I’ve spent the past few years living on islands. When I talk about my life to people who don’t understand the circumstances, I often find that part hard to explain. It doesn’t quite feel real. Even now that I’ve closed that chapter and my wife and I have moved back to Massachusetts, I still can’t quite believe I spent the better half of the last three years in the Caribbean, and the lesser half (can there be such a thing as a lesser half?) on a small island off the coast of Maine. I mean, who does that?
Writers, I guess. Or people with loads of money. Guess which one I am.
Today, I’m sitting in my office, looking out the window at the first major snowfall I’ve seen in three years. To put it into perspective, I grew up in Upstate New York. Snowfall is a thing that happens, whether you want it to or not, and there is no avoiding it. Plus, as I know now, places without snow have spectacular beaches, delicious food, and vicious centipedes the length of your forearm. Chop one in half, and both halves will come after you. Not into killing insects? Just wait till one falls out of the air conditioning unit onto your face and starts attacking you with its many, many legs.
Still, it’s pretty obvious that these island years have affected my writing. Compass Rose is set in the middle of the ocean, complete with hurricanes, pirates, and the sloshing certainty of a bottle of rum. Props aside, the ocean is limitless. Islands are limited. It is these limits that define them, shaping the people who dare to live that close to the water, and providing a mountain of material for writers like me (including some truly awful nautical metaphors).
My next book, Thorn, is as far from the ocean as it is possible to get. Part Beauty and the Beast, part Frozen (only without the singing, no creepy snowmen, and with a lot more blood) and part fever dream, it’s a story about an endless winter written while I sweltered in the grips of eternal summer.
Or at least, it was until recently. Now I’m living in this strange mental space, where the heart of this wintry fairy tale still lives in a hot, windswept, semi-arid island, but my reality has aligned with snow, snow, and more snow. Right now, the snow is blowing so hard outside my window that all I can see is white against the blurred, black outlines of the trees. And yet, as I edit Thorn, a part of me is still in the Caribbean, dreaming of cold.
I ripped off one of my favorite book titles for this blog, Snow Falling on Cedars. That title is a poem. My blog title is significantly less artful, but it is how I feel, right now, watching the snow fall, while the trade winds blow in the back of my mind and the sun beats down, mercilessly, on sea and sand alike. As I look over the lip of the new year, I admit I am a little nervous, here in this snow blasted landscape far away from the ocean. Will I carry these islands with me? What will I write, now that I am back in this land of rolling, green hills and sifting snow?
To start, maybe I’ll stop torturing my poor little house plant, and then, once the cold settles in to stay, I’ll start work on the sequel to Compass Rose. It’s warm, there, and I hear there’s plenty of rum.