we can watch on streaming tonight? The following day, I recognized that the bad guy(s) stole a mountain. I pictured it like those magicians who stole Lady Liberty and the Eiffel Tower decades ago. Poof, you’re mountain is gone.

Then because stream-of-consciousness, I wondered what a Stollen Mountain may taste of look like. Even that image worked for me, a lumpy fruit bread with icing and icing sugar. It isn’t a festive bread served during the yule tide, it is a novel about the woman who chased a guy who stole a mountain from the good people of Vermont.

Different is Good!

After recording the audio-book version of the novel, “The Little Ambulance War of Winchester County”, the files went out for quality checks. I’ve been getting funny notes from the QA/QC person. Well she tells me she is laughing. I tell myself, the book is funny.

She had another message for me. With rapt attention, she reads my words and listens to my voice. She tells me that they don’t match. She loves the story and I seem to be coherent and flowing, but like a jazz musician, the audio is more performative than literal. Good? Bad? She encouraged me to write then record a message to the listeners. It goes like this:

“I offer you my thanks for buying and listening to The Little Ambulance War of Winchester County. I am Aiken, the author and narrator. Friends and family call me Christina.
One of the production team pointed out that this left-handed dyslexic author (me), occasionally did not read her own words correctly. Just in case you are the sort of follows an audiobook with a print edition open, please enjoy the mild variations between the spoken version and the written version. It’s the same story. The deviations are minor.

No Offramps

looked at my outline on Plottr seeing more green boxes behind me than white boxes in front of me. I hated the ending. Worked all day. Replace the ending, called the novel done and returned to billable work. At present the title of the book is “Ski Branston”. I don’t know that I love the title. “What happens when fraudster’s take over a Vermont ski hill” is a worse title. The folder on my computer is still called “Trowbridge Vermont” which was the title of the first draft.

I researched this story during 2020 with a first draft finished on 28FEB2021. I read badly, developed badly, and I forgot what I was writing. I love writing fiction, yet I spent my days writing the non-fiction-iest stuff on the planet. Stuff I learnt as a kid, I had to hear again from editors and friends.

Whilst crafting “The Little Ambulance War of Winchester County”, I drove hard bring characters to three-dimensional life. I was pleased when I asked a reader/friend, who is your favorite character. She picked Captain Flynn’s wife and Alex’s mother. She is a driving force in the novel, but is never given a name. The irony was that I modelled this character after her, my friend/reader.

I have these sayings I mumble when I get in trouble. I am about to add another one I heard from Neil deGrasse Tyson (via youtube). In describing the movie Oppenheimer, Neil said something about all of these amazing characters in the movie who were never named such as Richard Feynman and Heisenberg. He said that Christopher Nolen “never took an offramp” to explain these people. I knew that they were there because we watch TV and movies with the talkie-talks on (aka “closed captions”, himself with two hearing aids).

  • “No Offramps” belongs on my list, thank you Neil.
  • “Be in the room”
  • “Five senses”
  • “Speak your voice”

I also studied the books and movies I was enjoying and listened to a lifetime friend. She said to me, I read for characters and flow, I don’t give a shit about the ending. That kinda resulted in: “Don’t aim for the ending”

When I picked up the draft in 2024, I kept everything and tossed everything out. Both are true. Instead of proving the thesis of an essay and plodding through my normal technical infill needed to lend evidence to an argument, I said, “Just write a story and let the reader in.”

That may mean writing an incomplete story?

My father once described his own writing as “post cinematic.” Under his eye, I wrote a few scenes and essays with this guidance. He said, you do not need to describe Paris and drive by the Eiffel tower to establish setting. Since then 1940s, everyone knows what Paris looks like. They know it in black-and-white. They know it in color. They know the horror of Nazi’s driving down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. They know the image of mimes and painters along the Seine. All of those images are stored behind the word Paris. The reader sees it. Victor Hugo had to describe Notre Dame to every reader. Melville used a section of a novel to describe the encyclopedia entries for whales. You, he said, need only to describe the faux gas lamps reflecting through a still puddle on a cobblestoned street.
Today’s reader and viewer brings a degree of sophistication to media today including skepticism (I hope) about the role of the artificial.

Invite them in, he said, they’ll join you.

These are lessons I need to remember everyday.

Publishers Work

What did I do on Tuesday 26MAR 2024? I finished a novel. Maybe it was Wednesday, when I replaced the final chapter? Immediately following the last keystroke, I kept writing. I had billable writing to do. Should I have whooped and hollered? I didn’t. I had a week’s work that needed completing for clients that need their work completed.

When meeting with my marketing person on Friday 29MAR 2024, she and I discovered that the novel is available for pre-sale everywhere. That seemed to be a trigger. I am now instructed to go drive pre-sales. On Saturday and Sunday, I took on a new set of tasks.

