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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, July 12, 2007

Brundage has ‘super fun’ writing quick-paced novels with social context

By Rachel Dutil

NEW SCOTLAND – Elizabeth Brundage wrote her first novel on a yellow legal pad when she was 12 years old. She wanted to solve the problems of her troubled brother, she said. "One way to do that was on paper."

Her first published novel, The Doctor’s Wife, came out in 2004. Her second novel will be released next summer; she has been finishing it at her New Scotland home, where she moved with her husband and three children last July.

Brundage grew up in Maplewood, N.J., and attended an "enormous" high school, she said.

In her junior year, she studied poetry and fiction-writing at Harvard’s summer school. That was when she became "turned on" to writing, she said.

She later studied poetry at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., and began writing screenplays for films in the early 1980s.

A fellowship allowed her to attend the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, where she studied for a year. She went on to work for several years at Columbia Pictures and Raastar Productions, writing screenplays at night, she said.

An agent loved her work, but told her that her sentences were too well-crafted, and that she should be writing fiction, she said. "She was right," said Brundage.

She met her husband, Scott Morris, while in college. The two were married before Brundage moved to Iowa City to study at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, while her husband finished medical school in New York.

After she arrived at the University of Iowa, she realized she was pregnant, she said. "I had Hannah by myself in Iowa," Brundage said of her now 18-year-old daughter.

Brundage studied for two years in Iowa, before she and Hannah reunited with her husband in Rochester, NY.

Complex issues in a literary thriller

While living in Rochester, Brundage got the idea for The Doctor’s Wife, she said.

She often saw protesters outside a women’s clinic, she remembered. "I thought about what it would be like to be a physician" who performed abortions, and to be the wife of the doctor, "especially if you have strong convictions about choice," Brundage said.

In the novel, which is set in and around Albany, Brundage crafts a story that intertwines the lives of four stunningly different characters, coupled with the controversial issues of abortion and adultery.

"I’m interested in telling stories that challenge people to think about things they would otherwise not think about," she said.

Brundage – whose husband is a cardiologist – worked from her own personal history and experience to convey the dynamic of the marriage between Michael and Annie Knowles – the doctor and his wife in the book.

"I’m interested in writing about complex issues within the context of a literary thriller," she said.

Brundage has always been "fascinated with Albany," she said. "It’s very old-world here."

She thought Albany "was a good microcosm and a realistic setting" for her book, she said.

"The country is in a state of complete confusion," Brundage said, regarding abortion. "We’re a very anxious society.

"It’s a very arduous profession," she said of her husband’s job. "It demands an awful lot of people" I have a tremendous amount of respect for him and how hard he works."

Brundage and Morris will celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary in August, she said. "It’s been challenging at times," she confided. "We’re very much centered on the family."

Their children – Hannah, 18; Sophie, 15; and Sam, 9 – are the family’s focal point.

Brundage sees similarities between her work and her husband’s. "He’ll have a patient, and I’ll have a character" We’re both like detectives trying to figure out the pathologies," said Brundage.

"Joyful affliction"

Writing novels, says Brundage, "is like digging your way out of prison with a spoon." She considers it part of what she needs to do. Writing is her "joyful affliction," she said.

"I love putting words together," Brundage told The Enterprise. "I love language, and I love the sound that words make when you put them together in a sentence. It’s a musical process for me."

While assembling a manuscript, Brundage said, she becomes so preoccupied with the story, "real people in your life sort of take the back seat" It’s really hard."

She becomes involved with the people she creates on paper. "I’m very interested in the psychology of the characters," Brundage said.

She likes characters – like Michael and Annie Knowles – who can remove themselves from places. The world, though, always floods in, she said.

"Characters cannot completely shed their past" The mistakes they’ve made have a way of informing their future," Brundage said.

"I never write directly about someone I know" It’s less interesting than creating someone else," she said with a bright smile.

"There are so many books, and there are many people who write fiction," Brundage said. It is important to be "as true to the characters as you can" and make the story seem real, she said.

Her challenge is to "tell a story that moves forward at a quick pace" and has a social context to which the reader can relate, said Brundage.

"If the work is good, it will find its way into print," Brundage said. "You have to be your own worst critic" Steady work, steady practice, you do get better," she said.

Brundage – who taught at several colleges, stopping in 2000 to focus on writing – is planning on teaching a writing workshop in the fall at the Voorheesville Public Library. She has conducted numerous workshops in the past, and she’s excited to meet local writers, she said.

"It’s super fun," she said. "It’s just a lot of fun to be with writers."

Authors are continually striving to write what will sell, she said; the reality is: "The best work comes from deep within you.

"If you don’t prove the story, then no one’s going to believe it," said Brundage. "It has to be very alive in your head, otherwise there is no possibility of reaching them."

The most difficult part of writing a book is the ending, Brundage admitted. It’s as if someone were standing on the other side of the room, whispering the words and you can’t make them out, she told The Enterprise while giving up some of her precious time from work on the finale of her second novel.

"The ending is always the best-kept secret," she said.

"When you finish a book, you’re a little bit dazed," Brundage said, clearly ready to remember the feeling again. She likened it to "coming out of a very dark room into bright sunlight."

