Litchfield author dedicates novel to victims of Sandy Hook school shooting

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This story about “Streaks of Blue” ran on the cover of A&E in today’s Republican-American …

BY ALAN BISBORT
REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN 

Like so many people in the area, Litchfield author John Cullen could not get the unspeakable horror at Sandy Hook Elementary School out of his head. The father of 2-year-old twins, he was forced to think the unthinkable: How safe are my kids, really, if such a thing can happen at Sandy Hook?

Even for someone who has worked in newsrooms for 22 years, and thought he’d seen and heard every permutation on human tragedy, Cullen was left dazed by what happened in Newtown on Dec. 14, 2012.

“This event will never go away,” said Cullen, a layout editor at the Republican-American whose pen name is Jack Chaucer. “It seemed like the rock bottom of civilization had been reached. Twenty first-graders are gone just like that? It was a hopeless and helpless feeling, but you want to do something on top of donating money to change the world your kids live in. It almost forced me to write about it.”

He said he felt numb for a month after Sandy Hook.

“As a novelist, my mindset was either I write nothing for a long, long time, or I tackle this head on,” said Cullen, who previously wrote the futuristic thriller “Queens are Wild” (2012). “Any other subject seemed trivial.”

So, he did what came most naturally to him — he began writing. Before long, he realized that the act of writing had gone beyond the therapeutic and he suddenly had a cast of characters, a setting and a plot that carried him along as much as he helped shape it.

“I knew I wanted a girl with blue hair as the main character,” he said. “Thematically, we are in a streak of blue with all of the shootings that have happened. But I also knew that I wanted the students to be older, in their teens. And I didn’t want to saddle any specific town, so I made up a fictional town and set it in New Hampshire.”

The end result is a newly published 259-page novel with a long title: “Streaks of Blue: How the Angels of Newtown Inspired One Girl to Save Her School.” The book is available in both trade paperback edition ($11.99 at Hickory Stick Bookshop in Washington, Conn., and Amazon) and as an e-book ($2.99 at Kindle, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and smashwords.com). Cullen is donating half of the proceeds to the Newtown Memorial Fund, which supports the families of all 26 victims and others affected by the massacre.

Though the general plot backdrop was inspired by the Sandy Hook tragedy, the danger lurking within the story bears more resemblance to the Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, Colo., in April 1999. At Columbine, two boys filled with hostility toward their classmates plotted out their shooting rampage with military-like precision weeks ahead of time.

With a slightly futuristic cast to it — set mostly in the weeks leading up to the two-year anniversary of Sandy Hook in December 2014 — “Streaks of Blue” imagines a similar story arc taking shape at Lakeview Regional High School in New Hampshire. The would-be Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris are Adam Upton (echoes of Adam Lanza, the shooter at Sandy Hook) and Thomas “Lee” Harvey (as in Oswald, the alleged shooter of JFK). Their main “beef” is the contempt with which the majority of the school holds them for being “trailer trash.” They also come from broken families with a history of drug and alcohol abuse.

The only person standing between them and their goal of annihilation is 17-year-old Nicole Janicek. A sensitive, outdoorsy girl who likes to dye her hair blue, “Nikki” has a scary premonition while camping under the stars on Mount Washington just before her senior year. In the dream, the “angels of Newtown” appear and urge Nicole to reconnect with Adam, a boy she used to know in elementary school.

The angels not only warn Nicole about the shooting plot, but they also give her hope that a friendship with Adam could prevent it.

“My hope was to channel their bravery, strength and goodness into Nicole,” Cullen said. “So far, based on the positive reaction to the book — and especially Nikki’s character — I think that’s how it turned out.”

During its launch this fall, “Streaks of Blue” garnered 345 requests for advance copies from around the world on the website NetGalley. To date, the book has been reviewed by 47 readers on Goodreads and 17 on Amazon. The interest and feedback, particularly from teens and teachers, has been particularly gratifying, Cullen said.

“A teenage girl in Georgia (Asia) wrote in her review that she felt as if I had actually been to her own high school,” Cullen said. “She was inspired to reconnect with former friends after reading the book. Another teen in India wrote that she wanted to start mountain climbing. I love that the story had such an impact on two young people from the other side of the world.”

He noted that he tapped into his own experiences from growing up in Rhode Island. One particularly effective scene in “Streaks of Blue” — in which a teacher makes Nikki’s class discuss the lyrics from the album “Synchronicity” by The Police — was drawn from real events in Cullen’s high school classroom experience.

“My English lit teacher Paul Richards did that exact same lesson with us back in 1985,” he said. “My point in using it in ‘Streaks of Blue’ is that same discussion becomes very different today. You can’t talk about a song like ‘Murder By Numbers’ the same as we did in 1985. Back then there were no Columbines or Newtowns.”

Whether Nikki succeeds or fails in her attempt — no spoilers here — “Streaks of Blue” directly addresses the issue of school violence, but in a creative, compelling and non-preachy manner.

