Eric D. Lehman knows all Connecticut’s best-kept secrets and attractions

Eric Lehman

Eric D. Lehman knows a lot about Connecticut–the food, the attractions, the wines–and luckily for us, he also knows a lot about writing. In fact, Lehman teaches travel literature and creative writing at the University of Bridgeport and his essays, stories, and articles have been published by dozens of journals, newspapers, and magazines. He is the author of three books, Hamden: Tales from the Sleeping Giant, Bridgeport: Tales from the Park City, and A History of Connecticut Wine. His fourth book, The Insiders Guide to Connecticut, was published in January 2012…and he and his wife, poet Amy Nawrocki, have co-authored a new book, A History of Connecticut Food.

Insiders Guide to Connecticut

Lehman, who—it must be said—did not grow up in Connecticut, has adopted our
fine state with a gusto bordering on obsession, ever since he moved here 15 years ago
from Pennsylvania.
“It’s always the converts,” he says, “who are the most passionate.”
During that 15 years, Lehman and Nawrocki have traveled the state, taking notes, visiting attractions and restaurants, tasting wine, and hiking the
trails. Who better to write an insiders’ travel guide than someone who has looked around
with fresh eyes and seen everything that Connecticut has to offer?
“I was surprised how many little known places there are, the little spots and
attractions you never seem to hear about,” he says.

It’s not only the museums and parks that make their way into Lehman’s insiders’ guide. He also gives information on spas and golf courses, nightclubs and kid attractions, pick-your-own farms, pizza, river expeditions, theaters, wineries, beaches, inns, and best places to get ice cream—everything a visitor
might need to know about, and everything a full-time resident may have overlooked.
The book is divided into eight sections, one for each county, so you can zoom
right in on the area you wish to explore. And once you’re inside, wallowing around in the
wealth of information Lehman shares, you can even see his favorite places, marked with
an asterisk.
There’s also a section on “Living Here,” which gives regional information on
schools, hospitals, real estate markets, etc.

Now he’s coming to Best Video, 1842 Whitney Avenue, Hamden, at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, May 31st, to talk about Connecticut’s attractions, the food, the wine, as well as the upcoming book.

“I’m going to discuss the misperceptions about Connecticut, and why I fell in love with it, as well as detailing some of the great things to do right here throughout the year,” says Lehman. “I’d like to get into the food book a little, and talk about our regional cuisine, which most people are not even aware of.”

If you haven’t been to the Best Video performance space, you’re missing out on one of our area’s best secrets. Not only is Hank Paper a delightful host, but you’ll be surrounded by some of the most inspiring videos ever made. Best of all, the Best Video Coffee Bar will be open with a fine selection of delicious snacks and refreshments, including Willoughby’s coffee. Admission, as for all of Best Video’s Performance Space events, is free.

Milford native V. M. Zito wrestles with the undead–and wins–in his new, highly acclaimed thriller

V. M. Zito

We don’t want to scare anyone, but V. M. Zito has been thinking about zombies for years. Apparently the the undead have kept pestering him for a novel until he finally wrote THE RETURN MAN to appease them.

It’s the compelling story of a guy who has a job to do after the zombie apocalypse–but it’s also a love story, as he searches for his wife who is now a zombie.
Zito, a resident now of Fairfield, grew up in Milford and has been a lifelong resident of Connecticut. THE RETURN MAN is his first novel. It was originally published in the UK, and is now available everywhere in the US. It’s also being published in France, Germany and Australia. Best of all, the film rights have been optioned by a talented production company called The Ink Factory, so a big screen adaptation is a possibility!

The Return Man

In the meantime, here’s some of the wonderful reviews the book has garnered:
“Thrilling… crowd-pleasing.” (Publishers Weekly)
“A  hair-raising quest… Zito expertly piles on thrills, cliffhangers and numerous twists.” (The Guardian UK)
“Highly accomplished… bloody excellent.” (The Financial Times)
“Hands down one of the best zombie novels I’ve read in a long, long time.” (David Moody, acclaimed author of AUTUMN)
“In a word: relentless.” (The London Telegraph)”Four Stars. Compelling.” (RT Book Reviews)
We’re so pleased to welcome V. M. Zito to Books New Haven!
1. Tell us about your new book.

THE RETURN MAN takes place four years after an apocalyptic event has
caused the dead to return to life as zombies. The U.S. is broken in two. The west
is abandoned, overrun by cannibal corpses. If you’re a survivor living in the east,
grieving over dead friends and family who are now zombies, you can hire Henry
Marco — a corpse tracker who finds your zombified loved ones in the west, then
mercifully re-kills them. Things get bad when the new totalitarian government
finds out what Marco is doing. They send him on a crazy suicide mission to find
the zombie of a mysterious doctor… but they won’t tell him why…

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

I’ve been a zombie fan since I was a kid, so thirty years of daydreaming about
the living dead finally culminated in an idea for a book. I began with the basic
hypothetical, “What would it be like to survive the zombie apocalypse?” Then one
day another thought struck me: What if I survived but my wife didn’t? What if she
were a zombie, out there somewhere, shambling through the dead world? How
would I be able to bear that knowledge? Those were the first few story questions
that eventually led to THE RETURN MAN.

The concept interested me, but it wasn’t until I constructed the character Henry
Marco that I really got myself hooked on the idea. I had the premise of a corpse
tracker, but what made him interesting? Then I realized: “He’s great at tracking
corpses for other people, but for some reason he can’t find the one corpse that
matters to him — his dead wife, Danielle. And it drives him mad, because he
thought he knew her better than anybody else in the world, and he should know
all the places that her zombie might have wandered.” That’s when everything
seemed to come together, and I knew I wanted to write this book.

3. 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?

