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.

Advertisements

Exclusive One-Day DELIVER HER Giveaway

Enter to win a signed, pashmina-wrapped copy of DELIVER HER.
Enter by MIDNIGHT TONIGHT to win a signed, pashmina-wrapped copy of DELIVER HER.

Greetings, Tweeters! I hope you’re having as much fun as I am connecting live with fellow Lake Union readers and authors.

To celebrate this epic inaugural Twitter chat with my kindred Lake Union authors, I’m giving away two signed prizes: an audiobook and paperback copy of my debut novel, DELIVER HER. Not only that, but each prize comes draped in a luxurious violet pashmina (whose significance you’ll discover once you read the story).

In DELIVER HER, a distraught mother goes to desperate lengths to rescue her out-of-control teenage daughter. But when the secret transport she arranges goes awry, Meg Carmody is forced to account for her actions.

To enter the contest:

Simply leave your name in a comment field below this post by MIDNIGHT EST tonight, March 7. Open to U.S. and international readers alike! I’ll randomly select the winners and post the results by Friday, March 8.

Don’t wait! This contest closes at midnight EST tonight, March 7.

AND BEFORE YOU GO… my second novel, AT WAVE’S END, comes ashore on August 15. The cover should be ready for unveiling any day. For updates on this new release and beyond, subscribe to my blog by entering your email at the top of this page.

On DELIVER HER Launch Day, Reliving the Journey

DH Birthday giveaway blogUPDATE May 1, 2018: DELIVER HER turns two today! To celebrate, I’m giving away fifteen Kindle copies of DELIVER HER. For a chance to win, enter here by May 7, 2018. Winners announced here, on Twitter and on Facebook on May 8! Don’t miss the party!

UPDATE May 8, 2017: DELIVER HER just turned one! To celebrate, I’m giving away five signed copies of DELIVER HER. For a chance to win, sign up for my newsletter by May 13, 2017 using links at top and right. Winners announced here and on Facebook on May 13! Don’t miss the party!

playland_poolToday is the day every writer waits for: the day their book officially launches into the world. To celebrate today’s publication of DELIVER HER, I made a pilgrimage to Rye Playland, the scene of several key events in the novel. It was a beautiful spring day, not unlike the afternoon the fictional Meg Carmody strolled the promenade, pondering a very important decision.

And since launch day comes but once, it seems appropriate to briefly reflect on this four-year journey. Because just as Carl and Alex’s road trip takes some unexpected turns in DELIVER HER, the book’s path to publication experienced its fair share of detours. Just how far the story veered from my original intent became apparent to me one recent evening at the local library.

The event was Pitchapalooza, when aspiring writers make one-minute book pitches to The Book Doctors, who critique the pitches and choose a winner. As a 2012 winner, I was invited to be an “alumni” presenter at this year’s event.

Playland pilgrimage on DELIVER HER launch day.
Playland pilgrimage on DELIVER HER launch day.

For the uninitiated, a book pitch is a writer’s elevator pitch, their sales pitch, their book’s heart and soul in sixty seconds. A savvy writer knows their pitch inside and out and can recite it on demand. (For the record, when my publisher challenged me to describe DELIVER HER in fifteen seconds, I accepted. You can watch that here.)

Anyway, when it was my turn to face the fifty or so hopefuls waiting to pitch their own stories last month, I dug out my old pitch (see below) and began to read it. And as I read, I smiled, because the book I pitched four years ago, then titled TRANSPORTED, was miles from the story of the desperate mother and grieving daughter in conflict that is DELIVER HER. Rather, the book I nervously pitched four years ago belonged to Carl, a solitary, stranded driver-for-hire smitten with Iris, a disenchanted “sloe-eyed” shopkeeper. (On a side note, I’m convinced the phrase “sloe-eyed” clinched Pitchapalooza for me that year.)

