Fall in Love with Thornton: NECI, The School I Didn’t Attend

Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons under a CC Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 license.
Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 license.

Dreams are crazy. That’s the point of them, right?

In 2001, I’d been living on my own for a few years, was making okay money, sharing an apartment outside of Boston with a girlfriend, exploring all kinds of silly twenty-something things, and cooking.

Like, cooking. I was falling in love with flavor and texture, with technique and adventure, with ethnic cuisine and rediscovered comfort food.

When I took the job as J’s nanny, I’d envisioned it as a relatively short-term gig. A way to stash some cash for a graduate degree. What I learned in those couple of years was that I didn’t want to do a graduate degree. So then, what?

Culinary school. Personal cheffing? Managing a B&B in Vermont? Maybe even someday running one… My head was full of ideas. Ah, youth. I researched programs and settled on two: the New England Culinary Institute and the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. One program was conveniently located near my apartment and offered night classes. One was in another state, and would be a lot like going back to college, including dorms. One was under $20,000. One was not. In the end, I chose the one that would allow me to work my way through and keep my cat. I stayed in Cambridge, but a part of me always wonders what would have gone differently had I enrolled in NECI and moved back to Vermont.

As fate would have it, just after enrolling in the local program, I met the man I’d marry three years later.

In the end, what culinary school taught me, more than anything, was how to make a killer Italian meringue buttercream frosting. That, and one other truth: I loathe the kitchen politics and preposterous egotism that rules the restaurant world. Working in a professional kitchen exhausted me on every level.

I still love to cook. I still love flavor and texture, technique and adventure, ethnic cuisine and comfort food. I just prefer to feed my family, and occasionally make really awesome cakes.

Nan and the Damselfly were born from those dreams and experiences, and her NECI education is, in part, an homage to the path I didn’t take, the school I didn’t attend.

Check out Open Studio to read Foolish Things, a short story that introduces you to some of the side-characters from Damselfly Inn when they were in high school, and fall in love with Thornton a month before it’s available to the public.

Fall In Love With Thornton: Foolish Things

Welcome to Fall In Love With Thornton, a series of posts about the world of the Thornton Vermont stories and novels. 

I have always been a sucker for a series. The idea that as a reader, having fallen in love with characters and places, I don’t have to say goodbye just yet — that more stories are coming — is intoxicating. As a writer, I find it to be almost more so. I inhabit time and space with these fictional people. The protagonists have friends, family, histories. So many small backstories fan out from a single novel. How can I not write them all?

If I ever answer that question, I’ll let you know.

Those of you who’ve read From The Earth to the Moon have met Joss Fuller’s Great Aunt, his father Walt as an infant, and his older first-cousin-once-removed George Cartwright. (Spoiler, you’ll see George again soon, albeit briefly.) I have other stories spilling off the margins of the Thornton novel manuscripts, tucked away for rainy days.

foolish-things-thornton-vermont-garriepyOne such backstory is that of Anneliese Thompson, a wedding planner and single-mother recently returned to her hometown. Anneliese, a cousin to the Fullers on the other side, has befriended Nan Grady, and her past is starting to catch up with her as she finds her feet again in Thornton.

Bannerwing Books’s Write Club — a subscription-based writer’s group — released Open Studio, a free ezine this past week, highlighting member responses to a writing prompt. My contribution was Foolish Things, the story of Anneliese’s senior prom date, and the catalyst for the events now playing out in the secondary plot lines of Damselfly Inn.

Check out Open Studio to read Foolish Things as well as the other offerings from Write Club’s membership!

Fall In Love With Thornton: The Foote Farm Mansion

Welcome to Fall In Love With Thornton, a series of posts about the world of the Thornton Vermont stories and novels. 

When I was a student at Middlebury College, I drove out west of campus on Route 125 a fair amount. Joyriding, for the most part, but sometimes on an errand to nearby Port Henry, NY.

A few miles from campus in Cornwall, VT, snugged right up against the state road, alone in the middle of a valley, stood an abandoned, nearly falling down Victorian home.

Click here to see what it looked like in 1997 (smack in the middle of my college years). Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

Isn’t it marvelous?

I am a sucker for a neglected house, and my imagination saw it fully restored. I pictured myself an innkeeper there (which was why I put myself through culinary school after college, more on that — and how it ties into Damselfly Inn — down the road) in a far-distant future.

Those daydreams fleshed out over the years, and I began to dread the day the property would be snapped up. The house was in rough shape. A developer might just raze the poor old thing. Or worse, someone might beat me to the punch, renovate it, and open my inn!

Then, some six or seven years ago, I was back in Middlebury for a girls’ weekend with my mom, and we drove out that way to satisfy my curiosity.

The house had indeed been sold, and was being renovated, but the renovations had stalled, and the house was  standing empty, gutted-clean, and ready for finish work. Oh, my heart.