THE RETURN MAN is my first novel, but not my first attempt. The other novels
crashed and burned pretty quickly, but I could tell early in the process that this
one felt different. I just felt a stronger sense of where I was going and what
needed to be written to make the story work. Another big difference was the
unorthodox route I took to getting published. THE RETURN MAN began as a
free, self-published, serialized online novel; I created a website and posted mini-
chapters every week, building an online readership over time.

By great fortune, an editor at a major publisher came across my site and enjoyed
the story. She contacted me and made an offer on the book, even though it was
only half-finished. From that point on, I had a dream and a deadline — finish
the book in six months to become a published novelist. It added tremendous

pressure, but in other ways, it set me free. I didn’t have time for much indecision
or agonizing; I had to write, full steam ahead, no excuses. I never thought about
giving up. I was more worried about failure, about the publisher not liking the
finished product, but my mind was set: I was going to make that deadline.

4. 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).

The major essential element in my writing process is a large Dunkin’ Donuts
coffee with milk and two sugars. If that white Styrofoam cup is not on my desk in
front of me, I simply cannot create. One other important step that I try to always
incorporate is a real-life visit to any actual locations that I’m using as settings. I
hate feeling like I’m “making stuff up” about places that really exist, so I like to go
and get a firsthand look — picking up details that you wouldn’t necessarily see in
photos or from reading other peoples’ descriptions online.

5. 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 favorite part of writing is the satisfaction that comes with finishing a piece –
– finally getting the words right, knowing that (for better or worse) the story has
been told the way I wanted. Once it’s done, it exists, it’s something that I created
and will always own. My least favorite part of writing is my constant battle against
self-doubt, low self-esteem, negative thoughts, and the fear of sucking.

I’ve never quite encountered an all-out “sticky phase,” but I have noticed
moments of serendipity that gave me material for writing. For example, when I
was out in Arizona doing some final fact-checking for THE RETURN MAN (after
the first draft was written), I learned about a desert plant called the Resurrection
Plant — a plant that seemingly withers and dies in dry heat, then returns to
life in rain. It was so apt, since the plague in THE RETURN MAN is called the
Resurrection. Back home, I rewrote a scene in the final draft to include the plant.

As for first drafts versus final drafts… I hate first drafts. I’m a revision addict. My
greatest fear after I’ve completed a first draft is that I will die in a car accident
before I can fix all the badness, and my wife will find my rough, shitty first draft on
the computer and think, “Wow, my poor late husband was a terrible writer.”

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

I typically begin writing sessions by wasting 15 minutes on YouTube. I watch 80s
music videos, old cartoons, great scenes from my favorite movies, dogs doing
cute tricks, whatever I can find. But it’s not all bad; eventually I’ve had my fill,
and then I usually watch a motivational video or two to remind me that I’d better
work hard to reach my goals. My current favorite: this motivational mash-up
called “Powerful Beyond Measure.” Go ahead, watch this and tell me you don’t
feel like kicking some ass and achieving everything you want:
41167200 (The best stuff starts at 1:08, a great speech from “Rocky Balboa.”)

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

The best honest advice isn’t really deep or mysterious: Just keep writing. On the
days when you feel negative about your writing, remember that you’re not as
bad as you think. On the days when you feel good, remember that there’s still
much room to improve. Compare your writing to good books, and slowly work
to eliminate the differences. Read a really shitty book now and then, just so you
can think, “Wow, this book sucks and it’s published. I can do this!” (I hope THE
RETURN MAN does not comfort you in such a way.) For serious aspiring writers,
workshops are great, but remember NOT to take every bit of advice. Figure out
whose opinion really matters (second only to yours) — and I hate to say this, but
that person doesn’t always have to be the instructor.

8. 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 that’s fun, actually, part of the friendly game played between writer and
reader. What is real, and what isn’t? I don’t mind fessing up, either to the truth
or the lies in anything I write. Many of the little human touches that comprise
the character Henry Marco really do reflect me; I am afraid of leeches in lakes,
I hate cell phones, I did cry during football practice when I was ten. But I was
never bitten in the ear by a dog or studied medicine. And I never killed a zombie.
(Hopefully that last one doesn’t surprise anybody.)

9. 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?

The closest I’ve come to that is with the character Danielle in THE RETURN
MAN — Marco’s lost wife. She is loosely modeled on my own wife. Retired
actress, New Age vibe, the spiritual being. In the book, Danielle’s beliefs are not
always portrayed flatteringly, since Marco is an agnostic who scoffs at “mystical
bullshit.” I wrote those parts very, very carefully to avoid antagonizing my wife.
And to further protect myself, I made it clear that Danielle is very beautiful.

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

To tell the truth, no. For me, sleep is the reset button for frustration. When a
scene or description isn’t working, I escape by slipping into an exhausted coma. I
feel better going back at it the next day, refreshed and hopeful.

11. 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 consider myself more of a plotter than a pantser. I make the comparison that
writing a novel is like a long road trip. Before I begin, I unfold the map and plan
out my major stops along the way — all the important plot points and decisions
awaiting the characters. But what happens between Points A, B and C isn’t
really predetermined, so that’s where the “pantsing” occurs. I try to just let those
smaller moments, like character thoughts and reactions, occur organically.
Unexpected ideas do pop up like hitchhikers, and sometimes I pull over to pick
them up. Or at least slow down for a closer look before I speed away terrified.

12. 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 think the number one rule is: Put your ass in the chair and write, whether you
feel ready or not. I rarely feel inspired before the writing session; I never dance
up to my office, thinking, “Wow, I can’t wait to get this idea down on paper. It’s
going to be a productive writing night!” If I waited for that inspiration, I’d never
write. For me, the inspiration builds as I work. Some nights it happens quickly,
and everything seems to click. Other nights it’s a struggle, and I just keep going,
cranking out dull sentences as if I were rubbing two worn sticks together; nothing
happens for a long, long, frustrating time, and then at last the friction builds
enough to spark a fire. I don’t have a particular catalyst for making it happen. The
trick is to just outlast the hopeless feeling and not give up.

