Avoiding Disaster, Plotting Poisoning

Lyme couple takes different tacks while self-publishing books

By Sharma Howard, Times Arts Editor

Its fleshy arms unabashedly reaching for the sun, the night- blooming cereus sprawls its limbs in Ann Kloman's little greenhouse. The plant grows like a weed, has a lanky, succulent cactus look and seems oblivious to the dislike of its owner.

"It stinks," said Ann, who has featured the plant prominently in her newly released murder mystery, "Swannsong."

The plant casts off a pendulous night bloom every couple of years - hardly worth the wait, in Ann's opinion, because the smell can be cloying.

But plant aficionados nurse it along anyway, the challenge of making it bloom too much of a temptation.

Both retired, Ann and Henry Felix Kloman of Lyme share a love of writing, and both released their self-published books at the same time.

While Ann prefers murder mysteries, Felix continues to concentrate on risk management, and his book, "Mumpsimus Revisited," is a collection of selected essays he has written on the subject since 1974. Felix, who founded his own risk-management consulting firm, also launched the periodical for which he wrote the essays - proving to be a dedicated writer and financial philosopher.

The couple decided to self-publish the books with the company Xlibris, knowing full well the difficulties of breaking into the publishing world.

"It was a first-class experience," said Felix, who said he has already sold enough copies to cover the expense of printing.

They intend to self-publish again, and Ann, a petite woman who possesses a rapier wit along with a passion for writing, gardening, painting and singing, has already written her second mystery and is in the process of editing the first draft.

"I had no intention of publishing it at all," said Ann of her book, which takes place in Maine, where the couple have vacationed for 50 years.

"The time it would take to get a publisher, we decided it would be more fun to self-publish and see how it goes around locally," explained Felix, who complements his wife with a quiet, focused presence, clearly proud and supportive of her work.

He looks warily into the kitchen where she cooks, adjacent to the small greenhouse she planned when she designed the house where the couple has lived since 1994.

"It's a little disturbing, her interest in poison," he said, pointing in a hushed whisper to the kitchen. "And there's the book on poison right there."

"There are so many ways to poison a person with a plant from your garden," said Ann, who asks doctors all the time how to kill people.

All of her writing, she said, has been dramatic.

She began writing at age 7; like Felix, who industriously ran his school newspaper, Ann's interest in writing came early.

But her teachers, she said, reacted a bit wearily to her work.

"They said, 'Ann, can't you write something pleasant,'" she recalled.

Even now, in the local writer's group run by Sylvia Marsh of Old Lyme, a person is killed off at the end of every assignment.

Her book "Swannsong" revolves around a dysfunctional family experiencing the painful decay of old money. The setting is a small Maine town - complete with the type of local characters endearing in a very grating way that are the hallmark of true New Englanders.

Felix has been vacationing in Maine since childhood. His father was an Episcopal minister who finally, under the pressure of his wife, bought a small vacation home in Tenants Harbor, Maine. Since then, Felix and other family members have also bought homes in the same radius, making it, as Ann points out, "sort of like a poor Kennedy compound."

The couple has four children and nine grandchildren, so the summers are brimming with family - a blessing the couple acknowledge often.

Many people, said Ann, have bought her book out of curiosity, to see if they can find a character in the book they recognize, but, as often as not, authors opt for composites.

"People wanted to know who's who - they all bought it. They wanted to know who I killed off and why," said Ann of people in the small Maine community who purchased her book.

"When I read the book, I couldn't identify one person who was arguably Mr. X. The characters are created by using bits and pieces," said Felix.

And one fun part of writing the book, said Ann, was crafting the heroine, to whom she attributed qualities she wished she had.

"Swannsong" has a keen eye for characters and moves quickly. The main character, Hannah, both observant and irreverent, is stuck in the thick of the old family squabbles. Her friend and assistant, Thea, is blind - the result of a brain injury from an accident. Thea complements Hannah's bristly ways with a more gentle presence, an interesting character who is vulnerable, yet very strong.

Her blindness and her knowledge of botany reflect interests of the author.

Ann studies Braille, and was a botany student in college.

Originally working on a pre-medical degree, Ann, who planned on going into forensic medicine, was asked to leave the lab in which she was working when she became pregnant.

She eventually moved on to a successful career as an architect, yet forensics and medicine will always remain a passion.

Felix, who started out in the insurance business in New York, moved the family to Darien to start his own risk- management consulting firm.

When he began the firm in 1974, he also started writing the Risk Management Reports, a subscription periodical that covered such topics as worker retention, worker's compensation, social responsibility, investment income and insurance bidding. His book, "Mumpsimus Revisited," selects the best of the essays that are still pertinent today.

Felix writes on risk management in an easy, flowing manner. He uses sports analogies, such as his passion for rowing, to drive his points home.

His writing is graceful and thoughtful, and expresses the thoughts of a person who possesses a keen mind for philosophy and a conscience for social responsibility.

His title refers to a monk who was caught saying the Eucharist incorrectly - using the phrase "quod in ore mumpsimus." The correct word was actually "sumpsimus."

The monk stated he would continue to say "mumpsimus," as that was what he was used to.

But in business, said Felix, change and flexibility are key.

"Sometimes you have to do a 180-degree turn," he said.

Felix has certainly moved with the times. Since his retirement in 1993 from the successor firm of his consultancy, he continued to write his essays. He went on to found Seawrack Press in 1994 to publish it, and now distributes it in an online format.

Risk management, said Felix, is a way of looking into the future to try to determine expected outcomes - whether they be favorable or negative -- and to take action to accentuate the positives and eliminate the negatives.

"It's great fun," said Felix of writing on risk management, adding that he will "always keep his finger in the pot" when it comes to analyzing the complex world of business.

Both "Swannsong" and "Mumpsimus Revisited" can be found at Barnes and Noble, Amazon and Xlbris.

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