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Murder, Secrets, Motherhood: Second Novel by West Hartford Authors Explores Off-Season Martha’s Vineyard

Krista Wells (left) and Nicole Moleti celebrate the publication of "The Vineyard Remains." Photo credit: Ronni Newton

‘The Vineyard Remains,’ the second novel by West Hartford authors Nicole Moleti and Krista Wells, was published by Amazon’s Lake Union Publishing this spring, just in time to earn a spot in your beach bag or carry-on.

“The Vineyard Remains,” the second novel by West Hartford authors Nicole Moleti and Krista Wells, under the pen name “Addison McKnight,” has been released. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

By Ronni Newton

What happens on the Vineyard stays on the Vineyard – or does it?

Most of those who visit Martha’s Vineyard in-season come to know the island, which is 28 miles off the coast of Cape Cod, as an idyllic vacation refuge where swimming, boating, beach picnics, and fine dining are the activities de rigueur – with maybe the scariest moments coming when their children decide they are old enough to jump off the “Jaws Bridge.”

Nicole Moleti and Krista Wells – West Hartford residents and authors who write together under the pen name “Addison McKnight” and who together have a total of six jobs and six children between them – have published their second novel, a thriller that explores the “dark” side of the exclusive island’s year-round population through the eyes of two women who have come to live there for very different reasons, and whose lives are forever intertwined through secrets and tragedy.

As with their first novel, “An Imperfect Plan,” each woman formed the voice of one of the main characters, and wrote those chapters. But just as the authors’ own vastly different past experiences with the Vineyard colored their initial impressions of the island, the characters lives are woven together amid the distinct on- and off-season lifestyle in a community that has a shadowy side often unseen through the rose-colored glasses through which most outsiders view Martha’s Vineyard.

“Most think of it as a place where presidents vacation, but our book shows the dark underbelly. The year-round island is revealed,” Wells said.

Among the guests at the book launch of “The Vineyard Remains” were Jane Shauck (left) and her husband, Michael Shauck (second from right), owners of Iris Photography, who pose with Nicole Moleti (second from left) and Krista Wells (right). Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The book was published in March and about 50 people attended a book launch at Wells’ West Hartford home but the pair – with dozens of friends and family members accompanying them – journeyed to Martha’s Vineyard to appropriately hold their first official signing on Memorial Day Weekend at Edgartown Books in conjunction with the start of the summer season.

“This book is half women’s fiction, half psychological suspense,” said Moleti. While there are many books set in the Vineyard, and many authors who live there, “There aren’t a lot of thrillers,” Wells added.

The brief synopsis, from Amazon: “A desperate murder committed by Angela Miller’s mother tore Angela’s life apart and brought her to Martha’s Vineyard to live with her wealthy grandparents. It’s where her cousin, Kiki King, was born and raised, and Kiki now wants nothing more than to see the world beyond its sandy perimeter. Kiki’s mother escaped it. She took a late-night swim off Tashmoo Beach and was never seen again. Once bound by broken childhoods, Angela and Kiki have grown up divided—by their obsessions, their love for the same man, and their own conflicted journeys of motherhood. But when a small box of bones is unearthed in the woods, Angela and Kiki discover there’s so much more to learn about each other, their families, and the dark side of the picturesque island they call home. It’s time for Angela and Kiki to expose their secrets, to finally end a cycle of family drama and anguish, and to forgive and make peace with the past on their own terms.”

Nicole Moleti at the book launch for “The Vineyard Remains” in March. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The story itself is completely fictitious, but the issues that form the basis of the storyline are not so far-fetched. “Like any island, Martha’s Vineyard does have a high incidence of abuse, of addiction,” Moleti said. The way people felt during COVID, stuck at home and unable to escape, is how people on an isolated island can feel any time, particularly when the community shrinks during the off-season.

“They depend on those couple of months. A lot of people depend on that tourism industry,” said Moleti, and that adds to the pressure of being a year-round resident in a place like Martha’s Vineyard.

Wells and Moleti decided to set their second Addison McKnight novel on Martha’s Vineyard – the first was set in Connecticut – because it was a place both already knew, and both found the topics it addresses interesting.

“I always went there as a summer visitor,” Wells said.

Krista Wells at the book launch for “The Vineyard Remains” in March. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Moleti, however, had worked for an organization called Time for Life, and would also go to the Vineyard off-season to arrange programs for children with cancer and their families. “It was very different from Krista’s luxury experience,” she said.