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

I’m not a full-time writer yet… I have a day job that claims me from 9 to 5, so
I’m still wishful that writing was my career! I’m working on my next novel now;
hopefully I can establish myself further and carve out a bigger section for my
name on the bookstore shelves. (Look for me under “Z.”) For now, I hope
everyone enjoys THE RETURN MAN, and thank you for the opportunity to
introduce myself! For anyone who’d like to learn more about the book, visit or find me at

“Zito’s debut is stunning, a harrowing, haunting, and beautifully written novel that belongs on the very top shelf of the zombie canon…” (Library Journal)

Beatriz Williams’ debut novel is suspenseful, romantic, sexy and even has some very plausible time travel

Debut novelist Beatriz Williams says she has been hiding her fiction writing for years.  A graduate of Stanford University with an MBA from Columbia, Beatriz spent several years in New York and London, writing on company laptops as a corporate and communications strategy consultant. Now, as the “at-home producer of small persons,” (four, to be exact) she’s written a first novel that has gotten dazzling reviews.

She now lives with her husband and four children near the Connecticut shore, where she divides her time between writing and laundry.

You can visit her online at, on Facebook at, and on Twitter at @bcwilliamsbooks. Or come to see her at R. J. Julia on May 24 at 7 p.m.

Library Journal gave it a starred review and wrote, “Outstanding…With a complicated romance, intriguing suspense, a dashing hero, a feisty heroine, and a fantastic but plausible time-travel explanation, this book will hit the mark for readers wanting something exceptional for their summer reading.” And Publishers Weekly also gave it a starred review and called it a “a delicious story about the ultimate romantic fantasy: love that not only triumphs over time and common sense, but, once Kate overcomes Julian’s WWI-era ideas about honor, includes mind-blowing sex.”

We at Books New Haven are delighted to welcome Beatriz to our pages.

Q: Tell us about your new book.

A: Overseas is a sweeping love story, alternating between France during the First World War and contemporary Manhattan during the financial crisis, in which a young woman unravels the mystery of a dashing British infantry officer who seems to have known – and loved – her before.


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

A: I’ve been obsessed with the Downton Abbey-eque world of the First World War, and the carnage it wreaked on Western culture and psychology, for most of my adult life. At one point a few years ago, an image pepped into my head of a brilliant young man, an officer in the mold of Roland Leighton and Rupert Brooke, walking the streets of modern Manhattan. I couldn’t seem to get him out of my mind – the story kept building and evolving, until at last I knew I had to get it down on paper.


Q: 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?

A: Well, I certainly didn’t welcome that first idea! I’ve always been drawn to historical fiction and never even attempted a modern setting, but Julian Ashford was just so intriguing to me, a man of the Romantic period dealing with all the irony and cynicism of the modern world, that he won me over. I knew this had to be a love story – the setting and Julian himself seemed to beg for it – so I set about creating the most rich and compelling love story I could. Once the pieces all clicked into place, about a year and a half after the initial idea, I sat down and the words just poured out.


Q: 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: I used to be something of a pantser, with only a basic outline in mind, but writing Overseas really transformed my process. Not that I’ll ever have every scene worked out before I begin – so much inspiration hits in a serendipitous way, when you’re immersed in the story—but I’ve learned to let a good idea cook for a while, until I know all the major turning points, all the key moments, and then I sit down and write like a fury. It’s an incredibly exhilarating, exhausting, and rewarding experience.


Q: 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?

A: As a mother of four young children, I don’t have the luxury of waiting for my muse to visit! Nothing gets you out of a writing rut like hard, disciplined writing, so I go somewhere where I don’t have any distractions. I turn off the wifi, sit myself down with a cup of coffee, and make my fingers move. The first few paragraphs can be rough going, but then I’m immersed in the world and the words just flow.


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

A: I’ve always been a fairly solitary writer – I think it comes from being a perfectionist, not wanting to show my work off until it’s as close to perfect as I can make it. I have enough experience now to know when something’s drastically wrong before I get too far, so the rest is just a matter of closing up plot holes, inspecting each sentence, polishing and polishing. I never stop polishing, even at the page proof stage, which drives my editor crazy! I have a wonderful collaborative relationship with my agent, who vets my ideas and helps me out when I’m stuck, and then it’s up to my editor and proofreaders to make sure I don’t publicly embarrass myself.


Q: 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?

A: Hoo, boy! It’s amazing, isn’t it? It’s especially true when you’re writing in the first person; I think non-writers don’t always understand how you can completely inhabit another person’s skin as you’re creating a story. Now, I’m not denying that I frequently rely on my own experiences and passions when writing; that’s part of the process of creation, that everything’s filtered through the author’s frame of reference. When I was writing Overseas, I was so absorbed in the story that I didn’t want to stop and research new industries, locations, and forms of exercise, so I placed my characters on Wall Street, made Kate a runner, and set part of the book in Lyme. But while we do share certain characteristics, I’ve always experienced Kate as her own person, as a like-minded friend or a sister who happens to be channeling her story through me. Of course, try convincing others!


Q: 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?

A: I know we’re all tired of authors saying that their characters are composites, but it really is true! There’s only one secondary character in Overseas who’s genuinely based on a single real-life acquaintance, and since I’ve only met that person once, I think I’m safe. I do frequently borrow bits and pieces of real-life conversations and events, though, so I’m more worried that someone will read a sentence and think, “Oh, this character’s supposed to be me!” when that’s not the case at all.


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

A: Absolutely not! Now that my kids are a little older, nothing gets me out of bed once my head hits the pillow. But I will lie awake thinking about a scene, and so far I haven’t lost anything by morning.


