After Hurricane Sandy, Cooking Up Comfort, One Soup at a Time

This roasted red pepper and sweet potato soup is one of more than seventy dishes featured in AT WAVE’S END.

Many readers have noted that AT WAVE’S END overflows with food—more than 70 dishes prepared by two chefs between its covers. That’s because when Superstorm Sandy struck the East Coast five years ago today, the event that inspired this novel, cooking was my community’s visceral reaction. Those of us unscathed couldn’t magically rebuild hundreds of homes ruined by sand and ocean water, replace treasured possessions, or relieve financial woes.

We could, however, prepare simple food, and lots of it, so survivors and responders would have one less worry on their plates.

In recent weeks, we have witnessed this same reaction after deadly storms in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. Our town knows all too well the very long and tortured paths survivors of these disasters will tread.

Early on, a request went out in our town for soups. The November weather had turned sharply colder at the Jersey shore, and soups could easily be transported to the battered beachfront. Once the area was deemed safe, residents were allowed to salvage what they could of their flooded possessions while the National Guard patrolled to keep looters at bay.

Like many others, I responded to this call, preparing batches of hearty soups like pasta y fagiole and the hearty roasted vegetable soup featured in this post. It wasn’t much, but by cooking, we felt that we were at least meeting a basic need at a time when so many lives had been upended.

For the next few weeks, volunteers drove up and down the beachfront, ladling soup and serving sandwiches and baked goods from their cars. At the same time, several churches in town opened their doors and began serving breakfast and dinner. As post-storm recovery limped along, these meals offered structure for survivors, a chance to gather and compare notes on families, housing, insurance, government assistance, contractors. Functioning as daily support groups, these communal meals continued long after most had found at least temporary shelter and could conceivably cook for themselves. I plan to write a separate post about those special meals, and the volunteers behind them.

These ongoing contributions served as the inspiration for Faith’s actions in AT WAVE’S END in the aftermath of fictional Hurricane Nadine. Because food played such a crucial role in post-Sandy recovery and healing, I granted it equal billing in my book, allowing Faith and David, two chefs with wildly different styles, free rein in the kitchen of The Mermaid’s Purse. Each came to the inn after suffering the loss of a restaurant at Nadine’s hands. Their presence, along with the irrepressible Connie and a cast of unlikely boarders, transformed that rundown bed-and-breakfast into a shelter for storm survivors.

Now, as my beach town reluctantly bids farewell to an extra-long “Locals Summer,” I plan to share a number of dishes from AT WAVE’S END, starting with this Roasted Red Pepper and Sweet Potato Soup. This Donovan family favorite is the dish that launches Faith and David’s, shall we say, ‘collaboration,’ both in and out of the kitchen.

Prepare, enjoy and, most importantly, share this dish in good health—along with a crusty baguette, a crisp green salad and your heartiest red wine. (Note: David adds his own secret ingredient to this soup, but you’ll have to read the book to find out what it is!)

Roasted Red Pepper and Sweet Potato Soup

INGREDIENTS

4 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
6 red bell peppers, seeded and chopped
2 large yellow onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic
4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
dash crushed red pepper flakes (to taste)
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried parsley
6-8 cups vegetable broth

DIRECTIONS

1. Preheat oven to 425 F. Line two large baking sheets with aluminum foil and lightly coat with cooking spray.

2. In a large bowl, combine sweet potato, red pepper, onion, garlic, olive oil, red pepper flakes, basil, oregano, and parsley. Toss to coat. Season generously with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Spread in an even layer on each prepared baking sheet.

3. Roast in preheated oven for 45-60 minutes, rotating the baking sheets, until the vegetables are tender and golden brown, turning occasionally. Remove from the oven and let cool for several minutes.

4. Working in batches, puree vegetables with vegetable broth in blender or food processor until smooth. (You can add up to a cup of water for a thinner consistency.) Pour mixture into a large pot and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Season to taste with crushed red pepper, salt, and freshly ground black pepper. Serve warm.

