Category Archives: Lee Montgomery

Lee Montgomery: New Englanders Don’t Write Blogs (and 20 other things you never knew about the Northeast)

The community manager at Shebooks suggested that I write a blog post to promote my new e-book titled, New Englanders. She recommended, “10 ways to spot a New Englander,” or something in that vein. Being that I am a New Englander I told this woman I could never write a blog about what it was or wasn’t to be a New Englander.

New Englanders don’t write blogs.

Apparently, there are a lot of people out there who feel they can write such baloney: ten things about New England or how to spot a New Englander. All to say there are a lot wannabe New Englanders. Wannabe New Englanders are not True New Englanders. They are the faux New New Englanders. Much has been lost to faux New England. There are many imposters, many interlopers…my mother’s family were such people, from Michigan.

So let me set the record straight:

True New Englanders don’t write blogs.

Computer cat doesn't like blogs

They also don’t write promotional materials of any kind — either to promote themselves, their work, or anything or anyone else. Any New Englander knows promoting anything is nonsense, too high falutin’ tooting one’s horn. If a New Englander wanted to write promotional materials, they wouldn’t write fiction about depressed New Englanders. They would work in PR for a social media company and move to Brooklyn.

A True New Englander needs to have at least one side of the family living in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, or Maine for the last 400 years. (No Connecticut does not count. Too close to New York ways. They’ve been trying to wiggle their way into New England Club Status for centuries. )

A True New Englander knows everyone secretly wants to be a New Englander. Everyone but a true New Englander, in fact. (The last place a New Englander wants to be is New England.)

New Englanders don’t go to prep schools. New Englanders do not wear those fat rimmed cordoroys, khakis, or Izod shirts. A true New Englander would not caught dead in penny loafers.

Prep schools and preppies have tried time again to steal the mantle of New England chic all to no avail. They may be situated in New England and adorn the trappings of a New Englander but they are not New England.

New Englanders do not worship Dunkin Doughnuts; they have never even seen a Dunkin Doughnuts. (That’s Connecticut again.)

New Englanders do not go on family ski vacations. New Englanders don’t downhill ski; they cross country or in extreme cases snow shoe, and, then, only if they have to e.g., if they are snowed in and out of gin.

New Englanders do not wear topsiders. They wear moccasins or blue boat shoes. New Englanders don’t wear pink and green. They do not wear whale belts or Lily Pulitzers. (That’s Long Island). They do not carry whale bone purses or Nantucket baskets with whale bone clips. New England women either go without (wallet in pocket type of folk), make their own, or carry ugly black or brown leather purses their mothers bought at Jordan Marsh or Filene’s Basement in the forties and handed down.

New Englanders do not drive snowmobiles.

They drive tractors or American cars. They don’t wear bean boots either. They wear rubbers. New Englanders do carry Bean sail bags, though, have for as long as they can remember Bean came to town.

True New Englanders are not impressed by the interlopers at Harvard either. Nor those drab and boring brown-wearing Bostonians. Don’t even get a New Englander started on the Boston Brahmin or those of the Cambridge ilk.

True New Englanders do not grow weary by the streets of Boston and their rotaries laid out by wandering cows. True New Englanders wouldn’t be caught dead in Boston.

Nor in a church.

True New Englanders don’t go to church except occasionally maybe to sing. They may believe in god but they do not worship him. Like the good Transcendalists, they worship the earth.

A New Englander does not run in marathons, saving that for Boston (and Connecticut). They do not run, period. They don’t play tennis, golf or other sports with balls. They do not hunt horses. They drink to excess often, especially on Sunday when the Blue Laws make it illegal. (More fun.)

New Englanders are sailors, when they are not busy building useful things – doohickies for the garden, compost bins, painting boats.

New Englanders don’t like lobster or clam chowder, leave those for the newbie’s, baked bean lovers, and tourists. They eat trout for breakfast and a lot of turnips. They love kohlrabi and rhubarb.

They do not admire the foliage. If it’s foliage time that means it’s time to pick up leaves. And if it is time to pick up leaves, snow is surely to follow.

True Englanders secretly love Northeasters, the bigger the better, but only before and during storm. After storm they want to slit their wrists.

True New Englanders know Indian staircases, and under ground tunnels to run from being attacked by Native Americans e.g., Indians. They know about cotton battens in the crème puffs, plum pudding you slice with a thread. They know how to grow pumpkins, burn leaves without burning down the town.

True New Englanders also know the crap they teach in school about the pilgrims and the American Revolution, including Plymouth Rock, and the whack job Paul Revere, are not the whole story. Some true New Englanders were loyal to the King, and no they were not tarred and feathered because they were safely off in Canada until everyone could settle down.

New Englanders farm, fish, and garden, putter around the old homestead.

Cat screws in a lightbulb

They reshingle barns. They mend fences. Build stone walls. Only a few do manufacturing and high tech on Route 128; something other New Englanders don’t understand.

New Englanders know to make hay when the sun shines, don’t make much ado about anything, can’t get there or anywhere from here.

