The Dennis home, just off the beaten path at the north end of Dagsboro, is ship-shape top to bottom — the lawn looks like a putting green, the driveway is freshly seal-coated. And indoors, lady-of-the-house Joyce Taylor “J.T.” Dennis has created a warm, peaceful space, in natural tones and Native American-themed sculpture and objets d’art.
But the placidity belies tragic times Dennis has lately endured, with the passing of her son, Mike Dennis Jr., in 1997 at age 27.
Even several years later, she shied from speaking about his death. And yet, Dennis’ demeanor has returned to what might best be described as a quiet cheer — she said she’d healed somewhat, and her writing had certainly played a role in that.
She’d done some writing previously, but her new novel, a full-length mystery-romance, simply flowed onto the page, she said. Dennis completed the first draft of what would eventually become “To Right All Wrongs” in a single year.
Of course, there would be plenty of rewrite, backtracking to fill in some technical details and re-rewrite, but the framework had been assembled. She completed “To Right All Wrongs” within three years.
Although it’s been a few years since she completed the book, it’s now published — Dennis’ first novel will hit the streets early next month.
“To Right All Wrongs” recounts a first-generation Irish immigrant mother’s experiences through the eyes of her daughter, Janice Sandowski. And it opens with the murder of one of young Sandowski’s friends.
Dennis said the opening tableau had appeared to her in a dream, framing the character of Sandowski, an only daughter with six brothers and — due to that fact — scrappy, able to hold her own. The young heroine fights off the murderer, and the truth of this character, in this scene, stayed with Dennis through the days and weeks that followed.
“It got to the point that I was saying to myself, ‘I really need to write this down,’” Dennis recounted. She started working on it, and admitted it had been nice to have something to focus on so totally, something to throw herself into as she dealt with her grief.
Dennis said she’d always loved to read, and noted historical romance as a favorite genre. (Favorite authors included Nora Roberts and Sidney Sheldon, but she said she liked Stephen King for a nail-biter once in a while, too.)
She said she’d written short stories here and there throughout her life, and also had some peripheral experience in journalism — sort of a side job while working for the Delmarva News (now the Delaware Wave). Although she was actually the office manager, Dennis said then-editor Allen Cujala (this was in the mid- to late-1980s) had sometimes tasked her with the odd personal feature or 100th birthday.
After a few years in the newspaper business, she pursued ventures in various fields, including a five-year stint as clerk for the town of Dagsboro. Everything slowed to a stop in 1997, but Dennis is back now, and said she already had a couple ideas she might like to use in what may well turn out to be another full-length novel.
“To Right All Wrongs” is dedicated to her son.
“He always encouraged me to do something with my writing,” Dennis pointed out. And since the vivid dream that set her moving, she said she’d felt a divine hand in the way things had shaken out – encounters with locals who had in-depth information about New York City (where the story’s set), for instance.
And she credited her fellow Writers Bloc literary club members for their support throughout.
“I don’t think I could have published ‘To Right All Wrongs’ without their advice and encouragement,” she said.
A Dennis short story, “The Fury,” is set to appear in an upcoming Writers Bloc anthology. She said she planned to join several other writers from that group for a collaborative signing event at Barnes & Noble in Salisbury, Md., on Nov. 12.
But first, she’ll appear solo at the Frankford Public Library, on Wednesday, Oct. 5, from 5 to 7 p.m. “To Right All Wrongs” runs 320 pages, priced at $17.95.