Serves 8-10.

(Adapted from ahintofhoney, which first adapted it from Canadian Living)

Order your copy of AT WAVE’S END.

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Roadmap to a Poem: Reluctant Verses from My LOVE Galaxy

The nearest thing to poetry I’ve penned in the last twenty-five years is a set of lyrics for the fictional band Amphibian in my first novel, DELIVER HER. So why embarrass myself by sharing my primitive efforts from a recent poetry workshop I attended?

Because to my surprise, this workshop broke down my resistance. The exercise illustrated that no matter how I define (and therefore constrict) myself as an artist, if I open my mind to a process, I can stretch my creative muscles in directions I never imagined.

(I should know this. I finally began to write fiction after decades of only writing about real things, like software and healthcare.)

Walking into the workshop led by visiting poet Carmen Alicia Murguia, I hadn’t intended to write a single line of poetry. As a member of the Jersey Shore Writers, which sponsored the event, I planned to observe from the sidelines, snap a few photos and serve cake to starving artists.

Step 1: FREE-FLOW.

Carmen opened the workshop by announcing its theme: LOVE, inspired by the wedding she attended the day before. I groaned inwardly. It wasn’t love I objected to, but a writing prompt. Something about a pre-ordained subject paralyzes my creative juices. I leaned against the back wall, secure in my exclusion.

But then Carmen began to describe the transformative role of poetry in her life, sharing some lines she had written only that morning. Before long, her engaging manner and passion for her craft disarmed me. I slipped into an empty seat, pulling the notebook I just happened to have with me from my bag.

Step 2: LOVE MAP.

As a warmup, Carmen asked us to spend a few minutes doing free-flow writing, writing continuously about love, without pausing to self-edit. I wrote haltingly, worried that the sort of love that preoccupied me these days wasn’t the magical, romance novel variety that had inspired poets through the ages but rather a timeworn love for an ailing or aging partner.

 

How would I translate a love that doesn’t shout from the rooftops but rather murmurs words of comfort, into verse?

Carmen would soon show me.

Next, she instructed us to turn to a clean page and write the word “LOVE” at its center. Over the few minutes, we were to surround that hub with all of the things that we loved, from the simple to the sublime. Around me, participants scribbled industriously. I could do this, I thought. I relaxed into the exercise, and before long, an array of pleasures, from husband and family to crisp sheets and Shivasana, radiated from my page’s nucleus.

Maybe poetry wasn’t so painful after all!

Step 3: From that diagram, Carmen asked us to extract several elements and create a haiku. I stared at my LOVE galaxy, wondering which would suit that genre’s three-line rhythm: five syllables, seven syllables, then five again. I played with some, then others, and then suddenly, perhaps because I am on the horizon of a new writing project, I came up with this:

Step 3: HAIKU, with all its warts.

Possibilities
No plans, new page, a sunrise
The future beckons.

I set my pen down to signal I was done. When my turn came, I shared it with the group. Once everyone finished, we applauded, marveling at how much love we each had managed to cram into seventeen syllables.

To close, we would compose an ode to love. Odious, I thought to myself, far from a place at that moment where I could enthuse over or exalt love. At that moment, love and I weren’t on the best of terms. Actually, I hated love. Love was taking all, and then some, from those around me. That day, I needed to put love in its place.

Flipping back on my free-flow expression for inspiration, I managed a few lines:

Oh, Love.
When new, you are so easy, so effortless.
You fill all the spaces.
That satisfies for a time.
But then, complacent, you tease and test,
To measure bonds.
You’re tough, love.

I’m not sure how anyone will interpret that. But that’s the wonderful thing about poetry. It doesn’t have to mean anything, except to you.

Author Cone of Uncertainty: When Life Imitates Art Imitating Life

A pair of hurricanes bookended the launch of AT WAVE’S END.

Waves of doubt washed over me.

