Saturday, July 4, 2020

What We're Writing Week - Out of Season with AT MIDNIGHT COMES THE CRY

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Happy Independence Day, everyone. It's a strange, sober sort of Fourth for most of us; no BBQs, no parades, no concerts, no block parties, no fireworks. (Or at least, no official fireworks.) One of my family's cherished traditions is watching the movie Independence Day on the afternoon of the Fourth, often between a small-town parade in the morning and a house party at a friend's. I have to admit, it's a little anti-climactic to actually be in a global emergency and discover instead of flying jet fighters toward an alien ship, we need to fight by wearing masks, staying six feet apart, and washing hands.

But the real message of the movie - in addition to "don't forget to regularly update your security software" -  is "No one makes it alone." The characters in the film survive and triumph by joining together, by helping each other, and by working together as a community. Which is how we're going to get past Covid-19.


I've written scenes set on the Fourth of July before, in Fountain Filled With Blood and One Was A Soldier. I wish I had a new one to share with you now, but instead, I'm going way out of season, since my work in progress, At Midnight Comes the Cry, takes place in December. It does, however, start with a parade.


The trouble started, as it so often does, behind the manure spreader. The Greenwich Annual Lighted Tractor parade was in full swing, and this particular spreader, scrubbed until not a molucule of offending odor could cling to its metal, was brilliant with twining, interlaced lights – the publicity for the parade had promised a million, and the owners of the heavy-duty machine were doing their part. The tractor pulling the trailer was equally festooned, and in addition sported a banner, lit by a spotlight, that proclaimed, “Spreading Christmas Cheer!” 
 
Who needs the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade?” PJ Adams asked. The animal control officer for the nearby town of Millers Kill, PJ held a yearly open house for the Greenwich event. Her 200-year old Georgian home was stuffed with friends, family and fellow municipal employees, some inside keeping company around the groaning buffet board, some warming themselves by a roaring fire pit in the yard, and some, like the Rev. Clare Fergusson and her husband, clustered together on a low side porch lit with hanging paper lanterns. 
 
Russ Van Alstyne huffed a laugh into his mug of hot cider. At his feet, Oscar, their lab mix, made the same sound. At the Adams house, everyone was welcome: kids, cats, dogs and, Clare thought gratefully, unemployed ex-police chiefs. She shifted their seven-month old to her other hip, tugging his hat into place. Ethan's eyes remained fixed on the whirling illumination of the parade passing by. Between the party, the lights, and the Christmas carols booming from the floats Clare figured he'd either be so overstimulated he wouldn't sleep for a week, or he'd conk out the minute they loaded his car seat into the truck.

Janie! Janie!” The woman standing on Russ's other side leaned over the railing and called to her daughter, standing with a group of tweens by the fire. “They're handing out candy! Go get some!” The group behind the manure spreader was, indeed, tossing candy into the crowds along the sidewalk, boosting excitement for their otherwise less-than-impressive float: a single tractor sporting chicken-wire frames winging out on either side. There were plenty of lights, though, wrapped around the chassis and hanging from the frames, although from her angle, Clare couldn't see the design. 
 
What organization is it?” she asked. There were kids involved, walking along the edge of the street, handing out sheets of paper. The candy-tossers, she could see now, were all women. “A daycare?”
Janie returned, stepping carelessly on the frozen soil of PJ's border garden, and handed one of the papers up to her mother. “Look at this. It's weird.”

Oh my God.” The woman held it at arm's length for the rest of them to read. In the dim glow from the lanterns, Clare could make out WHITE FAMILIES UNITE! BLOOD AND SOIL ARE OUR HERITAGE! DIVERSITY IS A CODE WORD FOR WHITE GENOCIDE!

I hope it whets your appetite for more in '21, dear readers! And tell us in the comments if you're finding any small, quiet ways to mark our nation's birthday.

67 comments:

  1. Oh, dear . . . I guess there are still folks who haven’t yet learned that it’s so much better just to be nice to each other. It certainly looks as if there’s trouble brewing. I wonder if Millers Kill will be sorry they let their police chief go??
    And now that I’ve read this excerpt, I cannot wait to read the rest! Thanks for sharing this, Julia.

    Our Independence Day plans are quiet. . . John has to work; later, if the weather cooperates, we’ll barbeque. It would be nice to have folks over, but that doesn’t seem to be in the cards just yet. Someone is supposed to broadcast Macy's Fireworks Spectacular, so I expect we'll watch that . . . .

