RPCV Emily Arsenault (South Africa 2004-06) publishes first novel

We have a new novelist on our Peace Corps bookshelf, Emily Arsenault of Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts. Emily and her husband were PCVs in rural South Africa where she wrote the first draft of The Broken Teaglass. Emily writes: “After broken-teaglassschool, I spent many afternoons and evenings sitting outside reading, watching goats, and handing out biscuits and apple slices to the little kids who liked to come by and giggle at our poor Setswana skills. And scribbling out the first draft.”

Her mystery novel, published this September by Delacorte Press involves a mysterious quotation in a dictionary (Emily once worked for Merriam-Webster). In their review PW wrote, “”Arsenault’s quirky, arresting debut … [is] an absorbing, offbeat mystery-meets-coming-of-age novel that’s as sweet as it is suspenseful.”

I’m a great believer in ‘novels of information’ and on Emily’s website she writes about the factual information she was able to use in creating her novel, The Broken Teaglass.

“The citation system described in the novel is based on my experience.  I skipped over some details that I thought were likely to confuse or bore readers, but tried at the same time to educate readers on how the basic process works.

“Also, when I worked at Merriam-Webster, I was fascinated by the company’s citation files-so many little notes, going back so many years, the older ones handwritten and yellowed around the edges. It seemed the perfect place to hide-or find-a secret. The days at the office tended to be long and quiet-and a little lonely- and I’d often have this fantasy that I’d find something mysterious in the cit files, and that it would lead me into a dark and dangerous lexicographical underworld. In reality, I never once found anything remotely suspicious in the files. Only years later, long after I’d left the company, did I think to turn this idle daydream into a book.

“While the basic setting of Samuelson Company resembles Merriam-Webster in many ways, its characters are not based on my former coworkers. Billy isn’t based on anyone in particular. His father vaguely resembles the dentist who pulled out my wisdom teeth right before I left for South Africa. Mona is very loosely based on an old college friend. Mr. Phillips is based on the crotchety, grumbling old man who lives inside my head and encourages me to give the finger to inconsiderate motorists.  And so on.”

So, take what  you know in life and from your Peace Corps years and turn it into a novel. That is what Emily Arsenault has so successfully one. And in the meantime, check out her website EmilyArsenault.com.

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