STORY OF YOU giveaway. And: When these two cousins asked to be put inside one of my novels, I said yes, of course

Sunday, January 10, 2016







January 10, 2016:
It seems a very long time ago—this trip to Alaska, taken with my father. The whales and the blue ice, the New York Times journalist and the famous screenwriter, the naturalists and songs.

We made friends.

We've kept them.

Among our friends are two dear cousins, Sarah and Gillian. As I mentioned in this post below, originally published in July 2014, they asked, all that time ago, for a place inside one of my novels. This new novel that I would surely write had to have an adventure at its heart, they warned me (guessing, perhaps, that I was literary and dull). Something had to happen. It took me a while, but that story became the story that now is This Is the Story of You—a fact I mentioned in a recent email to the cousins' lovely literary grandmother.


A sea is involved. A storm. An adventure. An eradication of home. (Note here, in today's Chicago Tribune essay, my obsession with home.) A discovery. In these pages, you will find a Gillian and a Sarah. Because I had promised I would.

Yesterday I heard from dear Sarah. She's living across an ocean, still singing her songs, still wearing, she says, those matching PJs. She wondered about that book I'd been writing, wondered if she might read an early copy—put it to good use for a book report.


She now has a copy in hand.

I have one more copy. And that copy is for one of you.


Tell me a short story, in the comments box below, about a sea you once visited or loved or read about. I'll have my husband make a name-blind choice. 

You have until January 20. For residents of the U.S. —




July 2014:
On a trip to Alaska: the brighter blues and ceding purples of dawn, the calving of ice (like a dynamite blast), the candy twist of fog between the breaks in hills, the lugubrious faces of seals, the fins and tails of whales, the naturalists and crew we won't soon forget, the Great Young Elly P and her brother Owen (oh, my!), the loving Abi and Ziqin, the people it was easy to adore (grandparents, a pair of brothers, a pair of sisters like sisters to me), and a song that traveled through the green rain of a spruce and hemlock forest, carried forward by blonde cousins.

Gillian and Sarah. Sarah and Gillian. On our boat, on our trails, in our hearts.

"We want to be in one of your novels," they said to me, at the very end, their two faces glowing beneath glow-golden hair.

"What sort of novel would that be?" I wanted to know, and they laughed (for they were capable of such laughter) and explained:  A story in which big things happened. Unexpected things. Wow-worthy things. Secret powers lost and found. Adventures spinning forward. Not (most definitely not) one of those dreary novels in which description stands in for plot, character, and everything else.

Something has to happen, they said, they repeated.

They were emphatic. They were two smart girls with big, expressive eyes, and they were hopeful, insistent, ready for the next great book, a Sarah and Gillian book, a story about two girls caught in a fabulous whirl, or, perhaps, in one of their sweet-soprano songs (He sat by her window and smoked his cigar... He told her he loved her, but my how he lied... They were to get married but somehow she died... The tombstone fell over and squish-squash he died... The moral of this story is don't smoke cigars, don't smoke cigar ar ar ars.)

"You can even make me evil," Sarah offered, intuiting, perhaps, that my imagination might not be big enough, my skills not sufficiently wide ranging, my details too soggy for their high-adventure taste.

"Make you evil?" I said. "Impossible."

She laughed her Sarah laugh. Gilly laughed her cousin laugh. These two girls with adventure tastes offering everything they felt a writer might need—inspiration, encouragement, latitude.

Make something happen, they said.

Write the story, they said.

Put us in the heart of it.

They are out there now, and they are waiting. But if, someday, you see a story of mine with a Sarah and Gillian twist, you'll know this: I will have captured only a fraction of the gold that each of these cousins is. 


10 comments:

kelly said...

this is my favorite blog post that you have ever written, ever ever ever. I would say more but that would just be description and embroidery and nothing would happen in it. OH I LOVE THIS!!

Mandy King said...

What great photos, and those two girls - I can see them in one of your novels. :)

Elly Pickette said...

Thanks
Really awesome
I feel like u should write a book with a magic camera though:)

Hilary Morgan said...

There is a sea in Scotland, bordered by a black beach. A beach of stone, covered in seaweed. The sea is a brilliant color, a stark contrast to the dark shore. The sea is almost so enchanting I almost don't see my friend slip on the sea-wet seaweed and fall right on his back. But I do, and this trip to the hardened coast of Scotland is all the more memorable.

Jennifer Hoppins said...

I've only ever taken one trip with my daughter, just the two of us. Although we've shared years of family vacations there was this one adventure we had---to celebrate my graduation from college. I had read in a travel guide about this place on the Outer Banks where you could go hang-gliding near the beach. Not a big risk taker, I surprised everyone by saying that this, more than anything was how I wanted to mark the occasion---by soaring on the breeze. On the evening after our solo flights (a feeling that now makes me jealous of all birds, even vultures!) we got a permit to have a campfire on the beach. That night, my teen daughter opened up and talked to me, laughing and being completely free, as if the roles of mother and daughter had been erased, and we were simply people who loved one another. I will remember her face in the dark, while the waves rolled in under the full moon, always.

Melissa Sarno said...