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Joan, I kind of like to imagine us all, years from now, telling our grandkids the story of this year and "our quiet Fourth of July." When my grandmother told me stories from the Great depression, it was magical: she lived through history! I know now they were very hard times for her, but she always managed to pull the sweet out to remember - and I think that's what we'll do, too.

      Delete
  2. I'm so glad the next book is in the works, Julia! Way to get right into a current topic, too. You're a brave woman.

    I'll be writing for a bit this morning, of course, and gardening. We'll have grilled salmon with herbe potatoes and snap peas for dinner, plus last night's blueberry pie ala Hallie's recipe!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nice, Edith! I'm kicking myself for not preplanning a special meal for the Fourth. It looks like it will be two kinds of leftover pasta salad (we have SO much.) I did, however, get both ice cream and ice cream sandwiches last time at the grocery, and I suspect the kids will be happier with those than with salmon :-)

      Delete
  3. Julia, that first line is a winner! So glad you're making progress on the new book...

    I'll be writing, and cooking--I think it will be Diane Mott Davidson's crustless quiche, which Grace turned me on to, plus a lemon turmeric tea cake. Tomorrow hamburgers, homemade BBQ beans and maybe roasted Chinese broccoli. Obviously, celebrating with food! Love to you all--stay safe!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lucy, that sounds delicious! One thing staying home has done for many of us it up our cooking game. Not that you needed it, but I'm doing a LOT better than I was this past winter when it was just the Maine Millennial and myself, and I could pick up pizza or takeaway once a week.

      Delete
  4. Julia, I can hardly wait to read this book! What a timely issue and Edith is right: what catchy opening line.

    I'm celebrating the 4th today by staying in the A/C (too hot and humid outside for me). As always I'll watch 1776 (my husband's favorite musical) and A Capitol 4th. I might even watch Hamilton on Disney+.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 1776 is a great idea, Cathy - Youngest is a true musical buff, so I'll have to suggest it to her.

      We got Disney+ by accident - a three month subscription came for free when the Maine Millennial bought a new laptop. We binged on The Mandalorian (so good!) but then were thinking about getting rid of it until we saw the news about Hamilton. I guess those showy, marquee productions really go get new subscribers and keep old ones.

      Delete
  5. "The trouble started, as it so often does, behind the manure spreader. "

    Truer words were never spoken, so to speak ...

    This morning I looked out at the roses, blooming more than ever before since planted 20 years ago this month, the wisteria, again in blossom although not so thick with scent as it was in May, the grass with it's midsummer browning at the edges, the beans looking like baby fingers, will be ready next week, and the tomatoes, tiny plants that are now half as tall as I am, the woodchuck nibbling on godknowswhat up on the back terrace, and I wish so much that these familiar sights were like every other summer.

    But this isn't every other summer. This is the most frightening summer of my life. I wash the strawberries vigorously -- last year I ate them right out of the box on the way home from the market. I haven't been in a Greek diner since February. I haven't been anyplace except to the dentist and Red Cross to donate. Money at the first, blood at the second. An outing is a short drive, can't go far because I won't use a public restroom.

    No family BBQ by the lake, no ball game, no drinks in the garden with friends, no trips to see my kids, no plans for Provence, no Sacramento to anticipate, no summer.

    Not all is sad. Sgt. Pepper should be joining us by the first of next month, and there are weeks of potty training to get through. And the first great grandbaby is due just before Christmas, a boy, like they always are in our family, tossing in one girl per generation.

    Life goes on.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have garden envy, Ann. Enjoy the new pup - wait did you say great grandbaby? This pandemic needs to get over quick so you can safely squeeze and cuddle him all winter long.

      Delete
    2. A great-grand! What a blessing. You're doing the right thing, Ann - I know everyone in your family wants you to say healthy and safe so you have many more years of welcoming babies (of all species!)

      Delete
  6. Happy Independence Day to all my American friends !
    May I add how happy I am to read here, every day, about intelligent and caring and sane Americans. It gives me a better vision of my neighbours than the one I see in the news.
    After reading your excerpt Julia, I see that we will see more of those different kinds of Americans in your next book. I'm looking forward to read what is coming next with Russ and Clare. After reading one book every month last year, I'm like a drug addict in need,

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. LOL, Danielle! That's what I'm shooting for!