Get a book done, market the last one. Write next book. It’s not bad lifestyle. I grew up with it. I may just notice that my father wrote through the winter and had a more relaxed schedule during the summer.

That’s the rhythm. I do my work in a year. The publisher does her work in a year. Each year, we do our job and maybe these efforts zipper together for success?

I can bang out a 4000-word chapter in a few hours, normally before noon and my lunch. There are others with that skill. I’ve got hard drives with crappy drafts, good drafts, incomplete works, and the normal detritus of a writer’s life. When I tell myself I have a deadline, then I meet it. I want 100K words in three to four months. Let’s acknowledge that I am typing that fast, but am I actually writing when I type? Or am I unspooling thoughts from a buffer? It takes the better part of a year to get a novel from concept to completion and ready for the editor. There’s all that thinking and planning to do. What I do is a mystery to many around me including my husband of nearly 30 years.

While I do my think, I attempt to peak over the fence in the publisher’s yard. Who knew that publishing takes a year too. The lingo and duties changed during my lifetime too. I haven’t got a single person’s job title/description correct yet. I see the results. I feel the results. I get emails with new terms in it, that I am learning fresh. There is publisher over there doing publisher things which feels a lot like marketing and related jobs. I had to learn the word ‘blurber’ this week. It has nothing to do with ethnic groups of North Africa. A blurber writes a lovely sentence about your book and it gets put on the cover.  

Managing this world takes work, real work. The following screenshot is proof of a publisher’s work.

Publisher's Work
The result of a publisher’s efforts

Cover Design

My mother, Susan, designed book jackets and laid books out for publication. In her younger and healthier days, she sculpted. I remember her toting heavy bags of clay and welding. She worked with lost-wax and bronze. For a decade-plus, she live part of the year in northern Italy sculpting in marble. With a decline in health, she worked from a desk. Oh, we could fuss at each other. She had the ideas but lacked the computer skills to execute them. I had the skills but little interest in her work. The push-and-pull of family dynamics.

Now needing a book cover, I miss the dynamics of our conversations.

The Little Ambulance War of Winchester County

  • Smashed Ambulances (so bad, I never started)
  • Vermont State Flag (failure)
  • Mycelial Network (failure)
  • A Vermont Noir – so maybe this will work?

4. Vermont Noir

Vermont looks great in the postcards with a church spire rising from a valley surrounded by the autumnal hues of reds, orange, yellow, and brown. We love the ski photos too. The red barn with cattle, sheep, and old farm house, that’s familiar. Then there is that sense of isolation, remoteness and starkness that locals experience.

The Little Ambulance War of Winchester County

This work came from the artistry of

3. Mycelial Network

Throughout the novel, I describe PTSD as a series of black-fibers and as a mycelial network. Lexi describes PTSD as “tinea mentis” a concept that blends the technical name for athletes foot, a fungal infection, and mentis referencing the brain.

I searched for related images. There are some brilliant images out there augmented by the use of Star Trek’s mycelial flight technology. The imagery spanned from the highly scientific to the stylized images of computer networks. I spent time looking at a spider web clinging to my office window. But a spider hanging from a web bring exactly one story to mind. Some Pig. I need to avoid the link to books for young readers.

I explored a black-on-black motif using matt and gloss. That would require embossing the cover. Great idea for old-world books. But podcast and audiobook covers are 3000px square and often too small to resolve. Black-on-black would fail. Working with Illustrator, I remembered the paperback cover for my father’s book Fletch.

The colors of red, black, and white presented boldly to the shopper. In our house, we called it, rouge et noir. I was a kid back then. I added this concept to my own cover art.

In a tip-of-the-hat, I also stole/borrowed, the opening dialogue from my fathers book. You’ll find it at the opening of chapter Two. That’s for another story.

2. Vermont State Flag

The Vermont state flag displays the state seal on a blue background. The seal has a field, a pine tree, a cow, hills and a few haystacks. These are images that reckon to the state’s agricultural roots.

Piggies / Vermont State Police Decal

In 2008, an unknown prisoner modified the state seal. The prisoner substituted little piggy faces for the stacks of hay. It took four years for someone to see these little faces and understand the intended slander. Read the story here: NPR

I explored riffing on this state seal. Instead of the cow and hay, I could have ambulances facing off in a green pasture. I did a bit of work with water colors and cut-outs.

1. Smashed Ambulances

There are several themes throughout the book. The first and most obvious involves ambulances at war. I asked: is it possible to illustrate ambulance smashing into each other or other means of showing violence and such. It was a terrible idea. Failed within minutes of picturing wrecked ambulance. I’ve seen it. I have experienced the pain that results. No!

Chip Kidd says while standing on front of an image of an apple and the word “Apple”: You don’t need both. The least useful thing to put on a book with the word “ambulance” in the title is the actual ambulance.