When Dr. Nick Trout of Westborough needs inspiration for a new book, he simply goes to work. The veterinary surgeon at Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston said heartwarming stories “quite literally walk, hop, and slither through our hospital doors every day.”
Kingston author Lisa Duffy, whose second novel went on sale June 11, writes about the “things that keep me up at night.”
Polyvios Christoforos, a Salem resident on the autism spectrum, recently realized a life’s dream by illustrating, writing, and self-publishing his first children’s book.
While specializing in different genres, each local author demonstrates the universal power of books to entertain, stir emotions, comfort, and inspire.
“The Wonder of Lost Causes,” Trout’s latest book, blends his professional work with another cause dear to his heart: raising awareness of cystic fibrosis, the incurable lung disease borne by his 26-year-old daughter, Emily. She is on the waiting list for liver and double lung transplants.
Published in April by HarperCollins, Trout’s sixth book tells the story of a chronically ill boy, his single mother who is a veterinarian at an animal shelter on Cape Cod, and the misfit mutt that transforms both their lives.
Although the fictional character Jasper also has cystic fibrosis, Trout said the desperate efforts of the boy’s mother to provide him with as normal a life as possible echo the real-life struggles faced by parents of children with any chronic illness.
Trout also recognizes the contributions of service dogs similar to his family’s Bella, an “extremely affectionate, licky dog who can make Emily laugh and cry, and offer her unconditional love and support.” In the book, a war veteran summarizes his German shepherd’s contributions as “small gains, yet they add up to a huge change in the potential in my life.”
In fact, Trout believes the general population now relies on companion animals as never before.
“We tend to text rather than talk, and put earplugs in our heads instead of engage in conversation, so when we spend time with an animal, it becomes strangely meaningful,” said Trout, who has been a veterinary surgeon at Angell for 21 years. “We get back so much, for giving so little.”
Duffy traces her love of writing to what she calls “a lot of really bad poetry” she penned in middle school.
She began a novel while quarantined at home with the chicken pox at age 19. She wrote it from the viewpoint of a southern male protagonist — despite never having traveled to the area she described so richly with hair salons and trucks.
“I was trying to find my material,” said Duffy, looking back, “but I was really just imitating other authors at that point.”
She abandoned the failed novel, and then, as she puts it, life happened. Duffy married, had three children, and earned a master’s degree of fine arts in creative writing from the University of Massachusetts Boston. And she kept writing.
In “The Salt House,” her debut novel published in 2017, Duffy delves into themes of family, friendship, and the complexities of love, grief, and hope. Her second novel hits even closer to home.
In “This is Home,” published by Atria Books, 16-year-old Libby lives on the middle floor of a triple-decker with her father, who is a police officer, while her two aunts occupy the top floor. When new tenants move in downstairs, Libby realizes that she and the military wife, whose husband is afflicted with post-traumatic stress disorder, are both searching for a sense of belonging.
Duffy, who only reads her in-progress work once the first draft is complete, was surprised to discover how many similarities she gave to Libby from her own life. Duffy, who grew up in Belmont, is also the daughter of a police officer who lived on the middle floor of a triple-decker home crowded with various relatives and frequent guests.
“Sometimes it’s hard to figure out why you’re writing about something until the story is done,” she said. “I think in some ways, this book is my attempt at a love story to my noisy, full-of-big personalities, triple-decker upbringing.”
When Christoforos was diagnosed with autism at age 3, his mother, Georgia, vowed she would do “everything in my power” to help him express himself — and in the process, discover the same happiness as his typically developing siblings, Angela and Valantis.
So when his love of crayons and markers extended to coloring the floors and walls, Georgia began supplying Christoforos with pads of paper.
Now 27, Christoforos recently published “Sammy Smart Guy” through RoseDog Books. Based on his own life, the story about a boy with autism who becomes a successful artist provides a kid-friendly approach to the ups and downs of the disorder.
For instance, Christoforos describes the initial reaction to his nontraditional use of coloring surfaces. “When my mother walked in the room, she couldn’t believe her eyes,” he writes. “I was so sad because I didn’t understand why she was so mad.”
Years later, his teachers’ pride in his paintings generated this response in his book: “I smiled so hard that I couldn’t move my face anymore!”
Georgia credits Christoforos’s personal gains and artistic accomplishments with a determined focus on his abilities. He won first place in the Sixth District Congressional Art Competition and Exhibition in 2009, and his paintings are displayed in numerous medical offices, the Salem Post Office, and Brother’s Roast Beef, Seafood & Pizza in Peabody, the Christoforos family’s business.
Once nonverbal, Christoforos has spoken about his life’s challenges and passions for the New England chapter of Autism Speaks. He attends Northeast Arc in Peabody, has hosted book events at local schools and Barnes & Noble in Peabody, and already is working on a second book about his family’s summer vacations in Greece.
“If you work hard enough and follow your dreams,” advised Christoforos, “you’ll get there someday.”
Cindy Cantrell may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.