It’s one thing to write a book inspired by a hurricane that happened five years ago. That window of time permits a certain amount of healing and perspective. It’s quite another to introduce that newly published novel during the calm between two killer storms.

That’s the quandary I found myself in recently while preparing to introduce my second novel, AT WAVE’S END, at BookTowne, my Jersey shore bookstore. On the one hand, I had earned the right to celebrate this career milestone, and my far-flung family had traveled far to be at my side.

On the other, on that August night, Texas and Lousiana continued to reel from Hurricane Harvey’s impact, while the Caribbean, Florida and regions north girded for the future wrath of Hurricane Irma.

I decided I could not proceed without first acknowledging the pain of the millions in harm’s way. Here are the words I shared at the outset of that evening:

As far as the book I’m talking about tonight, most of you know it’s a story about a hurricane. I’m going to read an excerpt from it in a minute, but before I do that, I want to admit that it’s a bit surreal for me to stand here and talk about my new book in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

I want to take a moment to acknowledge the devastation and overwhelming loss happening in Texas and Louisiana. We’ve all seen the images, and we’ve cried over them, because as a community, we understand. Quite literally, we’ve been in the same boat.

These are horrors many of us experienced with Hurricane Sandy five years ago—if not first-hand, than as a member of a community struck down by the storm. Many in our area are still rebuilding.

Already, there are comparisons of Hurricane Harvey’s impact to that of Sandy’s, or to Katrina’s from twelve years ago. The reality is that the storm’s toll probably won’t be known for years. And the toughest losses, the emotional ones, don’t come with a price tag.

What we do know is that survivors of Harvey have a very long road ahead of them.

If there is one thing from this disaster, and from the ones before, that we can take heart in, it is the generosity of the countless first responders and Good Samaritans who came to their neighbors’ rescue…some from across the street, and some from across the country.

We saw that compassion here, in the days and months after Sandy. Yes, there always will be those that will take advantage of the vulnerable, but these selfless gestures give us hope and restore our faith in mankind… at a time when we sorely need it.

So, yes, AT WAVE’S END is about a hurricane. A hurricane that feels a lot like Sandy did. It HAS to, because I started writing this book during the storm. Thanks to a friend of mine, I had this idea about a woman who wins a bed and breakfast in an essay contest. And as this book gelled in my head, it felt like Connie Sterling WOULD be the ideal innkeeper for the rag-tag Mermaid’s Purse at the Jersey shore… with a little help from her daughter Faith, as usual.

More than the hurricane’s devastation, I wanted AT WAVE’S END to capture the resilience of a community in the wake of tragedy—with a little suspense, mother-daughter drama, romance and loads of delicious food thrown in for good measure.

Fred and June: The Breakfast That Nourished AT WAVE’S END

A simple meal delivered by a young boy in time of need provided crumbs for a novel.

As I explained in my opening post in this series on the journey to AT WAVE’S END, many elements contrived to inspire this story.

The most powerful was Hurricane Sandy, which struck in 2012. I was polishing a draft of DELIVER HER at the time, but as our shore community reeled from the blow, the resiliency of individuals and businesses impacted by the storm struck me. I found their experiences so compelling that I set aside book one to capture them, sometimes as fiction.

“Fred and June” is the first such short story I wrote.

Later, some of these characters showed up in AT WAVE’S END in one form or another, knocking on the door of the fictional bed and breakfast The Mermaid’s Purse. (But did Fred, June or Spence? You’ll have to read the book to find out.)

As August 15 release day rapidly approaches, I wanted to share the seminal story that fed my second novel. An early version appeared online in Page & Spine in 2014 as a runner-up in its ‘Breakfast’-themed writing contest. (This was the first time I was paid for my fiction!)

The Bookends Review published the story two years later.

I hope you enjoy this humble beginning to AT WAVE’S END.