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

A: Housework. And I hate housework! But when you’re stuck on a scene, that pile of unfolded laundry can look surprisingly inviting, which is why I try to get myself out of the house for a few hours each day to write.


Q: What about being a writer has made you truly happy?

A:  I love the fact that I can get paid to do the one thing I’ve ever really wanted to do for a living. I finish a manuscript now, and I’m filled with that exuberant buzz of creativity, and I think about how lucky I am that this is my job. Best of all, it’s something I can do as a full-time, hands-on mother of four. I never have to feel guilty that I’m not giving both sides of my life my full attention.


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

A: Persistence, persistence, and humility. Never make the mistake of thinking you know your craft perfectly, or that your book can’t be improved. Read widely and deeply, write every day if you can, and remember that good storytelling is at least as important as good writing.


Jack Cavanaugh, former sportswriter, looks back at the year baseball competed with the war

Before hundreds of major leaguers went off to war, they enjoyed one final season in the sun.

Big league baseball would seem to have been a hard sell in 1942. World War II was not going well for the United States in the Pacific and not much better in Europe. Moreover, the country was in drastically short supply of ships, planes, submarines, torpedoes, and other war materials, and Uncle Sam needed men, millions of them, including those from twenty-one through thirty-five years of age who had been ordered to register for the draft, the age range of most big league baseball players.

But after a “green light” from President Roosevelt, major league baseball played on in 1942 as it would throughout the war. It turned out to be an extraordinary season, too, spiced by a brash, young, and swift St. Louis Cardinal team that stunned the baseball world by winning the World Series. The 1942 season would be overshadowed by war, though, with many people wondering whether it was really all right for four hundred seemingly healthy and athletic men to play a child’s game and earn far more money than the thousands of young Americans whose lives were at risk as they fought the Germans and Japanese abroad.

In Season of ’42, veteran sportswriter Jack Cavanaugh takes a look at this historic baseball season, how it was shaped and affected by the war and what, ultimately, it meant to America.

Jack Cavanaugh is a veteran sportswriter whose work has appeared most notably on the sports pages of The New York Times, for which he has covered hundreds of assignments. He is the author of Giants Among Men (2008) and Tunney (2006), which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in biography. In addition, Cavanaugh has been a frequent contributor to Sports Illustrated and has written for Reader’s Digest, Tennis and Golf magazines as well as other national publications. Cavanaugh is currently a professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and lives with his wife, Marge, in Wilton, Connecticut.

We caught up with Cavanaugh, who said he wrote the book because of his longtime fascination with the year 1942, which he sees as “probably the most crucial year of the war for the U.S. and its allies.”
Cavanaugh: “There were major battles that year — Battle of Midway, Guadalcanal, the first U.S. bombing of Tokyo;  rationing on the American home front because of shortages of gasoline, rubber, coffee, sugar, etc; air raid drills; 400 American ships sunk off the East Coast by German submarines, etc.
My other four books dealt primarily with sports while this one deals with both sports and World War Two.
My hope is that readers will be surprised to know how bad things were going for the U.S. militarily in the Pacific, in Europe, in North Africa and right off the East Coast, and how unprepared the U.S. was for war, despite strong indications that the country would soon be drawn into the war.
I plan to continue writing and teaching. Not sure what my next book project will be. After writing four books in less than six years, maybe I’ll take a brief break.”
The book, he says, took a “tremendous amount of research for this book, since I was researching baseball and the war on a day to day basis in 1942. Fortunately, I had already interviewed quite a few of the prominent baseball players and some others quoted in the book in the past, and that helped immeasurably.”
He’ll be signing books at RJ Julia’s Bookstore in Madison at 6:30 p.m. on June 6; at the New Canaan Library at 7 p.m. June 12.

Guilford couple bringing Southern Italy right to our tables! (Pizza is involved.)

Think of foods truly Italian…the freshest olive oil, the ripest tomatoes, handmade pasta.
Okay, now that you’re salivating, think of that in your very own kitchen!
Matthew Scialabba and Melissa Pellegrino, a Guilford husband-and-wife team, bring the real Southern Italy to your kitchen, with true organic Italian cuisine.

They truly know their stuff, too. They have traveled throughout Italy, taking part in over 30 agriturismi (that means working farms that provide room and board in exchange for work harvesting and cooking) in central and southern Italy, where the cuisine served has the same fresh-farm values found in the United States and beyond. They came back from their travels and wrote a book called The Italian Farmer’s Table, which was published in 2009 and contained recipes and stories from their adventures in northern Italy.

Now they have not only opened their own restaurant, Bufalina Wood Fired Pizza, in Guilford, which represents the culmination of all they’ve learned, but they’ve written a new book, The Southern Italian Farmer’s Table, a sumptuously illustrated cookbook featuring 150 authentic recipes from central and southern Italy.

This cooking and writing couple met while living in Italy. Their shared passion for Italian food and culture led them on many culinary journeys, including apprenticeships at a Roman bakery, studying winemaking at a Ligurian vineyard, graduating from professional culinary schools in Manhattan and Florence, and of course their work at the Italian agriturismi. In addition to making authentic Italian pizza, they keep their recipe and writing skills sharp with frequent contributions to Cucina Italiana and Fine Cooking Magazine.

Visit them at their website at

Read a story about them and their delicious marriage from Nov. 23, 2009, in the New Haven Register by clicking here.

And then go to meet them. They’ll be reading and talking about their new book at R. J. Julia, 768 Boston Post Road in Madison, at 7 p.m. on May 21st. This event ticket is $5.00 and can be used towards the purchase of the book.

Please call the store at 203-245-3959,or click here to reserve your seat.

Just like at their restaurant, be sure to reserve your seat now as this event is already filling up fast!

