What if you were able to continue to work daily at a job that you are passionate about while pursuing one of your longtime dreams? This is the life of Andrea Chasen of Longmeadow, Massachusetts, who practices mediation-conflict management by day, and writes by evening. After years of pondering her first work and enjoying books as a reader, she was able to release a novel of her own.
Andrea Chasen grew up in Levittown, New York. She attended the State University of New York in Buffalo, and met her husband during her time there. The couple moved to Columbia, Maryland, where they had two children, but moved to Western Massachusetts in the late 1980s in order to raise their family in Longmeadow. She began her professional life as a lawyer, drafting for a law firm. After leaving the practice of law, she became a mediator, helping people to resolve disputes without involving courts. Her writing experience stems from writing professionally for academic journals, textbooks and non-fiction. “I loved the research, but I’d always toyed with the idea of writing fiction.”
Her first novel, Taking Miss Grady Home, was self-published in July of this year on Amazon, and is inspired by true events.
The story begins with the life of Katherine Grady, a woman with an enviable life. Raised by a wealthy grandmother in a New England town, she was an outstanding pianist and vivacious young woman. She becomes a student at the prestigious Julliard School of Music in New York City, and lives her youth to the fullest by attending nightclubs, spending time with friends and exploring Manhattan. After meeting a charming Southern boy on the eve of World War II, it would seem she had it all. This changes with the life-altering event of her boyfriend being shipped overseas.
The novel shifts to several decades later, where two strangers meet. Harry, who is a soon-to-be retired Long Island lawyer, and Muriel, a reporter for a small newspaper where Katherine Grady was raised. Harry wrote the will for Katherine several years prior, and, following her death, feels obliged to follow her wishes. There are no relatives around to explain the mystery surrounding Katherine’s lonesome life, and Harry is challenged to fulfill her will. With an inquisitive journalistic mind, Muriel questions the circumstances of the woman’s life: why would she move to a city in solitude and die alone? Together, Harry and Muriel embark on a mission to answer some of these mysteries.
An old woman, who moved to Andrea’s hometown on Long Island in the 1950s, inspired the “Miss Grady” character in the story. She lived just around the corner from Andrea growing up, and she recalls the woman’s home being considered the “scary” house on the street by neighborhood children. She lived alone in a home built for returning World War II GIs, was never married, and did not have a personal connection with any of her neighbors. The woman was deceased for several days before the neighborhood noticed. It seemed she was truly alone. Andrea’s father, who was an attorney in Long Island, reached out to her for assistance in connecting with the right party to fulfill the woman’s wishes of being buried in Western Massachusetts.
“My father drafted the will for the woman. I reached out to the local state police barracks and the burial took place. It stayed on my mind.”
Andrea considered her own possibilities on why the woman chose to live in a town of primarily families on Long Island, and Taking Miss Grady Home incorporates her own ideas of how the woman’s life began and what led her to the home she lived in.
While, in part, the woman inspired the story; her father and his dedication to his career also inspired it. When Andrea was closing legal accounts following her father’s death, she realized her father was a passionate lawyer who cared about all the people that he assisted in the community. His work inspired the character of Harry, who shares many of her father’s attributes.
Before Andrea knew it, the story took form. She enrolled in writing workshop classes in the early 2000s, where she penned several chapters of the novel. Her classmates were engrossed in the story and were always happy to hear the next portion. It remained on the back burner for years before Andrea decided to start up the story once more. “I was traveling a lot for work and thought ‘I will be close to 90 before I get to it!’” With the motivation to complete her story, the novel soon emerged.
“It took a turn I hadn’t anticipated. As many writers know, characters create personalities and tend to hijack the story.”
Since the release of the book, Andrea has facilitated book clubs on Taking Miss Grady Home. Two particular occurrences stood out as special to Andrea, where readers shared the affect her novel had on their lives.
“One person told me reading the book made her realize she didn’t know her neighbor of ten years. She decided to introduce herself and found out her neighbor was agoraphobic. She said without the book, she would not have made that effort. Another reader shared with me that the book left her with a lot of thoughts about what it means to age and disconnect. I couldn’t have asked for better compliments. It’s changed them and made an impact.”
Andrea has been recognized for her writing in public as well. While at an event recently, a reader approached her and exclaimed, “I’ve just downloaded your book!” She described that event as “exciting.”
Starting her fiction-writing career has changed Andrea and her perspective on writing in general. “It’s made me realize I have more stories in me. I will continue to write. I feel like I’ve segued into the next phase of what I want to be writing.”
Inspired by “Miss Grady’s” story, Andrea has explored a number of small towns in Western Massachusetts and their cemeteries. She is fascinated by the history they embrace and the questions that they spark about the past.
Andrea is largely a political advocate. She has participated with the Conservation Committee, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and in climate activism. She’s been marching since the late 1960s for peoples’ rights. She is a strong believer in voting and being the change you wish to see. With this passion comes inspiration for the next writing project she would like to pursue on the history of women and their place in society. “There are lessons about things we take for granted that are precious.”
Taking Miss Grady Home is about solving mysteries, but leaves readers to answer several questions on their own. After reading the novel, you may find that you walk away wondering about “Miss Grady’s” life yourself, and also focusing on other aspects of your own life. You may just find yourself talking to the neighbor you’ve always been too shy to introduce yourself to, or even getting to know a stranger better.
TAKING MISS GRADY HOME IS AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE ON AMAZON.COM
AND CAN BE PURCHASED BOTH AS A PHYSICAL COPY AND FOR
KINDLE E-READER. FOR INFO: TAKINGMISSGRADYHOME@GMAIL.COM