Fred and June

I didn’t want to go that day, but my mother said we were lucky and had to give back. I was fine with just being lucky, but she was feeling all do-goody and dragged me to the church where they were handing out cleaning supplies and clothes and old people in World’s Best Grandma sweatshirts were drinking coffee and telling kids to keep it down. In the kitchen, a lady loaded our summer cooler with hot food coming off a big silver stove.

We were runners, she told us; our job was to deliver meals to the beach, where the storm had hit hardest. At the barricade, I thought it was cool when the National Guard checked off our names and waved us through, but my mother didn’t think it was a list you wanted to be on. These people are in a bad way, she said, driving slow around curbside mountains of trash. “How’d you like to throw out everything you own?” she asked.

I was too busy holding my breath to answer; our car stank from the egg sandwiches in the back. I thought I was just keeping her company until we got to a small white house boxed in by walls of sand, its front door sprayed with a bright orange X. My mother double-checked her paper. “That’s it. 44. Fred and June.” From the back seat she stuffed egg sandwiches, bananas and bottled waters into a plastic bag and shoved it toward me. “Go on.”

I exhaled in protest. “Why do I have to…”

“Don’t argue with me, Spence. These poor people lost everything. And Spence: be polite.”

I was so annoyed I forgot to be nervous. Fred answered the door. He was old—my grandpa old—wearing layers of clothes against the cold: pants tucked into thick white socks that came halfway to his knees, a plaid scarf wrapped around his neck.

I tried to hand him the food at the door and go, but Fred made me come inside. Behind him, in the living room, sparks shot from logs crackling in the fireplace. “What’s your name, son?”

When I told him, he rustled through coffee table newspapers for a scrap of paper, writing down my name with a stubby pencil from his pocket.

In the kitchen, Fred had a saucepan going on every burner, a three-ring circus. “Say hello to June, Spencer.” I raised my hand to the lady at the table. Lit by the sun as she was, June might have been an angel. Everything about her shimmered: snowy hair, pale skin, white nightgown.

“June doesn’t go out any more.” Fred juggled saucepans, pouring this and that on a dish and setting it in front of June, whose clenched hands stayed on her lap. Jumping around the way he was, I was afraid Fred’s scarf would catch fire. In the car, after I said goodbye, I worried he’d forget and leave a burner going.

The next morning, I was in the car before my mother, ducking when she tried to ruffle my hair. I hopped out at number 44, holding my breath until Fred opened the door, taking the day’s offering from me: homemade blueberry muffins, orange juice, hot chicken soup my mother ladled into plastic containers. Fred remembered my name: “Look, June. Spencer’s back.” June, still shimmering by her window, turned to look at me, cocking her head, trying to place me.

School opened again after a couple of weeks. I could only go with my mother on weekends. By then, there were only a few volunteers left at the church. The food they gave us to deliver was store-bought: granola bars, boxes of juice. That Saturday at the beach, a front loader clawed through the sand walls between houses. When I knocked on Fred and June’s door, no one answered. Around the side, I peeked into the kitchen window. Two saucepans sat on Fred’s stove.

Months later, after the soldiers left, I rode my bike up to the beach. I pedaled up and down twice, checking the numbers to be sure I hadn’t made a mistake. All that remained of 44 was a rubbled lot.

Please stay with me on this journey to AT WAVE’S END August 15 release day. I still have a few great memories to share. If you’re not already receiving these updates, please join my regular readers by using the “Subscribe” form to the right.

Missed part one in my “Why Did You Write This Book?” series? Read it here.

Don’t forget to pre-order your copy of AT WAVE’S END.

Why Did I Write AT WAVE’S END? Good Question

My AT WAVE’S END manuscript as a work-in-progress this time last year, on my way to our daughter’s wedding.

A common query for an author during a book’s launch and beyond is “What inspired this book?”

But for many writers, including myself, the ‘story behind the story’ is not always a simple one.

