Chestnut Hill is the setting for new mystery novel
By Lou Mancinelli
After he’s injured in a car crash, Nick’s dying words suggest to his wife Mackenzie that she may be in danger. As his life falls away, he insists that she find James. Thus the mystery is presented.
Her search leads her to the old mansion in Chestnut Hill where Nick was raised. Here Mackenzie, 31, discovers a mother-in-law she never knew existed as well as childhood secrets about her husband.
Such is the rising action offered in “The Book of James,” a mystery-suspense novel by Haddon Township, New Jersey, resident Ellen Green, self-published and released in May and available online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
The mansion referred to throughout her novel is the Greylock Mansion, a classic Chestnut Hill stone structure built in 1909 by Pittsburgh steel magnate Henry A. Laughlin, located at 209 W. Chestnut Hill Ave. “I took some artistic licenses with the house,” said Green. “I hope they [people from Chestnut Hill] understand.”
Raised in upstate New York, Green, 49, moved to Philadelphia to study psychology at Temple University (’84). Later, when she worked in Wyndmoor and lived in Center City, she would pass through Chestnut Hill on her way home. Five chapters into writing the novel, she realized the fictional town she envisioned and had been writing about with its Belgian block along the road was actually Chestnut Hill.
A number of scenarios in the book have been informed by Green’s career in mental health. For the past decade she has worked at the Camden County Correctional Facility, a maximum security state penitentiary, providing a range of therapy for inmates. “Some of them are truly psychotic,” she said.
She’s counseled murderers, molesters, thieves — the gamut of jailed men and women. Much of the time they are subdued, but sometimes the inmates scream, kick, even throw feces.
“I don’t ever see a whole lot of people who are remorseful or are accepting any responsibility at all for what they’ve done,” said Green. “There’s a lot of justifications. They want pity … They are thinking about what’s happening to them and how they can get what they want.”
From the worst of her encounters with inmates, Green developed Cora, Nick’s mother. She has a long history of shady involvement and a past that’s remained buried from her son’s knowledge until Mackenzie goes digging, motivated and confused by her husband’s dying warning.
Green said that most inmates she’s worked with in prison have horrific personal histories, often used by them as justification for their actions. It’s these types of character traits she attributed to Cora.
Green, who is enrolled in the fine arts and creative writing master’s degree program at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey, penned the piece over a span of five years, beginning in 2007.
She sent her work to literary agents and received feedback. Several said the book had value but suggested it needed something more. That something turned out to be an additional point-of-view. Thus, the story is written from two points-of-view: the first person account as experienced through Mackenzie and, secondly, Cora’s point-of-view expressed via the third person.
This is the first published novel for Green, who flirted with writing during her high school days and has sold a few magazine pieces. As the years passed, she attended various writers’ conferences and related events. That’s where she learned how the publishing industry has changed in recent years.
“Before 2010 if you self-published it was like the kiss of death,” she said. “I really did believe that if I did this myself, it would be a dead end. But then things really changed.”
Now, traditional publishing houses cherry-pick top-selling self-published authors. In 2009, the number of nontraditional titles released dwarfed that of traditionally published books by more than 475,000 titles, according to a 2010 Publisher’s Weekly article.
Green and others’ perception of the changing nature of the publishing industry convinced her to publish the piece by herself. The week the book debuted, Green claimed she sold more than 60 copies of her book online. A number of blogs have covered its release.
A mother of two, she is currently working on her second novel, a piece she plans to submit to fulfill her master’s thesis requirement from Fairleigh Dickinson University.
“The Book of James,” by Ellen Green, is available online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.