A sea story... I learned to swim at my Aunt and Uncle's house on Bayville beach, thanks to Aunt Angie. She wasn't actually my Aunt. She was, just, everyone's Aunt. She wore a bathing suit with a skirt that bubbled up and ruffled around the surf and she called herself 'a waterbaby'. I don't even really know what that means. But she held on to my belly while I kept my chin high and I paddled and paddled above the safety of her arms. And when she decided I was ready, she let go, and I magically stayed afloat, chin up and paddling. Every year, somebody somewhere at some family function will mention Aunt Angie and, inevitably, that person will say, 'she taught me to swim at Bayville beach' and her sister will say, 'she taught everyone to swim at Bayville beach. She was a waterbaby.'

Victoria Marie Lees said...

As always, Beth, I love your photos and your words. All the best in 2016! A short sea story/scene:
Can a sea breathe romance? It can if you escape from the daily grind of parenting five beautiful children for a few days’ respite on your fifteenth wedding anniversary.

Two lovers drag their toes in a beach drenched in gritty powdered pink coral; the sea clear as glass displays a dance of sergeant major fish. The sea is frigid for so late in May. At Bermuda’s Horseshoe Bay Beach, the couple reminisces about life and love and strive not to repeat an element of their honeymoon when they both turned as pink as the sand.

Colleen said...

I can not tell you only one story about the sea; I can only tell you I have thousands. When you grow up on the ocean, when your feet are in the sand before you can walk, when you learn to ride the waves by catching them on your father's back, when this is the life you have known then it is impossible to distill it down to one story.

How do I make you understand that there is an ocean, a stretch of beach, that I know better than my own body?

I will give you this then, Beth, one short story, a few lines of what it is to be me and my brother and my father. After my father's surgery, his body cut open to remove a cancer that never left, he asked me to take him to the beach. He had never spent the night in the hospital, had never even broken a bone, and now he was shredded and tired and worn. He was pale; my eternally tanned father was pale.

So we drove across the causeway, looked at the pelicans on the Indian River, turned onto A1A and then up to his beach. He had an "office" there on the sand, he was known as the "Mayor." Every day before his second shift job, swimming with the lifeguards half his age, fishing with us, body surfing with us, listening to ballgames on countless lazy summer afternoons. This was his beach in all name.

I had to help him up the six steps to the boardwalk and he sat down there heavily on the bench, too tired to walk on the sand. He just wanted to see it he told me, he wanted to smell the salt air.

"Now I believe I'm still alive," he said.

I didn't cry. He didn't want me to cry, so I didn't. But it was one of the hardest things I've ever done to keep those tears at bay.

My father died almost three years later and, good Catholic that he was, made arrangements to have his ashes interred in consecrated ground at a church on A1A, where you can hear the ocean's roar. My brother and I, beach babies all our lives, agreed to hold back a small portion of his ashes and my brother took them out into the water a few weeks later as a storm brewed offshore. We had to give some part of him to the sea; it's where he had taught us over and over that he truly belonged.

That's the ocean for me; impossibly connected to the heart of my family. I miss it everyday.

Colleen said...

I can not tell you only one story about the sea; I can only tell you I have thousands. When you grow up on the ocean, when your feet are in the sand before you can walk, when you learn to ride the waves by catching them on your father's back, when this is the life you have known then it is impossible to distill it down to one story.

How do I make you understand that there is an ocean, a stretch of beach, that I know better than my own body?

I will give you this then, Beth, one short story, a few lines of what it is to be me and my brother and my father. After my father's surgery, his body cut open to remove a cancer that never left, he asked me to take him to the beach. He had never spent the night in the hospital, had never even broken a bone, and now he was shredded and tired and worn. He was pale; my eternally tanned father was pale.

So we drove across the causeway, looked at the pelicans on the Indian River, turned onto A1A and then up to his beach. He had an "office" there on the sand, he was known as the "Mayor." Every day before his second shift job, swimming with the lifeguards half his age, fishing with us, body surfing with us, listening to ballgames on countless lazy summer afternoons. This was his beach in all name.

I had to help him up the six steps to the boardwalk and he sat down there heavily on the bench, too tired to walk on the sand. He just wanted to see it he told me, he wanted to smell the salt air.

"Now I believe I'm still alive," he said.

I didn't cry. He didn't want me to cry, so I didn't. But it was one of the hardest things I've ever done to keep those tears at bay.

My father died almost three years later and, good Catholic that he was, made arrangements to have his ashes interred in consecrated ground at a church on A1A, where you can hear the ocean's roar. My brother and I, beach babies all our lives, agreed to hold back a small portion of his ashes and my brother took them out into the water a few weeks later as a storm brewed offshore. We had to give some part of him to the sea; it's where he had taught us over and over that he truly belonged.

That's the ocean for me; impossibly connected to the heart of my family. I miss it everyday.

Emily Lewis said...

The first time my toe touched the ocean I felt like I was hugged by God himself. The smell of the ocean, the crash of the waves and the feel of sand and salt between my toes was truly moving. Coming from Wisconsin I am no stranger to beauty...I am surround by forests, lakes, fields of corn. But the vastness of the ocean...the endlessness of the sea...makes you feel like a speck on the map of the world. It allows you to put life into perspective. How can one not be moved to tears to see the wonders in the world? The hidden treasures are among us...whether an ocean, a butterfly or a snowflake find your wonder!

-Emily

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