Truth is, it’s harder and harder to find true New Englanders in New England. After four hundred years of winters, true New Englanders worth their salt have all moved to California.

Sign buried in snow

 

Lee Montgomery is an award-winning writer, read her latest novella, New Englanders, only from Shebooks.

NewEnglanders

Lee Montgomery: “My mother and my friends’ mothers were the miserable housewives of the fifties and sixties.” | Q&A

Award-winning author Lee Montgomery talks with Shebooks about how she developed her latest novella, New Englanders, out of a combination of memory, history and imagination.

NewEnglanders

What prompted you to write New Englanders?

New Englanders is part of a novel based on a story that floated around my hometown. Three men disappeared on a sailboat while sailing to Bermuda, leaving their families to forever wonder what became of them. I know that this happened, but I’ve never talked to anyone who was actually associated with the tragedy. I knew the children of one of the men, went to school with his daughter, had a brief and wonderful affair with his son, but never talked to them about what happened. When I started writing this, I asked friends from town, talked to the historical society, and researched in newspapers and so forth, but never found any record, so I don’t know the true story. Yet it still persists in my imagination. I have imagined and reimagined the story so many times that I’m actually no longer sure what is true and what is not. The people and places I write about in this novel don’t represent any real part of my life, but one I’ve dreamed up based on pieces of people and places I have known.

Are there any themes that you find recurring in your writing? What’s their origin?

I often write about disenfranchised women, New England, and class because these issues surrounded me as a young woman coming of age during the feminist and civil rights movements, the Vietnam War, and the cultural revolution of drugs, free love, and rock and roll. The world was quite literally exploding for women of my generation. This was the “anything-is-possible” seventies, the era that spun out new and brilliant career possibilities for women. My mother and my friends’ mothers were the miserable housewives of the fifties and sixties. They were smart, had gone to Smith and Yale, but wanted more in life than volunteering as a docent at the local museum. On the outside, they drank too much, had nervous breakdowns, slept with each other’s husbands, and so forth. On the inside they were fluent in French, poets, writers, actresses, and artists. I remember being taken with this predicament at a very young age. My mother was a world-class alcoholic. My best friend’s mother had bipolar disease and was often out of her mind. The woman next door hung herself. Another friend’s mother was having an affair. There were the men, too. By the age of 34, I’d known 12 people who had killed themselves, many of whom I knew from our neighborhood, many of whom were considered “privileged.” As an adult, I knew I had to do something to tell these stories.

I am also interested in class, partly because I don’t have any and was often thrown into circles who did. This had something to do with my parents’ backgrounds. My mother, having come from a line of successful family members during the boom in upper Michigan, including a governor and a mayor, considered herself fancy. My father’s family, coming from a long line of New England farmers, carpenters, and fisherman, was not. (My father was the first of his family to go to college.) And as a family we were not wealthy but my mother’s upbringing had her aspiring to those circles. This is why my brother, sister, and I all went to prep schools. That threw us all into a world that was a bit foreign and would forever provide an interesting conflict to write about.

How did you create the setting for this novella?

Millwood, Massachusetts, is a fictional town located in a spot similar to Hingham, Massachusetts, or Braintree, in the southern part of Boston Harbor. Boston, its harbor, and its islands have always fascinated me. The old warehouses, which now have become the fancy Rowes Wharf, were once old docks with local businesses; the North End and the Haymarket were places of my youth. I became even more obsessed with the old world of Boston Harbor after finding a book called King’s Handbook of Boston Harbor (1882) in a secondhand store in, of all places, Carson, Washington, not too far from Portland, Oregon. Reading through the histories of the Boston Harbor Islands and the small towns, seeing the amazing woodcuts and illustrations, I became enchanted with the islands, the towns on the harbor, their histories and stories. The actual layout of the town of Millwood has been lifted from old Framingham Center, the town where I grew up, and combined with sections of Westport Point, where my brother and his wife have lived for 40 years. A lot of the characters of Millwood are based on characters I have known and given family histories based on what I learned from this fabulous book.

What writing projects are you working on next?

Besides this novella, I’ve been working on some short stories and a group of essays for a book-length project called My Brilliant Career. The book’s title is based on an essay I wrote about working as a book editor in Beverly Hills, where I worked with O.J. Simpson jurors, movie producers, pornographers, and Heidi Fleiss whores. Before this job and getting an MFA, my professional life was varied, often sketchy, and unbelievably strange. I have driven ice cream trucks, castrated 300 pigs, worked the graveyard shift at a nursing home, been a room service waitress at the Parker House in Boston, done aversion therapy for fat people, delivered cows, worked as an abortion counselor, did experiments on placentas and blood cells and in drug studies at Harvard, Tufts, and OHSU. I’ve also worked for coffee heiresses and very rich men and as the editor for a small-town newspaper in Malibu. For the past 20 years I’ve worked as an editor for literary journals and book companies, all work that I love, though not half as exciting.

Do you have thought that you’d like to end with?

It takes many years of biting the dust to hit pay dirt.

NewEnglanders

Read New Englanders, Lee Montgomery’s darkly humorous tale of 1970’s New England, only from Shebooks.