Having collected my prize that night, I went home to write that book, to flesh out the twenty-five or so pages that formed the basis for the TRANSPORTED pitch. The first order of business was fashioning a client for Carl to transport, to give him a shot at Iris. And so were born mother and daughter Meg and Alex Carmody, two headstrong women who commanded my attention like hitchhikers waving madly on the side of the road. It was impossible to ignore them. Ultimately, their complicated story took precedence over Carl’s, who gallantly stepped aside to serve as the vessel for this family’s journey.

IMG_5495

If you haven’t yet read DELIVER HER, I hope you will, and let me know what you think of it. If you have read the book, I think you’ll enjoy reading the original pitch below, which provides a peek into the writer’s process. In early reviews of DELIVER HER, readers are rooting for Carl and want him to find love. Or at least another client. I think he will.

Because what I’ve discovered about writing is that it is rarely a straight path from A to Z. Just as in life, there are plenty of traffic jams, distracting drivers, and rough road. But if you sit back and relax, the creative process can be a exhilarating ride, with side roads and scenery too delicious to miss.

Thank you for spending DELIVER HER launch day with me!

playland_dragon_painting
Original Pitch for TRANSPORTED, July 2012

Thirty-eight-year-old Carl Alden sells serenity. He’s a professional transporter, a hired hand to whom parents pay almost any price to deliver an out-of-control teen from their bed to treatment.

At her limit, Meg Carmody hires Carl to transport 17-year-old Alex from the Maryland shores to a New England rehab. The pre-dawn pickup is executed flawlessly. But just miles from the Alpine Rehabilitation Center, the elements conspire to throw the transport off course. Carl regains consciousness to find Alex missing and an ice storm raging.

At the Swiftwater General Store, a log cabin on the hip of the Kancamagus Highway, Carl accepts help from Iris, a sloe-eyed shopkeeper whose own dreams were detoured 20 years before. A hundred yards away, Alex bargains with a young stranger to lead her back to civilization.

Duty-bound to his client, Carl must find the girl and complete the transport, or risk his reputation and his business. Alex must decide if freedom is worth the price. Swiftwater provides shelter from the storm, a command center for the search, and an unlikely milepost from which to examine roads not taken.

I Could Write a Sonnet…

When we were five: that's me, the tallest, in my patriotic Easter outfit circa 1970.  My youngest sister had not yet arrived.
When we were five: I’m the tallest in the back row, euphoric in my patriotic Easter outfit circa 1970. My youngest sister had not yet arrived.
Or perhaps not, poetry not really being my thing, although I’ve been known to throw down some choice song lyrics when it serves me (or a character). But about two and a half years ago, I believed I could write a book, and put metaphorical pen to paper.

What emerged was close to two thousand pages of blood, sweat and tears, if you total all the sheets in my teetering stack of rubber-banded drafts, output that placed me on a first-name basis with the Staples copy center clerk.

Guided by thoughtful first readers, gifted editors and a diligent hands-on agent, Elisabeth Weed, “Deliver Her” is today a taut 88,000 words and about to reach a wider, more influential audience.

With no work left to do (although any future editors will surely argue this point), I envision my manuscript heading out to the literati the way my sisters and me, and eventually a brother, blossomed on Easter Sundays of our youth: preening and grinning in holiday finery, ignoring the nip of elastic cleaving bonnets to our heads and the pinch of new shoes.

Like all mothers of that era, mine worked slavishly to assemble just the right outfits, dragging us up and down Route 17 in Bergen County, New Jersey, the promised land of shopping. The outsized graphic mural on the wall of Alexander’s department store (now departed) heralded our arrival. When we were just four girls, my mother paired us off and buttoned us into complementary suits in jelly bean shades. My brother’s arrival offered a new sartorial challenge; he debuted in short pants and knee socks, setting the bar for fedoras at four.

With such a large family, Easter was one of the rare occasions when new clothes were purchased for all, although straw bonnets were exhumed from the attic, punched back into shape and rebanded with fresh grosgrain.

This coordination could only last so long. The oldest, I moved into junior sizes. Under my mother’s tutelage, I chose a red, white and blue houndstooth suit with large brass buttons. My shoes were navy that year, with ribboned roses at the toe, the entire ensemble emitting a distinct stewardess vibe.