“I don’t attack guns. I don’t focus a lot on mental health. I do focus on human relationships and having the courage to be friends with people who don’t have many friends,” Cullen said. “At the end of the day, I wanted to write something meaningful. If you can reach out and inspire a kid to help another kid before he or she does something terrible, then I would be happy.”

For information, visit the author’s website, https://queensarewild.wordpress.com, and Goodreads page,http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6445477.Jack_Chaucer.

BOOK TALK AND SIGNING AT HICKORY STICK

Litchfield author John Cullen will appear for a book discussion and signing Dec. 1 at 2 p.m. at the Hickory Stick Bookshop, 2 Green Hill Road, Washington, Conn. Both Cullen and Hickory Stick will donate a portion of the proceeds to Newtown-related charities. 

Book talk and signing at Hickory Stick on Dec. 1 at 2 p.m.

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I’ll be discussing and signing copies of “Streaks of Blue” at the Hickory Stick Bookshop, 2 Green Hill Road, Washington, Conn., on Sunday, December 1, at 2 p.m. Half of my proceeds will go to the Newtown Memorial Fund, and Hickory Stick owner Fran Keilty said she will donate a portion of her proceeds to a Newtown-related charity as well. Fliers have been posted at The Pantry (thank you Michael) and the Gunn Memorial Library (thank you Linda). Hope to see you there!

A visit to Sandy Hook, plus “Streaks of Blue” newspaper story and book signing coming up …

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Republican-American photo chief Bob Falcetti and I took a drive to Sandy Hook yesterday. We paid a visit to the solemn and beautiful “Rock of Angels” memorial to the 26 victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. It sits in a peaceful location behind St. John Episcopal Church. The 20 children’s names have a different color for every letter within the hearts. The six teachers’ names are inside the angel. Fittingly, it was a very gray day as Bob took this photo, which will run with Alan Bisbort’s story on the book. The article will run in the Arts section of the Sunday Republican on Nov. 24. I also have a book discussion and signing planned for Dec. 1 at 2 p.m. at the Hickory Stick Bookshop, 2 Green Hill Road, Washington, Conn. Not only will I be donating half of my proceeds to the Newtown Memorial Fund, but Hickory Stick owner Fran Kielty said her shop will make a donation to a Newtown-related charity as well.

If you want a paperback of the book and want to visit an awesome book shop out in the country, there are five copies of “Streaks of Blue” on Hickory Stick’s shelves right now. If those sell out, I’ll supply more. And I’ll bring a whole bunch with me on Dec. 1. Hope to see you there.

My first press release for “Streaks of Blue” …

Adobe Photoshop PDFSince its release on Sept. 27, Jack Chaucer’s new young adult novel, “Streaks of Blue: How the Angels of Newtown Inspired One Girl to Save Her School,” already has motivated an 18-year-old young woman in Georgia (formerly Russia) to reconnect with former friends, a 13-year-old girl in India to go mountain climbing and a mom in New Jersey to hug her little boy much tighter.

Available in paperback ($11.99) on Amazon and as an e-book ($2.99) with Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple and Smashwords, the book is dedicated to the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on December 14, 2012. The author has pledged to donate half of the proceeds to the Newtown Memorial Fund (http://newtownmemorialfund.org), which directly supports the families. “Streaks of Blue” has been requested on NetGalley by more than 325 reviewers from all over the world, including scores of educators, school librarians and resource specialists. 251 readers have added it to their Goodreads shelves. The book has 47 ratings and 38 reviews on Goodreads (3.74-star average) and 17 reviews on Amazon (4.4-star average).

“A touching and monumental story. Chaucer’s storytelling was truly intoxicating, creating such awesome and fluid characters.”
— Georgina Robinson, “What She Reads” blogger from Leicestershire, England

“While the subject matter might have been trite or exploitive in other hands, Mr. Chaucer treats it with sensitivity and his characters sympathetically. It’s tense, moving and thought-provoking.”
— Stephanine Piro, “Militant Recommender” blogger from Farmington, New Hampshire

“I wasn’t sure I was ready to read a book that references Sandy Hook yet, but he pulled it off. Heart-wrenching and amazing!”
— Amy Vandagriff, resource specialist at Foothill High School in Pleasanton, California

“Very well-written, deep and emotional. This book moved me very much.”
— Jennifer Ahlin, book blogger from Uppsala, Sweden

“It is a masterpiece. I think it should be on every English teacher’s to-read list.”
— Annie Wallace, “Just One More Chapter” blogger from Lake Jackson, Texas

Book blurb: Adam Upton and Thomas “Lee” Harvey are plotting the next big school massacre at their New Hampshire high school. Nicole Janicek, who knew Adam in elementary school, tries to reconnect with the damaged teen at the start of their senior year. But will Nicole’s attempt to befriend the would-be killer disrupt the plot and turn Adam’s life around before the clock strikes 12:14?

For more information and purchase links, visit Jack Chaucer’s website at https://queensarewild.wordpress.com. Chaucer also wrote the sci-fi thriller “Queens are Wild” (2012) and two other novels. Contact Jack at jcullen789@gmail.com.