Cindy Eastman and “Flipflops after 50″

Getting old, as Bette Davis once said, is not for sissies.

Luckily we don’t have to do it alone–or in secret anymore. And now a funny, warm author from Connecticut, Cindy Eastman, has written and published a book–Flipflops After50–which can make you feel a lot less alone about the process.

Here is an excerpt from her newly published, fabulous book:

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Excerpt from Flip-Flops After 50: And Other Thoughts On Aging

I Remembered to Write Down  by Cindy Eastman
The Year of Living 50-ishly

In 2008, I joined such illustrious company as Holly Hunter, Alec Baldwin, Michelle Pfeiffer, LEGO, AARP, Alpha-Bits, the Rolodex, and Jif peanut butter. How? We all turned 50.

Turning 50 is no big deal, if you’re, say, the Interstate Highway System, which turned 50 in 2006. In fact, you should be 50 if you’re the Interstate Highway System—it gives you a certain air of respectability and responsibility. But when you’re a woman who still feels like she’s, oh, in her late thirties, it can be a little more frightening. Not scary frightening (as in not one but two terms of George Bush), just slightly frightening (as in where the hell is the how-to guide for turning 50?).

For me, approaching 50 was just plain mind-boggling. In the preceding months as I wrote journal entries and notes to myself regarding my upcoming birthday (“For my 50th birthday,” or “Can I find a new job at 50?”), I would stop and look at what I’d written, and it felt as if I was lying about my age, but in the reverse. How could I possibly be this old?

AARP knew I was turning 50 practically before I did. They started the campaign to get me into their little cult about six months earlier, sending me an application for membership and a subscription to their magazine. I guess they wanted to be sure I remembered to join. So I did. Why not? Who doesn’t want to be a member of an organization whose cover girl is Caroline Kennedy? Or whose cover boy is Kevin Costner? I’m game—count me in.

It’s not that I wasn’t ready to be 50, but not for any other reason than that it just didn’t seem right. I don’t mind aging. I don’t look or feel old. One of my vain little secrets is that I absolutely love it when I tell people how old my oldest child is and they say, “What?! You don’t look like you have a child that old!” or when the guy at the Starbucks says, “She’s your mom? I thought you were sisters!” when I stop in for coffee with Annie. (I’m sure Annie loves that one as much as I do.)

For the most part, I was okay with the whole thing. But there are intrinsic elements to turning 50 that have to be addressed. It is certainly a time for reflection and stock-taking. Reflection is okay: I feel lucky that I am in good health, that I’m living my life in a way I can be proud of, and that I have raised amazing children. I am married to a good man who also raised a wonderful daughter, and who lives his life in a mindful and generous way. My parents are healthy, and so are my brother and sister, and we all enjoy a fairly sane and loving familial relationship. My friends are few, but they’re steadfast and fun, and I can call any one of them in a pinch. (Like if I’m freaking out about turning 50. Which I’m not.) And there’s the above-mentioned looking good for my age—which doesn’t hurt. Sure, I could stand to lose a few pounds, but who couldn’t?

It’s the other thing, the stock-taking part, that I’m having the teeniest bit of trouble with. The part where I look back on my life and check and see if I’ve gotten most of the things done that I’ve always wanted to do. The answer is no. And when you’re 50 and the answer is no, a new timeframe is suddenly in place. I only have so many years left to travel to Greece, Italy, and Australia, or to drive an RV across the United States. I only have so much time to live in New York City or start my own business. But the biggest thing—the thing I imposed my own time limit on, was becoming a Writer and Getting Published. I set a deadline of age 50 to get published and, I didn’t meet my goal. But don’t fret. I’m not leaving things at a potentially depressing point. If life is all about the journey rather than the destination, then at this point I’m just getting more information about the remaining trip. Turning 50 is like stopping at a travel center to check the map and maybe get a cup of coffee. Maybe even some presents.

While we’re on the topic, I think you should be able to register for gifts at Bed Bath & Beyond or Target or Best Buy for your 50th birthday. Registering for gifts is the most decadent, self indulgent, brilliant idea ever devised—so why it is limited to the newly engaged? It’s beyond me why all those little scanner guns are reserved for brides- and grooms-to-be when the real buying power is with the Baby Boomers. Seriously, think about it. Registering for gifts for a 50th birthday party is the best idea since Diet Rite Cola (the first diet soda, also 50).

You’re welcome, fellow Boomers.

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Cindy will be making several local appearances to talk about her book. Here are some upcoming events:

The New Britain Museum of American Art – CAPA Author’s Event on April 26, 2014.

Mark Twain House -3rd Annual Writer’s Weekend – CAPA Author’s Event  April 27, 2014

Byrds Books  Bethel, Conn. – Talk and Signing – May 2, 2014
Find & Follow Cindy Online:

Website: www.cindyeastman.com

Flip-Flops After 50 Blog: http://flipflops50.blogspot.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CLEastmanAuthor

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7341531.Cindy_Eastman

Instagram: http://instagram.com/cindyeastman

 

The Opposite of Maybe is here!