Bands take it outside in Voorheesville

By Rachel Dutil

NEW SCOTLAND – The town will be rocking on Saturday.

Outdoor Music Fest 2007 – sponsored by the town of New Scotland and the village of Voorheesville – will feature five bands, a barbecue, and craft vendors. It will be held behind the high school in Voorheesville from 4 to 9 p.m. on Saturday, July 14.

Each band will play a set about 45 minutes long, said Mike Guerette, who will be performing with his band, Blue Sunshine, and also helped organize the rest of the music for the day.

Guerette, a fifth-grade teacher at Voorheesville Elementary School, said that many of the musicians who will play at Saturday’s event "sat in my class" over the years.

The lineup includes Rock Authority, a high-school band made up of ninth-graders who have been playing together for several years; The Frieda Hammond Band; Sea Dog; and Mothers McRee, Guerette said.

He first heard Rock Authority play at the Voorheesville Relay for Life benefit a few years ago, he said. "They were great, even as fifth-graders," Guerette said. They play covers of popular contemporary rock bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers and Green Day, he said.

The Frieda Hammond Band showcases the musical talent of Mike Thomas, one of the founding members of the popular local group, The Round Bale Conspiracy, Guerette said. Thomas is a "phenomenal musician," he added.

Sea Dog, Guerette said, is made up of his former students. He remembers that the band’s lead guitarist, Tony LaRosa, was "fervently into the Bee Gees in fifth grade." Sea Dogs play with a funk similar to that of the Bee Gees, Guerette said.

Mothers McRee plays a lot of original music, he said.

As for his own band, Blue Sunshine, it is made up of "the old grizzle guys" who have been playing music a long time, Guerette said.

Guerette plays guitar and harmonica, and sings, he said. The band has been playing together for about five years. Everyone in the band is a life-long musician, said Guerette. Their music, mostly original, draws influence from the Grateful Dead, Neil Young, and Bob Dylan, he said.

All of the musicians have a similar "passion for music," said Guerette.

"It should be fun," Guerette said of the music festival, which will be the first of its kind for the town.

A similar event was planned for last year, but it was rained out. "This year, we tried to be a little more proactive," he said; the New Salem firehouse will serve as the alternate location if it rains.

Community event

In previous years, New Scotland held three separate concerts in three hamlets, said Pat Geurtze, the recreation coordinator for the town.

Last year, the town decided to put one big event together, she said, but it was a washout on the scheduled day.

The village of Voorheesville built four platforms last year for the bands, which will be put to use this year, Geurtze said.

The New Scotland Kiwanians will barbecue hamburgers, hotdogs, and corn-on-the-cob; a half-dozen vendors from around the region will sell their crafts; and community parents and teachers will hold a bake sale and Chinese auction to raise money for Jimmy Pincheon, a 12-year-old Voorheesville student who is awaiting a liver transplant at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Middle-school students will paint faces, and a booth will be set up for those who wish to make cards for Jimmy.

Though the event is scheduled for the same day as Country Fest at the Altamont fairgrounds, Geurtze said, "We’re not real concerned about that because we’re a community event."

The goal for the event, she said, is for people to come and have a good time – "to enjoy the day and the music... I hope they raise some money for Jimmy, too."

The New Scotland community is "small and tight-knit," Guerette told The Enterprise. "Voorheesville’s high school has such a renowned music program," he said.

Music is a "common language" that many people speak, he said. "There are so many talented bands that come out of Voorheesville," said Guerette, adding that Saturday’s music fest is a great opportunity to showcase it.

The bands are all volunteering – "They’re playing just to play," he said.

"Hopefully, this will be the first of many music fests," said Guerette. "It should be a really cool event."

For Donovans
Fighting lymphoma like fighting a fire

By Rachel Dutil

NEW SCOTLAND – Mitch and Stephanie Donovan were married in a hospital chapel, and have been living at the hospital ever since.

"Even though our best-laid plans had been wiped out" We got a wedding that was personal and beautiful," Mr. Donovan told The Enterprise.

"We wanted a wedding that was special, not only for us, but for our guests," he said. "We got exactly that."

Mr. Donovan – a battalion chief with the Onesquethaw Fire Company who was named the company’s firefighter of the year – has non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The couple has been living at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany since late March.

Mrs. Donovan remembers that her husband was admitted to the hospital on March 29, just nine days before their wedding.

They were first told he would need to stay a few days, and they thought that was manageable; then they were told a week, then 10 days – the duration kept getting longer, she said.

She remembers waking up at around 5 a.m. on her wedding day, and frantically sending e-mails to their guests, informing them that their wedding had been canceled.

They still were married, but, instead of the more than 100 guests they had planned, the ceremony included just 20 of their closest friends and family members. Mr. Donovan’s Aunt Penny, a retired minister, performed the ceremony, he said.

"It was a purely joyous occasion; it was wonderful," Mr. Donovan recalled. "There’s definitely no sadness involved in it.

"My best man took good care that I didn’t fall over – literally," Mr. Donovan said.

