Women writers 'of a certain age' share their stories

As women get older, they often feel more confident and ready to take new challenges and risks. And, if a woman has finally finished that novel that was on the back burner for years while life demanded other things of her, she may get impatient waiting to get published through traditional channels.

On Oct. 23, five women that fit this description will be reading their newest books at a program titled “Women of a Certain Age…and Attitude” at Bank Square Books in Mystic. The women also have in common that they’re all from New England — two with roots in Mystic and Stonington.

And all five have had their books published by She Writes Press, an alternative, hybrid publishing company founded in 2012 on the principle of connecting and serving established and aspiring women writers, who are invited to publish based on the merit of their writing alone.

After meeting and forming friendships through She Writes Press, the authors have been on a book tour together with stops in New York, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Hampshire. 

Coming home

Kristen Lacroix Harnisch is the author of “The Vintner’s Daughter,” a 2015 Readers’ Favorite Bronze Award Winner for historical fiction. The novel’s protagonist is a spirited young woman, who travels from France to New York to California at the turn of the century, determined to make her own way in the winemaking world.

Harnisch spent much of her childhood in Mystic, while her now retired father Admiral Frank Lacroix, was stationed at the New London submarine base. She attended S.B. Butler Elementary School and Saint Bernard School in Uncasville. She and her husband now live in Darien.

“We lived on New London Road in a historic home. It was awesome, I loved it there,” Harnisch recalls. “Living in a place like Mystic ignited my love of history and that’s what got me into writing historical fiction.”

“Also, it was important to develop my love of reading,” she continues. “I spent hours as a child in the Mystic Library, tucked away in the window seats reading my historical novels. It was a lovely escape for me.”

Harnisch says she wanted to major in English literature in college but opted instead for a degree in economics (from Villanova University) to ensure a job when she graduated. She worked in the banking industry in both New York and Boston prior to the birth of her children.

It turns out Harnisch’s business acumen came in handy when she decided to write a novel.

“I turned to writing as a stay-at-home mom,” she says. “This is my debut novel. It took me 14 years at home raising three kids. I took online courses at Gotham Writers Workshop. I wrote in-between laundry and would get up early in the morning, stay up late, and work on my craft.”

Harnisch’s first inspiration to write a novel came in 2000 when she traveled to the Loire Valley in France.

“I was struck by the beauty of the vineyards and I thought it would be the perfect setting for the novel I secretly wanted to write,” she says. “I became fascinated by the story of an immigrant girl who would leave her home and come to America and follow her father’s footsteps to become a master winemaker.”

Harnisch’s years living in the San Francisco Bay area after college and visiting the Loire Valley also informed the novel.

She says her background in economics was a big help in her research.

“Going through the old newspapers and wine newspapers helped me to decipher some of the economic and trade information. There was a lot of number crunching I did for the book. Not only did I have to figure out the profitability (of a vineyard), but the quantities of wine you make from crushing the grapes.

“These winemakers struggle with blight and mold and mildew, but still persist in refining these wines so we can enjoy them at our table,” she adds. “It’s a beautiful art form.”

Connecticut native Tory McCagg grew up in Stonington, in her great-grandfather’s house that was just sold three years ago. McCagg and her husband currently divide their time between Providence and New Hampshire, where they built an off-grid house they call “Darwin’s View.”

Her novel “Bittersweet Manor” is about three generations of a family in a fictional town in southeastern Connecticut quite similar to Stonington — and a decision a granddaughter has to make about whether or not to sell the family property.

The novel won a silver Independent Publishers Book Award for contemporary fiction in 2015.

McCagg studied writing formally and earned an MFA from Emerson College’s writing program in 1989. She has won a number of awards for her short stories. She is also an accomplished flutist and a social activist.

McCagg started writing “Bittersweet Manor” about 12 years ago.

“It started as a short story and morphed into a novel,” she says. “It started with my own grandparents. My grandmother’s father had bought a chunk of property in 1904 on Wamphassuc Point in Stonington. Time went on and he divided the property among his kids. My grandparents had a miserable marriage and everyone wondered why. (The novel) brought up a lot of family dynamics.”

McCagg stresses that the novel isn’t her real family story — it is fiction. But, she says, “I love the line between what’s true and what’s not and toying between (the two) is kind of fun. What intrigues me in general are the relationships. It plays with time and the psychology of how people change and don’t change over the years.”

Peer pressure is what McCagg says finally got the novel published.

“I’m 53 and have been writing since my early 20s, and never really published anything. I was writing for the process, to learn from it,” she says.

Friends told her if she wanted her work to be read she’d have to publish it.

So, she finished the novel and sent it to more than 100 agents. She received some good feedback but no offers before learning about “a cool cutting edge thing called hybrid press” and publishing with She Writes Press.

McCagg is currently working on a non-fiction book, “Darwin’s View: One Breath After Midnight,” and another novel. She says writing, chickens and global climate change are her current obsessions.

Referring to the title of the event, “Women of a Certain Age…and Attitude,” McCagg says, “All of us are in our 40s, 50s, 60s, so we’re not 20-year-olds and that could be negative. Who wants to come see a bunch of old ladies talk? I think we all have the confidence of wanting to get what we have to say out there. It’s about going forward and doing what we do…”

“There comes a certain time in your life when you know what you want and you go after it on your own terms,” agrees Harnisch. “And you’re willing to take more risks because you’re confident in who you are and in your work.”

The other three writers at the event are Nina Gaby, Tammy Flanders Hetrick and Céline Keating. Gaby is a writer, visual artist and psychiatric nurse practitioner who lives in central Vermont. “Dumped: Stories of Women Unfriending Women” is her first book. Gaby’s sculptural porcelain is in the Renwick at the Smithsonian and other collections.

Hetrick’s first novel, “Stella Rose,” centers on friendship and motherhood. Her online community, “In Friendship,” launched last February. She is a director at Keurig Green Mountain in Vermont, where she lives with her husband of 30 years.

Keating’s most recent novel, “Play for Me” (2015), was a National Indie Excellence Award finalist. She was the first-place winner of the Hackney Literary Award in short fiction for 2014. She lives in New York City.

IF YOU GO

What: Five “Women of a Certain Age…and Attitude” read from and sign their latest books. The event is free and open to the public.

When: Friday, Oct. 23, at 6 p.m.

Where: Bank Square Books, 53 West Main St., Mystic.

Info: Elissa Englund at (860) 536-3795; banksquarebks@msn.com; www.banksquarebooks.com.

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