MONTPELIER — Miciah Bay Gault is no stranger to good fortune: Much of her life as a writer, she has been surrounded by colleagues and friends who could mentor, coach and help her out.
Nor is Gault a stranger to ambition: She has always wanted to be a writer, from her early days growing up as a child on Cape Cod. ”I’ve always wanted to be a writer; I’ve always been writing, since I was about 6,” she said.
All of that serendipity and hard work is paying off. This week, in particular, is proving notable.
For 15 years, Gault has worked on her first novel, “Goodnight Stranger.” It debuts at a book launch at Bear Pond Books in Montpelier on Tuesday, July 30, from 7 to 8 p.m.
In addition, this weekend, Gault’s essay for the weekly “Modern Love” feature in The New York Times also appears in print.
“Goodnight Stranger,” published by Park Row Books – a division of HarperCollins – is the compelling story of three siblings, one of whom dies in infancy. The family is haunted by the loss of the child, and what might have been. Everything changes for each character when a stranger shows up in their island community who raises some of those “what if” questions.
“I was an only child,” Gault explains, “I could relate to a longing for siblings.”
The story line leaves trails of doubt and hints of mysticism, and. But, Gault says, it is very much rooted in reality. It all comes down to the reader, she said.
“People will interpret it in different ways,” Gault said, pointing to her favorite works of fiction as the ones that provide “literal strangeness in an otherwise normal world.”
Early reviews suggest the story is striking a chord.
Gault grew up with her single mother, moving from place to place in her earliest years. Finally, they ended up on the Cape, where her mother lives today. “It’s the place I call home,” she said.
She went to Bard College, thinking at that time she would be a teacher. But she was taking classes from renowned author Mona Simpson, whose first novel was the acclaimed “Anywhere But Here.” Simpson used to invite Gault out to breakfast “and she would ask me about my life.”
“She made me realize that my stories were worth telling,” Gault said.
Gault moved to Vermont in her 20s to teach at Hazen Union High School — a stint that lasted only one year. Then she went to Syracuse University to pursue her master’s of fine arts, a three-year program that her immersed her in the craft.
After reading a personal history in New Yorker, she got the seed of an idea for a plot line. In its earliest form, “Goodnight Stranger” started out as a short story, but then quickly evolved into a manuscript.
“I was doing lots of other writing for school,” Gault said. “This was what I was doing (on the side) because I wanted to, for fun.”
At Syracuse, she connected with a network of writers and teachers whose work she both respected and admired, including bestselling author George Saunders, who wrote “Lincoln in the Bardo.” Many of those friends, teachers and colleagues are still a part of her writing life today.
“I know how lucky I am to have this network of people,” she said. “It is incredible.”
In the years since that first draft in graduate school, Gault said the novel has gone through between 70 and 80 revisions. But the premise always has been the same.
The revisions continued as Gault settled into her life in Montpelier.
When she started working at the Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier (she ran the MFA Writing/Publishing program, and the annual Vermont Book Award), Gault developed another network of writers and artists.
“The energy was (at VCFA) just amazing,” she said.
Gault would work through lunches with colleague Ann Davila Cardinal, who was writing her own book, a young adult horror novel. (Both women finished their books and were published within a few months of one another. Cardinal’s “Five Midnights” also is garnering critical acclaim and positive reviews.)
“Instead of being lonely and writing at home, I got to come here every day … be a part of that energy ... talking the same language,” she said during an interview recently at VCFA.
Most writers will lament that the publishing process can be lonely and hard.
After an essay of hers appeared in the literary magazine Tin House, Jenni Ferrari-Adler, an agent, reached out to Gault to see whether she had a manuscript of some kind. She did in “Goodnight Stranger.” Together, they worked on the book four years before it was purchased.
Gault later met the woman who would become her editor, Laura Brown, at a writing conference. And once the book was sold to Park Row Books, they connected Gault with a publicist, Laura Gianino, who has been working with Gault to schedule stops on a book tour that link her to familiar audiences (Montpelier and the Cape, of course), but also to upcoming literary festivals and other notable stops in Boston, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia. Gault is hoping to do many of her local appearances at independent bookstores. “They are so important,” she said.
“It’s incredible to have such a team of amazing women behind me, rooting for me,” Gault said.
No resting on laurels, however.
Another novel is in development, along with some essays and other projects. “My editor definitely asked,” Gault quipped.
“It has been so, so exciting,” she said of the process for “Goodnight Stranger.” “But I also know I can’t take 15 years to finish the next one.”
Gault lives in Montpelier with her husband, Jeff Fournier, and their three children, Lily, Teddy and River.
To learn more about Gault, go to www.miciahbaygault.com