Such is the case with AT WAVE’S END, my second novel releasing August 15. As I’ve come to learn about my writing process after a grand total of two novels, my books tend to originate not from a single idea but rather from a patchwork, or waves (go ahead and insert groan here) of catalogued impressions. These impressions derive from an experience, an overhead conversation, a news story, a found object–each of which I explore thoroughly in my writing.

Eventually, a pair of these, or perhaps three or four, gravitate toward one another, eventually gelling into a novel premise. The rest I store away for future use.

I’ve already described one of AT WAVE’S END’s influences: a “Win A House” essay contest. In my next few posts, I’ll share some other elements that helped to shape AT WAVE’S END: a seminal short story written during a disaster’s aftermath, soul food, an unfortunate bed-and-breakfast stay, holiday cheer for the beleaguered from a flock of spirited volunteers.

I hope you’ll stay with me on this journey to AT WAVE’S END August 15 release day. If you’re not already receiving these updates, please join my regular readers by using the “Subscribe” form to the right.

Read Part 2 of the journey, “Fred and June: The Breakfast That Nourished AT WAVE’S END.”
Pre-order your copy of AT WAVE’S END.

Q&A: Organizing Guru Mary Carlomagno Tests Fiction Waters with Debut Novel

Mary Carlomagno, a bestselling author, organizer, speaker and spokesperson specializing in helping individuals and groups embrace simplicity in everyday life, recently penned her first novel.
I first met bestselling author, organizer and speaker Mary Carlomagno in the seventies, when she was an adorable toddler and I an awkward adolescent. Our families belonged to the same Central Jersey pool club, where we spent long days (and the rare evening) swimming, playing and picnicking. Each day, our mothers would set up their circle of lawn chairs in a grassy corner where they could monitor our comings and goings from the picnic area to the pool. One summer, Mary’s mother Millie patiently taught me to knit and crochet.

Fast-forward forty-five years or so, when Mary and I virtually bumped into each other over at We Heart Writing, where she describes overcoming the fear of writing her first novel, BEST FRIEND FOR HIRE (Post Hill Press, June 2017).

Mary graciously agreed to take a walk down memory lane, compare organizing closets to the chaos of writing fiction, and chat about her debut novel.

PPD: I’m so happy to have you here, Mary. Let’s dive in, shall we? For my family and many others in our neighborhood, our summers revolved around the pool club. I still remember our member number (602), teen “splash parties” at twilight, and passing our coolers through the cutout in the fence to the picnic area. What do you recall about those summers?

Greenbrook Swim Club, where the Carlomagno and Perry families spent many summers.
Mary Carlomagno: I remember being carefree and just having pure fun with my friends. My favorite memories include when we would stay late enough to order pizza from Mr. Assante’s. We would wait for the pool lights to come on, and then we would wash our hair with Herbal Essences shampoo and throw on a terrycloth romper. They were simpler times and memories that lasted a lifetime!

PPD: They absolutely have. And now rompers are back in fashion! In recent years, you’ve made quite a name for yourself as an organizer. For those who may be meeting you for the first time, how did structure and organization become your passion? Did you grow up in an organized household?

Mary Carlomagno: I am very structured and organized naturally and I thought that everyone had that innate ability. As you know, growing up in a larger family, it’s important for the kids to be as organized as the parents. And my mom, as you know, was very disciplined with us and created a healthy structure. Many of the habits she taught me as a child still stick today, like being consistent with cleaning up and leaving things where you know you will find them again.

PPD: You’ve written three books about trying to live a simpler life. What is the most difficult challenge your clients face in trying to attain that goal?

Mary Carlomagno: Most of my clients struggle with the everyday buildup of kids’ homework, outgrown clothing and scheduling. I think there is a tendency today to overdo, to over-schedule and oftentimes to buy too much. Organizing is a daily ritual that must be practiced like other common routines: think exercise, eating right, walking the dog, etc…

PPD: That’s such good advice. How do you apply those organizational strategies to your writing? What does leading a ‘simple life’ mean to a writer? How do you know what to save and what to discard?

