Tag Archives: California

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.


Jane Ciabattari: “I tend to be drawn to taboos. I can’t seem to help it.” | Q&A

When did you first decide you were a writer?

I grew up in a book-loving family (my father was on the local library board). I read continuously growing up. My first efforts were poems—I was haunted by the myth of Sisyphus as a child and wrote a convoluted poem about it. I edited the literary magazine at my small public high school in Kansas and dreamed of getting out. And I did, starting with a National Merit Scholarship, which gave me the chance to study creative writing at Stanford. Nancy Packer at Stanford was tough and, because of that, encouraging.

I wrote “Hide and Seek,” a taut, suspenseful–and withholding–story about a young girl being abused by an older neighbor boy in her workshop. She told me it was good but that I didn’t go far enough. I wasn’t able to at the time, but she taught me you could. That lesson helped me write my first published story, “Hiding Out,” which ended up in the North American Review, Redbook, and LiteraryMama.com.

In graduate school I was most deeply influenced by Herbert Wilner. I was doing directed writing with him while working full time as managing editor of the Sunday magazine of the San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle. I was working on a novel. He was clearly ill from a heart condition caused by treatment for a lung cancer years before. He had surgery and died. I couldn’t continue that novel. I got a scholarship to Squaw Valley Writers Community and got back on track up there. “Stealing the Fire,” the title story in my first collection, uses some of that emotion and that setting. It’s about a writer finding her voice. So that’s what I was up to then.

A group of us in Herb’s writing workshop (including Molly Giles and Jane Vandenburgh, who all went on to publish novels and story collections) started a writers’ group. It went on for years. We’d gather at each other’s houses and drink wine and critique the work. We weren’t always kind. But we all ended up being better writers.

Are there any themes, characters, or imagery that you find recurring in your writing? What are they and what is their origin?

I tend to be drawn to taboos. I can’t seem to help it. Although I’ve lived for many years on the Upper West Side and in Sag Harbor, quite a few of my stories are set in California—Squaw Valley, Silicon Valley, San Francisco, the canyons and bars of Southern California. For some reason that landscape inspires me. I like to write about experiences I haven’t had.

What’s the greatest risk you’ve taken in your writing?

Writing about brutality. Writing about addiction (“Arabella Leaves,” in California Tales, is about a crystal meth addict; I wanted to show what a sparkling girl she was before she was lost to drugs, and how she was loved). Writing about troubled families (“Aftershocks,” which is about a boy, a girl, and a dog who meet in the Viper Room during the devastating Los Angeles earthquake, deals in part with the aftermath of suicide). It’s terrifying to take on the realities we’re living now.

What advice do you have for an aspiring writer who is just starting out?

Expect to throw a lot away. Expect to work hard and revise constantly. Love it. Or don’t do it. Isn’t that what we all say?

Do you worry about not having the authority to write about situations that you don’t know firsthand?

I use my background as a journalist to research stories. Then I wait for images to come. While I was writing “Arabella Leaves,” the first story in California Tales, I  researched Harley Davidsons, methamphetamine addiction, Southern Californian flora and fauna, and biblical references to Lazarus.

Many of the seemingly unrelated details I added to information based on this research come from the business of living life, taking notes on the small things that most people never notice—the sound of coyotes, the smell of the arroyos, a stainless steel motorcycle I saw on the Port Jefferson ferry, a street in New Orleans. Arabella was named after a street sign in the Garden District of New Orleans. Her mother had spotted it on a brief visit to the Big Easy. Her boyfriend D has a custom Screamin’ Eagle Deuce, with a Twin Cam 95 V-Twin engine. It’s the thing he loves most in the world.

I collect photos, pressed flowers—all kinds of things connected to characters or stories. This physical evidence helps me make the transition into writing the story.

