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CURIOUS KITTY

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Emily Lime is walking up Bedford Avenue. She is wearing black jeans and a long-sleeved black T-shirt that just covers the blue zipper tattooed on her wrist.

"The tattoo is something she deeply regrets."

And so begins the story of Emily Lime, struggling photographer, Williamsburg resident and the heroine of "Solos," the latest novel by Kitty Burns Florey.

Published by Berkley Books in August, "Solos" is as much an ode to the Brooklyn neighborhood known for its artistically inclined residents as it is about a few of the characters that inhabit it. Williamsburg was the author’s first New York home and her present address is only minutes away, in Greenpoint, where she lives with her second husband, painter Ron Savage, to whom her new book is dedicated.

"These are two of the most quirky and lovable neighborhoods in the city, and I tried to do justice to them in ’Solos,’" Florey posted on her Web site, KittyBurnsFlorey.com.

Just as quirky and lovable are Florey’s characters: animal-loving, word-obsessed and realistically depicted Williamsburgers. And these are not the 20-something hipsters that first come to mind at the mere mention of the 11211 ZIP code. Instead, Florey zeros in on a side of Williamsburg overshadowed by the neighborhood’s hype. "Solos" captures the essence of the community - a combination of antique and modern, young and old, Polish immigrants, artists, dentists, landlords and dog walkers. It’s similar to the Williamsburg the author fell in love with when she first moved there 10 years ago.

"I wanted to write about the sense of community and how people depend on each other," Florey told GO Brooklyn. "I wanted to get across that they’re a truly tight group."

The protagonist of "Solos," Emily Lime, is a 36-year-old divorcee, who lives in a humble loft on the fifth floor of a converted spice factory with her dog, Otto, and her cockatiel, Izzy. Lacking success in matters of both romance and finance, Emily finds comfort in the company of her pets, her friends and especially her dog sitter, Marcus Mead.

The idea for "Solos" came to Florey when she was walking down the street on the way to her day job at Muze Inc., where she works as senior fiction editor.

"There were a bunch of dogs looking and waiting [in front of a coffee shop] for the dog walker," Florey said. She was amazed at and amused by the bond between the dog walker and the group of dogs he takes care of.

Emily and Marcus - both proud of their ZIP code - share an almost compulsive obsession with words and word games; they have frequent Scrabble dates and use palindromes in casual conversation. Throughout the course of the novel, it becomes evident that the two main characters not only share a love of words but also a secret love for one another.

But a series of obstacles stand in their way. Aside from being 16 years her junior and the son of Emily’s ex-husband, Marcus appears to be asexual. To make matters worse, his father promises Marcus a tempting financial reward for killing Emily.

From the title of the novel to the years during which the story takes place (1991 and 2002), Florey indulges in extensive wordplay - particularly the use of palindromes. While some of the palindromes, like the chapter headings "Step on no pets" and "He lived as a devil, eh?," were gleaned from Web sites like www.palindromes.org and www.wordways.com, the main character’s name, Emily Lime, was Florey’s own invention.

"I was very proud of myself for thinking that one up," said Florey.

But her primary interest lies in people. She says she is amazed by the fact that so many different individuals live in the same city.

"I am very interested in creating characters," said Florey. "If I have created characters that come alive, then I know that I have succeeded."

Fellow writer and Florey friend Jane Schwartz told GO Brooklyn, "There’s just a humanness in her characters that is missing in most contemporary works." Schwartz is particularly impressed with Florey’s "observation of the neighborhood [in ’Solos’] and how people meet and judge each other."

There seem to be bits and pieces of Florey scattered throughout "Solos" - starting with Emily’s loft. That irresistible view of the Manhattan skyline from the converted spice factory lured the author to Brooklyn from New Haven, Conn.

Like Emily, the author had a friend who lived in the neighborhood and who introduced her to the "’A Tree Grows in Brooklyn’ territory," as Florey calls it. That friend was Judith Maniatis, a Williamsburger since 1982, whom the author occasionally consulted when she was creating her setting for "Solos." And like Emily, Florey has a soft spot for animals.

"Kitty is weak about her cats," Maniatis told GO Brooklyn.

Traces of Florey come through in other characters as well. Marcus is not the only New York Times crossword puzzle ace with a phonebook fetish.

"[Kitty] does crosswords in ink, just to let you know," said Maniatis of her author friend who uses the phone book as a source of interesting names for characters.

According to her biggest fan, her only child, Katherine, a recent law school graduate, Florey is a "public writer," open to ideas and input from others.

"When she would write about a younger person she would ask me for details like what kind of music they listen to," said Katherine.

Katherine recalls her mother’s long morning walks around the neighborhood, when she would think about her writing and get inspiration.

"She would notice detail other people do not see," she said. When it comes to her writing style, Katherine describes her mother as very disciplined.

"Normally, she’s a nine-to-five kind of writer," Katherine said.

When Florey, who was born an only child in upstate Syracuse, NY, was asked at the age of 8 or 9 what she wanted to be when she grew up, she answered: "a writer." Today, at the age of 61, Florey says it is her compulsion to turn things into fiction. When she sees people on the subway, Florey says, she imagines what their lives could be like.

"I can’t not write. I write all the time," she said.

Florey writes daily in her diary, which she has kept since she was 10 years old.

"I am an obsessive writer and I have a bad memory, so a diary is very useful," she said. "It’s also good for winning arguments."

"Solos" is Florey’s eighth published novel; others include "Souvenir of Cold Springs" (Counterpoint Press, 2001) and "Five Questions" (Time-Warner Books, 2001). So that she doesn’t "start from nothing," Florey has a "new book" file where she places notes about things she sees or hears, like phrases, quotes or people’s names and descriptions.

"Your ears might show up in a book one day," she said. "You never know."

Florey, who says she does not watch television and reads every chance she gets, says that she wakes up every morning looking forward to what the day will bring.

"I produce more words every year than I probably should, in the form of books, diaries, e-mails, letters and essays," said the writer, who finds it difficult to experience something without wanting to write about it.

"I’m some kind of combination of a very practical, focused, hard-working person and a daydreaming layabout and lazy good-for-nothing," Florey said. "Maybe this is what a writer needs to be!"


"Solos" by Kitty Burns Florey (Berkley Books, $14) is available at, or can be ordered through, The Bookmark Shoppe [6906 11th Ave. at 69th Street in Dyker Heights (718) 680-3680], BookCourt [163 Court St. at Dean Street in Cobble Hill, (718) 875-3677] and Barnes & Noble [267 Seventh Ave. at Sixth Street in Park Slope, (718) 832-9066].

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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