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!

 

 

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.

*****************

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.

Write your story–in your own voice

Susanne Davis at her Words on Fire studio

Susanne Davis at her Words on Fire studio

 

If you’ve always wanted to write but weren’t sure how to begin, start the New Year off right by giving yourself the gift of a writing workshop.

Susanne Davis is a creative writing teacher at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, and she runs a workshop in her divine little studio in back of her house–a place of such safety and comfort and coziness that it’s where words go to be brought to life.

This winter, she’s running a one-day writing retreat in her Words on Fire studio. Join her and other writers (both beginning and experienced) on Saturday, January 12, from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m….and take the first courageous step to bringing your own words to life.

Whether you’re writing your own story or a fictional tale that’s begging you to write it, with Susanne’s gentle guidance and encouragement, your work can come to be.

She’s helped midwife lots of stories into publication. Her own short stories have been published in numerous journals, including American Short Fiction, Notre Dame Review, descant, Feminist Studies, St. Petersburg Review, Zone 3, Carve, and Boston Fictional Annual Review. She’s won the Hemingway First Novel Award, American Short Fiction contest (second place) and mention as the author of a distinguished story in Best American Short Stories series. A section of her novel, Gravity Hill, was featured at the Boston Fiction Festival. She holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

The cost for the workshop is $99 before 1/1/2013, and $110 after 1/2/13. To register, or to ask questions, contact Susanne at sdavisstorrs@sbcglobal.net.

Speaking Ill of the Dead: Ray Bendici reveals the stories of some bad boys who shaped Connecticut history

Jerks in Connecticut

Jerks in Connecticut

Ray Bendici joins us today, to talk about his book. He’ll be reading and signing copies at R. J. Julia on December 4 at 7 p.m.

His book is a “delightfully wicked look at the badly behaved characters who shaped the history of Connecticut through their deeds and misdeeds.”

Tell us about your new book.

Speaking Ill of the Dead: Jerks in Connecticut History features the stories of 15 bad boys and girls, colorful figures in state history whose stories I found compelling and thought were worth sharing. I stretched the definition of “jerk” so that I could include a wide variety of characters—not only are their a few murderers (okay, three) but there’s also a colorful counterfeiter, a Native American sachem, a legendary showman, a vindictive minister, a transplanted Russian count, a wise guy mobster, a mad bomber and God. Well, a self-proclaimed god, anyway.
Where did the germ of the story come from? Was the subject matter of the book related somehow to your regular job?

I have been an editor at Connecticut Magazine for 13 years, and also have been running a website called Damned Connecticut (damnedct.com) for the past few years, and when Globe Pequot Press was looking for someone to do Connecticut Curiosities: 3rd Edition, I was recommended to them and did the project. They also have been doing the “Speaking Ill of the Dead” series for various other states in the country, and I guess after the job I did with Connecticut Curiosities, they decided they had the perfect jerk for the job.

What did you most want to get across to readers that they might not have known about before you wrote this book?
I really want the readers to enjoy reading these stories as much as I did researching them—all the crime and mayhem aside, there are some terrific human stories in here. Truth is often truly more interesting than fiction. I tried to present them in an entertaining manner, and I recommend that people check out the sources at the end of the book to learn more.
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 had about a year to write the book, and about a month in, I woke up in the middle of the night in a full-bore panic attack—I never thought I was going to get it done by the deadline, especially when there was so much research involved. To talk myself off the ledge, so to speak, I literally sat down with a calculator in the middle of the night and did the math, and realized that I needed to come up with 350 words a day to get it done on time—and that’s what I stuck to. If I missed a day of writing, I wrote 700 words the next day. It was a bit grueling at times, but it worked for me.

Was the research fairly easy to come by, or did you have trouble finding the sources you needed?

For some people in the book, there was a tremendous amount of material out there to sift through—Benedict Arnold, P.T. Barnum, Samuel Colt. For others, it was a challenge finding material, but I really worked at getting to source material rather than just regurgitating information posted in more accessible works. For instance, for the “Derby Poisoner” Lydia Sherman, I got a copy of her confession, in which she gave a lot more biographical information than I saw in any other source, including mentioning a son who wasn’t talked about in other places because he was older and didn’t end up being one of her victims. Getting to some of the original sources was a challenge at times, but worth it in every case.

What has been the most satisfying thing about compiling this information and getting the book written?

Having people read the book and say that they really enjoyed it. I worked very hard not only in researching it but also trying to strike a tone that was entertaining because sometimes history can be dry. Trust me, none of these stories are boring! My challenge was then just presenting them in a way that was fun for everyone. I really feel as though I achieved that.

Were there any surprises along the way—either in the research or in the writing? Did you find sources who were unexpected?

I think the biggest surprise was when I was working on the aforementioned story of Lydia Sherman. I knew she had been living in Derby when she was caught by the police, but as I doing the research, I discovered that when she was married to her second husband, they lived in the “Coram section” of Shelton. I live right off of Coram Road, which means that she very likely lived very close to where I live now, and probably walked in many of the same places I do now. That brought it home for me—literally.