The Opposite of Maybe

The Opposite of Maybe

Happy spring! I have a new book. The Opposite of Maybe is coming out on April 8, and it is having its official launch party on April 9. If you happen to be near the New Haven Lawn Club around 7 p.m., please consider dropping in and saying hey.

It’s been four years since my last book (which was called The Stuff That Never Happened)–four years in which I’ve been spending time with a character named Rosie Kelley, who showed up one morning telling me her story.

I don’t mind telling you that it was a doozy–right from the beginning, I could see she needed a book written about her, and I ran for the notepaper and a pen. Through the next two years, she sloooowly unfurled little bits of it from time to time. Her favorite times to tell me new juicy info was 1) as I was falling asleep, 2) when I was in the shower, 3) when I was driving to somewhere important. But I didn’t hold that against her. I learned to 1) get up out of bed, 2) make notes with tub crayons, and 3) pull over to the side of the road and write on any slip of paper that might be available, like my insurance card or car registration. Rosie made it abundantly clear that she would NOT be repeating herself.

“Take this down now, or forget it,” she said. “There’s no second chances in my world.”

Maddie Dawson

Maddie Dawson

Despite being talked to this way, I took down her story. She brought along other characters, too, fun ones! There was her longtime lover Jonathan (the guy she had been going with so long that they’d kind of forgotten they weren’ t already married), and her rascal of a grandmother, Soapie, who had at one time been sort of famous but was now losing the last of her marbles even as she was having an affair with an old flame, and Tony, who is the only one of my characters ever to receive proposals of marriage in my email in-box.

The book is about saying yes to things you probably should say no to…and what happens when your life falls completely apart in ways you never could have imagined–and how you go about starting again, even when you’re 44 and totally over your head. It’s also about love, teacups, breaking up, single fathers, cheating at Scrabble, old people behaving badly, pregnancy, and–why not?–making diamonds in the microwave. As the publicity department at Crown put it, “It’s about the best mistakes a person can make.”

Good things are happening for this book, for which I am very, very grateful. Target has selected it as one of its featured books for the April “Emerging Authors” program. A publisher in Italy has bought the rights. It’s been picked by the Left2Write national book club for their April book, and selected as an alternate by the Book of the Month and Doubleday book clubs.

And here are some early reviews:

“Dawson’s charmingly eccentric cast of characters is at turns lovable and infuriating, ensuring a quick read helmed by a memorable, complex heroine.” Publishers Weekly

“Delightfully witty… A messy, funny, surprising story of second chances.” Kirkus Reviews

“Dawson keeps readers turning the pages to find out who Rosie will choose in the end.” —Booklist

I’ll be reading and signing copies at the New Haven Lawn Club, sponsored by R. J. Julia Booksellers at 7 p.m. on April 9.

I’ll also be at Burgundy Books in Westbrook at 1 p.m. on May 3, and at the Guilford Public Library at  7 p.m. on May 7.

I’d love to see you!

 

 

Tim Parrish, SCSU professor, writes not one but TWO fabulous books!

Tim Parrish works at Southern Connecticut State University in the MFA program, helping turn regular folks into writers. He’s published books before–but never two in the space of just a few months. But both his novel and his memoir came out at the end of last year–and both are amazing.

As the reviewer Eric Miles Williamson, judge of the 2012 George Garrett fiction contest, put it: “Mr. Parrish’s The Jumper is a novel so shockingly good that readers will abandon their favorite authors and rush to read all his work.” Clearly, he’s come a long way from his first effort in second grade, “Trouble for Timothy Turkey.”

Want to hear him speak? Here are some upcoming events:

* Thursday, March 6th, 7:30, Pete’s Candy Store, Brooklyn, NY, with Sari Botton.

* Wednesday,  April 23rd, 7:30, University of New Haven.

You can visit him at http://www.tparrishauthor.com.

We are so lucky to have him in New Haven, and to welcome him to Books New Haven, talking about BOTH of his books.

SCSU_13_TimParrish_2936fw

 

 

Tell us about your new book.

Amazingly, I have two new books out, which is what can happen after a 13-year drought between books; shopping a novel through a not-so-competent agent; taking that novel out of circulation; working seven years on a memoir; finishing the memoir; getting it accepted; submitting the novel to a contest and winning that contest so that the books come out at virtually the same time. Which, of course, isn’t about the books so much as the labyrinth of the publishing world.

image          The book that’s getting the lion’s share of attention is the memoir, although I like my novel too, and I don’t always say that about my writing. The memoir, Fear and What Follows: The Violent Education of a Christian Racist, is about my upbringing in a racist, Southern Baptist environment during the sixties, then getting terrorized by some sociopaths in the seventies, spiraling into racist violence myself, and getting turned around after some really good people, both black and white, intervened. It’s also a slice of new South, alternative history, depicting, rather than reviling, scared working-class white people during desegregation at a time when their narrow world felt threatened. I think only by really looking at the roots of racism and looking at racists as the complex people they are, and I was, can we fully understand it. At its heart, the book is really a rough coming-of-age story in the midst lots of confusion, turmoil and ugly behavior.

