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Local Author Writes Her Version Of A French Classic; Book Program Thursday At CHB



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Unforgivable Love is author Sophfronia Scott's reinvention of a much older tale.

The Sandy Hook-based writer has crafted a "vivid reimagining" of the 1782 French classic Les Liaisons Dangereuses, according to assistant publicist Libby Collins, Harper and Collins Publishers. Ms Scott's story is set in the "dazzling, dramatic world of 1947 Harlem. In this 'elegant page turner,' it's the summer when Jackie Robinson breaks Major League Baseball's color barrier and a sweltering heat has Harlem's elite fleeing the city for a breezier Westchester County, as two schemers get caught up in an exhilarating game of cat and mouse," said Ms Collins, who has scheduled several publicity dates for the writer, including an author event in her hometown.

Ms Scott will be at C.H. Booth Library on Thursday, October 5, at 7 pm, for a book talk and signing event. Copies of Unforgivable Love will be available to purchase during the special event.

Ms Scott described the evening as having "party aspects," including food and a presentation about the new release.

"I'll read a little and present how I built" the story's world, the author said this week.

How did she translate the 1700s for 1947 Harlem?

"I originally wrote a version as a screenplay," in 2009, Ms Scott said. "But that didn't really go anywhere."

Her agent suggested that she write it as a novel. The prospect "made me happy, because a screenplay is really only a sketch of a story." By writing a novel, however, "I could do a full exploration of the story, build characters, build this world."

The first chapters emerged in late summer 2011, which she used as part of her application material to graduate school - Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier.

"So I started grad school in 2012 and started the book in the fall of 2012. I wrote the first draft," said Ms Scott, who then "took year off" to devote time to writing nonfiction, "then came back to it."

A Story About Love

The story idea percolated as she watched a modern cinema-spin on Les Liaisons Dangereuses: the movie Cruel Intentions. However, "The Glenn Close-John Malkovich film Dangerous Liaisons is what I saw first and stayed with me," she shared.

According the Wikipedia, Dangerous Liaisons is a 1988 American film based upon Christopher Hampton's play Les liaisons dangereuses, which in turn was a theatrical adaptation of the 18th Century French novel Les Liaisons dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos.

Cruel Intentions is a 1999 film featuring Reese Witherspoon as Annette, the daughter of the headmaster of an elite Manhattan prep school. Annette becomes the focus of two vicious stepsiblings (Sarah Michelle Geller and Ryan Philippe), who make an ugly wager to deflower Annette before the end of summer break.

Prompting her to write was "my interest in all the movie versions and seeing a play version multiple times," Ms Scott said.

Cruel Intentions 'Well, I think I'm about to write something.'"was on television and "I found myself watching it again and again … and my husband wanted to know why and I said,

A friend, the screenwriter Jenny Lumet, had also suggested a version of that movie with African American characters.

"We were talking about Harlem and the nightclubs," said Ms Scott. "My friend's grandmother was Lena Horne - one of the great African American jazz rhythm blues singers [and appearing in Hollywood films]." Ms Scott chose 1947 specifically "because Jackie Robinson crossed the color line in baseball and I wanted that to be a motivating moment for one of my characters."

In writing About The Book, a section for the novel's closing pages, Ms Scott shared in part: "I wanted to write a story where money obviously wasn't an issue, and to create settings I wanted to spend time in: lush gardens, large gorgeous rooms filled with sumptuous jazz music. I like having the sounds of Duke Ellington, Louis Jordan, and Ella Fitzgerald flowing through the book's pages. I wanted to relate a vision of elegance, of well-dressed people strolling down the street or through a park. I love such images. So I chose a place - Harlem - where such beauty and art would have existed during a time - the late 1940s - filled with its own inherent glamour. This moment in history was so full of potential."

Her book evolved as something "even better than" she expected, she said. Speaking of aspects of her characters, she said one "grew into her own heroine in ways that were unexpected."

"I think I had my own story in my head anyway," she said. Questions had lingered over the character of Valmont from Dangerous Liaisons or Les liaisons dangereuses, she said.

"Why was he vulnerable to love? I wanted to figure it out," she said. "I answered [the question] for myself. I think so, but [readers] will have to let me know."

What type of read has Ms Scott created?

"You will feel as though you are stepping into a world, it's engaging in that way, it's a way to walk inside the minds of these people and experience their viewpoint," she said. Her book is "not romance in the traditional sense, but it's definitely a story about love."

Wide Appeal

On writing, Ms Scott said, "I feel absolutely blessed to be able to do this. It helps to be working on it to a point where I am thinking about it even when I'm not at my desk … that's the best, to think about it when on a plane, when I'm cooking, that's when I'll figure out, 'Oh, that's why she did that,' and I go back to my keyboard," to add to her story.

David Hicks, the author of the novel White Plains and a friend of Ms Scott's, is also something of a writing partner, she said.

"When I wanted feedback I e-mailed [the book] to him, he read it, then he gave me feedback," she said.

When he first heard of the idea "that she was doing a classic novel with black characters, I thought, what a brilliant idea, and when I read it," it exceeded his expectations, Mr Hicks said. "I thought she would follow the plot rigidly, but although a remake, it's an original story."

Ms Scott's version, said Mr Hicks, was "really good. She invests her characters, they are less cliché than Dangerous Liaisons, they are more complete to me. Her characters have genuine, complex, and real emotions, they are vulnerable and her writing is beautiful, sentence by sentence."

In the book's back section, she states, "I feel there's a richness to Unforgivable Love in that it can be enjoyed on more than one level. It can be read as a straight story of love and romance. It can also be read on the literary level, as historical fiction, and as social commentary. But at the end of the day I will admit it: this story is for me."

Ms Scott's "characters are drawn in different directions too, not captivated by one person but others. And as far as love stories go, that gets complicated too, and true of life sometimes," Mr Hicks said.

A strength of any writer is to "let characters go where they want instead of rigidly adhering to a plot line," he said. "Characters surprised me, and I could tell they surprised her.

"You would think that for me, as a white man, you would think I'm reading a sexy book," he added, but he was "totally caught up in the drama, because of depth of characters and her writing. I think this book has wide appeal to male and female, old and young."

Visit sophfronia.com for additional information about the author, her upcoming events, and links to read and/or purchase previously published works. Byrd's Books of Bethel will be providing copies of Unforgivable Love to purchase during the October 5 event at C.H. Booth Library. The book has been on sale online since September 26 and is available through Ms Scott's website.

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Sophfronia Scott is celebrating the release of her latest novel, Unforgivable Love, a retelling of Dangerous Liaisons, with a series of local and regional author events. The Sandy Hook resident will be the focus of an author program at C.H. Booth Library on Thursday, October 5. (Rob Berkley photo)
(Harper Collins image)
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