When did you first know you were a writer?

Wait, I’m a writer? Still not sure about this—I think of myself as a guy who writes. William Shakespeare, Stephen King, Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, Sandi Kahn Shelton … those are real writers. I’m not quite there. Yet.

What has happened since this book has been published? What kinds of reactions have you gotten?

I’m glad that it seems to have been well received so far. It’s a fun topic and these are great stories in Connecticut history, so I’m glad to be able to share them. I love that people now know about someone like William Stuart, “Connecticut’s First and Most Celebrated Counterfeiter” (as he refers to himself in his modestly titled autobiography).

What’s next for you? Will there be a follow-up?

I don’t know if there’s going to be a follow-up—although I now do have a few more subjects who I would love to add. Maybe not enough for another book, but maybe a few bonus “tracks” if there’s a second edition.

As far as what’s next—I’m still keeping busy blogging between my websites (damnedct.com and raybendici.com) and at Connecticut Magazine. I’d like to try my hand at some fiction—that way I can make up stuff about jerks rather than have to worry about researching and getting it right.

Alice Mattison and Maddie Dawson are reading at Best Video Wednesday!

As the “real person” behind Books New Haven, I am–technically speaking–Sandi Kahn Shelton. But I’m also Maddie Dawson in my life as a novelist these days. (It’s confusing to be me: I also have three novels out under the name of Sandi, and one under the name of Maddie. I also have two twitter accounts, two facebook accounts, two blogs, two email identities. Such is life when you have a pseudonym.)

But anyway–one of the great things I get to do occasionally is appear in public as two people, and this Wednesday–Oct. 17, at 7:30 p.m. is one of those times.

And I get to read with my longtime friend, Alice Mattison,who is the author of several novels herself, including her latest, the fabulous When We Argued All Night, which recently had a GREAT review from the New York Times. She’ll be reading from this novel…and if you’ve never had the experience of hearing Alice read from her work, you are in for such a treat. I want her to read the whole thing, just because I love hearing it–but she probably won’t.

Also, Alice appeared on Books New Haven back in June, and here is that post, along with her brilliant answers to our nosy questions.

I will be reading from my latest work in progress, a novel-to-be called The Opposite of Maybe, which is going to be turned in to my publisher in February (February 15th, to be specific, but who’s counting?)  I’ve read from this before at Best Video, in fact, and the encouragement of the crowd has helped me move on to write at least a couple more pages since then. Actually, I’m nearly finished with this book, although the characters are not nearly finished with me. They wake me up regularly in the middle of the night to remind me of things they’d like to have included in the book. So I am something of a wreck most days, but I will try to be sane and succinct on Wednesday night, and would love it if you could come and smile and wave.

Alice and I are reading at 7:30 p.m. Best Video is one of the more wonderful places on the planet, made even more wonderful by the fact that it now has a wine bar, in addition to its coffee bar, its thousands of videos, its friendly and knowledgeable employees–and its lovely proprietor, Hank Paper. Here is a story I wrote about Best Video for the New Haven Register last summer. It’s located at 1852 Whitney Avenue in Hamden.

A new kid’s book goes to the Durham Fair: Leslie Bulion and “The Universe of Fair”

The Universe of Fair

It’s not every book that gets to go to the fair as a honored guest.

But Leslie Bulion of Durham has a hit on her hands with her latest highly acclaimed children’s novel.  The Universe of Fair, written for 8-12 year olds, is illustrated by Frank Dormer, with charming, expressive line drawings. The book is a love story to Durham’s much celebrated town fair, which is attended by everyone in town (if not in the state, judging from the overflow of happy, fair-going people walking along Route 17 on Fair Weekend.)

The Universe of Fair is the story of Miller Sanford, an engaging 11-year old science whiz, who tries to show his parents he’s responsible enough to enjoy the town fair without parental supervision, but events conspire against him.

Leslie Bulion of Durham

Instead of a freewheeling, fun day, Miller is drawn into a mishap-filled fair day he never imagined involving a string of tag-along first graders, lemon meringue pie, witch pumpkins and flying death heads! Even before Fair Friday arrives, things start to go wrong: Miller accidentally serves his father’s pie (which was intended to be entered in a baking contest at the fair) as an after school snack. Then, due to parental work and illness, Miller gets stuck taking his six-year-old sister and her two friends to the fair. Ghost sightings, lost first-graders, and Miller’s attempts to get his father’s mostly eaten pie into the contest make for a very different Fair Friday than Miller expected.

Publishers Weekly says the book is upbeat and entertaining, and Kirkus Reviews says the book “not only lovingly celebrates the color and magic of the fair, but endearingly depicts the inner landscape of a maturing child encountering his first taste of the adult world.”

If you’re planning to go to the Durham Fair, (which is held from Sept. 27-30 this year) you can look for Miller, who will be all around the area, ready for discovery. Kids can take their picture with Miller and post them on Facebook for a chance to win Miller T-shirts or a copy of the book.