The novel, The Jumper, attempts to combine a lot of genres by being a story of The Jumperstrange family drama, eccentric love, racial identity, crime, and legal intrigue. It starts with an illiterate man, who thinks he’s an orphan, getting a telegram that his roommate has to read to him. The telegram is from his father, who asks him to come to Baton Rouge from Houston because he’s sick. It turns out that the father has ulterior motives connected to a class-action suit and the father’s problems with gambling. Then, once in Baton Rouge, the main character, Jimmy Strawhorn, meets a woman on the existential run herself, and they become involved in an odd romance that includes the impulse to jump from high places. And believe it or not, all that doesn’t give away too much.

 

How did you first know that you wanted to write these stories? What were the factors that engaged you from the beginning?

The novel came out of my experience teaching a thirty-something-year-old man how to read back in the eighties, and the story he told me about why he was illiterate and how the state of Louisiana had done him wrong. I won’t tell his entire story, some of which informs my novel and would give away the plot, but his story stayed with me. I think my first impulse was to investigate a rather remarkable tale of mysterious lineage, but then I became fascinated with imagining myself into the psyche and world of a person who can’t read at all and seeing how that person navigates the material world and his own shame and sense of outsiderness. The story kind of took off and quickly complicated and I found myself writing a book with a lot of plot, three different point-of-view characters on the margins of society, and story lines from three different decades. I never expected to write sort of a rip-roarer.

The memoir is the only book I’ve ever felt absolutely compelled to write. It started after 9-11 when I saw Americans get scared and allow the bullies and “crusaders” in the Bush administration to lead us to war in Iraq, which in my childhood church was Babylon,  a hotbed of “Moslem paganism” and the potential starting point for the much-sought-after apocalypse. What seemed to be driving the nation was the same beliefs I had as a kid and teenager, in particular the belief that the way to be safe was to attack someone else, usually someone with darker skin. As soon as I realized the similarities between my youth and the present, old emotions–shame, guilt, disgust, anger–began percolating in me, and I knew I had to tell my story for myself if for nobody else.

How did you find writing memoir to be different from writing fiction? How was it similar?

Different because of having to dredge so many personal emotions and shape seventeen years of my life into a narrative while feeling constricted by not being able to go into other people’s points-of-view or create any scene I wanted. Similar because I still mainly dramatized as I do when writing fiction and because even in memoir I was creating characters, including myself.

Did these books come to you easily, or did you have to wrestle them to the ground once or twice? Did you ever give up?

There’s always wrestling. Nothing I write comes easily. I did give up on the novel for a while as I mentioned before, but it kept nagging at me and a couple of  good friends also kept encouraging me to take another look at it. My greatest assets as a writer are my work ethic and my doggedness, a.k.a. obsessiveness, and that’s why I ultimately did not give up. I worked on the novel for three years, put it away, then hugely revised it three times in a year as I was working through the final  revisions of the memoir. By the way, I don’t recommend working full out on two books while having a full-time job, but I’m glad I did it because that intensity very much informs the novel.

The memoir was, frankly, hell to write. It started with a focus on masculinity and was kind of all over the place. I went through three different rounds of submitting it to friends, agents, and editors with massive re-conceptions of the book between each round. I think the nature of the subject matter scared off some people, and I was very frustrated and depressed when I was going into the sixth year of working on it without an agent or a publisher. But I knew I had to stick with it, and I’m glad I did because the responses to the book have been amazingly personal and positive.

Are you a “pantser” (writing by the seat of your pants, discovering the story as you go along), or do you have the entire plot outlined before you begin? Or something in between?

A pantser? Nice. That sounds like I just gave somebody a wedgie.

I guess I’m  somewhere in between pantser and, what, formal dresser? My characters always tell me who they are, at least to a point, while I’m writing, and the story has to bend to fit them. But often I’ve largely imagined them and the story enough beforehand, as well as taken enough notes, to have some sort of template or schematic. So, it’s a combination of knowing and discovering and then applying craft to give the narrative a shape that suits both story and character.

You’ve obviously written characters who are close to or are someone you know, so have you worried that that person will be furious with you?

All the time. And someone has not only been furious but threatened me with a lawsuit for my story “Exterminator” in my collection Red Stick Men. That was the most extreme, but writing a memoir made me struggle constantly with what to put in and what to leave out and how I could be fair and honest in depicting real people or composites of real people and still honestly tell the whole story. I think I do the best I can to be fair to people, even completely fictional people, following what my thesis director, Allen Wier, told me: “You have to love all your characters, especially the ones you hate.”

Do you procrastinate? What’s your favorite mode of procrastination when you’re supposed to be writing?

I don’t procrastinate so much as worry and amp up my anxiety until I’m out of sorts and just have to sit down and hack away. I don’t know about favorite mode, but my prevalent mode of both procrastination and life is obsessing. I’m obsessing about these answers right now.

What about being a writer has made you truly happy?

