The Story of The Sea is Silent

My new book, The Sea is Silent, is finally out, and unlike most other projects I’ve worked on, it’s been a long time coming. The idea first came to me about five years ago, and took shape on a long drive to Hilton Head Island with one of my best friends. He loved the premise and the general plot, and convinced me to flesh out the story.

In between then and now, a lot of things got in the way of actually sitting down to write the novel. Mostly work, but other life events seemed to eat up the time I wanted to spend writing. When you have another job and numerous family and community responsibilities, it’s exceedingly difficult to carve out the three or four hour blocks of time you need to put your story onto paper. (I wrote The Sea is Silent primarily between the hours of midnight and 3:00am, which is why I probably looked pretty tired for a few years.)  It was a long, slow process and sometimes I’d go months without adding a single word to the manuscript. I envy writers like Nora Roberts or James Patterson who can crank out a new book every few months. John Grisham tries to write two a year, which seems like a gracious plenty to me.

After you complete a first draft, you have to find some very good friends to read it for you. I’m extremely grateful to all those kind people who took on this assignment. Their insights, suggestions, and corrections were invaluable. Sometimes a writer gets so close to the story that he or she can’t see what’s missing or what’s unclear, so the initial readers of the early drafts are a huge part of the final product.

Finally, you have to find a publisher and an editor that you trust. I’m so lucky to have Kevin Watson at Plothound Books (Press53) to shepherd me through this process. He knows how to take a book and always make it better. I kid him that I turn in a phonebook and he hands me back a pamphlet, but it’s always for the betterment of the story. (It was also his vision for the front cover, so more credit to Kevin!)

So now, after five years of swirling around in my head, the story of Seth MacClellan and Sandbridge Island is finally on the shelves. I hope you’ll enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it, and I trust it won’t take you nearly as long!

In Appreciation of Teachers

Teachers see potential in all of us

Bishop McGuinness

I spoke recently at Bishop McGuinness High School at the invitation of Martha Lawrence, one of the English teachers there.  We had a few moments to chat before my presentation, and of course we talked about our mutual love of reading and our favorite books and authors.  Beyond that though, our conversation provided a refreshing reminder of how dedicated our teachers are, and how the enthusiasm of a teacher for the subject matter he or she is relaying to students can change that young mind forever.  I’m a living example of that.

My third book, The Road to Devotion, is dedicated in part to my English teacher at Mount Vernon High School in Alexandria, Virginia.  Julie Wilson was the first teacher to introduce me to the great American writers; Hemingway, Steinbeck, Faulkner, and Wolfe.  The passion with which she revealed to us the greatness of A Farewell to Arms, Tortilla Flat, and The Grapes of Wrath has stayed with me forever, and no doubt been one of the reasons I wanted to become a writer.

At Wake Forest University I distinctly remember Professor Gary Ljungquist brimming over with excitement as he extolled the virtues of Milton’s Paradise Lost.  Heavy material, but he not only taught us to understand it, he taught us to love it.  My English composition professor at Wake, William Moss, urged me to discover the great Irish poets and writers like James Joyce and Oscar Wilde, and I’m forever grateful for him guiding me toward such brilliance. He explained to me that their works are best consumed while sitting high on a hill in the Irish countryside, something I’ve yet to do.  Add it to the bucket list.

My favorite author, Pat Conroy, often gave credit for his enormous literary success to his English teacher in South Carolina, Gene Norris.  Conroy said of Norris, “my entire body of work is because of men and women like them. “ I can’t imagine higher praise for a teacher.

It is conversations with high school English teachers like Martha Lawrence that remind me of how important those instructors are to young and impressionable minds. They don’t usually receive the credit they deserve.  (Nor the pay, but that’s another essay in itself.)

I am the only member of my family who was not a teacher.  Perhaps there’s still time.

How Is Retirement?

The question I’m asked the most

For the last seven months, I’ve been asked the same questions everywhere I go: “How’s retirement?” I usually respond with something like “Great! I’m good at it!” Truth is, it’s not an easy answer. Even though I was ready to hang up my notebook as a reporter and move into the next chapter of my life, I do miss a lot of things about working in a newsroom. The day to day excitement of breaking news, the challenge of making sure our reporting is accurate and fair, and the pure joy of meeting interesting people and having the privilege to tell their stories. Most of all, I miss my co-workers, many of whom are among my best friends. WXII is filled with wonderful, dedicated people, both on and off the air. I miss the daily exchange of creative ideas, and the camaraderie that only comes with working so closely with people under the intense pressure of deadlines and live television. I still keep up with many of the people at WXII, but it’s just not the same as being there.


How's Retirement?

That said, I’m extremely happy in my new career as a full-time writer. Creative writing was always something I did in my spare time, but when you have a family and a job that often required 60 or 70 hours a week, there wasn’t much “spare” time. Penning a novel used to take me years of late nights and early mornings. Now it’s just a matter of months before I can complete a good first draft of a project. I try to go at it like a regular job, keeping normal office hours and putting in overtime when necessary, or when the spark of creativity hits me and I just have to get my thoughts down on paper.

So far I’ve been able to write a Christmas musical (Welcome to Virginia, which will be performed at Theatre Alliance in Winston-Salem starting November 29th), the screenplay for The Road to Devotion which has been picked up for a movie, and my latest novel, The Sea is Silent, which should be out in just a few weeks. I’ve also completed the first draft of a young adult novel which I’m letting some friends read now. In addition, I’m reading more, especially local authors. I’m so busy, I really don’t know how I ever had time to hold down a real job.

So the while the short answer to “how’s retirement?” is still “Great!”, the complete answer is “I do miss the news business, but I’m as happy and fulfilled as I can be in pursuing my passion of creative writing.”

I look forward to sharing more words and thoughts with my readers!

All the best,