One summer she was there with the Time for Life Program she was very pregnant with her oldest son, and she also experienced the positive sense of community that the year-rounders have – but also the uniqueness of being on an island. She was told, “If you go into labor we know the doctor and we’ll open the hospital for you,” Moleti recalled. She found the postage-stamp-sized hospital (it’s now been expanded and updated) “scary,” along with the idea that it wasn’t a slick 24/7/365 operation.

The hospital became key to the plot, which was their starting point. “We had the hospital idea and we wanted something really scary to happen there,” Moleti said.

“When we were writing we never heard about anything like this happening,” Wells said of the storyline they created.

They went to the Vineyard together as they researched and wrote the book. Wells said they visited the jail. “It’s gorgeous. It’s right on Main Street in Edgartown,” Wells said, and looks like a bed and breakfast.

Vineyard residents gave feedback during the writing process, too. “People were so generous,” she said. Volunteer readers “gave really nitty-gritty details.” Most thought they got the island right, including the amazing pancakes at the ArtCliff Diner.

There are also some off-Vineyard places that will be familiar to local readers, and the Yard Goats also make an appearance.

Chompers, one of the Yard Goats’ mascots, was an invited guest at the book launch of “The Vineyard Remains.” At left is Nicole Moleti and at right is Krista Wells. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

While Moleti and and Wells have lent pieces of themselves and their impressions of Martha’s Vineyard to Angela and Kiki – and the reader can try to figure out who is who – one of the toughest tasks was coming up with the characters’ names. Readers are likely to switch allegiances during the story, and that’s intentional, “as long as you’re rooting for someone,” Moleti said.

“It’s really about friendship and forgiveness. Both suffer childhood trauma and it’s really how they deal with it,” she said. “People make mistakes, and have to go on their own journey.”

“I’m a trauma-informed coach, so I know the signs,” said Wells, who works with military spouses, who often deal with secondary trauma. “Sometimes it comes out in different ways, and not all manifest the same,” she said.

Once they had the hospital as a cornerstone of the plot, other aspects of the story – like having the two women both in love with the same guy – were developed during brainstorming sessions, particularly writing marathons at Blue Plate Kitchen in West Hartford’s Bishops Corner – the spot they chose for this interview.

Krista Wells (left) and Nicole Moleti at Blue Plate Kitchen in West Hartford, where they got together to write and edit “The Vineyard Remains.” Photo credit: Ronni Newton

“We each take a character and do the plot, and then build out the characters from there,” Wells said. Moleti added that she especially likes writing “the bad boy guys.” The island is a character, too.

While “The Vineyard Remains” is not a fairytale view of Martha’s Vineyard, it’s not intended to deter people from visiting. “We hope you feel like you’re there,” said Moleti. “Every single person has said they want to go there,” she said of the early readers.

No spoiler alert needed, but “people enjoy the ending,” Moleti said.

“People really like the ending,” Wells added.

What’s next?

Addison McKnight’s first book, “An Imperfect Plan,” was initially a side hustle for both Wells and Moleti, who first met at a local hair salon and bonded over kids and sports. It was written in a matter of months – often on the sidelines of their kids’ games – and when they ultimately sold it to Amazon’s Lake Union Publishing they got a two-book deal. “The Vineyard Remains” took two years to write. They were happy to slow down, and both are also not only working other full-time jobs but also promoting their first book a the same time.

“You don’t just have your book, you have your brand,” Wells said.

Book No. 3 is in the works. They love their agent, and said their agent loves the books.

“Nicole is a real estate agent and we found it curious that if you buy a house where there is a murder you don’t have to disclose it,” Wells said of the third book. A woman goes for a run and doesn’t return. Her husband puts their house up for sale.

Book No. 3 is a return to Connecticut, set in Old Lyme – the hometown of acclaimed author Luanne Rice, who wrote the blurb for Addison McKnight’s first novel.

And beyond the printed word, Moleti said, “[The Vineyard Remains] we think does have cinematic appeal. It could be a great Netflix series.”

Addison McKnight will host an author talk at the Noah Webster Branch of the West Hartford Public Library on Wednesday, June 12, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. The event is free, but registration is required.

They will also host an author event at the Avon Public Library on Saturday, June 22, from 2 to 3 p.m., and more information can be found here.

More information can also be found on the Addison McKnight website.

“The Vineyard Remains,” the second novel by West Hartford authors Nicole Moleti and Krista Wells, under the pen name “Addison McKnight,” has been released. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

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