Retirement? What Retirement?
Julien Ayotte ’63 has made a second career out of writing novels—eight in the last 10 years, in fact.
Julien Ayotte ’63 has heard lots of advice about how to write. He doesn’t listen.
“There are people who say, ‘You should write a page a day; that way you’ll have a 365-page book done within a year,’” he says. “That’s a lot of crap. There are some days where I can’t pick up a word; I don’t know what to say. So, I say nothing. But there are other days when I write 15 or 20 pages.”
This approach has served Ayotte well. Since 2013, he’s published eight books featuring mysterious circumstances that take characters from rural Rhode Island to the galleries of the Louvre or to a villa in Turks and Caicos. He writes his drafts by hand, compiling pages in three-ring binders before typing them and sending them to, as he calls them, his harshest critics—his wife, Pauline, and their three children. Depending on how you look at it, writing his first book took 10 years—or nearly 30.
The Woonsocket, R.I., native started the book that would become Flower of Heaven in 1986, during a relatively slow period in his career in legal administration and business education.
“I have no idea why I picked up a pad back then,” he says. “I just started writing a chapter here and a chapter there.”
When he began a demanding job at a law firm in Providence, the pad went into a desk drawer. Ayotte focused on his career and family until his retirement in 2001.
He was cleaning out his desk, where he found a long-neglected handwritten draft; something stopped him from tossing it. He photocopied the pages and sent them to his oldest daughter.
Ayotte remembers, “I asked her to take a look and tell me if it was worth pursuing or if I should just throw it away. She came back and told me, ‘You have to finish this!’”
It took more than a decade of research, revision, and more feedback from his wife and children for Ayotte to publish Flower of Heaven, a thriller featuring a Rhode Island priest, a Parisian gallerist, the twins born from their long-secret affair, and a worldwide cast of royalty and government agents.
Not long after, he heard from fans asking what was next. So, he began writing and publishing at a more rapid pace, starting with a sequel, Dangerous Bloodlines, followed by others in quick succession.
Code Name Lily, Ayotte’s only work of historical fiction, holds a special place for the author. The idea for the novel came to him when he read an obituary for Micheline Dumon-Ugeux, a Belgian nurse and member of the resistance during World War II. Along with other resistance members, Dumon-Ugeux, whose code name was Lily, helped hundreds of British and American airmen escape to Spain.
Ayotte, 81, became interested in Dumon-Ugeux partly because his mother was born in Belgium and was nicknamed Lily. He says the nurse and resistance member was his favorite character to write.
“You can’t make up a story like that,” he says. “This is real. I was just in awe of her.”
When Ayotte published Flower of Heaven in 2012, The Providence Journal’s Bill Reynolds wrote that the book was “a fast-paced global thriller that would make a great movie.” Could that be next for Ayotte?
Perhaps. Now, he is hard at work turning his novels into screenplays and uploading them to a site where industry professionals can review unproduced scripts. He’s had a lot of hits, and he’s feeling good about it. And, of course, ideas for his next book are percolating. But where that book will take readers, he can’t say. That’s just his process.
“I can’t tell you what I’m going to write tomorrow,” says Ayotte. “I can’t tell you until tomorrow night, when it’s done.”
—Lauren Rebecca Thacker
For more about Ayotte and his books, visit www.julienayotte.com