Many of us become authors because we love reading great stories. Our lives have been touched by books we’ve read, the characters we’ve connected with, the places in the world that have become real and meaningful to us. For me, my early reading included the great Hardy Boys mystery series where brothers Frank and Joe continued to solve the tough crimes and mysteries in their little town of Bayport. Along the way I got hooked on Tom Swift and this great collection of science fiction and adventure novels set in locales all around the world.
As I grew older, I began to discover Hemingway, Fitzgerald and London and Woolf, Robert Ludlum, Ken Follett and Pat Conroy. These great authors all had very different styles and even genres, but in looking back, the common denominator seems to combine the power of great characters with stories set in compelling locations.
Another example of a book that shaped my early desire to start writing my own stories was David Guterson’s, Snow Falling on Cedars, the tragic tale of a doomed love affair in the days before and after World War II, hauntingly set in the state of Washington during the horrific internment of Japanese-Americans.
My own writing began with short stories and poems written in high school and then the first attempts at full length novels in college, none of which unfortunately were finished in those days. I was first “published” in seventh grade when my English teacher included one of my poems in a collection of her student’s work she assembled and distributed. It was the first early spark of the joy in having my writing shared with others. I found a copy of that collection years later, folded up in a book on my mother’s bookshelf after she had passed away.
I continued to be a rabid reader of great historical fiction, mystery, thrillers and suspense, but my own writing got sidetracked with career and family demands. The sobering effects of a fiftieth birthday some years ago was the next catalyst to get me thinking about writing again. The proverbial “bucket list” tends to get pulled out during these milestone events and for me, an item high on the list was writing and publishing my first novel.
I started from scratch on a couple of story ideas and then remembered a book I had started back in college. I actually found the early typed pages in an old file drawer and began thinking again about a story inspired by my childhood days growing up in a small northern Michigan resort town. My great-grandfather’s family owned and operated a small marina and boat yard on Lake Charlevoix. I had fond memories of my early days there in the 1950’s and 60’s when my ancestors cared for the boats and yachts of the “summer people” as we called them. I recall being overwhelmed by the great wealth and excess of these families compared to the modest lives we lived at the time.
These memories set the stage for my first novel, The Seasons of the EmmaLee, which would take five years to write and another couple of years to run the agent gauntlet and then finally get edited, published and distributed. I jumped head-first into the world of independent publishing and marketing my own book, traveling frequently to bookstores, libraries, reading groups and book events. Within a year, the book had generated strong reviews, a regional best-seller list distinction and surprising sales of over 3000 copies for an unknown and fledgling author.
What I loved most about this first book and writing experience was trying my best to capture not only the drama of class differences and a doomed love affair between a local boy and a wealthy summer girl in 1940’s Charlevoix, Michigan, but also to bring the reader deeply into the idyllic setting of northern Michigan in those nostalgic and tragic years. I wanted readers who may never have the opportunity to travel there, to really feel they were seeing and experiencing what it would have been like to be there in those years.
Two marvelous encounters made those efforts all worthwhile. The first was a library speaking event I did some time after the book came out. A woman and her daughter came up afterwards to have their copies of the book signed. The mother was in her nineties and her daughter likely in her sixties. The mother thanked me for signing her book and then said, “You know, I lived your story.” When I asked her what she meant, she went on to tell me she had grown up during her summers in the Charlevoix Belvedere Club where my story was set. Her best friend’s family owned the classic cruising yacht, the Sylvia, that I had used as inspiration for the EmmaLee in my book. She had attended parties on the yacht, much as I had described in the story. In the end, she thanked me for bringing back so many old memories in such vivid detail.
The second instance was the leader of a woman’s book club who called me to tell of their group’s pleasure in reading “EmmaLee”. They had actually scheduled a weekend to travel to northern Michigan to discuss the book and travel to the many locations that were described in the story that still exist today. It was an experience that sticks with me today as I continue to bring new story locations to life in my books.
My stories have moved from northern Michigan now. My third book, Grayton Winds, was inspired by our family’s travels over the years to the magnificent shores of Highway 30a along the northern Gulf Coast of Florida. The little resort village of Grayton Beach remains today much as it was back in the 1920’s when moonshiners, bootleggers ran the illegal liquor trade and a killer hurricane ravaged the area, all inspiration for Matthew Coulter and his turbulent times in the idyllic locale. Fortunately, the recent Hurricane Michael caused less damage than feared to the shores of Grayton Beach. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those east of there who suffered far greater destruction from the storm.
My fourth novel, Lies We Never See, and the soon to be released sequel, A Following Sea, were inspired again initially by a sense of place, in this case, our travels over the years to the Low Country of South Carolina and specifically for these stories, time spent in Charleston and out on the magnificent shores of Pawleys Island.
In each of these books, I attempt to use the setting as more than just a backdrop for the narrative to play out, but more so, an integral part of the emotion and drama of the story. I hope readers can not only see these compelling settings in the scenes of the books, but actually feel they’re really there in the midst of the sights and sounds and smells of these places. Pat Conroy and David Guterson were great inspiration in this pursuit. If you haven’t read their books, I highly recommend you give them a try.
So, you get a sense of why I write. If you’re an author, drop me a note on your story and inspiration. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
If you’re a reader and love historical fiction with characters facing life-challenging events of love and family drama, all set in compelling and idyllic locales that you’ve visited or hopefully will want to visit after reading the stories, I welcome you to start in on Michael Lindley novels.
Thanks for reading,