I looked through newspaper archives reporting the Northridge earthquake while I was writing “Aftershocks.” “Payback Time” came out of my fascination with the dot-com boom and bust a while back.  The story is about what happens when the corporate world turns malevolent.  But I also was inspired by Chekhov. The Cherry Orchard. Silicon Valley, once filled with apricot orchards, becomes a dream killer for a workaholic just as he’s on the verge of cashing in.

Do you currently have a job other than writing?

I’m a book critic and columnist. I write the Between the Lines column for BBC.com and contribute regularly to NPR.org, the Daily Beast, the Boston Globe, and others. I’ve been involved with the National Book Critics Circle for  many years. I’m a past president and currently vice president/online in charge of the Critical Mass blog and social networking.

What’s an odd fact about you that not many people know?

Not sure if it’s odd, but I have a webcam on Mavericks, the surfer spot; I love to go to Lagunitas TapRoom live concerts; I rode a Honda 250 Scrambler until I got married and settled down (I was still an undergrad). I’m still married to  my first husband: I met my darling on a blind date and we were engaged after two weeks.

What is your favorite word right now?

Chimera. It came to me when working on my novel in progress, in connection with the character I call Shanika. Here’s an excerpt:

Shanika took her laptop from the table, opened it, and sat quietly for a moment.

“Chimera,” she said.

“What?!” Abby snorted with laughter.  This girl was so unpredictable.

“It’s a word I learned on the Internet. It’s got a lot of definitions. One. A fire-breathing she-monster in Greek mythology having a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a serpent’s tail.  There are lots of pictures. Two. An illusion or fabrication of the mind; especially an unrealizable dream.

“And here are the synonyms,” she continued. “A fantasy, illusion, daydream, a vision, or hallucination. Something you see but it’s not there.”

Shanika smiled, clearly delighted with what she’d learned, thanks to the mysteries of Google.

“Chimera,” she repeated. “That’s what I’m going to call my business.”

“And what will you sell?” Abby asked, amused and curious.

“Not things for sale,” she said. “It’s a massage thing. You come in, you relax, we make you feel peaceful. It’s an illusion. But you’ll feel good for a while.”

How will I keep up with this one? Abby wondered.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Flannery O’Connor. Margaret Atwood. Marilynne Robinson. Toni Morrison. Chimamanda Adichie, Dorothy Allison, Kate Christensen, Jennifer Egan, Rachel Kushner, Dawn Raffel, Elissa Schappell, Jane Smiley, Marisa Silver, Susan Straight, Amy Tan, and hundreds more whose work I’ve reviewed. When I review a book I read it at least twice, sometimes three times. I look at the structure, the language, the themes, the intent. I admire too many contemporary writers to name.

What writing projects are you working on now?

I’m finishing a novel I’ve been working on for several years. Revising is so humbling. I’ve spent a lot of time researching and drafting. Now I have to let most of that drop away. But I needed that back-story so I could feel the truth of the story as I wrote the first few drafts. It’s called The Road to Eastville. It’s about Abby,  who grows up in a small Illinois town founded by her abolitionist forebears. She falls in love in high school with Zeke, a classmate who is the fourth in a line of men whose ancestor was a runaway slave who worked on the Underground Railroad with the abolitionist founders. He becomes radicalized and leaves her when their son is not even two years old. The book is set in 2004 during the Obama-Keyes senatorial campaign in Illinois. Abby is living in New York and quietly going about her chosen business as an American history postdoctoral fellow. As the novel opens, she gets a call from her son, who is in jail for being highly successful in the drug business. His girlfriend, who also is in jail, shoplifting for drug money, is pregnant. Twins. So Abby goes back to Illinois. A heap of trouble comes from that phone call. Like the story of Ruth, the novel tells of the love between generations that transcends family blood ties.

I’ve been workshopping the novel with my husband, Mark, who also is a fiction writer, and Greg Sarris, a novelist whose work I admire greatly. We’re all coming toward completion of our manuscripts. It helps to have others along on the long journey.

Dig into tales of California’s intense pressures and addictions: California Tales, only at Shebooks.