Three authors discussed their latest books April 26 at the Woodway Country Club in Darien during New Canaan's American Association of University Women's annual luncheon.

Authors Ellen Feldman, Dorothy Wickenden and Brad Parks spoke passionately about their careers as writers and their new projects.

Wickenden, the current executive editor of the New Yorker, discussed her book "Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West." The book tells the story of Wickenden's grandmother, Dororthy Woodruff and her friend, Rosamond Underwood, who left New York in 1916 to become teachers out in the Rocky Mountains. Much of the research was drawn from letters her grandmother and Rosamond had written home during that time.

"I wanted to write the story of these two dramatically different cultures coming together," Wickenden said, referring to the privileged East Coast girls melding with the rural and wild West Coast. In fact, as Wickenden explained, not only did the girls not know anything about living out in the west, but they didn't know very much about teaching either.

"As my grandmother wrote in her oral history, `It began to frighten us very much. We knew not the slightest thing about teaching. Absolutely nothing,'" she said.

However, the girls end up caring for their students and the way of life out West and with some time, history revealed they did indeed make a difference. One of their students Louis Harrison, who used to break the trail for them every morning, found success as an adult.

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"He went on to go to college and graduate school in a time when 10 percent of American students even graduated from high school," Wickenden said. "And in 1957 he became the chief forester in the state of Missouri. So what an American success story. Just absolutely stunning and I was really inspired by that."

Feldman's book, "Next to Love," discusses the lives of three women, all childhood friends, whose lives are turned upside down by World War II.

"Because I write fiction, I like to talk about the stories behind a novel," Feldman said. "And there were two inspirations for `Next to Love.'"

She said the first came from Bedford, Va., where a group of young men called the Bedford Boys enlisted for the war by joining the National Guard. They were in the first wave of young men that hit the beach on D-Day and 23 of them died. Since they came from a small town of 3,200 people, the loss was felt throughout the community. Feldman was inspired by the telegrams that were used to tell the wives and families of their deaths.

"The second inspiration came from two women, both of whom lost their husbands in the war," Feldman said. "They both reacted in diametrically opposed ways. I was just fascinated by the way they reacted. One of them remarried almost immediately. I'm not suggesting she didn't grieve, but she said she had seen too many people bury themselves with their husbands and `I'm not going to do this.'"

The other woman, Feldman said, did not tell her daughter about her father's death. She had never seen her father's face until she was 15 years old and stumbled onto a picture of him.

"It was fascinating, I thought, that these two women who went through the same experience reacted to it in such diametrically opposed ways," Feldman said.

The third author, Brad Parks, discussed the third book in a series about a fictional crime-fighting newspaper reporter named Carter Ross titled "The Girl Next Door."

The series has been focused on mystery and crime and Parks took the time to discuss how a sports reporter like himself eventually veered into becoming a full-time novelist.

"I had a great time all through my 20s as a sports writer. But then I turned 30. I'd been spending about 120 nights a year in a hotel room. I got married. Suddenly this was not going to be really conducive to family life," Parks, who has written for the Washington Post and Newark-Star Ledger, said. "So I switched over to the news side. My very first assignment was a quadruple homicide. Four people shot in the back of the head and left for dead in a vacant lot on the south part of Newark."

Parks explained how in sports he could always write with no loose ends hanging. Every game or scenario had a beginning, middle and end with various twists and turns along the way.

"Now all of sudden here is this story where we don't know what happened here. We don't know how these people knew people knew each other. We certainly don't know why they were killed and we definitely don't know who done it," Parks said. "It was truly a mystery and unlike all those sporting events that I covered, time went along and months went by and we still didn't know who did it. So one day I just say at my laptop and thought, well I'm going to tell the story of what really went on in that vacant lot."

And that is how Parks' career as a mystery novelist began.

The event was co-sponsored by Elm Street Books and all three novels by these authors can be found there. The proceeds from the even went towards the AAUW's Educational Opportunities Fund, which provides scholarships for women in the U.S. and worldwide.

pjha@bcnnew.com; 203-972-4413; www.twitter.com/pjhancnews.com