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Former Norwich resident writes novels from ‘home places’

  • Author Lindsey Stoddard



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, July 11, 2019

The characters in Lindsey Stoddard’s first novel, Just Like Jackie, live in a small Vermont town. They shop at a country store called Dean and Walt’s. The community’s children, including the novel’s protagonist, 11-year-old Robinson Hart, attend elementary school in the center of town. The Appalachian Trail also makes an appearance.

“There’s all sorts of Norwich goodies in there,” Stoddard said. “I loved Vermont and it defined so much of who I was. I was a Vermonter and I kept it in my heart.”

For Stoddard, the places she has lived and loved drive her middle-grade novels. Her latest, Right as Rain — released in February — is set in the New York City neighborhood of Washington Heights, where Stoddard worked as a teacher. Her third novel Brave Like That, is currently in production and takes place in a small town similar to Northfield, Minn., where Stoddard attended Carleton College.

“Those are my three home places in the world,” Stoddard said. “I have a book for each of the spots I love in the world.”

Stoddard, 35, lived in Norwich during middle and high school, graduating from Hanover High in 2002. After graduating from Carleton, Stoddard headed to New York City to work as an English teacher. She now lives in Shelburne, Vt., with her husband and their two young children.

“It was just a wild culture shock,” Stoddard recalled about moving to 152nd Street to teach in Washington Heights. “A lot of the reason I really loved New York was because of that classroom.”

Stoddard became enamored of her middle school students. She was intrigued by their backgrounds and the stories they shared with her.

“They’re at an age where they feel things so big,” Stoddard said. When they are happy, they are overwhelmingly so; when they are frustrated, they express it in a big way. “They don’t shy away from the big stuff. They want to talk about all of it.”

Stoddard began to write stories for the students in her class based on their ideas.

“I would go home and write a page and bring it back,” said Stoddard, who spent 10 years teaching in New York City. “The story would just kind of live in the classroom for a while.”

Those experiences also got Stoddard thinking about her own childhood dreams and pursuing them.

“My first dream job was to be a teacher. My second dream job was to be a writer,” Stoddard said. “It wasn’t until I met my middle school students in Washington Heights that I knew I wanted to write for middle grade.”

While still teaching, Stoddard wrote a book based on the life of one of her students. She sent it to agents, who all responded with the same critique: “ ‘We love your writing, but the story’s not working,’ ” Stoddard recalled, but they encouraged her to try again.

She did, with advice from her adviser at the Vermont College of Fine Arts: “ ‘Try writing for 10-, 11-year-old Lindsey … you might come across more honestly in your writing.’ ”

Stoddard tapped into 11-year-old Robinson’s story in what would become Just Like Jackie. She started with the relationship between Robinson and her African-American grandfather who is raising her on his own and struggling with a memory disorder. Stoddard thought back to adolescent Lindsey, who would sitwith her grandfather and not know “exactly how to react when he would lose the end of his sentences,” she said. “I remember as a 10-year-old that was really scary.”

Stoddard adored her grandfather and, like Robinson, developed a great appreciation for nature from him.

“All the stuff that Robbie knows in the book, I know from my grandpa,” Stoddard said. “He was the one who sort of made me fall in love with the woods.”

Just Like Jackie evolved to explore Robinson’s lineage and her anger issues. It focused on the relationships Robinson built with her peers and the adults in her life, learning to trust more people than just her grandfather. In true Vermont — and Norwich — fashion, Robinson’s community rallies around her and her grandfather when they are in trouble.

When Stoddard sent her book out to agents the response was more positive.

“I got yeses from everybody,” Stoddard said. Just Like Jackie went to auction and was bought by Harper, which published it in 2018.

Her second novel, Right as Rain, focuses on 11-year-old Rain Andrews, who relocates from a small Vermont town to New York City with her parents after the death of her older brother, Guthrie. Rain blames herself for his death. Stoddard recalled helping her brother sneak out of their house when he was 15 and she was 11.

“I was always the more straight-edge, follow-the-rules type of kid and he was a little bit more daring,” Stoddard said. “I stayed up that night worrying and worrying and worrying.”

Stoddard used that moment as the basis for Right as Rain, which was reviewed favorably by The New York Times.

Rain’s new school is in Washington Heights and is based on the one that Stoddard taught at.

Right as Rain is a bit of a love letter to that school and to Washington Heights,” Stoddard said.

Brave Like That, scheduled to be published next year, takes place in Minnesota. The protagonist is 11-year-old Cyrus, who was left at a fire station as a baby and adopted by one of the firefighters.

Stoddard is currently brainstorming her fourth book by “listening for the voice” of her protagonist, which has guided her first three novels.

“I’m just getting bits and pieces of her,” Stoddard said. “It’s always really exciting once I start to hear her.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.