Foote Farm Mansion, Cornwall, VT c. 2010, photo credit Cameron Garriepy.

My life had moved on from dreams of Vermont innkeeping, but not my daydreams, and in the years between seeing the house again, and taking this photograph, the early drafts of Damselfly Inn were written.

Now, fill the valley with pastures of Jersey cows, and stands of fir and birch trees. Root an ancient maple over on the other side of the house. Give the house a full third floor and beautiful perennial beds… And fall in love.

Fall in Love With Thornton: It’s A Real Town!

Welcome to Fall In Love With Thornton, a series of posts about the world of the Thornton Vermont stories and novels. 

Okay, it’s not really real. But it’s closely based on a real town.

Write what you know.

I graduated from Middlebury College in 1999. For four incredible years, I lived in Middlebury, Vermont. I woke up to views like this:

Inspiring, right?

I majored in music, but I studied writing and literature between course requirements. Fresh from co-editing my prep school’s literary review, I knew when I got to Middlebury that I wanted to write. I dove into playwriting, screenwriting, fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. I studied Robert Frost where he wrote, read Chaucer, Milton, Shakespeare, and the nineteenth century British classics. I worked with a group of students to create an opera libretto from Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Gimpel the Fool. I took an intro to French Romantic literature and poetry in French (Je ne parle pas bien le français.). I spent a month analyzing Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia for a course co-taught by a maths professor and a theatre professor, resulting in a rather desperate, lasting crush on Septimus Hodge.

I might have been trying to tell myself something.

There were ideas for stories and character sketches and vignettes scrawled on the backs of pages and in the margins of my course notes, files of started-and-stopped stories on 3.5″ floppy disks in my desk, folders on my laptop. My 700 project — like a thesis for artsy kids — was composing, and writing the libretto for, a chamber ensemble operetta. My 35 minute musical adaptation of A.L. Gurney’s Love Letters was my first major publishing project, I suppose.

I probably should have majored in Creative Writing. No more lucrative than music, but in retrospect not my truest passion. That tiny regret has a small cameo of sorts in the novel, too.

(Good lord, college is wasted on the young. Can I go back now?)

When Nan Grady, the innkeeper at the center of Damselfly Inn, first came to me, I thought she lived in Boston or nearby, but while I was developing the story line, I was also coming up on my tenth college reunion, and I was desperately homesick for that gorgeous college town I loved. It was a natural progression that led her to the Swift’s yellow Victorian on Valley Road in Thornton.

Thornton is not Middlebury, nor is it Weybridge or Cornwall or Salisbury. Not exactly. It is an amalgam of them all, adjusted to suit my vision and the needs of my story. Thornton and its college, for the most part, could be laid over a map of Middlebury, and the major landmarks would be instantly recognizable: the north-flowing Thorn River, which tumbles over a falls as it bisects the downtown, the bridge that spans the river over the falls, County Road that runs through the college and westward toward Lake Champlain at Chimney Point. The shops, the restaurants in the downtown area — Temple Bar, Sweet Pease, Mistle Thrush, Golden Prawn, and Fantastic Pizza — were all born from memories and experiences in real places. Catmint Gap, where Joss’s cabin is, might be found in the forests of Ripton, Vermont, and you would take the same curving state highway up the mountain, complete with switchbacks along a ravine, to get there from Thornton as you would to get to Ripton from Middlebury.

Thornton’s position in relation to Burlington, Port Henry, Rutland, Vergennes, Montreal, and Boston are all borrowed from Middlebury’s. It’s climate, mountains, and farmland echo that of Addison County. It’s both a very real, and a completely imaginary place, one that lives and breathes in my heart right next to the original, and I hope I’ve brought it to life for you in the pages of Damselfly Inn.

The story of the house itself — because it began with a real house — will have to wait for another day.

It’s Official: Damselfly Inn launches April 13, 2015!

Coming in paperback and for Kindle, April 13, 2015,
From Bannerwing Books!


The picturesque college town of Thornton, Vermont is the perfect place to open an inn. Or so Nan Grady thinks until a late summer storm drops a tree branch through her roof and local contractor Joss Fuller into her path.

Romance has been the last thing on her career-oriented mind, but Nan can’t deny the attraction between them. Nor can she deny the history between Joss and her most important guest: a sophisticated Manhattan academic.

And then there is the mysterious vandal targeting her home and livelihood.

As summer fades to autumn and Joss becomes a fixture around the Damselfly Inn, Nan navigates the joys and complications of life in her new home town. But when the vandalism becomes increasingly upsetting, threatening Nan and her guests, as well as her budding relationship with Joss, Nan questions her place in the town, at the inn, and in Joss’s heart.

This is my first full-length release in a little over 2 years, and I’m so excited to share it with you. Slip away with me to Vermont, and fall in love with the Damselfly Inn!

Stay tuned. In the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing some chapter teasers, photos, and videos from the real world location of Thornton, Vermont.