      And yes, I think the news shows one face - the smallest and most extreme. In my day to day life, I experience my countrymen as by and large kind, caring and decent people with mostly the same goals as I have: a secure, quiet life, a good future for my children, with the same blessings shared by everyone.

      Delete
  7. Wow, that is a big step, Julia! Cannot wait to see where that goes…
    And I and I love the juxtaposition of family/unity and ugly divisiveness.
    Today we are cooking out hamburgers, and will probably watch Hamilton!
    I’m trying to stay optimistic. Hope you all are well… I rely on you all so much. Xxx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hamilton is on our celebration menu, too, Hank, and we'll be eating on the patio which Guest Son has meticulously cleared of all the weeds that had overgrown it.

      Xxx right back atcha!

      Delete
  8. Thanks for sharing, Julia! Yep, that first line is great--I've been behind and around numerous manure-spreaders in my life and not all of them were machines. Can't wait to get my hands on this new one! So, no pressure :-)

    We'll have a quiet 4th here--do our own version of a cookout with sparklers for the 5-year-old. What I am trying to hold in my mind is the vision the founding fathers had for this country and all the ways we succeeded in that vision--however long the struggle, however messy the process. Stay safe, everyone!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A quiet cookout is a cookout still, Flora, and sparklers for a 5-year-old can stand in for mighty fireworks.

      And yes, sometimes we get the reminder that, like a marriage, our country isn't a done deal or a completed thing, but always needs care, attention, and work to keep it good and strong.

      Delete
  9. I do not have to work today, and that makes me sad. Every year since 2011 I've spent July 4 in a fabulous concert hall, hanging bunting, rigging flags, and loading confetti cannons for our annual July 4 extravaganza. Uncle Sam shows up on stilts. We hand out thousands of little flags and play all kinds of American music. It's a gas.

    Today, I plan to water my front garden--it dries out from its western exposure--and eat some strawberries. I'll probably read--certainly enough to finish Annette's book set at a county fair. I find I like life in Monongahela County.

    Around 7 pm Central time I'll call up the Dallas classical music station (wrr101.com) and listen to a two-hour broadcast of the Dallas Winds playing our July 4 concert in a happier year. I'll try to keep my dogs calm as the pinheaded neighbors shoot off fireworks, and just be thankful they're not doing it at 3:30 am like they did this morning.

    It will be fine. It will all be fine.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It will all be fine, Gigi, and eventually we'll all get to go back to our concerts and performances and parades and get togethers. And I think they'll be all the sweeter and more appreciated for having missed out this year.

      As a good Christian, I won't hope your pinheaded neighbors accidentally shoot a firework into their house and set it on fire... I'll just point out that it has happened. ;-)

      Delete
    2. Ha, Julia! There was a lot of neighborhood shaming on Nextdoor today, so maybe they'll have second thoughts before they do it again. And I do believe that concerts will come back. Not sure my organization will live to see the day, but people need music. It will all be fine.

      Delete
  10. Great first line! And white supremacy is a timely topic. This morning I read a news article about a Florida sheriff deputizing all gun owners.

    Missing the local fireworks. We'll watch the PBS pre-taped Fourth production and deal with puppy Louie's first Fourth fireworks. He did well last night in his crate.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good for puppy Louie! The Maine Millennial's little dog Janie is scared of thunder and, of course, firework noises. We closed the windows in MM's bedroom and bathroom and turned on a desk fan and the overhead fan in the bath. That seemed to provide enough masking noise to soothe the poor pup.

      Delete
    2. Tell us about your puppy, Margaret!

      Delete
  11. Wow, Julia. Quite a shock. You’re certainly going to push some buttons with this one. I can’t wait to read it. Happy Fourth!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I started planning a white supremacist/rogue militia storyline several years ago, Rhys - but current events continue to catch up with it!

      Delete
    2. Deb and I were talking about that this morning, Julia. We agreed that, although it's timely now, the sad fact his that such hate groups have been with us since at least the end of the Civil War. Any time you tackle that subject, it's timely.

      Delete
  12. G'day to you Julia. I joined JRW's four years ago this month because I was a stealth follower of your writing. Your voice is every bit as vibrant as it was with "In the Bleak Midwinter". I so appreciate #21 is moving along towards it's book birthday. Glad to see that Ethan is not quite swinging from the rafters in this scene.

