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Living on words; Places figure prominently in couple's writing.

Byline: Melissa McKeon

HOLDEN - It's hard to imagine Holden native Alicia Bessette's novel, "Simply from Scratch," without the town of Holden, or her husband Matthew Quick's novel, "Silver Linings Playbook," without the city of Philadelphia.

But Ms. Bessette's debut novel, a kind of homage to her home town and the people she met here, was written while she herself was 300 miles away in South Jersey, and Mr. Quick's novel about the city he grew up with was written while the two were living in Holden several years ago.

The sense of place that figures so prominently in the work of these two novelists now figures as well in life choices that have landed them right back in Holden, pursuing the writing life they had always hoped for.

"We were happy there," she says of Collingswood, N.J., just outside Philadelphia, where the two spent the last four years, after the acceptance of her husband's first novel for publication. But here, in Holden, "There are friends and family, and a different sense of space, more open space, and access to nature that you just don't get when you're right outside the city."

That's access to Wachusett Mountain (which figures prominently in "Simply from Scratch," in which it is renamed Mount Wippamunk), and a host of other outdoor activities.

There were also practical reasons to move to Holden from southern New Jersey.

"In order to pursue our careers as artists, we wanted to make a wise financial decision," Mr. Quick says. "We could never buy a house like this in South Jersey."

Although writing is a portable craft, the home in Holden that they hope will nurture their future as full-time novelists and artists is the home base Ms. Bessette says they both feel is necessary for writing well.

They've had their share of moving around. After attending LaSalle University, where the two met, Ms. Bessette, who grew up in Holden, and Mr. Quick, who grew up in South Jersey, lived in Haddonfield, N.J., for many years. She worked in publications at Bryn Mawr College, and he taught at Haddonfield Memorial High School.

That life, though absorbing, wasn't what they wanted, so after much soul searching, they sold their home and moved into her parents' home in Holden. She worked as a reporter while he worked toward his MFA in creative writing through a low-residency program at Goddard College in Vermont. In a room in Ms. Bessette's parents' basement (dubbed "the Matt Cave") he churned out his own work and hoped for publication.

It came far more quickly than they'd dreamed: An agent pulled the manuscript for "The Silver Linings Playbook" out of a pile, read it, loved it and sold it to publisher Farrar Straus Giroux/Sarah Crichton, and soon afterward sold the film rights as well.

That success was the fuel for more success. Ms. Bessette quit her job and the two moved to Collingswood, N.J., and began a life as full-time writers. She, too, sold a novel, to Dutton. Little Brown agreed to publish Mr. Quick's second work of fiction, a young adult novel called "Sorta Like a Rock Star." His third, "Boy21," also to be published by Little Brown, is due out next March.

"The Silver Linings Playbook" was optioned by the prestigious Weinstein Co., distributors of such recent film successes as "The King's Speech," "Nine" and "Inglourious Basterds." The screenplay has already been written, by David O. Russell of "The Fighter" and "I Heart Huckabees" fame.

That's a process that doesn't bother Mr. Quick.

"You make your art, and then they make their art," he says.

As for Ms. Bessette's first novel's future, it will be renamed "A Pinch of Love" when it comes out in paperback from Plume in October. She says she has been encouraged by her readers to write a sequel, and originally didn't consider that an option.

"In my mind, the story is complete," she says.

But readers might be making her rethink that. "They want to spend more time with the characters," she says. "So I've started to think, maybe."

Full-time writing has provided time for such reflections, but both agree it's also isolating. There are elements of their lives that help to lighten that load: the help and support of other writers, not the least of which is the support they lend each other.

When they're not writing themselves, each in their own office in their new home in Holden, they're likely to be editing each other's work or discussing ideas.

And though their writing schedules differ - she works in spurts, a few hours at a time, and he admits he can be obsessive and work for long periods, sometimes late into the night - both need breaks.

"I lose the ability to see what I'm writing if I sit there too long," she says. "If you step away, you see it with new eyes."

"Working on the house and doing manual labor is actually great for me because it's such a great break from looking at the computer screen," he says.

The weight of work is also lightened by the friends they've made the world over through their work, and through the Internet, which keeps them in touch with the world of professional writers as well as friends in New Jersey.

Moving back to Holden and buying a home has brought another enrichment to their lives. Ms. Bessette is also an accomplished pianist and composer, with two CDs to her credit. She was away from her beloved piano during their years in Collingswood; now the baby grand has a place of honor in their home, and her creativity has another outlet.

"It's kind of like I'm coming back to who I am," she says.

She wasn't the only one who missed the music in their lives.

"It brings an element to our world that was missing for a long time," he says.

Apart from the full-time creativity, there are other benefits to the move to New England. In Collingswood, the two admit, the people who lived around them, other than friends and family, were much a part of their lives; here in New England, that famous Yankee character is providing a distance Quick finds refreshing.

As for what's next at the Bessette-Quick's homestead, it's likely to involve the home life they always pictured: good food, good music and good friends ... and new novels.

And though both prefer to be silent about works in progress, she is conscious of the irony. In New Jersey, she wrote about her home in New England. Now settled in New England, the next book is about, of course, New Jersey.



CUTLINE: (1) Matthew Quick, left, and Alicia Bessette are full-time fiction writers who live in Holden. (2) Matthew Quick and Alicia Bessette have made careers out of writing.
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Geographic Code:1U2NJ
Date:May 26, 2011
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