NEW MILFORD — Acclaimed author Nan Rossiter was born and lived during her youth in Pelham, N. Y. Her novels have, until now, taken place on Cape Cod, a favorite family vacation destination. But it is Litchfield County that the New Hartford resident feels most comfortable.
“I love living in Litchfield County!” she exclaimed. “My parents moved from Pelham, N.Y., to Barkhamsted when I was in seventh grade. My dad worked for the Hitchcock Chair Company, so I graduated from Northwestern Regional 7 and I have many fond memories from those years, including working at the boathouse on the Barkhamsted Reservoir through high school and college. For a brief spell after college, I lived in New Fairfield. But when I got married, I moved to New Milford, and we have lived here for almost 30 years. My family loves to hike and there are so many beautiful places in our area, including nearby Steep Rock, Hidden Valley, and Macricostas preserves.”
Rossiter’s latest work, entitled “Promises of the Heart” takes place far from Litchfield County in Savannah, Ga., and is due out in February. It’s the first in what she describes as her “Savannah Skies” series, and is the saga of a couple, Ben and Macey Samuelson, who want to fill a house on Tybee Island with children, but a fifth miscarriage “casts doubt on children being in their future.” A troubled young girl, Harper Wheaton, with whom Macey has dealt in her role as a physician’s assistant, decides that she would like to join a family rather than enter another foster home. When the Samuelsons adopt a three-legged dog, they “unlock emotions and possibilities that may convince them to open their home and hearts to Harper,” even though they have eschewed adoption in the past.
“I’m very happy with the way this book turned out,” Rossiter offered. “I always try to write the kind of book I would enjoy reading. When I’m reading a book, if I don’t care about the characters, I won’t finish it, so my goal is to create likeable, authentic characters that face real-life struggles. I’m also a big fan of happy endings. I believe a good book makes the reader laugh and cry, but when they close it, feeling uplifted by the ending.”
All Rossiter’s books deal with real-life problems, ranging from Alzheimer’s to autism. “ ‘Promises of the Heart’ raises awareness about organ donation, adoption, giving back through Locks of Love, and pet rescue. It is also set in Savannah, Ga., when all my previous books have been set in New England.”
After freelancing for several years, she began writing and illustrating books for children, including “Rugby & Rosie,” winner of Nebraska’s Golden Sower Award, and “The Fo’c’sle: Henry Beston’s Outermost House.”
In recent years, Nan has turned her attention to writing contemporary fiction. Her books have been highly acclaimed by reviewers from Publisher’s Weekly to Booklist, and her seventh novel, “Summer Dance” was the 2018 winner of the Nancy Pearl Award.
She explained the genesis of her most recent work. “It has been a long-standing tradition for my family to vacation on Cape Cod. It’s part of the reason I set several of my early books there. It’s also a tradition for us to try to take in at least one Cape Cod League baseball game. One summer night five years ago, we were all standing on the hill overlooking the Orleans Redbirds field when a young girl — who must’ve been between ten- and twelve-years-old — spied our black Lab, Finnegan, and came over to say hello. The girl greeted Finn and then told us her parents had gotten her a dog to help her get through her recent heart transplant surgery.”
As the girl continued to scratch Finn’s ears, she shared her love of dogs and told Rossiter how much having one had helped her.
“Her story was so moving that, when she walked away, my son, Noah, said, “Mom, you have to write about her.” Thus, Harper’s character was inspired by a chance encounter with a young girl who loved dogs and needed a new heart, but she went on to become so much more.
For the first time in years, Rossiter explained, she was writing without a contract. Her new agent counseled me to take a departure from familiar characters and favorite settings and write something new, and “after silencing my internal protests, I set the story in Savannah, Ga. — and then announced to my husband that I’d have to go there for ‘research.’”
When she began writing “Promises of the Heart,” the first name she typed was Macey’s, and before she knew it, “my strong-willed protagonist was struggling with her fifth miscarriage, and while she didn’t seem open to adoption, the influence of her late grandmother made anything seem possible. When I typed Ben’s name, her overly cautious, hard-working husband came to life and pulled her into a long hug. The stage was set — I had characters with stories to tell, and even though I didn’t know from where they — or their individual plights — had come, as soon as I typed their names, they did.”
Rossiter “feels blessed” to have a career in writing. “I honestly don’t know what else I’d do. I find it fulfilling to write stories about experiences that readers can relate to — all the joys and sorrows and struggles and triumphs that we all face at some point, and I always try to include a thread of faith. It’s my way of shining my light on a path for others to follow.”
The process of writing a novel can be difficult, especially at the beginning, before the words are flowing, she said, or when they abruptly stop. “Then, I can easily become distracted. I check Facebook, my email, do some online shopping. At times, even doing housework can be more fun than writing.” But she thoroughly enjoys the process. “Starting is the hardest part, but once the story gets going, the characters seem to take on a life of their own, and if it’s going well, I can hardly keep up. Once we’re through the editing phase, it’s always exciting to see the actual book come together — cover, reviews, sale numbers, etc.”
She has just finished writing the second book in the Savannah Skies Series. “It still has to pass by my agent and editor, but it’s all down on paper, which is always a huge relief. While I wait for their thoughts, I’ll be working on proposals for the next book in the series.”
Rossiter will have two book signings in February: at the Hickory Stick in Washington Depot, on Saturday, Feb. 15 at 2 p.m., and Kent Memorial Library on Feb. 29 at 2 p.m.