    Independence Day 2020. I have let my snarky side emerge on this safe site. To all my friends who do not live in the USA. Happy be glad you are not part of the tRump regime Day! Fireworks permitted.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad you like it, Coralee! And no, Ethan gets to be a quiet lamb in the opening. Not so much later in the book. let me tell you, I should have thought three times before giving a sleuthing couple a baby-in-arms. Hard to just stow him away while they go looking for bad guys!

      Delete
  13. I’ve lost this twice now. Third time’s the charm?
    I’ve enjoyed many tractor-filled parades in the past. Fortunately without the human jackasses to spoil it. And poor Russ is unemployed? Say it ain’t so.
    We’ve no plans for celebration today. Heat and Saharan dust are keeping me indoors. There will be a fireworks display to watch from afar or on TV but I am not tempted to right now. Granddaughter is making bread this morning. I don’t know what we’ll eat later. Again, no plans.
    Despite all the trials and travails this year I hope all of you have a happy Independence Day!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh good, Pat, well not good but I lost my post too. At least I was in good company when it occurred and we are back on track now. :-)

      Delete
    2. You're both here and most welcome to be so!

      Delete
  14. 2021 can't get here fast enough. I wonder what else is going to come of that spreader, Julia!? That flyer is pretty nasty and they're not very nurturing for the soil/soul.

    I made my potato salad yesterday. We are going to walk around and check out my new home a little later, then stop by the store, since my sister and I were both lazy slobs , and get the two hotdogs and individual buns needed for our dinner. We may some legal OTC sleep aides to make it through the night. Those illegal fireworks are terrifying. Stay safe everyone!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Deana, my legal OTC sleep aide would be a couple strong gin and tonics... :-)

      Delete
  15. Brilliant, as always. You have such finesse when describing small town life, Julia. And what a set up - I am in!!! I must know more! I am celebrating the 4th by eating very festive red, white, and blue donuts from Krispy Kreme because as my new role model Tabitha Brown (seriously, I love her and want her to adopt me), says, "Because that's my business." Have a good day, y'all.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I saw your photo on Instagram, Jenn! Everyone, if you're on Insta or Facebook, you need to go to Jenn's account and take a look. Those patriotic donuts are AMAZING, and I'm weeping here in Maine because we don't have any Krispy Kreme stores.

      Delete
    2. Better than fireworks, just sayin'!

      Delete
    3. The dog and I both agree.

      Delete
  16. Happy 4th everyone!
    The manure spreader as code word for people with certain views! Ah-h, perfect!
    I have been worrying about young officer Kevin and because he was undr cover with the white supremicists in your last book, I hope he is okay. The town will need Russ's help, for sure, so I think he's totally retired. Hm-m. Well, you write it, I'll read it. Just please, don't kill off anyone we've come to love.
    Quiet holiday here, hot dogs and hamburgers or hotdogs and chili. Depends on how ambitious I am later today. Baking something red, white and blue, later, too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I DON'T think he is retired.

      Delete
    2. Russ will definitely have lots of work to do in this one, ladies!

      Delete
  17. Julia, great excerpt! That last paragraph made me think. I was reminded of a slogan that I saw the other day - RACISM HURTS ALL OF US.

    What are we doing to celebrate the 4th of July? Baking a cake? Creating delicious breakfast? Dancing to music? Watching Hamilton on Disney Plus? We plan to watch Hamilton on Disney Plus.

    Happy 4th of July, everyone!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Diana! It looks like Hamilton will have a LARGE portion of JRW folks in the audience tonight!

      Delete
  18. Oh yes, it is whetting my appetite!!! I can picture this scene. Hmm, there are no hints of resolving the Hid From Our Eyes cliffhanger.😊. Thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fear not, Saxlady, the thread from that cliffhanger is picked up not too much later in the story.

      Delete
  19. Oh, Julia, what a great opening line! I think all of us have "writer envy!" And of course I can't wait to see what happens next, what Russ and Clare are up to, and what's happened to Kevin!!!

    Happy 4th to you all. We are hopefully cooking burgers just for the two of us, whenever it cools off enough that I can stand to use the grill. I'm not baking anything but am contemplating making vanilla ice cream. And contemplating getting Disney+ so that we can watch Hamilton, although I'm also tempted to watch Independence Day. There are fireworks shows but we don't want to go out and get stuck in traffic, and Jasmine the GSD does NOT like all the illegal ones going off in the neighborhood, so best to be home keeping an eye on her.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As the meme says, Debs, "Why not both?"