With the birth of my youngest sister, less effort was expended at Easter. In subsequent years’ photos, communion and confirmation dresses reappear, recycled for Easter. With the exception of a random headband, heads are bare. Teenagers’ downcast eyes replace the unbounded joy of younger holidays.

But now, paraded across my sister’s Facebook, these Easter portraits evoke Polaroid memories: foam rollers dropped on dressers before church, annual boardwalk parades, licorice patent bags, crisp white gloves. I toiled to create similar stories for my own two daughters until they, too, aged out of the experience. They have their own photos now.

So while I wait for feedback on my novel, I cross my fingers this discriminating audience will embrace all its wrinkles and view my manuscript as I do: all dressed up with someplace to go.

‘Mouths in Tight O’s’ and Other Book Club Critiques

It was a hysterical sight: seven women around my dining room table contorting their mouths into approximations of a tight O — a literary descriptor I am apparently quite fond of.

“You use it a lot. I had to stop reading and try to picture it,” said one as she pursed and stretched her lips. The rest quickly followed suit.

I nearly fell off my chair laughing at the group grimaces, but that’s the kind of feedback you’ll get when you ask a book club — your own book club — to review your first novel.

In a burst of bravado, I had assembled my fellow readers, all close friends, to review a polished draft of “Deliver Her” — my tale of a distraught mother who hires a professional transporter to drive her teenage daughter to treatment in New England, a voyage that goes dangerously awry.

Our book club disbanded several years ago, but when I timidly ventured last year that I was working on “a little something,” the club pledged to reconvene if and when my “little something” materialized. Which is why, after sating ourselves with chili, dried meat snacks (okay, so foodie book clubs might find themselves a little challenged by my debut effort) and plenty of wine, we were at my table and getting down to the business of book-clubbing.

Was I scared?  Only a little. It was right up there with wearing a bathing suit in front of co-workers — worse than being naked.

But since I already had gathered feedback from about two dozen first readers, my authorly skin had thickened slightly.

Good thing: roaring out of retirement, my book club took this assignment quite seriously. I think it was one of the rare times every last member finished a book before our meeting. It was as though we’d never disbanded — these women with whom I had soldiered through nearly three dozen books over three years.

We kicked off in 2008 with “Glass Castles” by Jeanette Walls and wrapped up with Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” — this last reviewed in a local bar. It was with no disrespect to Ms. Gabaldon that we closed the book on our club that night after a long, satisfying run — including a holiday gathering with spouses that centered around Anita Shreve’s “A Wedding in December,” Ginny’s white coconut cake a masterpiece. Some of the men even took a shot at the book.

After all, we weren’t that kind of book club, a strict one with all the rules. We were as much about the laughter as the literature.

Disbanding didn’t stop us from being friends. It just meant that books aren’t the main reason we get together anymore.

Except for tonight. This night, in my home, with my book, the club was reenergized, well-prepared.
These readers had a lot to say about “Deliver Her.” Their suggestions were heartfelt, astute and most of all, supportive, and deeply influenced the second iteration I sent off to an encouraging literary agent just before Christmas.

We so thoroughly enjoyed ourselves we even talked of resurrecting the club. After all, our children were older and less demanding, we reasoned; there are even empty nesters among us. Time will tell. Maybe a film club this time around: no prep required.

In the meantime, I am extraordinarily grateful to these women and to all my first readers for their time, feedback and encouragement. I will acknowledge them properly when “Deliver Her” sees the publishing light of day — in print or in Paperwhite.

For now, I plan to swallow hard, bare all and invite them to follow me here and elsewhere while I work to deliver “Deliver Her” to the masses.

And just for the record: when I checked my draft, tight O appeared only once in 320 pages, though overall, I lean on this letter far too heavily. After all, Word’s search results don’t lie:  

  • Pursed in a tight ‘O’
  • A perfect ‘O’ of white hair
  • The gaping ‘O’ overhead
  • The white ‘O’ around his mouth
  • Mouth open in an ‘O’ of surprise

O no. I will be energetically employing the other 25 letters in future projects. Stay tuned.