So many things. I’m lucky to be a writer, in spite of the difficulties writers face. Mainly, what’s made me happy is being able to live in my imagination and take on the challenge of bringing the world in my head to life on the page. And, of course, having readers. People have said remarkable things to me, including how my work has altered how they see themselves and their lives. I mean, I’ve been told that the memoir has made someone understand their father’s and brother’s anger, have heard family and racial stories people have never told anyone before, and been literally embraced by people who feel my story has allowed them some sort of freedom and honesty to speak about race and masculinity.

I never imagined I would do anything that could have that effect.

 What do you tell people who want to be writers?

I tell them they either are or they aren’t, and if they are, they have to commit to the hard work and isolation of it. I also tell them that being a writer is sort of like having a virus. If you have it, you can’t not write. And if you try not to write, you feel worse and worse, like you didn’t take your medicine. Sometimes people ask me how they can tell if they’re writers or not, and I tell them to list everything they could be doing besides writing–making love, reading a book, going for a run–and then see if the choice they would make is to sit alone and write something down, then sit down with that same work again and again. That cuts the mustard right there.

How do you get yourself to write when you don’t feel inspired? Is there anything that can  bring that mood, or voice, back to you?

Inspiration is a tricky word because it implies some dynamic creative impulse, when I find that to rarely be the case. For me, I just get to a point where I have to write or I’m miserable in the world. The way I get back into something if I’ve been away for a while is to immerse myself in it as much as I can within the demands of life. When I do that, all the elements of a piece start to come back. I’m sure part of the reason for that is because I’ve been doing it for so long that it’s almost like muscle memory, but that’s the pay-off for the work. Basically, it’s always the work that addresses the problems.

If you weren’t a writer, what job would you like to do?

I’d be a school teacher, like I am at Southern Connecticut State, and like I have been for thirty years. That or a bobsled driver.

When did you first know you were a writer?

I think I knew in high school when an English teacher named Fred Shirley turned me on to the possibilities of writing and to the transport of reading literature. That said, my first written story was in second grade. “Trouble for Timothy Turkey.” It was a pretty high-falutin deconstruction of the feel-good myth of the first Thanksgiving. All my friends and I were animals that the pilgrims and native Americans wanted to put in their stomachs. My best friends made it out; the not-so-best, well, CHOMP!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jedah Mayberry looks back at his childhood in Connecticut

SONY DSCJEDAH MAYBERRY is an emerging fiction writer, born in New York, raised in southeastern CT, which was the backdrop for his fiction debut released in March 2013 by River Grove Books. He was a top ten finalist for the 2013 Best New Author Award sponsored by the National Black Book Festival. He also garnered honorable mention in Glimmer Train’s April 2012 Family Matters Short Story Contest. He currently resides with his wife and teenage daughters in Austin, TX.7_JMberry cover

“The Unheralded King of Preston Plains Middle” is his debut novel. It tells the story of the Hopkins family, from irascible patriarch Alonzo “Grandpa Tuke” Tooker on down to altruistic Dottie, dissatisfied Chester, and their sons Langston and Trajan—who are no typical residents of the Thames River Valley town of Preston, Connecticut. This is perhaps most true of Langston, a boy whose peers declare him to be the “King of Preston Plains Middle School”: a vibrant young man dedicated to his dream of competing in Olympic-level Tae Kwon Do, as well as to his growing passion for his beautiful classmate Angelica Chu. Yet when a terrible accident brings Langston’s Olympic dreams to an abrupt close, Trajan Hopkins, the family’s youngest son, must learn to cope alone with the coming trials of adult life: his slowly changing relationship with self-destructing childhood friends, his initiation into the world of women at the hands of a former teacher, and his growing awareness of the risky world outside his family’s circle within the shadow of a Haitian drug lord’s operation and the often-threatening local police who watch over it. Jedah Mayberry’s The Unheralded King of Preston Plains Middle marks the debut of a striking new voice in American fiction: intelligent, richly cadenced, slyly funny, and deeply thoughtful about what it means to be a son, a father, and a man.

We’re so pleased to have him here on Books New Haven, talking about his book.

Hi, Jedah. Where did the germ of the story come from? How did you first know you were going to write this story?

A story about brothers has been brewing inside me for some time now. I’ve always liked the idea of a younger brother drafting behind his older brother, working to fit his shadow.

Did this book come to you easily, or did you have to wrestle it to the ground once or twice? Did you ever give up on it?

I attempted to put something together awhile back, but the story ultimately fell flat. There are countless lessons for an older brother to pass down to a younger brother, insights that the older of the two is still grappling to fully comprehend. I find honesty in that kind of exchange. One is not so far removed from the place the other is in life to relate to his concerns; meanwhile he’s still contending with related concerns – school, friends, family, women/girls. I’ve lifted a few short stories from the original manuscript, but have since put it to bed recognizing that it was beginning to come off as overly preachy. The Unheralded King provided a fresh start plus I learned a ton from that early failed attempt enabling me to approach the storyline from a less heavy-handed perspective.