Can any of this be true? Jack Hitt celebrates the amateurs among us

You might say that Jack Hitt loves the crackpots, the people out tinkering in their garages coming up with an invention that just may someday knock the ordinary world right off its axis out of sheer amazement. And now Hitt, of New Haven, is the author of a new book, Bunch of Amateurs: A Search for the American Character. Most days, he’s a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine. He occasionally contributes to the public radio program, This American Life. His book, Off the Road: A Modern-Day Walk Down the Pilgrim’s Route into Spain, was made into a motion picture, “The Way,” directed by Emilio Estévez and starring Martin Sheen. He also has a one-man show, “Making Up the Truth,” which, like his other work, very nearly answers the question, “Is any of this true?”

He will be appearing at R. J. Julia Booksellers on Thursday, May 17, at 8 p.m., to read from and sign copies of his books, and tell stories that promise to make you laugh. In the meantime, here’s what he has to say about the crackpots among us:

What is it about the American spirit that inspired you to write A Bunch of Amateurs?

 I was sent to spent time with the Kansas City Space Pirates once. Their leader is a computer consultant, Brian Turner, who with a team of other garage inventors has competed in a NASA amateur contest involving power beamers.  (Imagine a plane with no fuel on board but powered by a laser beam from the ground.) This idea of power beaming, though, is really in service of dream called the space elevator—a 60,000 mile long ribbon built of carbon nanotubes, an almost sci-fi idea to get us in and out of deep space with ease. After spending a week with Turner, it became obvious that the golden age of amateurs was not some romantic time that has passed but a cycle that always comes back around.

When did you know this was going to be a book? Was there a sort of tipping point when you realized you had enough of a collection of risk-takers?  

Not really a question of “enough.” The problem came from the other direction. There was always too much. The problem was cutting it down. So I shaped the book around a number of larger concepts of amateurism. In the end, Brian Turner and the Kansas City Space Pirates–as good as they are as a story–didn’t make the cut.

As a raconteur extraordinaire, you’ve made your name writing about people with crazy passions and what some might call a loopy view of life. How did your upbringing lead you to this kind of fascination?

Actually the entire book was born when an editor in New York asked if I had ever noticed that many of the figures in my stories were self-invented cranks who actually had stumbled upon some brilliant, new or cool idea. I hadn’t, but one conversation led to another, and one day I found myself isolated, fittingly, in my own garage, writing a book about garage eccentrics. Maybe, as somebody has already said, the whole thing is a sly justification for a lifetime of freelancing.

Is there a particular amateur in this book who really seized you with amazement and delight?

So many, but I had a blast with Meredith Patterson. She’s a computer programmer whom I met in San Francisco. In between raves and visits to the tattoo parlor, she taught herself bio-engineering. Originally working with a salad spinner for a centrifuge, a portable cooker from an RV for an incubator, and a few chemicals she extracted from shampoo and sex lube, she built a lab where we spent a week fiddling with her latest project: inserting the glow in the dark gene from a jellyfish into a bacterium that we could then culture and use to make yogurt that glowed in the dark. Glo-gurt.  A number of DIY labs for amateur biologists are popping up all around the country right now. I suspect that there will lots of hand-wringing and bed-wetting from the Post-9/11 TSA types, but frankly, it all felt to me like I was witnessing the re-birth of a bunch of 4-H Clubs.

This book reads like it was lots of fun to write. But of course no book is all fun and games. Were there things you had to leave out, stories you needed to leave untold?

Fun and games? I wish the desire to write only upon my worst enemies. As to what got left out? I actually did write down all the panicky assignments I sent my several assistants off to research. Here’s a partial list: homemade gasoline distillers, DIY submariners, amateur chefs, open-source anything, local “historians,” the newest religions, and the latest version of creation science. Also, self-taught dark-matter theorists, ethnic innovators coining new races, the ongoing jetpack dream, the last 500 patent applications, high school kids building nuclear reactors in the suburbs, the latest Howard Finster, the latest Steve Jobs, the latest Lana Del Rey, and anything to which the prefix wiki- has been added. But, wait, I also needed to about this year’s MacArthur genius grant winners, amateur porn pioneers, pranksters, weekend warriors curdling into militias, storm chasers, un-credentialed archaeologists, cutting-edge agronomists in the medical marijuana field, self-appointed terrorist hunters, that whole smart mob business, competitive eaters, amateur rocketeers, micro-brewing dudes, top fan fiction writers, horticultural pioneers, latter-day radio pirates, and the surprisingly hefty crowd of people describing themselves as time travelers, some of whom, curiously, have recently disappeared. Compared to these research assistants, Don Quixote had it easy.


Sandi Shelton
12:51 PM (7 hours ago)

to Jack

The busy, happy life of paranormal romance writer Leia Shaw

Leia Shaw is a Connecticut author who has written three paranormal romances, with a fourth book being released in June.

Here’s something that might surprise you: the books are bestsellers, and Leia, unlike many authors, is making her living writing books that indulge her imagination and take her characters to new places. Recently she gave a talk at CT Fiction Fest, a conference given by the Connecticut chapter of the Romance Writers of America, telling just how she does it. So we wanted her to tell us, too.

First, tell us a bit about your books.

I have three books published in the paranormal romance genre – typical romance novels with a supernatural twist. My books are primarily character stories – a man and a woman who overcome insurmountable odds and fall in love. But they do it with sword in hand, fighting ghoulish creatures and aren’t afraid to get a little dirty. As far as inspiration, well, my first book came to me in a dream. But I’ve always been interested in the paranormal. My inner child claps and jumps up and down with anything to do with magic. I love my job because, even though I’m a grown up, I can still use my imagination.

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?

Since my fourth book releases in June, I’ll answer for that one. Surprisingly, this one came pretty easily. It’s high fantasy and was a lot of fun to write. That being said, writing ANY book is hard work. I think non-writers assume writers get an idea for a book and we sit at the computer for a few weeks in a row and pound it out. That’s not really how it works. The first step is lots of thinking. Literally, just thinking. I do this in my car or while washing the dishes. Then comes plotting, character development, writing, rewriting, rewriting again, editing, and I’m sure I’m missing a few steps. The only book I’ve ever given up on was my very first writing attempt. And even that I plan to go back to.

