STONINGTON — In a dark green, cozy room decorated with icons, books, poetry and antiques, Lara Ehrlich sat at a large table, while her puppy, Cocoa, slept in a chair nearby.
“I have leaves over there that will expand the table by multiple feet. I think it’ll seat 10 to 12 people,” said Ehrlich, who plans to teach classes and hold events at Thought Fox Writers Den, her new writing center and retail shop located in the Velvet Mill.
Ehrlich, 42, is the author of “Animal Wife,” a book of short stories, and an editor and writing teacher. She runs a podcast called “Writer Mother Monster” and has worked as the director of marketing for the International Arts Festival in New Haven.
She had always held a full-time job while writing on the side, but in January she made a decision to combine all of her side hustles – fiction, manuscript consultations, freelance writing and editing, teaching – into one package.
“I thought, how can I put all of those things together into a full-time workload and make those central to what I do? That’s where Thought Fox came in. It seemed like a great umbrella to bring all of those ventures under,” she told CT Examiner during a visit to her space on June 6.
Ehrlich’s business is not only about promoting community and literary citizenship and encouraging writers, she said, but also creating a space for them to connect on works in progress and published pieces.
“I always wanted to be a writer and wrote half-finished novels, pages in journals, just everything. But it felt like actually finishing something, much less publishing something, was sort of ambiguous and out of reach,” she said.
She said she wrote a novel for her college thesis. “It wasn’t a great novel, but it was a novel,” she added.
But Ehrlich kept writing and submitted work for publication.
“The only thing I could think of to do was to send stories to the New Yorker in a big envelope that I decorated with stickers and cartoons,” she said. “And none of them obviously were published.”
After college, Ehrlich made her way to the Midwest Writers Conference at Ball State University, where she sought information on how to finish a manuscript, get an agent and become a published author.
“They had agent time slots where you could chat with an agent. They had workshops on doing your taxes as a freelancer and as a writer. They had craft classes. I made friends with people who were also writing novels and hadn’t published anything yet,” she said. “So it made it feel tangible and that there was a path that had started to take shape toward publication.”
From there, Ehrlich “took classes and workshops everywhere,” from GrubStreet in Boston to Story Studio in Chicago. She later advanced to programs like Tin House, Pioneer Valley Writers Workshop and Bread Loaf.
“And then after publishing ‘Animal Wife’ in 2020, my short story collection, I felt like I had some credentials now and I could start teaching,” she said. “I think it was more that I needed that confidence. … Now that I had this book, I could reach out to places and say, ‘I’m a published author, I’d like to teach.’”
She began teaching at the places where she had been taking classes.
“I became a fellow at Breadloaf and taught a workshop there. It was really just getting a lot of experience as a teacher for other writers and becoming more like a mentor, a supporter of other writers,” she said.
Ehrlich grew up in downtown Mystic, attended Boston University for her undergraduate degree and University of Chicago for graduate school, where she met her husband. They lived in Chicago for a few years, moved to the Berkshires and then Boston, until landing in the Stonington area before the pandemic with their now 6-year-old daughter.
She rented space at the Velvet Mill in April and began furnishing it, envisioning a place for writing classes and workshops, events like author readings, and a retail shop.
“It was a completely white space. I was definitely going for an old study, like an old smoking lounge, but with an edge. So I’m hoping that it feels comfortable but also contemporary, and that people can come in and be inspired and also find community,” she said.
Hanging on a wall next to the secretary’s desk was a poster of “Thought Fox,” a poem by Ted Hughes.
“It’s a poem about inspiration. He likens inspiration to a fox sort of creeping out of the woods in the snow and … it’s tentative, and it’s wild, and I love the idea,” she said. “I wanted something as well, just from a branding point of view, that had a strong image and would lend itself to a logo and a brand.”
After her experiences with teaching virtual classes during the pandemic, Ehrlich said creating an in-person space was essential.
“People are really eager to be back in person and create community and move away from Zoom a little bit,” she said. “I know I have the experience and the skills and the network to make this successful. And I am hoping that the whole ‘If you build it, they will come’ concept will come into play here.”
Since opening a few weeks ago, Ehrlich said people have already signed up for classes.
“They seem to respond to the space in a positive way. People come in, and they’re like, ‘I want to hang out here,’ which is exactly the goal,” she said.
And she’s still working on her own writing, including a novel that her agent is currently shopping to publishers.
“We’re starting to hear little bits and pieces, so fingers crossed for that, and I’m just working on the next one,” Ehrlich said.
For information on classes, events and writing services at Thought Fox Writers Den, visit thoughtfox.org