Do you have a writing process you could share with readers, a way you like to proceed when you’re writing a book?

I like to say that I write inside-out. I take some tiny kernel of the story to examine in relative isolation, mold it in place. I work a couple three pieces at a time until the ends of the narrative just begin to touch. From there, I write the story out, end-to-end, fast and rough. Get the story on the page. Then I cycle back and fill in additional detail, tying together any loose ends. I continue this loop, stacking details in relative isolation then knitting together the resulting molehills, until a mountain begins to take shape. (As for mechanics, I generally write on whatever device is close at hand, my cellphone most often. I eventually transfer the content to a more structured document but resort to my phone whenever the creative juices start to flow. I can accomplish in a focused fifteen minutes what could take hours if I were forced to sit down at a particular place/time and write. I would venture a guess that a quarter if not more of the book was captured originally on my cellphone.)

Are you a “pantser” (writing by the seat of your pants, discovering the story as you go along), or do you have the entire plot outlined before you begin? Or something in between?

I start out with a general idea of where I want to take the story, a few potential paths forward at each turn though the conclusion usually remains elusive through to the very end. Midway through KoPPM, I resorted to use of a spreadsheet with automated color coding to map character interactions. Not so much to manage the plot progression, but to ensure that every section of the story serves a purpose, that the pieces fit to create an appropriate level of tension, advance the story in some way. The result resembles a map of some as yet uncharted continent with characters coming and going top-to-bottom along the left margin as the storyline progresses in time from left-to-right. It’s a neat little byproduct that came out along the way to completing a full manuscript. See the plot trace embedded below. Boxes outlined in bold highlight which characters are in conflict in a given subsection.

How do you get yourself to write when you don’t feel inspired? Is there anything that can bring that mood, or voice, back to you?

I still have a day job. As a result, I don’t have structured writing time. I write as the mood strikes. Perhaps I’m lucky in that way. Still, there are times when it just isn’t flowing. I set the work aside at that point and wait for it to come back to me. Proofreading/editing is another matter. Once the manuscript has reached that stage, I’m usually on someone else’s timetable. I’ll put in whatever time is needed to turn the manuscript back to the editor as quickly as possible. The story is largely laid out by then. However, I find the interchange with another thinking being invaluable in making the story better, knitting those ties a little tighter, clarifying, shifting perspective ever so slightly to add new color, new light to a scene. When all else fails, I slip on my headphones. A little music always helps.

When did you first know you were a writer?

I read something to a live audience as part of a Black History month celebration (some ten-plus years before I managed to get anything published). It was a piece from my first attempt at the brother story. I was amazed to see how the story moved people, the bits they found funny or touching or heartbreaking. Being able to connect with an audience in that way is the first sense I got of where this writing thing might lead.

If you weren’t a writer, what job would you like to do?

I’d probably teach. Something math or science related to draw on skills associated with my day job and definitely younger students, still full of wonder. I would try to relate what I know on terms they can digest. Similar to what I do with my writing. We tread on some dicey turf in KoPPM with divorce and betrayal and infidelity. I sought to make the subject matter more accessible, to   adults as well as younger readers, presented largely through the eyes of an adolescent.

What’s your favorite, and least favorite, part of the writing process?

I keep a running log of things that I call “bits”. I consult my bits file regularly to see if something will fit a new piece I’m working. But, I feel like I’ve developed a good filter (again with the help of the editors) to strike out things that don’t belong. The toughest thing I’ve found is accepting that not everyone is going to relate to everything you write. Any attempt to reach the whole world as your audience will likely result in reaching no one. I read anything I can get my hands on. Some of it fails to move me, either in genre or subject matter. But I’m quick to praise good writing even if I can’t relate to the storyline. I’ll quickly put down anything that panders to the least common denominator in us as readers, fails to surprise me in any way, to provoke some thought on my part.

What’s your process of revision? Do you have readers who give you advice? At what point do you enlist their aid?

My sister-in-law has proven my most reliable proofreader. She’s close enough to be persuaded to commit the time to give it a careful read, but not sympathetic like a blood relative to pull any punches. She probably saw two or three versions of the manuscript before it reached the final round of edits. She remarked on how much it had advanced during that time, partially based on deficiencies she pointed out in early drafts.

Readers tend to think that everything authors write is autobiographical. How do you handle those sorts of questions—people assuming that everything in your book really happened to you?

I think of a writer as a blender with a heavy sponge placed at its base. We consume loads of scenery, circumstances, experience. Some our own, some lifted from people we’ve encountered. The trick is to blend it in a way that it’s not recognizable as your own life story yet remains plausible, pulling bits and pieces from true-to-life events. The sponge is meant to hold back anything not suited for outside consumption. Those events might shape the writer’s outlook on family, parents, marriage, life whether or not they make it undisguised into the manuscript.

Have you ever written a character who’s close to someone you know, and have you worried that that person will be furious with you?

My protagonist’s parents break up in KoPPM. I don’t believe I could have written that piece as openly had my father still been living. I don’t know that he would have been furious. He may even have appreciated the honesty. Still, I would have shaded the story differently to spare his feelings, diminishing its worth.

