We may know her best as Sandi Shelton, but the world outside the shoreline is quickly embracing this extraordinary writer as her novelist persona, Maddie Dawson.
With a remarkable ease for conversing through the written word, Shelton has enlivened the pages of the New Haven Register as a favorite local columnist and feature writer since 1984. However, about two weeks ago, cutbacks at the Register claimed the part-time role she's held since 1988. While the reporter in Shelton is saddened by the change, the novelist in her (aka Maddie Dawson) is seeing the silver lining in this particular cloud.
On hearing news of leaving the Register, "people are so sad and so supportive," says Shelton, who also once served as editor for the former Branford Review. "It's been wonderful, all the love that has come through, and sympathy. For me, it's true, it's a change-it's a big change-but it's also a kind of nice opportunity, because I have a career as a novelist, which is very important to me."
In fact, Shelton's newest novel, The Opposite of Maybe, which she penned as Maddie Dawson, will be available beginning
April 8 (Shelton will give a reading at R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison on April 9). The book's publisher, Crown, also published Shelton's first Maddie Dawson novel, The Stuff That Never Happened, in 2010.
With two "really good reviews" recently appearing for The Opposite of Maybe (from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews), "This layoff kind of came at a good time," says Shelton, smiling. "I have this feeling of real optimism, and I'm writing a new book that I'm going to hand in in a couple of months, so maybe that could be a good substitute."
Shelton writes from the North Guilford home she shares with her husband, Jim Shelton, another stellar local writer with a longtime byline in the New Haven Register (the two met in the newsroom). The couple has lived in Guilford for the past 20 years, raising three kids. Through the years, Shelton's also enjoyed success as a magazine writer and columnist and authored three humorous parenting books under her married name.
For the past five years, she's also offered both fiction and creative writing workshops from her home, with rewarding results for all.
"I do creative writing workshops where people come in and work from prompts," says Shelton, who's starting a new round of eight, once-weekly workshops this spring. "They're called 'Words at Play' because I really believe people are scared of writing, so I made this environment where people can write about the stuff that they want to get out. It's a little like being in a book club, except you're writing the thing! And there's something great about people expressing themselves, and then having people waiting to hear what they're going to say. So it becomes a very close-knit group. Most of them have never been writers before, but they've found this new way of expressing themselves, and not being judged, and yet getting better."
Sitting around dining room table (or back porch, come summer) with her writing group is also simply fun for Shelton.
"It's been the most fun kind of thing. Doing that along with writing books is, I think, the perfect life. I'll miss doing feature stories in a way, but the truth is, I was doing kind of too much!"
While she'll miss the never-ending variety of people (many who've become friends) met while writing for the newspaper, Shelton's looking forward to continuing to grow as a novelist through her work as Maddie Dawson. She came up with the "cute" pen name at Crown's suggestion to create an author's persona separate from that of her parenting books.
"The novels have characters who are a little bit older, and maybe facing more challenging sorts of things. There's still humor in the books, and still searching for family and the place you mean to be, and where you want to end up," says Shelton.
The Opposite of Maybe is about a woman who's 44 and discovers she's pregnant for the first time.
"She's just breaking up with her longtime lover and it's kind of an accidental pregnancy, but it sort of makes her rethink her whole life," says Shelton. "It wasn't something she ever thought she wanted, but maybe she does-and does she want to stay with this guy? What is she going to do?"
Shelton spent the past four years writing the novel.
"This woman sort of moved into my head and started talking me. It took a long time to write it, but for me, it was a book that stayed with me and wouldn't let go."
Meanwhile, Shelton isn't letting go of the idea of putting much more time into her work as a novelist.
"Sometimes I'll be writing for hours and it feels like minutes. It's such a good feeling to get into that flow," says Shelton, who is already working on her next novel. "I'm definitely in that flow now. It's so exciting to have a whole new cast of characters."
To learn more about Sandi Shelton's upcoming writing workshops, follow her on Facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about her novels, visit www.maddiedawson.com.