"To me, it didn’t matter where it was," Mrs. Donovan said. "It’s not where you do it, it’s the doing it," she said.

"We’ll do another ceremony at some point," Mr. Donovan said.

"In your blood"

"Picking firefighter of the year is one of the hardest things to do," said Chief Fred Spaulding, at the Onesquethaw Fire Company’s annual firemen’s dinner, during which he spoke to Mr. Donovan by phone from his hospital bed. "Sometimes an individual stands out for a heroic effort, sometimes for their years of service, and sometimes for much quieter reasons," he said of the soft-spoken battalion chief.

Mr. Donovan "lives 24/7 for the firehouse," Spaulding told The Enterprise. "He’s just waiting to kick cancer in the butt, so he can get back to the firehouse."

Mr. Donovan, 32, has been a member of the Onesquethaw Fire Company for seven years, he said. He has been a captain and battalion chief for the last two years. Mr. Donovan said he will continue as battalion chief when he recovers.

"Every boy wants to be a fireman at some point" It’s a natural desire, I think," said Mr. Donovan.

"My uncle was a fireman, my granddaddy was a fireman," he said. "When I was a little kid, the best memories were at the firehouse. He said his memories of "hanging out at the firehouse" with his uncle are more vivid than his childhood trip to Disney.

He said of being a fireman, "It’s in your blood, it’s something you have to do."

That’s how it is for him, he said. It’s a part of who he is.

"On our first date, we stopped off at the firehouse" to meet the ladies in the auxiliary, Mrs. Donovan remembered with a smile.

"It really is hard to do something right in this day and age," Mr. Donovan said. "Volunteering as a fireman is one of those things."

"I like that he doesn’t do it to get something out of it," said Mrs. Donovan. "He told me once, ‘If I don’t do it, who will"’"

"No matter what reason you’re there, you’re doing a service to your community, and a greater service to your fellow man," Mr. Donovan said. "If you ever saw the look on someone’s face as their house is burning, it doesn’t matter why you’re there, they’re just happy you’re there."

Mr. Donovan "has a lot of great, progressive ideas for the fire company," said his wife. He wants to "help the fire service more efficiently hire, train, and maintain firefighters," Mr. Donovan said. "You can get burned out real fast" as a firefighter, said Mr. Donovan. "I volunteer to do a full-time job."

Mr. Donovan was just days away from undergoing surgery to remove scar tissue from around a tumor, when he spoke to The Enterprise.

"I told the doctor to make tiny cuts," he joked. "I’m going to have some serious scars," he said. "It’s a serious surgery."

He said that he wouldn’t categorize himself as afraid, "Anxious is more the term I’d use. If I’m willing to go into a building that’s on fire, what right do I have to be scared of surgery"" he asked.

Mrs. Donovan told The Enterprise this week that, "everything went wonderfully" with the surgery. "They’ve killed all the cancer," she reported with a note of relief in her voice. Her husband still has to finish his chemotherapy treatments, though, she added.

"There’s always the threat that it will come back," Mr. Donovan said. "With this type of cancer, they can usually put it down and cure it."

Mrs. Donovan generally has a positive outlook, but admits that life is "stressful." Mr. Donovan says admiringly, "She handles it well" She’s the greatest wife in the world."

"It’s not that bad, because he’s making progress," said Mrs. Donovan. "It’s a roller coaster, but it’s getting better," she said.

"How do I get rid of it""

"It all started in October when I went to a fire" I couldn’t keep up with everybody," Mr. Donovan remembered. "For a good kick in the teeth, we got another fire right after it," he said.

At first, he attributed his sluggishness to the heat. "It just got progressively worse," he said. He started getting sick and feeling weak.

His doctor told him he was severely anemic. "I could have dropped dead," he said. He was given a blood transfusion and was shifted from general-practice doctors to surgeons to hematology and oncology physicians.

Mr. Donovan was finally diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in January or February, he said.

"The first thing that went through my mind was, cancer is very treatable in today’s age," he said. Then, he said, came the questions: "How did I get this" How do I get rid of it" Why me" Is it something I need to deal with on a patience level" Is it something I need to deal with on a fighting level""

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is treatable with chemotherapy, Mr. Donovan said. "The cure is worse than the disease. It really, truly is," he said.

He has gone through five rounds of chemo and has one more to go, he said.

"I’m waiting for the time when those worries go away," Mr. Donovan told The Enterprise.

Everyone from the fire company has been "unbelievably supportive," said Mr. Donovan. "We’re a big family, no matter how you cut it.

"We’ve been really tight and together as a fire company, which makes us more effective" and keeps us going," Mr. Donovan said. "I’m waiting on that doctor’s note, allowing me to go back to full active duty."

Mrs. Donovan sleeps next to her husband in his hospital room. She works part-time at Price Chopper to earn money to put gas in her car. "I stay here and take care of him – that’s more important anyway," she said of quitting her job to be with her husband.

She hopes to start courses again in January to get her degree in veterinary technology, and then, she hopes to go to veterinary school, she said.

"What did I do to deserve her devotion and loyalty"" Mr. Donovan rhetorically asked The Enterprise. "It’s a great privilege to be married to her."

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