Have you ever gotten up in the middle of the night to write a scene that simply will not let you rest?

I force myself to get up, otherwise sleep will not come. Plus, I’ve lost a scene or two in the past to the next sequence of dreaming. I make sure to write things down so that I won’t forget them come morning time.

Do you procrastinate? What’s your favorite mode of procrastination when you’re supposed to be writing?

I usually find myself procrastinating during those shifts where molehills need to become mountains. I fixate on something I believe is especially well written. I’ve learned to use one piece to make another piece jealous. I work to bring it to the level of the first so the story can proceed. It’s also been my experience that some of the greatest advances come once I have something in hand to share with someone else. I push to get to this points, put on my thick skin to absorb any feedback then ratchet up the creativity to address any concerns that arise. I take satisfaction in being able to incorporate their suggestions while staying true to my voice/writing style. There were a couple of really nice descriptive passages that arose from a simple request from the editor to “show me more”, to help her see Connecticut and later Princeton.

What about being a writer has made you truly happy?

My wife refused to read the book before the publishing process was completed. She read it along with the masses and claims to have loved it. She had some questions regarding things she feared might be autobiographical. But she truly enjoyed the read. Seeing those individual reactions is probably the most gratifying, no matter how many copies ultimately sell. Knowing that someone related to the story, got a kick out of it is what puts a smile on my face.

What do you tell people who want to be writers, too?

Just write. Forget where it might lead, but work on craft. Take a workshop or two. Use the feedback you receive to gauge where you are in your ability to relate a completed thought to potential readers. Then go back to working on craft. Use that early feedback, offered in the relative comfort of a workshop setting, to bolster your confidence through the countless rejections we all receive. Every once in a great while, one of those rejections will include the tiniest bit of constructive feedback. Use that too in making your way forward. Above all else, keep writing. It just might lead someplace.

Kitty Burns Florey’s new novel takes place in old New Haven

Kitty Burns Florey

Kitty Burns Florey

Kitty Burns Florey is the author of twelve books, including the national bestseller Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog: The Quirky History & Lost Art of Sentence Diagramming. It was while conducting research for her most recent non-fiction project, Script and Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting, that she became inspired to write a historical novel about an expert penman. She has lived in Boston, Brooklyn, and New Haven, and is now living in Amherst, Massachusetts, where she is working on a sequel to THE WRITING MASTER.

She will be reading and signing copies of her book in the Victorian Room of the Allis-Bushnell House, 853 Boston Post Road in Madison, in a celebration of National Handwriting Day, courtesy of the Madison Historical Society and  R. J. Julia Booksellers. Come and meet Kitty at 7 p.m. on Thursday, January 23, 2014,
to hear about this novel, which is set in 1856 in the thriving city of New Haven.

florey novelThis contemporary Victorian novel begins with one fateful letter and ends with another. It tells the story of a summer in the life of a young man named Charles Cooper, a teacher of writing – a penman – at a time when a fast, legible script was indispensible for a gentleman, and the gloriously embellished script of a master of the art was held in deep respect.
Charles’s anguished attempts to come to terms with the tragic accident that killed his wife and baby son are complicated by Lily Prescott, his sometime student – an unconventional woman with a shady past and an uncertain future that she is trying her calculating best to improve. When a brutal murder takes place just outside the city, Charles – as an expert penman – becomes involved in its solution, along with Harold Milgrim, an amateur detective in the mold of Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin. The consequences of his involvement are both unexpected and far-reaching.
Strongly influenced by the author’s love of nineteenth-century fiction and her immersion in New England history – and inspired by her 2009 nonfiction book, Script and Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting, The Writing Master meticulously evokes another age, one of sooty railroad journeys, extravagantly inconvenient clothing, strict social codes, and severe penalties for their transgression – as well as the timeless passions and aspirations of a cast of memorable characters.

Here is Kitty Burns Florey, herself, answering questions about her work.

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Why is THE WRITING MASTER set in New Haven? Could it have taken place anywhere else?

New Haven was the perfect setting. Not only do I know it well, but its history, its architecture, the magnificent New Haven Green, the surrounding towns, the college — all added up to exactly what I needed. I was also glad to get to know Wethersfield, where part of the action takes place. I chose it for its location — a short but not too short distance from New Haven — but I also spent a couple of days walking around the town and was enchanted. It has more 18th-- and 19th-century houses than any other town in New England and an excellent historical society.
Lily is quite a bit ahead of her time – what was it like to write her character?

Most women in Lily’s day and of her class were raised to be as nondescript as possible: to do what was expected of them, to be conventional wives and mothers. I was interested in writing about someone who crossed a boundary or two. It was a fine line to walk — too outrageous and she would be an anachronism, too much a damsel in distress and I’d get tired of her. Lily is in a difficult situation and certainly has her helpless moments, but I feel that, for all her faults, she does her best to make her way in a world that is often unkind to women.
Are many of your novels concerned with feminism and a woman’s place in society?

