Author celebrates release of her first novel

Brad Petrishen

In today’s world of economic gloom and catastrophic violence, it’s sometimes easy to scoff at those who ponder and dream.

But in a nation that continually assesses the ramifications its actions will have on future generations, Maynard resident and budding author Julie Berry believes firmly the magic and enchantment in fairy tales is just as important as stimulus packages and bailouts from Washington, D.C.

A self-confessed dreamer whose first goal was to marry and raise a family, Berry came to Maynard eight years ago a typical young mother and wife — intent on raising her boys and supporting her husband, a software engineer, in his aspirations to start his own company.

But Berry had aspirations of her own as well. A 1995 communications graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, she had worked in marketing and technical writing, and in 2004 began writing a humor column for the MetroWest Daily News.

She had never, however, gotten around to trying her hand at what she always saw as the most sanctified of all professions: novel writing.

“I always loved reading so desperately. I thought that authors were gods on Earth,” she said. “I thought that you really had to be a ‘chosen one’ to be able to do that,” she added.

Standing at the Roosevelt Room podium at the Maynard Public Library last week, however, Berry saw the fulfillment of a fantasy she daydreamed but never expected: The release party for her first novel.

“I feel I am at the start of a fairy tale myself,” she told the throng of family members, neighbors and children that came out to purchase the first copies of her fantasy novel, “The Amaranth Enchantment.”

Berry admitted she was a little nervous, but warmed up to the crowd quickly. “You all know me pretty well,” she said, scanning familiar faces in the crowd. “You see me in my pajamas at the bus stop.”

She went on to describe the novel, which, published by Bloomsbury USA, follows the trials and triumphs of Lucinda Chapdelaine, a teenager orphaned as a small child following the mysterious death of her parents. Although her loveable uncle took her in, Lucinda’s odious aunt forces her to perform slave labor for her keep and routinely abuses and beats her.

But life takes a sudden twist when a mysterious woman with mystical powers and an unknown connection to her parents enters her life. Forced out of her uncle’s home upon his death, penniless and hungry, Chapdelaine undertakes a fanciful journey to reclaim the home in which she was raised — a journey that brings her to the brink of death and back and includes not only a royal romance but a anthropomorphic goat named “Dog.”

Rife with sudden twists and riddled with imagery, the fairy tale plot is supplemented by the reflective first-person narration of Lucinda, whose insights into the complicated emotions of love, hatred and revenge are anything but juvenile and give the book a human element that has earned it high praise.

The book has already been named a Junior Library Guild selection, is a top 10 spring “Indie Next” Pick and has received critical acclaim. Kirkus Reviews called it a “lively, quick, stylish, engaging first novel with some lovely, familiar fairy-tale elements,” and predicts it will “enthrall young readers.”

Though her dream is now reality, just a few years ago it remained a vague inkling of literary aspiration.

After witnessing the immense success of mother/author J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter,” Berry decided to try her hand at children’s literature, a field she has always loved.

She enrolled in Vermont College of the Fine Arts, and in 2008 earned her master’s in writing for children and young adults.

As part of her graduate courses, she wrote several novels, one of which was “The Amaranth Enchantment.”

The book won her a scholarship in 2007, so when an agent offered to represent her at a children’s book conference in Nashua, N.H., she jumped at the chance.

“It was November, and it was the day my agent was to give me word of whether [Bloomsbury] wanted the book,” she remembered. “The day came and went, and finally in the evening I got the call from my agent.

“As soon as I saw her name on the caller ID, I knew I got it,” she continued. “I remember taking the phone outside and walking around in circles, the leaves crunching under me as I talked to her. I was so excited.”

Berry believes the book is successful because, although marketed to 10-14-year-old girls, it touches on universal themes and encapsulates fantasy and reality.