Mary Carlomagno: Writing is more about creating chaos that needs to be organized. When I write, I write in a frenzied flow, just getting the words down creatively first. I know I can go back and edit later. That’s where my organizing skills come in the most handy, because organizing is really all about editing.

PPD: I probably already know the answer to this, but when it comes to writing, are you a plotter or a ‘seat of the pants’ writer? Is your approach the same for fiction and non-fiction?

Mary Carlomagno: I approach writing as a bit of a chaos creator. I like to flow in the process, not to be too critical. It’s more important for me to get the words down and pretty them up later.

PPD: After three non-fiction books, you made the leap to fiction this year with your debut novel, BEST FRIEND FOR HIRE. Tell us what prompted you to do this. Was this your ‘novel in a drawer?’

Mary Carlomagno: I had written BEST FRIEND FOR HIRE after my first book and quickly shelved it. I was afraid! My husband finally encouraged me to get the book out of hiding, after I wrote two more organizing books. I was also doing a ton of private client work and wanted to do something more creative with my writing. They say write what you know and for years, I did that. In many ways, BEST FRIEND FOR HIRE is the culmination of all my learnings up until this point as it touches on my early career in book publishing and tackles the crazy world of self-help, where I have been immersed for over ten years.

PPD: The main character in your novel is an organizer of sorts, only in this case she is organizing people. She accidentally stumbles into a career as a professional best friend, by helping friends and strangers straighten out whatever is wrong with their lives. Was that theme intentional?

Mary Carlomagno: The theme was intentional as it draws directly from personal experience! I have had many clients that do want company and someone to ‘hand-hold’ them through the process. I worked in New York City for many years and that can be a very isolating experience for some.

PPD: How does the audience for your novel differ from that of your non-fiction books? Do you have crossover fans?

Mary Carlomagno: This book has brought a new audience, including some that do not know about the non-fiction books, which has been nice! The key thing about the novel is that it be entertaining. I wanted to create a book that makes people laugh and escape for a few hours!

PPD: What’s next on the horizon?

Mary Carlomagno: I am working on selling the option to the movie for BEST FRIEND FOR HIRE. And I still do organizing spokesperson work and workshops, which will continue. I am thinking about the next step for Jesse DeSalvo as well. We usually go hand in hand!

Sounds like things are going swimmingly, Mary! It’s been delightful to reconnect, and I wish you all the best with BEST FRIEND FOR HIRE.

Connect with Mary Carlomagno on Order, Period; her Facebook Author Page; her BEST FRIEND FOR HIRE Facebook page; and onInstagram.

One Month to Release Day, and Novelist Nesting Is Underway

birds nest
This nest atop a speaker on our back porch has sheltered a few families this summer.

My youngest was born in August twenty-three years ago. And while the birth of a book baby pales in comparison to that of a live human, I can report some anxiety and nesting activity in advance of the August 15 arrival of my second book, AT WAVE’S END.

At least my feet aren’t swollen this time!

In any event, with release day less than one month away, you won’t want to miss these AT WAVE’S END giveaways and events:

My publisher is giving away 100 Kindle copies of AT WAVE’S END on Goodreads here. Please remember to add my August release to your Goodreads TBR!

I’m giving away three signed paperback copies of my debut novel, DELIVER HER, on Goodreads here. Enter by July 23, 2017.

Did you know that AT WAVE’S END was inspired in part by a “Win a House” essay contest? Read how this competition led to a novel.

And finally, I’m taking AT WAVE’S END on the road:

Monday, August 21: 6:30 pm, Bethany Beach Books in Bethany Beach, Delaware
Thursday, August 31: 6 pm, BookTowne in Manasquan, NJ.

More dates to come. Event updates here.

One last thing: Thank you for all of your support. None of this would be possible (or worth it) without you, my readers! On that note, I’m looking for several more readers to join my advance review team, or “street” team, as they say in the biz. These readers post honest Amazon and Goodreads reviews in trade for free books, pre-release copies, and other goodies. If you’re interested, leave a comment below with your email address, or email me at patriciapdonovan@gmail.com.