I realized only recently that many of my novels are about people who, in one way or another, are alone in the world. Most of my protagonists are women, but even when I write about men, they’re men who don’t fit into the worlds they live in. What interests me is how my characters deal with that — either coming to terms with it or changing it.
During your research for the novel, what was the most interesting thing you discovered?
I became absolutely fascinated with fashions and especially with the dress reform movement. People in “real” Victorian novels never complain about the hot, constricting clothing everyone wore — like their creators, they take it for granted. Dress reformers were seen as a bit nutty. But writing about a hot 1856 summer during a hot 21st-century summer, I kept thinking about comfort and discomfort. There I was in my cool summer clothes writing about people in hoop skirts! Waistcoats! Top hats! Corsets! So I slipped some of the contemporary notions about dress reform into the book.
Will there be a sequel? If so, can you give us some details?
The sequel is alive and well. It’s called The Italian Soprano, and it’s still at the pondering, note-taking stage, but I do know that the time period is 1890, and that several of the characters have migrated to the Amherst area (where I now live). The woman of the title is Lily’s daughter, Prudence Anne, now a singer who travels to New England to find the answers to some questions about her mother’s past. Her arrival in a quiet New England town definitely stirs things up! I hope to start the actual writing this fall, and the book will probably be set in the fall so I can write about the gorgeous Massachusetts autumn.

Solving teenage angst AND saving the world: Children of the Noah

Sometimes it’s not enough to figure out how to navigate through high school, crushes, grades and perhaps a little acne. Sometimes you might have to save the earth from an apocalypse at the same time.

Children of the Noah: The Barren Earth

Children of the Noah: The Barren Earth

That’s the problem of the characters in The Children of the Noah: Barren Earth, a novel written by our youngest-ever published author, Evan DeCarlo, of Branford. DeCarlo is a college student, and he wrote this novel during that delicate transition from high school to college in Manhattan, knocking out at least 2,000 words a day. (Which proves that the rest of us who whine about not having time to write should just be quiet about it.)

Here is the delightful Evan, to tell us just how he did it, what it all means, and what comes next.

Evan DeCarlo

Evan DeCarlo

Welcome, Evan, to Books New Haven. Tell us about your book,Children of the Noah- Book 1: The Barren Earth. 

What do most fourteen year old boys have to worry about? Baseball tryouts? Girls? That Algebra final? And then there’s Franklin Freeman, who’s just been tasked with preventing the apocalypse by any means necessary. His only companions on this impossible mission? Try an amnesiac cyborg from the future, an insect obsessed nerd, a tomboy from down the block, and a malfunctioning time machine that could take them all to who knows what year. By no choice of his own, Franklin Freeman is sucked into the greatest and most bizarre adventure of a lifetime, one in which he’ll travel across time and space from his little home in southern Connecticut, meet a dystopian tribe made up of the last humans on earth, do battle with a race of monsters living just under the planet’s surface, and – most daunting of all – try not to make a total fool of himself in front of the girl he’s been hopelessly crushing on all along! And he thought it was going to be a relaxing summer break…

Where did the germ of the story come from? How did you first know you were going to write this story?

It seemed at first like the story would only be a very short one. It was my intention to write no more than twenty or pages about a couple of boys who go fishing by day and stargazing when the sun goes down; a simple piece about the joys and freedoms of summer in Connecticut. Then, as I grew fonder of and more attached to the characters with each passing day, it became increasingly apparent to me that I would not be willing to let them go after a mere twenty pages, nor would I be content to limit their adventures by the constraints of the real world. My favorite stories, after all, are often fantastical in nature.  Children of the Noah- Book I: The Barren Earth became not just a story about two boys dealing with problems like girls and social anxiety, but a story about a group of friends saving the world and struggling with all their usual teenage problems at the same time.

Did this book come to you easily, or did you have to wrestle it to the ground once or twice? Did you ever give up on it?

Initially, the book came in spurts, few and far between. I’d write a few pages, get stuck, and then give up. But after a few weeks (or months in some unfortunate cases) I’d always pick it back up again. I was too hopeful for the characters to ever let them go entirely. And so the story was written in this clunky sort of way from December of 2011 to July of 2012. When I graduated from high school and began to attend college in Manhattan, however, the massive transition from quiet Connecticut to big noisy NYC jumpstarted something in my brain. Suddenly, I needed the characters more than I ever had, to help me cope, to remind me of home. They were on a journey and so was I. After I realized as much, I began writing 2,000 words a day (except on Sundays). I haven’t stopped or given up again since then.

Do you have a writing process you could share with readers, a way you like to proceed when you’re writing a book? (Some authors say they write the first draft out in long-hand, on yellow legal pads, with a special, sacred pen, after throwing salt over their shoulders and repeating an incantation…while others say they write the first draft in a two-week-long fever and then spend the next two years revising. Others don’t even begin until they know the whole story).

