Debut novelist had help from famed writer
Ellen Branford thinks she will be spending only 24 hours in Beacon, Maine, carrying out a death-bed request -- to deliver a letter to a man her grandmother loved many years ago. Ellen is engaged to a rising political star and enjoys her cushy Manhattan lifestyle, so she is eager to carry out her grandmother's wish and get back to city life and her wedding planning. A series of snafus causes Ellen to spend more time in Beacon than she planned and soon our heroine appears to be heading toward the same romantic dilemma that caused her grandmother such grief.
"Change is scary for all of us, so part of the book is about the idea of embracing change," Simses said in an interview from her Fairfield home. "I've thought about that kind of thing. When you start to get a little older, you wish you had done things a little differently or maybe a lot differently.
"I liked the idea of creating this town that would attract Ellen," she added.
Like her protagonist, Simses is an attorney. She divides her time between winters in South Florida -- where she and her husband have a law firm -- and summers in her native Connecticut.
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Simses was originally going to call her novel "The Letter" until her Florida neighbor -- the bestselling writer James Patterson -- quickly changed her mind.
"His wife, Sue, and I are good friends and she ended up reading the sixth draft when I was about two-and-a-half years in. She liked it and gave it to Jim, who really liked it. When I went over to talk with him about it, the first thing he asked me was, `What's the title?' "
When Simses said "The
Letter," Patterson told her,
" `Nope. I don't think so. You need a really good title.' "
When the famed writer suggested she use the name of a long-closed shop in Beacon, which represents the small-town charm to which Ellen finds herself drawn and which becomes a plot point near the end of the story, Simses knew Patterson was right.
"I think it was a stroke of genius on his part," she said of a title that is much more suggestive of the setting and the themes in her story than "The Letter."
Little, Brown accepted the novel in January 2012.
Simses joked that waiting for it to be published earlier this month was "the world's longest pregnancy."
After so many years of work and anticipation, Simses was anxious for her novel to appear, but took to heart some advice she was given by a friend -- Jamie Callan -- who was her night class writing teacher at Fairfield University.
"One of the things she told me was that publishing is a very long process so you need to celebrate along the way: When you're told the book has been accepted. When you have a contract signed. That first advance check. When you get the first galley.
"She was so right," Simses said. "Because by the time it's all said and done and the FedEx guy is knocking on your door with the finished book, it can seem a little anti-climactic."