What I’m writing now: The Daytonians

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Status March 2017: Not querying yet, but nearing completion while working with test readers. Please email Catherine Dehdashti if you are a publisher or agent interested in The Daytonians (alt title Our Company). 

At 94,000 words, The Daytonians is upmarket commercial fiction in the style of The Imperfectionists, in a setting like Shopgirl, but with more secrets, racial and sexual diversity, and romance.

The setting is a specific place and time: Dayton’s department store in Minneapolis at the turn of the millennium. The department store industry begins to consolidate. Lives are changed by the incremental demise of the store. From the immigrant stock boy to the retail staff of women’s shoes, from the freelance window dresser to the marketeer with a window office, The Daytonians features a cast of characters whose lives are intertwined.

History collides with the present when staff discover relics of an infirmary on the abandoned tenth floor, evidence of a time when businesses provided nurse care for sick employees and customers. There’s Noelle in women’s shoes, whose lunch-hour tryst in the old infirmary with the stock boy results in a baby she cannot keep or make known to her future husband. There’s Pierre, the stock boy from the islands who believes he can fix the store’s problems if only someone will listen, and Don, who sees an opportunity that helps spell doom for the business. There’s Ralphina, a display designer raising her murdered sister’s son. Noelle and her cousin happen upon a painting of a nurse from the 1940s that could change Ralphina and the boy’s lives, if only they tell her about it. As the 100-year-old department store business inches toward oblivion, Noelle is not the only one whose liaisons could soon be exposed.

My career includes 20 years as a writer-producer for the University of Minnesota, as well as freelance food and essay writing. My most recent piece in the Minneapolis Star Tribune was an essay about what Dayton’s meant to those who worked there, including myself (http://strib.mn/2lFTvVx). I was first compelled to write this novel the day I found myself on the abandoned tenth floor and imagined the stories those walls could tell.

I wrote The Daytonians with guidance through workshops at Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, where I am a member. I have a master of liberal studies degree from the University of Minnesota.