DORSET - It's a common truism about authors writing a first book, fiction or non-fiction, that the effort tends to a greater or lesser degree to be autobiographical. In crafting the narrative, the writer draws from personal experience, spinning real-life events to drive a story forward; changing names to protect the innocent where necessary - or desirable.

Such is the case in spades with Ellen Stimson, a Dorset writer, whose book, "Mud Season," published last year, details the journey she and her family made several years ago when they decided to migrate here from St. Louis, Mo., and live the dream in Vermont.

The lengthy sub-title pretty much sums it up: "How one woman's dream of moving to Vermont, raising children, chickens and sheep and running the old country store pretty much led to one calamity after another.

Ellen Stimson
Ellen Stimson (supplied photo)
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Fortunately, the story has a happy ending. Stimson's book has been named a finalist for a New England Book Award in the non-fiction category. Voting was completed last week and the results will be announced at the end of the month.

If she wins, Stimson will join a short list of Vermonters who have won a New England Book Award. Chris Bohjalian and Archer Mayor have both won one for fiction writing in recent years.

Stimson's book, which was launched last year at the North shire Bookstore, was inspired by all her experiences, which despite all the ups and downs, is essentially a love song to Vermont, Stimson said, adding that she wouldn't live anywhere else.

"Life is either wonderful or hideous, and the hideous is just a way to turn it into a funny story," she said.


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Humor crackles through the book, as we follow Stimson and her family from farm life to owning a country store - the former Peltier's Market, well-known to Dorset and other area town residents. It's the quaint little country store near the corner of Church Street and Route 30 in Dorset founded nearly 200 years ago, still there under a new (actually an older) name and new management.

They loved the wood en counters and the little bell that rings when the customers enter, but it wasn't long before it became clear this wasn't for them, she said.

"I thought I was buying a tourist attraction, because in many ways I was still a tourist," she said. "They - the customers - just wanted to buy bread and they thought I'd bought the grocery store."

Although this is Stimson's first book, it was propelled along by a long tradition of storytelling within their family and Stimson's ongoing blogging while they were running Peltier's. And there was more. She was approaching her 50th birthday, one of those milestone anniversaries well-suited to reflecting on what you have done so far in life and what remains on the "to do" list. She had always been an avid reader since childhood and decided it was time to write a book. She pulled together her notes and blog entries and wrote "Mud Season" in 17 weeks.

That went so well that it prompted a second work, "Good Grief," scheduled for publication this October. Again, it will be launched from the Northshire Bookstore.

This will explore a different theme, but again using humor. It involves the death of her first husband, and explores processing grief in a positive way with joy and humor.

"The second book was much easier," she said. "I got into a groove - I found my voice." She is already hard at work on a third book, she added. Meanwhile, she is "thrilled to death" to have been nominated for a prestigious New England Book Award, which is, in publishing circles, a very big deal.