TweetWhen I was eighteen years old, and a drama student at Pace University in New York City, my grandmother came to visit me for the weekend.
That Sunday, she took me for brunch at the Algonquin Hotel. I had no idea what an impact this outing would have on my writing life.
While we were enjoying our meal, my grandmother told us about the Algonquin Round Table, the celebrated group of literary New Yorkers who met for lunch every day from 1919 to 1929 or thereabouts. I wish I could tell you more about what happened, but my memory of that day is so vague it barely exists. All I can distinctly remember is being fascinated, looking around at the décor, and deciding that I was going to write a story, based on a hotel like this, about the reunion of a college literary group. And I felt very passionate about it. Maybe the ghosts of members past had whispered to me. I wouldn’t be surprised.
(standing, left to right) Art Samuels and Harpo Marx; (sitting) Charles MacArthur, Dorothy Parker, and Alexander Woollcott
I can’t even remember when I actually began writing my short story. I really loved the concept, but I was not the disciplined writer I am today. I do remember the first line, though: “Leah received her invitation on Tuesday.”
In my early twenties, I was living in Queens, NY with my roommate, Gail, who worked in an office. I was working as a bartender at the time. Because I had no access to a copy machine (which everyone called a “Xerox machine” back then), I asked Gail if she could make me a copy of my story. I knew it was special, and I didn’t want to lose it.
It was so special that when Gail forgot to make a copy for me, I completely forgot I had ever asked.
Fast forward several years. I was living in Los Angeles, working at Paramount Studios. One day, I received a piece of mail from Gail. She had been going through her things, purging a lot of stuff she had saved, and found my story. She thought I might want it. Did I ever! I was ecstatic! It was like being reunited with a dear friend whose existence I’d forgotten. That said, I’ve never forgotten the existence of any dear friends. Only this one.
It didn’t take me long to turn my unfinished story into a one-act play. I mailed my nascent creation to theaters all over the country. I did receive some positive feedback, but no luck. The play was not without its fans though, as many of the people who read it had a strong positive reaction.
Years later, back East, my mother (a Journalism professor) introduced me to the director of Temple University’s theater. He read the play and really “got” the characters, but told me that it needed to be a two-act play. I agreed with him, and promptly reworked it as per his suggestion. He had been enthusiastic about reading the new, expanded play, but when I gave it to him, he simply never got around to it. For years, every time my mother would run into him on Temple’s campus, he would lament, “Oh, I never got around to reading your daughter’s play.”
In 1996, I finished writing my first novel, Squalor, New Mexico. I knew then that I wanted to write novels, not plays, and I went on to write five more novels. Finally, something in my brain decided it was time to dust off “Barrie Hill Reunion” and turn it into a novel.
I wanted to stay true to the original characters, which for the most part I did, but there were some major tweaks in a few of them, as I was now writing a much more nuanced and in-depth story. Also, while I had never attributed a specific year to the play, I knew that the novel could not take place in the current year. Nothing about that felt right. It made sense that the characters had gone to college in the 1960s and were meeting again, twenty years after graduation, in 1986. It was important to me that there were no cell phones or personal computers involved. To modernize the story that much, would have destroyed it.
It was a really interesting process to write a novel with characters that had been with me for a lifetime. While I’ve written villains in other stories, I don’t think I’ve ever written a character as cruel as Leah Brent, one of the Barrie Hillers who attends the reunion. While writing her dialogue, I would often look at the computer and curse her out for what she had just said. Yeah, I called her some really bad names. I think my writer friends will understand this; others might think I am a bit nuts.
Some of the original dialogue from the one-act play appears in the book, but that said, I did not force it. In fact, after I while, I stopped following the play altogether. As I do in all of my novels, I create multiple story arcs, something I could only hint at in play form. So it was important to go in some new directions.
I don’t want to say too much more, only that I’m happy to finally bring this story to life. You can read the synopsis below or on Amazon.com.
In the mid-1960s, at an elite college in the quaint town of Barrie Hill, Connecticut, a group of literary-minded students met regularly off-campus at the Vanessa Grand Hotel. Often late into the night, they would discuss the day’s news, analyze literature, philosophize, trade barbs, and socialize.
Twenty years after graduation, in 1986, the group’s founder, Clare Dreyser, organizes a weekend reunion. Seven former Barrie Hillers and one guest get together, eager to re-create an extraordinary time in their lives and reunite with old friends.
From the outset, and baffling the group, Leah Brent displays a brash, condescending attitude for nearly everyone and everything. To the chagrin of actor Bart Younger, Leah immediately lays out the unwelcome mat for his wife, Aimee. No one, not even Leah’s husband, Colin, is immune to her wrath, but Leah is relentless in her bizarre and cruel quest to bring down her primary target: Clare.
As the reunion progresses, the Barrie Hillers strive to enjoy their time together as they become enmeshed in personal dramas, struggle with matters of ethics, and weather escalating uncertainties that threaten to destroy their lives. By Saturday night, the second day of the reunion, karma makes a surprising and shocking visit. As the Barrie Hillers’ time together draws to an end, each is changed forever.
Thanks for reading!
Barrie Hill Reunion is also free to read on Kindle Unlimited.
I love that this story has been with you so long. Isn’t it strange what they say about being ‘the right time’ maybe that’s why it was lost for so long; allowing you time to develop into the writer you are today (and fabulous at that) so that the story could mature and ripen and be perfected. I am a huge fan of Lisette’s and this is one book I’m not going to miss out on. I can’t wait to find out about each club member.
Thank you so much, Kathleen. Indeed, it has been a long journey with these characters. A few of them changed for the novel, but even with such a metamorphosis, they still retained the uniqueness they had when I first “met” them. You make a good point: I do think there was a reason I waited so long to get this story out.
I really hope you enjoy BHR!!
Sounds like a story that you NEEDED to write! Love hearing your inspiration and I’m intrigued by Leah’s motivation for being such a shrew.
Thank you so much, Jen.
It’s really been something to have known these characters for an absurd number of years! And I never want to meet Leah in real life! 🙂
Well done! And…you had me at the Algonquin Hotel. We stayed there a few years ago and I fell in with the history too. Looking forward to your book!
Thank you so much, Jena. How great that you stayed at the hotel. I’d love to do that!
I so wish I had more of a memory of my brunch there. It sure made an impact, though. Do hope to return on my next trip to NYC.
Really appreciate you stopping by! 🙂
I can’t wait to read this! And I admire you for sticking with something that stayed with you so long 🙂
Thank you so much, Deb! And I admire you for writing such an incredible series!!
So pleased to hear this story is finally seeing the light of day. It sounds amazing. I love how you let the characters take over and I do understand how you can get so angry with them at times! Best of luck!!
Thank you so much for stopping by to read my blog.
Yes, as writers, it’s something when we become mere transcriptionists for our characters. This was a tough lot of people to control.
I really enjoyed reading how this story began. I am about half through with Barrie Hill Reunion. I am very engrossed and can’t wait to see how it all unfolds!
Wow…so interesting how this remarkable story took the long road to being written. I loved the cleverness of the dialog, so was pleasantly surprised that it actually started out as a play.
Thanks so much for reading BARRIE HILL REUNION and this blog. Yes, it was conceived as a play in what seems another lifetime. 🙂