What Are You Reading? Hanover Novelist Casey Dennis Sampled Tween Fiction

  • Musician, investment adviser and author Casey Dennis at his home in Hanover, N.H. on Jan. 8, 2019. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Casey Dennis at his home with one of his two dogs, Millie, in Hanover, N.H. on Jan. 8, 2019. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/10/2019 10:00:11 PM

Before Hanover author Casey Dennis started to write his first “middle-grade” novel, his 11-year-old daughter, Josie, assigned him some summer reading.

The ensuing long march through pre-teen fiction introduced him to a world far removed from his detective novels, and left him thirsty for adult characters.

So almost immediately after completing Josie’s reading list from … well, maybe not hell; more like from dystopia … Dennis practically begged friends on Facebook to recommend books to reorient him.

And they came through with stories by the dozen, setting off one of those “big jags I go on between writing my own books,” Dennis said this week, during a break from his day job as an investment adviser at the Wells Fargo office in West Lebanon.

“I’m on The Beans of Egypt, Maine right now. I’ve always felt like I needed to read it. I’m about 30 pages in, and so far, so good.”

Before diving into Carolyn Chute’s 1985 novel about the rural underclass behind Maine’s Vacationland facade, Dennis devoured, among other titles, Patrick deWitt’s Wild West tale The Sisters Brothers; Tim Butcher’s Blood River, retracing Henry Morton Stanley’s 19th-century expedition down the Congo River in search of missionary David Livingstone; and the first in crime novelist Joe Ide’s IQ series.

The Sisters Brothers was definitely a good yarn, and IQ was right up my alley,” Dennis said. “Ide’s detective is more of a Sherlock Holmes type, much smarter than my Joe Tanzi, who is quite accident prone.”

Dennis, in his mid-60s, hadn’t planned to detour from his flawed detective, who practices private-eyeing in Vermont and Florida, until about a year ago.

“My daughter is an avid reader, but she’s not able to read my Tanzi series, which is aimed at adults,” Dennis said. “She asked me to write a book that she could read.”

Toward that end, Dennis decided to mine his memories of working, during his undergraduate years at Middlebury College, at the Weeks School in nearby Vergennes, Vt. As a “cottage parent” at the Vermont state reformatory-turned-group home, he supervised and counseled about a dozen troubled adolescent girls.

“It was a fascinating job — tough work, very challenging at times and very gratifying,” Dennis said. “I drove through the old campus a couple of years ago, on my way to a meeting with a client. It’s been closed since the late 1970s, and it’s largely derelict and spooky. I thought it would be a great setting for a novel.”

With his setting settled, Dennis started plowing through Josie’s list. They include Lois Lowry’s The Giver, in which a pre-teen boy rebels against a society that stifles adolescents’ sexual impulses with drugs, and at age 12 assigns them to pre-determined careers.

On the lighter side, Josie recommended Jacky Ha-Ha, by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein, in which the title character, a 12-year-old girl, cracks wise as the class clown to disguise her insecurities.

Then came the first of Ingrid Law’s Savvy series, in which 13-year-old Mississippi “Mibs” Beaumont and her siblings juggle adolescent foibles with a variety of paranormal powers — in Mibs’ case, reading minds, a talent with which she’s less than comfortable.

“Some of my book’s characters have mystical powers, too, though I’m trying to avoid making it too dark,” Dennis said. “When I asked my writing coach, Joni Cole, about writing a book for this age group, she warned me that a lot of middle-grade fiction gets very dystopian and dark, with which I agree.”

At “about a quarter of the way through the first draft” of his own book, Dennis says it’s too soon to tell whether it might evolve into a series. For now he’s enjoying this journey through the genre, more than 50 years after his own pre-teen readings of series such as L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz novels, his copies of which he particularly cherished.

“They were first editions from the 1920s, and got ruined in a flood in the basement of my family’s house in Connecticut,” Dennis said. “I wish I still had it.”

After putting aside what he saw as childish books, Dennis developed a taste for Spanish and Latin American literature while attending Middlebury, where at first he studied English literature and creative writing before switching his major to Spanish.

One Hundred Years of Solitude really got me going, and I became pretty obsessed with Russian literature, too,” he said. “They’re very readable, even if they do go on. I love any Dostoevsky. Even though his books were endless, you didn’t want them to end. I’d really like to re-read a few of the Russians, especially (Mikhail) Lermentov and Solzhenitsyn. They’re good on a cold winter’s night.”

Dennis is visiting authors old and new more often since Dr. Burma, the band in which he played bass, broke up at the end of 2014. While he still fills in on the rhythm sections of various rock and Americana ensembles, “I’ve dialed the music way back, to maybe once a month or less after playing almost every weekend for years,” he said.

“That has really freed me up to write and to parent and to read,” activities that, for Dennis at least, have become inextricably linked.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.




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