Do you have a writing process that you can share with readers?

It probably looks like I’m staring into space, but I’m actually con-centrating very hard. After that, I might make a very poorly constructed outline. I’m not the most organized writer. Then I write my first draft – start to finish. Then I go through layers of revisions and use a critique partner. When I think I have the story and development down well, I load it to my kindle and read it through while I work out at the gym. I make notes and highlight sections that might need editing. After I fix those up, I send it to test readers. I make any last changes based on their feedback, do another edit (maybe use an editor) then ta-da! The magic is complete.

The wild ride to publication is always fraught with drama. Tell us about your journey to self-publishing. Had you tried to go to the traditional route first, or was this always the way you wanted to go?

When I finished my first book, I gave submitting a try. I had some interest from small publishers, but I didn’t see the benefit of going small publisher when they wouldn’t do much more for me than I could do for myself (except take more of my earnings). Landing an agent was getting harder and harder. Selling to a big publisher was even more unlikely, even if you have a lot of talent and a good book. Like most writers, my dream had been to see my book on the shelf when I walked into Barnes & Noble. Actually, I planned to stand in front of it like some kind of 3D cardboard cut-out and say, “This is my book” to everyone who walked by. But the more I researched the market, the more I realized I had to adjust my dream to fit the changes in the publishing world. For me, writing is a business – a fun, creative business (most of the time), but still a business where I need to earn money. It isn’t about notoriety or self-expression. Once I pinpointed that as my goal, it led me to my current path. A path that may never land me on a grocery bookshelf, but that still earns me a full-time income. The publishing world is changing. The field is leveling now that authors have more options. Being published by a large publishing house doesn’t guarantee you money, but neither does self-publishing. Like everything, it takes hard work and ambition to get there.

There’s my plug, now on with the story. I’d heard about self-publishing – this was before got to be as popular as it is now – and it sounded like a good fit. I was counting on writing as my career so I wanted to take control of it. I didn’t want to wait around for a publisher to decide when, where, and who – and how much I’d be making. So I took the bull by the horns, so to speak, and made my own destiny. I know that sounds dramatic but I am a fiction writer after all.

I do have one book published by a small publisher and co-written with erotic romance writer Cari Silverwood. It’s releasing in July by Loose ID. I chose this route because it’s in a different genre – one I didn’t have much experience in – and I didn’t have time to market it. My paranormal romance series is paying the bills so I figured the traditionally published book was just a bonus. Plus, it’s good to have experienced both routes to publishing.

What service did you use? And what help did they provide—editing, design, distribution, marketing? Did you agree with their approach?

I’ve found editors through friends and I design and create my own book covers. Well, with the help of my husband and he’s very good at it. As for distribution, I go through Kindle Direct Publishing, which is the self-publishing route for Amazon. And Smashwords distributes to all other e-book retailers. In terms of marketing, I pay a promotion service to organize virtual book tours. These are just how they sound. A book tour online that stops at appropriate blogs and websites where I post character interviews, author interviews, information posts, excerpts, and sometimes a giveaway. These are a lot of fun and a great way to get my name out there.

What have been the best and the toughest parts for you?

Growing thick skin. In an industry like writing, you’re opening yourself up to criticism. Books are like our babies. We put blood, sweat, and tears into them. It’s hard to hear negative things about your baby.

Where are your books available?

They’re available on all e-readers – kindle, nook, sony, apple, diesel, etc. Also on the e-book sales website All Romance E-books. And they’re available in print on amazon and createspace.

Would you go this way again, or are you wishing to break into the more traditional kind of publishing?

I plan to self-publish the rest of my paranormal romance series, which includes eight books total. After that, who knows? I’m the kind of person that keeps all doors open and is constantly looking forward.

Do some genres lend themselves more to self-publishing than others?

I think so. Romance is the biggest selling genre in fiction. Die-hard romance readers will go through 1-2 books per week. These are the people buying e-readers instead of stacking up so many print books their closets are exploding. These are the readers self-publishers (who rely mostly on e-book sales) should be targeting. Lots of women read romance novels, but those who read one every couple months are more likely to pick one up on a bookshelf in the drug store while waiting for a prescription. In which case, they won’t be exploring self-publishers. Sometimes a book that doesn’t fit well into one genre or another will have a hard time being picked up by a publisher. The author might choose self-publishing for that reason. But generally, series books in popular genres with serious fans do well in the self-publishing market.

Have you been published by traditional publishers before this?


How are you getting the word out about your book?

Sometimes I feel like I spend more time marketing than writing. I try to have a big social media presence. I keep a blog with book snippets and news and fun stuff. I participate in lots of contests where I give away my books to get new readers. I tweet and facebook just like the rest of the world. Other than that, I rely on my fans talking to their friends. Just like movies and music, most sales come from word of mouth. I also teach a fiction writing class at the Mansfield Community Center.

Writing a book? 5 ways not to go crazy

I gave a talk at the New Haven Public Library this evening…a talk that had been billed as “So You Want to Write a Book: Five Reassuring Things You Need to Know to Keep from Going Crazy.” (I have been told that I came up with that title myself. Clearly in a moment of insanity.) After all, what do I know about not going crazy while writing a book? I’m the least sane person I know when I’m writing a book, walking zombie-like through the house in my pajamas and talking to myself, eating Cheerios out of the box, bolting out of bed in the middle of the night because I suddenly realized something vital about chapter 2.

But there it was, in print, that I was going to explain how a person could write a book and not be crazy, and so, after taking some deep breaths, I thought of five things that actually do help me when I am writing a book, if I can find my way back to to remembering them.

