(Sullivan Street Press is pleased to post this blog from Ellen Stimson whose new book. Mud Season, seems like one of the funniest new titles coming out this summer. Ellen is a new friend, another one found by traveling around social media and asking questions and corresponding. Information for pre-ordering her book is at the bottom of the post, and pls forgive me for not adding the Amazon link but it is a policy of this website to do as little as possible for that retailer.)
When I was turning fifty, I thought, this is the first birthday that has gotten my attention. (Well, okay, there was one other. Twenty-seven was a game changer too. I remember that I was standing in my kitchen talking on the phone to Claudia Kocharian. She and I had gone to high school together and she had just enrolled in medical school. That would not have been so bad only she already had graduated from law school. It seemed a little like overkill to me. And there I was listening to her tell the story of the med school applications when my eyes happened to wander over to my living room coffee table. Sitting on top of it was a vampire novel, called The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice. Law school, medical school and Anne Rice. I thought, “Ellen, we really could be doing better here.” So twenty-seven had been some kind of wake up, but not since then.)
Now came fifty. Fifty, which isn’t really half of anything. As a middle-age barometer, 37.5 might be closer to the halfway mark but it just doesn’t have the same ring. So we look at fifty as that marker.
As my 50th birthday approached I started doing the math. My mom had lived to be eight-four. I had recently read an article, maybe in the Atlantic, about how women born in the sixties were living on average three years longer than their mothers. So that got me to eighty-seven. But those last few years had really looked pretty much like shit for my mother. So maybe eighty. If everything went all right I decided I could perhaps reasonably expect to live pretty well until about eighty. That gave me thirty more years. Then I did some more math. Thirty years also equaled fifteen hundred and sixty weeks. Put that way, it didn’t sound like very much. It felt like I was practically dead.
I went to bed kind of depressed. But then in the middle of the night I woke up realizing that I . . . Wasn’t . . . Fifty . . . Yet! It was only April and my birthday wasn’t until August! I had just gathered up a bunch of free weeks. It felt like a death row reprieve.
I immediately sat down to think up something cool to do with all that free time. I had always wanted to learn to play the stand up bass but that seemed like it could take a lot longer than four months. I had also wanted to write a book.
Writing had the benefit of not needing some expensive piece of equipment to get started.
Most important, I already had a great story. A few years earlier my family had moved across the country to live the romantic country life in the mountains of Vermont. My dreams included raising chickens and drinking my morning coffee by a waterfall just as I had seen in the commercials for visiting Vermont. Only my life hadn’t turned out like the commercials. We did get those sweet chickens but there were a few little, ummm, bumps along the way.
For one tiny thing we still had to make a living. I bought what may have been the oldest continuously operating country store in America. It was one of those charming places with old candy counters and gorgeous ancient wooden floors. It had been happily humming along since 1817 and then I managed to run it BAM! straight into the ground in just a little less than three years. That was my story and I sat down to write it.
As soon as I finished the writing part, I knew the next part was to find an agent. I looked through the books I loved to see who these authors had thanked. In this way I discovered the estimable agent Rosalie Siegel. Her website indicated that she only took authors by referral so I wrote to her and we struck up a happy correspondence and within a reasonable time, I asked her if I could refer myself. She said yes.
I sent Rosalie the manuscript, which she claimed to love, and in a few more weeks we had offers and then a publisher. My Norton family has been fabulous. In a nod to all that lovely chicken raising we did, they mailed my galleys to booksellers and reviewers in egg cartons with a sticker on top that said, Live Chicks, Open Immediately! (Don’t you just love that?)
My book tour is in the works and I know I will be all over the place. Twelve major cities plus Julia Reed and I are touring the South together. I gotta say I feel like I’ve been turned into the fairy princess of bookselling.
Soon enough, I will be fifty-one. My birthday’s in August. This year I have decided to write another book, because getting this first one completed has been the most legal fun I have ever had.
Ellen Stimson’s new book can be pre-ordered here: