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.

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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.

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.