The Entrepreneurial Ortons Are Impressed With Marie’s Business and Story-Building
Cabot Orton was a bit apprehensive. Just how risqué, he wondered, would this book inspired by his family’s Vermont Country Store be?
Fortunately for the family reputation, Marie’s Green Mountain Series of books turned out to be “charming and sweet-natured” while still packing her hallmark hot romance. “We thought it was really flattering, actually, that she would think of us as a role model for her stories,” Cabot said recently.
Cabot, 46, and his brothers, Eliot, 43, and Gardner, 44, as well as their father, Lyman, are collectively proprietors of the store that has been owned and continuously operated by their family since 1946, when Lyman was five years old. Lyman’s parents, Vrest and Mildred, sent out the store’s catalog in 1945 to people on their Christmas card list. The catalog offered 36 products. The following year the brick and mortar store opened. Today, the Ortons send out tens of millions of catalogs with hundreds of products each year, connecting to customers from around the world.
It was just this quaint hometown story of a family-owned country store in the mountains of Vermont that piqued Marie’s interest when she saw the story on the NBC Nightly News. She knew she needed to visit, and once she did, she was hooked on the story and began her research in earnest.
Part of that research entailed going to the store for some retail therapy and later, meeting Cabot and Eliot for lunch in late 2013 when the first book, All You Need Is Love, was already written. Cabot recalls he and his brother having lunch with Marie at the Bryant House Restaurant next door to the Vermont Country Store’s Weston location. Marie told them about her passion for writing a story inspired by their store. She already had an entire town full of characters and happily every afters mapped out in her head. Marie’s series features the Green Mountain Country Store, which is owned by the Abbotts and their ten children. She plans to write a book about each of the children as well as their eight Coleman cousins, all of who live and work in or near her fictional town of Butler, Vermont, located in the state’s Northeast Kingdom.
“It was entertaining and amusing to hear that she had created an alternative universe, a romantic version of the Vermont Country Store,” Cabot says.
And when he later read All You Need Is Love, he said it was “weird” and “surreal”—in a nice way, of course—to see his family and their store reflected in a genre that’s “so far from our daily reality,” adding that his family member’s lives aren’t quite as dramatic, exciting or romantic.
He’s amazed by her reader following. “In a sense, that’s what we’re all trying to do, connect through telling good stories and putting something out there that people in the world can identify with and relate to that helps them embellish their own day-to-day reality. She’s done an amazing job with that.” He says that what Marie has accomplished is “astonishing,” particularly because she was not a fiction writer in her earlier professional life when she was a reporter and communications director for a national nonprofit. It’s also amazing how prolific she is, he says.
When asked if his life has changed since becoming involved with Marie’s Green Mountain series of books, Cabot’s quick to respond: “I should lie and say I’ve gotten love letters from all over the world. I can’t say I have, but that doesn’t mean I don’t remain hopeful.” (For all you FanGirls, Cabot and Gardner are bachelors, while Eliot is married.)
Lyman hadn’t heard of Marie and her writing success before meeting with her. When his sons told him about Marie’s intentions, however, he quickly came up to speed on her success. Now that he knows her he thinks she’s “terrific.” When Marie and her son came to the Weston store in November, during late leaf-peeper season, for a book signing, Lyman put Jake to work handing out VCS bags so shoppers could free up their hands for more shopping. Lyman said Jake was a good sport, like his mom. Maybe Jake could have a summer job there, he jokes.
Lyman has spoken with Dan, Marie’s husband, on some of the trips the family has taken to Vermont. Dan’s told Lyman about Marie’s publishing ups and downs. Lyman compliments her entrepreneurial spirit and says, “I give her and her family credit for making it all work.”
Lyman said he gets a kick out of watching Marie interact with readers, those that were there by design as well as those who came by happenstance but were eager to learn more about her books. Lyman was recruited to sign books, too, when readers realized they were meeting the real-life Lincoln Abbott.
While Lyman hasn’t read all of Marie’s books yet, he’s ready to settle in for a typically chilly Vermont winter with all of them by his side “to get the whole drift” of what they’re about. “I’ll have to be one of the men that gets converted over to romance.”
When asked if he takes a lot of ribbing over his store and his family being the inspiration for hot romance, he said he doesn’t.
“It makes for great talk at dinner parties” that often result in him bringing new readers into the Marie fold.
Marie has thoroughly enjoyed her friendship with the Orton family as well as the many wonderful employees at the Vermont Country Stores who have become friends over the last few years. “I love the Orton family’s story and how they’ve built Vrest and Mildred’s catalog into a hugely successful business that attracts people from all over the world to beautiful Vermont. I can’t think of a more inspiring story to write about than one of good old Yankee ingenuity that led to great success.
“The Ortons have been extremely good sports about allowing me to fictionalize their story as I write the Green Mountain books, and they’re always so welcoming when I get back to the stores to sign books. I’ve also introduced a lot of my readers to the VCS catalog, and many of them have ventured to Vermont to check out the stores for themselves. It’s been an amazing partnership for all of us, and I look forward to continuing the series—and my relationship with VCS and the Ortons—for many years to come! And to anyone who is wondering, don’t let Eliot tell you that he’s on the cover of All You Need Is Love. That’s a rumor he started.”
by Cheryl Serra, Marie’s director of publicity—and one of her bridesmaids 23 years ago!