If you are writing a book–and apparently lots of people are–maybe these things can help you, too. And if you want to add to the list, please feel free. We love comments here at Books New Haven!

1/ Write really badly at first. REALLY badly. Even really dreadfully badly. Don’t even invite your editing self into the room while you’re writing. Don’t think about how scared you are of words on paper, or how your 10th grade teacher must have been right when she said you couldn’t punctuate your way out of a simple declarative sentence. Forget the ex-friend who said you were the least creative person she knew. Write down everything without censoring.  Nobody will see this EVER, so let your mind spin. Play like you’ve never played before.

Are you going to read this later and be stunned that your prose has somehow magically turned wonderful on you? Well, no, probably not. But what will happen is that you will lose yourself in the art of creating something. And if you’re like most people, a little germ of an idea will creep in around page 4, and then you’ll think, “Hmmm, how did that get in here?” And you’ll be off, writing about the thing you didn’t even know was there. Believe me, you wouldn’t have gotten to that little germ if you’d sat there, stiffly, trying to summon up the final draft first. First drafts suck. They just do. Yours are no worse than anyone else’s.

2/ Do this every day. Every single day. Never mind that you already have a full, functioning life.  Lots of people have lives, and they do make it difficult sometimes for us to do the very things we love. But we have to. You need to carve some time out for the thing you love, or it won’t ever happen. It just won’t. Wake up earlier. Go to bed later. Write on your lunch hour. Stop watching television. (Mad Men will have to go on without you. You can watch it on Netflix once your book is done.)

When you write every day, some magic really does happen. Your subconscious mind figures out that this is something important, and it works on the book even when you’re washing dishes or waiting tables or painting ceilings. If you leave your book for when you have time, or when you’re feeling inspired, it won’t ever get done.

Besides, Malcolm Gladwell says that in order to get good at something, you have to do it for at least 10,000 hours. Do you have any idea how many hours that is? You have to get cracking. The first 9,999 are the hardest.

3/ Keep a pad of paper and a pen near you at all times. This is so you can write down the things you see–because once you are writing a book, things are going to start to happen all around you, things that may need to go into your book. I’m talking about the conversations you overhear in line at the bank, the smell of your car when you get into it on a hot day in the summer, the song that played on the radio on the way home from work and how it reminded you of that fraternity party when your friend got so drunk and left you on the lawn with the guitar player you then dated for three months.  (That friend and possibly the guitar player have something to do with your book, but you’ll never know what unless you write it down. Because you’ll forget.)

This goes for the middle of the night, too, by the way. Ideas are like tricksters; they love to pop up when they think you can’t do anything about them. Oh, but you can! Keep a pen on the nightstand, and scrawl (in the dark) any words that can help you remember, and you’ll thank yourself the next day. Your book will thank you, too.

4/ Once the inner creative genius in you has romped around and created a bad first draft, you need to revise it. Some people hate revision. Perhaps I’m in the minority when I say I love it. First drafts make me anxious–all those choices, all those blank pages, all those possibly wrong decisions. I love the point when there are words on the page, words that I can change and delete and add back again; characters that I can work with and reason with; a story line that I can fill up with emotions and actions and settings. Give me a second draft over a first draft any day. One thing to remember here–well, two things: You can most likely fix anything that’s bad. That’s the important thing. The second thing is to save the things you’re slashing and deleting. Put them in another folder, one which I call “Things That May Have to Come Back into This Book.” Mind you, I’ve never rescued anything out of that folder, but it makes me feel safe, just to have it. Because you never know.

5/ Find a critique partner. Start interviewing people for this position now, before you have a first draft. (It’s best if it is someone you’re not sleeping with.) The qualifications you want are: kind, honest, discerning, not scared of you, and reads books in your genre. Another helpful characteristic is that this person is willing to tell you when your book works as well as when it doesn’t work. It’s also good if, when you get terrifically, irrationally angry over these remarks and insist that you don’t want this friendship anymore, that this person doesn’t leave your life.

Believe me, you need someone who can steer you back to solid ground. Books go astray all the time, and if you have a brave, loving friend who can gently guide you back–you’re way ahead of the game.

Do you have any ways of keeping sane while writing? Any messages you’d like to direct to the outside world? We’d love to hear them!

Brian Francis Slattery and “Lost Everything”

Brian Francis Slattery, of Hamden, will be reading and signing copies of his new book, Lost Everything, at  7 p.m. on May 8 at R. J. Julia Booksellers, 368 Boston Post Road, Madison.

This is Slattery’s third literary sci-fi novel. It’s been described as an “incandescent and thrilling post-apocalyptic tale in the vein of 1984 or The Road.”

The story: In the not-distant-enough future, a man takes a boat trip up the Susquehanna River with his most trusted friend, intent on reuniting with his son. But the man is pursued by an army, and his own harrowing past; and the familiar American landscape has been savaged by war and climate change until it is nearly unrecognizable.

Lost Everything is a stunning novel about family and faith, what we are afraid may come to be, and how to wring hope from hopelessness.

Slattery is an editor, writer, and musician and is one of the editors of the New Haven Review. As a freelance editor, he specializes in publications about economics, public policy, and international affairs. His clients include the United States Institute of Peace, the United Nations Development Programme, the Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics, and Columbia University Press.

His previous two widely acclaimed novels are:

  • Liberation: Being the Adventures of the Slick Six After the Collapse of the United States of America (Tor Books, 2008).
  • Spaceman Blues: A Love Song (Tor Books, 2007).

To attend his book-signing and reading, call R. J. Julia at (203) 245-3959 for reservations.

Visit his website at

Kate Rothwell/Summer Devon, a romance writer, tells how she does it

Romance writers do it…well, with computers, just the like the other writers. They just do it with more fun, more pizzazz, and perhaps with a bit more inspiration.