For more information, go to Leslie’s website at http://www.lesliebulion.com.

Are you a writer? Here’s how to know for sure

These days, it seems that everywhere you look, people are wanting to become writers.

Maybe they think that a life of mumbling to yourself, sighing a lot, and staring out the window sounds like something they’d like to get into. Or maybe all those stories about folks cranking out novels on their CELL PHONES and then getting multi-zillion dollar book and movie deals (hello, E. L. James) has them convinced that lightning does strike twice (or a thousand times) and they’d like to take their chances at that, too.

Or maybe they just want to tell the story that’s been rattling around in their heads for years, or they wake up in the middle of the night thinking that someone has just whispered something in their ear, and they need to get up and write it down before they forget.

Does that happen to you?

A long time ago I asked a bunch of writers to share how they KNEW they were writers.

And here are some of those answers:

You know you’re a writer if looking out the window is part of the job.

Andy Thibault

You know you’re a writer if:

you make notes right after sex
you stutter when asked what you do
you edit others conversations in your head while listening to them
you always carry a note book
you go to bed too late and get up too early
you are constantly saying…I should write that down
Joel Fried

You know you’re a writer if you get cranky when you don’t have time to write.

Pat Aust

You know you’re a writer if you check your email twelve times an hour when you’re supposed to be working on your computer. No, actually it could be more than that.

Nora Baskin

You know you’re a writer if you’ve done everything you possibly can in life to avoid writing but still find yourself needing to.

Marc Wortman

You know you’re a writer if you have constant bags under your eyes, your purse is stuffed with at least five pens and random pieces of paper napkins on which you’ve made notes for the next chapter of your novel, you are constantly on a caffeine high, you never back up your material, you wake up nightly with cold sweats from a free-floating anxiety wondering if anyone is going to buy your book.  The only thought that keeps you relatively sane is: if all else fails, you can always run away, never to be heard from again.

Judith Marks-White

You know you’re a writer if your friend tells you a heartbreaking story and your first reaction is – wow, that would make an incredible plot for a novel. You know you’re a smart writer if you manage to keep that reaction to yourself.

MJ Rose

You know you’re a writer when you are not writing with pen to paper or with fingers to keys, you are writing twenty-four /seven in your brain because everything around you becomes a story.

Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle

You know you’re a writer if you are still in your jammies at five o’clock, the dog hasn’t gone out since the sun rose and your kids are wondering if someone has paid you a hundred thousand dollar advance that they don’t know about.

Linda Merlino

You know you’re a writer if the poetry book on your kitchen table was a pile of napkins last week.

Brian Trent

You know you’re a writer if (like me at this very moment) you are wakened at 2:37 am, a character whispering (shouting perhaps?) in your ear, urging you, no, commanding you, to fire up your laptop, cup of tea in hand, and write the next chapter, in which she insists on taking you places you never intended to go!

Madeleine Parish

You know you’re a writer if your work clothes are mostly sweat pants and pajamas.
Kathryn Smith

You know you’re a writer if:
…you burn through more ink cartridges than Kleenex in the winter
…you see the next story line while arguing with your lover and leave to “get it down” before forgetting it
…on good days there’s a lingering smell of burnt plastic coming from your keyboard
…the dogs would rather float away, whimpering, than interrupt you at the key board to take them outside
…there are oxygen lines, intravenous feeding tubes, and large Starbucks syringes attached to your desk, and nobody in the family notices any of this anymore.

Daniel Holden

You know you are a writer if everyone has told you that you’ll never get published and you keep writing.

Julian Padowicz

You know you’re a writer if you can’t remember some of the plot details of the book you just released because you’re so engrossed in writing the next one.

Chris Knopf

You know you are a writer if every overheard remark becomes a beginning of a story, if  what you glimpse from the corner of your eye triggers a vignette, if you awake in the morning wondering what the characters in your novel are going to do today, if something you read  evokes a memory you can use in your writing, if all of life is about making connections that help you understand who you are, well then, indeed you are a writer! Claire Vreeland

You know you’re a writer when you walk around in the zone, open to believing that every person is a potential character, and every object suggests a metaphor.

Pegi Deitz Shea

You know you’re a writer if everyone around you is totally engrossed in watching James Bond extricate himself from his latest cliff hanger escapade and you are sitting with pencil in hand making notes about the couple in front of you.

C.J.Golden

You know you’re a writer if you’re still in your pajamas at 5 pm and yet you’ve been working all day!
Roberta Isleib

You know you’re a writer when every moment of every day you turn whatever you are facing at the moment into a short spurt of prose or poetry in your head, including your dreams, and it has become so commonplace that you have stopped writing things down and bemoan the loss of them later as the story or poem idea that would have wowed your readership, as if you had a readership because you are, after all, a writer.

Faith Vicinanza

You know you’re a writer if writing about something makes it real.

Patricia D’Ascoli

HOW DO YOU KNOW YOU’RE A WRITER?