When Teri Emory finished writing her debut novel about a group of college friends and the second acts in their lives, she had no idea that she soon was going to experience a second act of her own: a whirlwind courtship and marriage to a high school friend whom she re-met at a high school reunion.
Now, with “Second Acts” ($14.99, Amberjack Press) scheduled for release on Tuesday, Emory is facing the beginning of her own next act after the sudden death of her husband, Ken, in July.
“For the 10 years I’ve lived in Las Vegas, I’ve had a remarkable second act,” Emory says. “The name of my book is ‘Second Acts.’ This was my second act. It was my second marriage. So, now, my own second act has come to an abrupt end.”
But Emory’s novel ultimately is about optimism and the value of having good friends in one’s life. Emory says she has both, and is excited about sharing with readers a literary experience she’s been awaiting her entire life.
‘A good storyteller’
Emory, 68, has wanted to be a writer since she was a kid, and recalls a fifth-grade teacher once asking her to help adapt a play for the class.
“She said she asked me because she knew I was a good storyteller. I was honored,” Emory says.
“We stayed after school a few days and we chatted, and she asked me what my favorite book was. I said ‘Little Women.’ She said, ‘Is it because of the character Jo?’ I said, ‘Yes, because she’s a writer.’ And she said to me — and this is the first anybody ever said this to me — ‘You know, you could be a writer, too.’ ”
Emory carried that snippet of encouragement with her throughout her life as she finished high school and college, married and divorced, raised a daughter, taught writing at colleges back East, traveled — even living for a time in Rome, where she taught English to Russian immigrants — and took just about any writing job she could.
Then came her 40th high school reunion, where she saw Ken again after a decades-long separation. She and Ken first met during Emory’s junior year in Great Neck, New York.
“We were buddies in high school,” Emory says. “Then we went to college in different directions. But he dated a girl at my college, and when he came up to see her he’d give me a call just to say hi, because we were friends.”
Renewing a friendship
After college, they fell out of touch and built separate lives. When they re-met at the reunion in 2006, both were divorced, and Ken was a professional poker player who was living in California but planning a move to Las Vegas.
“We saw each other at the reunion, then we wrote months of emails back and forth,” Emory says. “After the reunion, we told each other the story of this 38 years that we had not seen each other and told each other the story of our adult lives. Then, we fell in love.
“The reunion was in October, and by May 1, I was a Nevada resident. We bought a house together and then got married in the house I still live in.”
By then, Emory had finished writing “Second Acts,” which she had been working on since 2004. The novel took about nine months to write and, she jokes, “it was every bit like having a baby.”
But, she says, “I had the misfortune to be submitting this novel to publishers just at a time when the publishing industry was in upheaval.”
Still, amid all the rejection notices that she’d receive, “every once in a while, I’d read a book that I would think touched on similar themes, and I thought, ‘Gee, anybody who reads this book would probably read mine,’ and I pulled out the manuscript again and sent it out again and collected more rejection letters.”
A novel is born
Finally, Emory found a small independent press, Amberjack Publishing, that wanted to publish “Second Acts,” which she describes as primarily “a story about friendship.”
“It’s about three women who meet in the 1960s in a dorm room in Buffalo, New York — Guess where I went to college? — and they’ve stayed friends through their lives and they share their joys and help each other through difficult times,” Emory says. “And, then, in the year leading up to 9/11, each of them comes up with an obstacle in the path that she’s been on.”
The story — told in first person by each character in alternating chapters — ends a few days after the World Trade Center attacks, when the women are faced with finding some way to move on to “the second acts of their lives,” Emory says.
In writing the book, Emory drew on her own experiences in New York City on 9/11 — some of her students at Hunter College and Fordham University had family members who were first responders or who worked in the towers — and her own travels in Europe after college and with Ken.
“I’m passionate about traveling,” Emory says, and the locales in the novel “become, almost, characters themselves, because they haunt the characters, they tempt the characters, they are fantasies for the characters, they are heroic. One of the characters sees Paris as a place to go to rescue her from her humdrum life. So my travels figured prominently in creating the story.”
A bittersweet tour
Emory’s current travels call for beginning a six-city book tour that she admits she’s thought about canceling because of Ken’s death, at age 68. But, she says, friends have told her that Ken, who always was supportive of her writing, would want her to enjoy her success.
“He was over the moon,” Emory says. “I miss him.”
She hopes readers will see the optimism that lies at the core of the novel and recognize the value and strength of “friendship, especially the powerful friendships that women have with each other. And I’ve certainly benefited from friendships recently.”
Does she feel optimistic about the next act of her life? “Well, what choice do we have?” Emory says.
“I have focused on the many ways in which I am fortunate. I have, as far as I know, good health. I have a loving and supportive family. I have wonderful friends who have been remarkable through this, friends in Las Vegas and friends from other places I’ve lived.”
“And, I have this book,” Emory says. “I have the book, which is a life’s dream.”
Even if, she adds, “the sad irony is, the person I most wanted to share this moment with isn’t here.”
Contact John Przybys at reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0280. Follow @JJPrzybys on Twitter.