Gratefully,
Patricia

P.S. I encourage you to visit the newly launched Lake Union Authors Facebook page, where my fellow LU authors and I share book news, giveaways, sneak peeks and more. It’s a great venue to chat with writers, discover new reads in women’s fiction, historical fiction, suspense and more, and get the stories behind the books. I’m hosting the page the week of August 13…come visit!

Don’t forget to
pre-order AT WAVE’S END
in paperback,
Kindle or audio format!

A Day at The Beach: Storytellers Share Sharks, Sunburns and Snubs

Me at the Jersey Shore in the late seventies with two of my five siblings.
Remember that day at the beach? That July day the sand scorched your feet, the seagulls snatched your lunch, competing radios blared Top 40 hits, and sun worshippers obediently turned over at Cousin Brucie’s command to “roll your bod”?

I may be dating myself with some of those images, but my point is, everybody has a story about the beach, their own Coppertone memories suffused with frozen custard flavors, the slam of the surf, the minty sheen of Noxema. (My latest beach story, a Hurricane Sandy-inspired novel called AT WAVE’S END, arrives August 15.)

And last week, on a balmy beach night at The Asbury Hotel, seven individuals from all walks of life bravely recounted their transformative seashore adventures during the Jersey Storytellers Project.

Marilyn Schlossbach: “I am just this little girl in this big ocean.”

Jersey shore fixture and restaurateur Marilyn Schlossbach kicked off this second installment, themed “A Day at the Beach.” Raised in Belmar in the “day-glo” eighties, Schlossbach described the terror of spotting a fin nearby while swimming in the ocean with a girlfriend. “It brings you to the vastness of the ocean, when you are paralyzed in that moment.”

The experience sparked a revelation for the woman who married a surfboard printer and whose cell phone summons her with the caw of seagulls. “I am just this little girl in this big ocean.”

In contrast, “Clerks” actor Brian O’Halloran’s vivid imagery drew laughs. “Baby oil was like jet fuel for sunning,” he recalled of his family’s early day trips to Orchard and Jones Beaches. “Our sunburn was warm enough to cook pancakes.”

Actor Brian O’Halloran: “Our sunburn was warm enough to cook pancakes.”
Later, as a Rutgers University student, he would drive down to the Manasquan inlet at night and climb into a lifeguard chair to clear his head.

“I didn’t need to be rescued,” insisted Cynthia Sallinas, the Asbury Park Press storytelling coach who earlier in the evening confessed to me her terror of getting on stage. And, true to her word, Sallinas didn’t require any assistance as she fearlessly described the day she put some male surfers in their place as she swam off a Costa Rican beach, wowing them with her backstroke.

Sallinas did accept one piece of advice they offered, however: pee in your wetsuit to stay warm in cold water.

Self-described spoken word poet and hip-hop artist Chris Rockwell lamented the disruption of beach life once MTV’s “Jersey Shore” came along, clogging Seaside Heights with camera crews that limited parking and slowed traffic.

In particular, he recalled MTV’s treatment of a Seaside street musician, a veteran of the Iraqi war. Spotting a camera crew heading right toward the busker one night, Rockwell felt elated. “This is going to be his chance,” he thought, only to be crushed when the crew sailed right by the veteran. “I remember when MTV was about the music, but they didn’t even notice him.”

The snub saddened him, until, upon reflection, Rockwell realized he was projecting his own aspirations onto that moment. “How did I know that the best moment of [the veteran’s] life wasn’t right then, playing his music at the beach?”

As if to emphasize that point, Rockwell ended his story right there and broke into song.

The night’s storytellers also included Elizabeth “Boo” Trundle, MOTH StorySlam winner and author of Seventies Gold, and Earl Jones, a YouTube rapper.

Laura Burns, New Jersey Educator of the Year.