Today’s author, Kate Rothwell, is the author of 25 romance novels, many of them erotic. She writes her hottest books under the name Summer Devon, which IS a very hot name, when you think of it. (Winter Devon wouldn’t have been nearly as steamy.)

Kate is a member of the Connecticut chapter of Romance Writers of America,which is a wonderful organization that helps writers get their start. Trust me: these women know their way around a plot! And they’re very friendly and generous in sharing their information. They are presenting Fiction Fest, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on  May 12, at the Heritage Hotel in Southbury, CT. Go to their site for more information.

Meanwhile, Kate tells us about her process of writing such heat, and how she came to self-publish, and all about her writing partner, a person she’s never even met. Her latest book was just published April 30.

Tell us about your new book.

My book, Serious Play, which came out April 30 is a joint venture, the sixth book I’ve written with Bonnie Dee. This is our first contemporary romance.

I use two names for my books, Kate Rothwell and Summer Devon. This is a Summer Devon title.  I used to only write the hottest books as Summer, but lately most of my work gets published with her name, even the less steamy books.

At the moment, I’m writing another book set in Connecticut. (A book that’s already out, Unnatural Calamities, is set in a fictional town called East Farmbrook. That book started out as an experiment. I began by trying to pile in as many romance clichés as I could into a story, and still tried to end up with a reasonable story. I grew too fond of the characters not to give them a real book.)

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

Bonnie had first go at Serious Play, so the basic set-up was her idea.  I put in a lot of work and help steer the action, but the seed of this story came from her. The process is pretty simple: she writes a chapter and sends the manuscript to me. I write one, she writes the next and so on. We read and change each other’s pages as we go along. Here’s the funny thing: we’ve worked on eight books together and have never met or even talked on the phone. I haven’t seen a picture of her so I don’t know what she looks like.

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?

 This book, like most of the books I’ve written with Bonnie, came fast and easy. The last one, our seventh, was tough—and I’m the one who started it. Uh oh.

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

I’ve written over 25 books and the process changes from book to book. The only consistent factor is that I have a set time I sit down and write. The other characteristic my books have in common: they’re all romances.

Twice a week I go to Barnes and Noble in Farmington, and once a week, I head to La Paloma Sabanera in Hartford–because if I stay home, I lollygag and putter. If I’m working at home and a book is really going badly, I’ll even clean the toilets to avoid it. I won’t do that at Barnes and Noble. I write with at least one other person and her presence stops me from getting up and browsing. We both treat our time together like we’re at our job.

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?

Somewhere in between. One of my critique partners, Toni Andrews, is a plotter and she has great charts. I’ve watched the process of plotting and it’s amazing and fun, though it’s not for me. I have found that if there’s trouble in a book, I mentally plug the plot or character into one of her charts. But I only do that mentally. If I write down too much information before I start a book then I lose interest. I have learned to make a character bible. It only takes one instance of a brown-eyed character suddenly getting green eyes to learn to keep better track.

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 just write anyway. I started out as a journalist so I know how to write on deadline even when the muse is off visiting someone else. It’s a job, so I do it at least a few hours a day. That’s why I usually have more than one story going at a time. If one isn’t flowing, maybe another will. And if I can’t write fiction, well…there’s always the blog or an article I could work on.

When did you first know you were a writer?

I wrote a few literary short stories when I was in school. I even got three of them published. Years ago, when we lived in Maryland, I answered an ad in a magazine that was looking for free-lance writers.  Within a couple of years, I worked for the magazine full-time. Eventually I started my own publication with two other women—a paper aimed at kids and parents. When we moved to Connecticut, I left behind that town and all the connections and sources I had there. I started writing fiction instead.

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

 I think about this a lot on bad days. I never come up with good answers. I’ve been a bartender, a garage service manager, a waitress, a sales clerk. I’d probably go back to the same sort of blue-collar work I wouldn’t have to bring home with me. I was a volunteer ESOL teacher for about ten years—maybe I’d go back to that for actual pay.

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?

 It depends on the book. If writing the story was painful, then editing is often better. Some books flow as if they’re writing themselves. I love those stories! I think the fact that every book seems to have its own process is my favorite part of the process. I don’t know what’ll happen when I sit down to work.

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

Sometimes I meet with a couple of critique partners. When I’m done, I usually ask a couple of beta readers to take a look at it. I use a fan who wrote me a letter about a book, listing the mistakes I’d made. I knew I had to enlist her help for future books ASAP.

I have a friend who’s a professional editor and I usually beg her to look at my final copy before I send it off to the editor I hope will buy the book.

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?

Since I have written a fair number of erotic romances, I’ve had this conversation before, usually with a giggling person. I point out that I don’t have to murder anyone to write a good murder scene.

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?

No, I don’t write people I know. There are characteristics of some people, obviously, but I never try to replicate someone real. Just to mess around, I did name a villain after a teacher who had given a bad grade to a kid I know (not one of my kids). I also gave that villain the teacher’s physical characteristics but there is no way in the world anyone could mistake the teacher with the psychotic killer.

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


All the time.  I’ve dropped my laptop a couple of times because I hauled it up in the dark to write. So now I just scribble on a note pad.

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

The internet! Facebook, twitter, pinterest, blogs, . . . Every site on the internet is out to get me and sap away my time.

What about being a writer has made you truly happy?

Depends on the day. If I get a letter from a fan, then I am focused on the finished product. Usually, though, I enjoy the process. I get to sit around and think about stories and characters and solve problems. It’s just like being a kid playing Let’s Imagine.

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

Remember the phrase: BICHOK, butt in chair, hands on keyboard. Sit down and write. And then sit down again and edit. If you’re in it because you want money, you might want to buy scratch tickets instead. Both writing and the lottery can bring in great results but if you want a sure thing, neither is the answer.