      I didn't get my act together to plan and shop for a vegetarian grilled dinner, but now the patio is weed-free and user-friendly, I can do so in the future...

      Delete
  20. Add my name to fans if the first line and to the (long, I’m sure) list of those eagerly awaiting the next installment of Clare and Russ’s story. I also watch Independence Day every July 4, finishing up in time to join our neighborhood celebration, which features a huge potluck and old fashioned games like a three-legged race and cherry pit spitting. Not happening this year, of course. We will replace that festivity and the cancelled fireworks with a viewing of Hamilton. Happy Independence Day to all my fellow Red Jungle Fans. ��������

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Happy Independence Day, Mother Of The Bride!

      Delete
  21. Yes...add my name to the list eagerly awaiting the next in the series.... I've fallen in love with the town and this couple and their friends and families. This year for us, Independence Day is being quietly celebrated at home, working in the garden. Due to the pandemic, we are happily isolating, while tending to the veggies and flowers all around us.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We're working in the garden, too, and tending to small chores - hanging up a load of laundry, wiping down the kitchen. I was just saying to my daughter, there is something nice about being able to start potato salad at 4pm, and not have to worry about getting somewhere. Our usual 4th of July is fun, but very busy and scheduled (even the movie watching!) and it's pleasant to not have a "to-do" list hanging over us.

      Delete
  22. I'm always on the list of readers eagerly awaiting your next book, Julia, and this one sounds timely and incredible.

    We're having a very low-key Fourth. Even in the daylight, fireworks are going off somewhere nearby, as they have been for the last three nights. Otherwise, it's just another Saturday in pandemic land.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've decided to celebrate by making potato salad for us to eat while watching Independence Day. We'll save the ice cream for Hamilton :-)

      Delete
  23. Julia, I'm always one of the first to pre-order your latest - Now I really can't wait.

    We finished the last of our packing last night for our return to Maine. Our supply of victuals is drawing to an end as our departure draws nearer. Tonight is burgers on the grill - a very 4th thing to do.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Burgers in the grill is absolutely a very 4th of July thing! I suspect for Labor Day, I'm going to have to stock in veggie burgers. The Guest Son is vegetarian (and the rest of us frequently are as well, perforce.)

      Delete
  24. Staying Safe At Home, a bit restless, but grateful for comforts and BOOKS! When will At Midnight Comes the Cry be out? . . . and thanks for doing the work so I can enjoy the results. <3

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mary, I can give you more information on when it will be out after I finish it! :-) Stay tuned.

      Delete
  25. spent the day working on a quilt and watching George Gently solve crimes in England.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That... actually sounds like a pretty ideal day, Jo!

      Delete
  26. Well now I REALLY can’t wait for 2021! We spent a quiet day at our cabin. My sister and nephew were supposed to come up, but his girlfriends brother tested positive for covid so they are all quarantined. Thanks for sharing an excerpt of the next book. Hoping 2021 is a better year for all of us.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Soooo looking forward to 2021! As for the Fourth, we normally spend it at home, watching fireworks from our balcony. This year, no fireworks, but we still managed some fun sharing a cocktail hour via Zoom with dear friends who summer half a continent away. While sipping our beverages of choice, we chatted about the spike in our TV viewing habits, family, and, of course, the books we've been reading. It was the closest thing to a normal social experience we've had in months. I highly recommend it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Gay, I love visiting over Zoom. Not quite the same thing as being in person, but once you get laughing and talking, it's easy to overlook. I've had some great cocktail hours since we started quarantining - plus no having to drive home afterwards!

      Delete
  28. I spent my 4th finishing your book! OMG I can't wait till '21. Now I REALLY can't wait now that you gave us that snippet.🙂

    ReplyDelete
  29. Spent the last month or so re-reading the entire series before the new one came out then devoured it in a weekend. Loved the excerpt and looking forward to 2021. Quiet 4th here with Hamilton as the finale. So good.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Sounds like there really was manure being spread!! Ready for the rest of the book!!!!! Can't wait to read how Russ is spending his days!

    ReplyDelete
  31. Nice to be visiting your blog again, it has been months for me. Well this article that i've been waited for so long. I need this article to complete my assignment in the college, and it has same topic with your article. Thanks, great share. pressure washing duluth ga

    ReplyDelete