Attorney writes the 'feel good book of the summer'

By Kurt Anthony Krug
Legal News

The concept of family is a constant theme throughout the novels of attorney-author Julie Lawson Timmer.

Her latest novel “Mrs. Saint and the Defectives” (Lake Union Publishing $14.95) – which will be released Tuesday, Aug. 1 – is no exception. However, “Mrs. Saint” is much more humorous and lighter in tone than her previous two novels “Five Days Left” and “Untethered.”

“(‘Mrs. Saint’) has quite a bit more humor than those books,” said Timmer. “However, it is still very much in line with those books in terms of the themes I like to write about: family dynamics, parenting issues, ethical issues, and ‘families of choice’ as opposed to families related by blood/DNA.”

Timmer has an undergraduate degree in exercise physiology from McMaster University in Ontario and a juris doctorate in law from Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Currently, Timmer works as in-house counsel for wheel manufacturer Maxion Wheels in Novi. She lives in Ann Arbor with her husband Dan, and has two children and two stepchildren.

In “Mrs. Saint,” a 40-something woman named Markie suffers a very public and humiliating fall from grace: she’s divorced, broke, and her career’s in shambles. She and her teenage son Jesse move to a new town to start anew. However, their quirky, nosy yet well-meaning neighbor, Angeline St. Denis – the titular Mrs. Saint – and her ragtag band of people called the “defectives” gets into Markie’s business. Mrs. Saint has big plans for Markie, wanting to mend her broken spirit, whether she wants her help or not.

“I like to emphasize quirky characters, secrets, second chances, and redemption,” said Timmer. “For me, the tone springs organically from the characters and the story. I don’t sit down with an intended tone in mind – it comes naturally, once I begin writing. This story and these characters informed a lighter, sometimes comedic tone, so I went with it.”

According to Timmer, Markie is loosely based on herself after her first marriage ended and she became a single mother.

“I wanted to write about what it’s like for a single mom to navigate the challenges of raising a son. I also wanted to address the responsibility some single mothers feel with regard to the emotional health of not only our children, but our exes,” said Timmer. “Markie blames herself for what has become of her life, and she is filled with shame. For this reason, she moves (to a new town), where she plans to lick her wounds in private and not make any new friends or even take an interest in anyone other than herself and her son. Unfortunately for her, (Markie’s) bungalow is next door to Mrs. Saint’s house, and the older woman refuses to take ‘I’d rather be left alone’ for an answer.”

In turn, “Mrs. Saint” was inspired by Timmer’s neighbor in Ann Arbor, who died five years ago. Timmer described this woman as a “wonderfully generous caring person.” Her surname began with “St.,” so she asked people to call her “Mrs. Saint.”

“The real Mrs. Saint was nothing like her fictional counterpart. In the book, Mrs. Saint is cantankerous, nosy, and bossy. Our neighbor was nothing like that. What they did have in common is generosity, elegance, and the low wooden fence,” she said. “There is a low wooden fence that separates our two properties, and with regularity, Mrs. Saint would step over the fence to see us.

She was often dressed very formally, but this never kept her from coming into our yard, where she would be set upon immediately by our two big, slobbery, dirty Labrador.” 

Timmer continued: “(Mrs. Saint) frequently brought them bones that she had picked up especially for them at the butcher, and when I would shriek at the dogs to get their muddy paws off her expensive, cream-colored slacks, Mrs. Saint would wave off my concern and say she cared far more about the dogs than she did about her clothes. She was older – her children are my age – and she was a wealth of information about raising children and keeping up a household and garden. But she didn’t help only my family – she assisted many, many others in our city as well, through volunteer work and other activities.”

As for the defectives, they are a group of people who were defeated by life until Mrs. Saint hired them to work around her house, giving them a second chance. There’s a gardener, a cook, a housekeeper, and a handyman. In the latter’s case, there is something peculiar about his relationship with the other hired help and Mrs. Saint herself, which intrigues Markie, despite the fact that she’s determined to take an interest in other people.

“Mrs. Saint keeps (the handyman’s) secret, as well as many about her own life from Markie, and this drives Markie crazy,” said Timmer. “Mrs. Saint keeps many secrets, all of which are revealed only at the very end of the book. It was a challenge to keep the secrets alive throughout the chapters in a way that would keep readers engaged and curious while not making them feel frustrated or manipulated.”

“Mrs. Saint” has received advanced praise from Kirkus Reviews, as well as two of Timmer’s fellow Michigan-based authors: Camille Noe Pagán and Lori Nelson Spielman.

“Warm, witty, and with the most satisfying ending I’ve read in years, (‘Mrs. Saint’) is absolutely delightful. This novel won’t just keep you turning the pages; it will inspire you to be a better person,” said Pagán, of Ann Arbor, author of “Life and Other Near-Death Experiences.”

Spielman, of Lansing, author of “The Life List” and “Sweet Forgiveness” called Timmer’s latest novel “the feel good book of the summer.”

“I savored every page of this delicious novel. Charming and poignant, funny and wise, (‘Mrs. Saint’) is perfect for fans of Fredrik Backman and Anne Tyler,” said Spielman. 

Although the book’s publication date is Aug. 1, it’s also a Kindle First selection for July, meaning it’s available until Monday, July 31, for free to Amazon Prime members and at a discounted price to Kindle First members.

“I always enjoy the research phase of my novels, and that was definitely true for this one,” said Timmer. “I also loved the character of Mrs. Saint, and I adored each of the so-called defectives, so I was always happy to spend time with each of them on the page. The change in tone made this project unique, too, and I liked that aspect of it. And, of course, knowing I would dedicate the book to my former neighbor made it a labor of love from the start.”

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