But in my opinion, at least, the night’s story about a day at the beach belonged to Laura Burns, a Hazlet teacher and New Jersey Educator of the Year. Because who doesn’t remember falling in love at the shore? Laura’s day at the beach began in Lavallette the summer she was nineteen and about to start college.

“It was so early, I remember the sand still being cold.” She spotted a cute guy in the ocean, a guy so cute she decided to ditch a boyfriend arriving later that day. “I just met this guy and I’m going to marry him,” she told her mother before setting off on a stroll with him.

“We walked to Seaside, and talked about everything and nothing. I knew that was my guy.”

At one point during her story, Laura pointed to her “guy” Owen, who leaned against a back wall of the hotel conference space, listening.

Riding the perfect wave, flirting with a guy in the water, and falling in love.
If that’s not a perfect Jersey beach day, I don’t know what is.

Got a story to tell? The next installments of the Jersey Storytellers Project are scheduled for October 12 (On Love and Loss) and December 13 (Home for the Holidays) at 7 pm at The Asbury Hotel, 210 5th Avenue, Asbury Park.

Fresh Eyes: Swannanoa River Offers Second Look at Art and Life

Every visit to Asheville inspires, and our latest trip was no exception. An April run took us along a well-worn trail beside the Swannanoa River. The path dipped and wound and climbed, past an outdoor grotto wreathed in wedding tulle, rock walls frescoed with Mandalas, a lush bamboo forest edging Warren Wilson University.

Near the end, we encountered a painter, his easel angled against the river, his palette clutched to his hip. We stopped to admire his work, and he graciously permitted me to take his photo. He had begun this landscape one year ago in this very spot, he explained, and had returned this day to complete it.

After wishing him well and resuming our course, I considered the idea of coming back to something (or someone) after the passage of time, of picking up at the exact point of detachment. Would it be difficult to find one’s way back? Would fresh eyes and perspective enhance the encounter, or might preconceptions cloud the view? 

Certainly it is simpler to cling to initial impressions than to step back and discern the new growth time has fostered.

Our artist was courageous to do the latter, I decided. He might easily have finished his painting in the comfort of his own studio, relying on memory and his mind’s eye. But think of the details he might have missed!

In terms of my own writing, I’m alternately amazed and appalled to exhume an old piece. Frequently, reading an early draft make me squirm. But the passage of time permits me to reapproach the work, tentatively at first, then more confidently, bolstered by my experiences during this interval.

Like the riverside painter, I’m reinvested. I honor my work’s potential, acknowledging its warts as well as its buds of maturity. I clear away dead branches to get to its bones.

The final picture may not be what I initially envisioned, but it is one I can embrace wholeheartedly.

Nature isn’t perfect, and neither is art. Individuals are works in progress. Happily, life provides frequent do-overs, those rare second chances to revise tired impressions.

And in those moments, should you determine that nothing serves you, give yourself permission to start fresh with a clean canvas, a blank screen, a new conversation.

DELIVER HER Meets Winston, the Belmar Library Dog

Nothing calms an author’s nerves more than a sweet dog at their feet.
How do you recognize Belmar Library? Easy: it’s the one with an eight-foot replica of Bruce Springsteen’s legendary Fender Esquire guitar on its lawn at the corner of (wait for it) 10th Avenue and E Street in Belmar.

Belmar Library is also known for its “Breakfast with the Author” series. And there were all sorts of book lovers at my DELIVER HER presentation last week, including the four-legged variety. Winston, the mascot at this Monmouth County, New Jersey library, proved friendly and attentive as I recounted my publication journey. It was a great occasion to celebrate the one-year birthday of DELIVER HER’s launch.

Breakfast and books go together at NJ’s Belmar Library. See you this fall with AT WAVE’S END.
I want to send a heartfelt “thank you” to the Belmar Library staff and all who attended. I’m very excited to return this fall to share the story of my second book, AT WAVE’S END, coming August 15, 2017.