Honoring Josie: Debut novelist takes a deep dive into a historic local crime

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Novelist Avree Kelly Clark, right, with her former (and very proud) Creative Writing teacher Nathan Graziano.

MANCHESTER, NH – It’s 2004.

A high school senior, who had moved to Pembroke from Nashua the previous winter, has her final portfolio for her Creative Writing class returned to her. 

She has received an A+ from her teacher, a young man who wrote her an encouraging note.

It reads: “Avree—more than any student I can remember having in class, you seem primed for the writing life.”

A seed is planted. 

The next semester, her final at Pembroke Academy, she sits in forensic science class where her teacher discusses some local lore, the story of the grisly murder of a 17-year-old female student walking to school at Pembroke Academy in 1875—a mere half mile from the classroom where she sits. 

The murder victim? Josie Langmaid.

After school, she begins her walk to her home on Pembroke Street and stops at the Pembroke Town Library. There, she is directed to a VHS documentary of the horrific crime. She goes home and watches the film with her parents. 

The next day, her forensic science teacher shows the documentary to the class. 

Another seed is planted. 

It’s now 2024. 

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Debut novel by Avree Kelly Clark of Manchester, NH.

The former high school senior is now a 37-year-old debut novelist, having self-published an impressive piece of historical crime fiction titled “Malice Aforethought,” a novel based on the murder of Josie Langmaid. 

The former student-turned-novelist is now sitting down at Barnes & Noble in Manchester with a local reporter who is interested in writing a story about her and the new book. 

The author is Avree Kelly Clark, and the reporter is me. 

Now, I might be tempted to brag about my former student, lay some small claim for inspiring Clark’s success, but that would be disingenuous. 

Anyone who has ever dedicated themselves to writing a book knows—whether or not that manuscript ever sees the light of day—it’s a long, disciplined and personal pursuit. Writing teachers cannot save you in the thick of writing a book. 

“When you’ve never written a book, you always wonder if you can do it,” Clark said. “I definitely had my moments of self-doubt, but my passion for this story kept me going. And my mom also encouraged me all the way. Her belief in me never wavered.”

Clark’s vision for the book bloomed after reading an article about Josie Langmaid by Jerel Speck in The Neighborhood News in 2019, reminding her of the story that originally captured her interest in 2004. 

This sent Clark into a deep dive of sedulous research. “I love research, and I knew this would be good fodder for a book. It’s almost stranger than fiction,” she said. 

Clark, who lives with her husband of 16 years in Manchester, said that “Malice Aforethought” took more than three years to complete, but the lion’s share of the work was the research, which she began by clipping hundreds of articles on Josie Langmaid’s murder, as well as the murder of Marietta Ball, a schoolteacher in St. Albans, VT. 

Both crimes were committed by the same man, who stood trial and was convicted of the murder and rape of Miss Langmaid and later confessed to the raping and killing of Miss Ball. 

But Clark’s focus was never to sensationalize the salacious details of these sex crimes. 

“I wrote the story for the purpose of humanizing these victims,” Clark said. “I wanted the story to be less about the crimes and more about these girls whose lives were snuffed out by one man’s monstrous behavior. I wanted to preserve their dignity and their lives. I tried to cherish these girls.” 

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Clark

Clark also utilizes 19th-century diction and terminology, acutely aware of the pratfalls of anachronism and wanting to place the readers in a historical time machine. “One of the biggest challenges was trying to make it sound authentic,” she said. 

Still, Clark credits some contemporary works as inspirations, including Gillian Flynn’s “Sharp Objects” and Stephen King’s “The Green Mile,” as well as Truman Capote’s classic, “In Cold Blood.” 

Once finished with her manuscript, Clark then weighed her options for publication. Although she contemplated the traditional publishing routes of getting her book into the hands of readers, she ultimately opted to self-publish, which gave her ownership of all creative decisions from the cover art to the fonts and type settings.

Again, Clark sat down and researched. This time, she researched self-publishing, learning everything she could about the process. “I really enjoyed self-publishing and making [the book] all mine,” she said. 

While it gave her complete creative control, self-publication—as Clark discovered—didn’t come without some growing pains and headaches. 

“I was not prepared for how much work it was going to be,” said Clark. “There’s a lot to learn about self-publishing. I wish I had someone to hold my hand, but now I’m helping other people self-publish.”

While Clark—who identifies as a natural introvert—described the self-promotion and marketing as “arduous and time-consuming,” so far, the reception for “Malice Aforethought” has exceeded her wildest dreams. 

“My favorite part is all of the unexpected connections I’ve made with readers,” she said. “I’m forming these friendships, and it is so exciting. The readers’ support and enthusiasm has been the greatest gift.” 

With one book under her belt, Clark has fixed her sights on a new project, which she prefers to keep close to the vest—even from her former creative writing teacher. 

Clark said that she is already knee-deep in new research for another true-crime novel, again set in the Gilded Age. “I’m very excited about it,” she said. 

In 2004, a student took my creative writing class with a ton of natural ability, and I had enough sense to recognize it and encourage her to keep writing. 

Now, two decades later, that student has written and published a fine book that is selling well while informing and entertaining its readers. 

Some might call that a happy ending.       

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For more information about purchasing “Malice Aforethought” and author events, visit Avree Kelly Clark’s website.

About this Author

Nathan Graziano

Nathan Graziano lives in Manchester with his wife and kids. He's the author of nine collections of fiction and poetry. His most recent book, Born on Good Friday was published by Roadside Press in 2023. He's a high school teacher and freelance writer, and in his free time, he writes bios about himself in the third person. For more information, visit his website: http://www.nathangraziano.com