I’m a college student. Some people say that, being in college, you can only choose two of three options: a social life, good grades, or sanity. As things stand, I have a novel in progress on top of those three options out of which I can only select two. A tricky situation. I’d like to think I can balance all four, but some people might say my “sanity” is questionable. I would agree with those people. In any case, I only ever sit down to write once my homework (and my socializing) is completed. When I do sit down to write, however, I don’t stop till I’ve banged out at least 2,000 words. Then I can go to sleep. Sweet, neglected sleep. Believe it or not, I write everyday.

Are you a “pantser” (writing by the seat of your pants, discovering the story as you go along), or do you have the entire plot outlined before you begin? Or something in between?

The entire trilogy is, at this point, outlined in a very basic way (with Book Two’s rough draft nearing completion). But it is only a very rough outline. I know where I’m going, but not precisely how I aim to get there. It’s like planning a trip. I’d like to end up in England, for example, but to get there I can fly, take a boat, or even swim!

When did you first know you were a writer?

I still don’t know that for certain.

If you weren’t a writer, what job would you like to do?

I would love to make animations, cartoons and comics, but I can’t draw for the life of me. So I make comics without the pictures, AKA books.

What’s your favorite, and least favorite, part of the writing process? One writer describes the “sticky phase,” when everything you see and hear seems destined to slip into your novel somehow. Does that happen to you? Do you love the first draft, or prefer the last revision?

My least favorite part of the writing process is probably when I feel like everything I write is garbage and that I’m really much too young to be writing in the first place. I get stuck or end up writing a lot of fluff because I can’t think of anything important to say. It’s terrible. But it’s temporary.

What’s your process of revision? Do you have readers who give you advice? At what point do you enlist their aid?

The manuscript passes through some trusted hands before it ever makes its way to an editor. My parents, my grandmothers, my illustrator, the list goes on. They critique, I modify, remove, or add, and then it all starts over again. A vicious cycle, but an extremely useful one.

Have you ever written a character who’s close to someone you know, and have you worried that that person will be furious with you?

Joey Jensen, one of the central characters in The Barren Earth, is a photorealistic portrait of one of my very best friends. I didn’t need to tell him as much, he just figured it out when he read the novel; that’s how alike the two are. My friend didn’t seem to mind. In fact, he had ideas and suggestions!

Have you ever gotten up in the middle of the night to write a scene that simply will not let you rest?

I do all of my writing in the middle of the night. I never rest anyway.

Do you procrastinate? What’s your favorite mode of procrastination when you’re supposed to be writing?

Ever hear of the website Reddit.com? The ultimate procrastination tool. Otherwise I’ll read books, but I don’t like to identify reading as procrastination. Reading the stories of others is, perhaps, the most helpful method I have to improve my own writing.

What about being a writer has made you truly happy?

Honestly, seeing the stories illustrated made me giddier than it should have. I guess I like connecting with people through my books, and seeing someone connect on that extremely visceral level by actually rendering the stories in a visual medium really did the trick for me.

What do you tell people who want to be writers, too?

Write. I know an awful lot of “writers” in NYC who rarely, if ever, put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, as it were). Just write till something sticks. I can’t say much more than that. Writing and reading in America are privileges and, thankfully, rights that everyone is entitled to, regardless of class, race, or gender. We’re very lucky in this country. So write! And read, too! Especially my book!

Afoot in Connecticut: Eric Lehman urges us to get outdoors

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Afoot in Connecticut was a labor of love, a chance to show everyone how I fell in love with our state. I love writing about food and wine, and I enjoy writing history, but I came to love Connecticut first through walking the trails and discovering the natural world. So clearly this book is much closer to my heart.

One of the most common questions I get is – why does someone who grew up in Pennsylvania love Connecticut so much? Well, now I get to tell the story of how that happened, by walking the paths and trails of the forests, farms, and beaches. The natural world here is so enthralling and dense that I couldn’t help it. We are actually one of the most forested states in the country, but no one thinks of that when they think about Connecticut. Why? Maybe because we have suburbs and we have strip malls. But think about those same suburban areas in, say, New Jersey.

Afoot in Connecticut Cover

We also have a great trail system, both “blue” trails through the forests, and “green” multi-use trails for biking, walking, and more. Being such a small state, all these trails are close together and almost (almost!) completely connected to each other. With just a little road walking, you could literally walk around the state without stopping, camping or staying at bed and breakfasts. That’s a phenomenon that is popular in Europe, but due to the space in America never really caught on here, at least not since the 1800s. I think that’s a great opportunity to sell our state as a place for “walking tours,” and bring in a few tourists. Of course, then I’ll have to deal with more traffic on the trails I used to walk alone, but that’s a price I’m willing to pay.

So, Afoot in Connecticut is book about walking, about natural history, and about finding home. Those three things are intimately connected in my eyes, and I hope I got that across. I have written six books about Connecticut, with three more coming out in the next couple years. I don’t think I’ll stop any time soon. This is a beautiful state with beautiful people. I hope it inspires other people to get out of their cars and take to the trails, because that is the best way, some would say the only way, to know a place. And I think that knowing and understanding where you live is an important part of knowing yourself.