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

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 ( 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 ( and 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

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.


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


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.

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.

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