With her days chock full - designing jewelry for the shop she co-owns with her best friend, sailing her sharpie, and hanging out with girlfriends - Tadie Longworth barely notices she's morphing into the town's maiden aunt. When Will, a widower with a perky daughter named Jilly, limps into town in a sailboat badly in need of engine repairs, Tadie welcomes the chance to help. Her shop becomes Jilly's haven while Will hunts boat parts, and Tadie even takes the two of them sailing. It's the kind of thing she lives for, and it's a welcome distraction from the fact that her ex-boyfriend Alex, aka The Jerk of Jerks, is back in town. With his northern bride. Oh, and he's hitting on Tadie, too.
Those entanglements are more than enough, thank you very much, so it's almost a relief when a hurricane blows into town: at least the weather can match Tadie's mood. When Will and Jilly take shelter in her home, though, Tadie finds herself battling her attraction to Will. Even worse, the feeling is mutual, tempting them all with what-ifs that petrify Will, who has sworn never to fall in love again. Mired in misunderstanding, he takes advantage of the clear skies and hauls Jilly out of there and back to his broken boat so fast, Tadie's head spins.
With the man she might have loved gone, and the man she wishes gone showing up on her doorstep, Tadie finds herself like a sailboat with no wind; becalmed, she has to fight her way back against the currents to the shores of the life, and the man, she wants.
Love conquers all?
Maybe for some people.
When Samantha flies to Italy to gain distance from a disastrous affair with her childhood best friend, the last thing on her mind is romance. But Teo Anderson is nothing like her philandering ex-husband or her sailing buddy, Jack, who, despite his live-in girlfriend, caught her off guard with his flashing black eyes.
Teo has his own scars, both physical and emotional, that he represses by writing mysteries—until one strange and compelling vision comes to life in the person of Sam. Seeking answers, he offers friendship to this obviously hurting woman, a friendship that threatens to upend his fragile peace of mind.
But not even sailing the cobalt waters of the Mediterranean can assuage Sam’s guilt for destroying Jack’s relationship and hurting another woman. Soon the consequences of her behavior escalate, and the fallout threatens them all.
Sailing out of Darkness is the haunting story of mistakes and loss...and the grace that abounds through forgiveness.
ZM: After working in a visual medium, what led you to write? Did you ever consider other genres besides Women’s Fiction?
Normandie: Although I discovered the sensory delight of molding clay a year before I wrote my first poem (at thirteen), both media have served as creative outlets during various stages in my life. I love to sculpt, to work in three dimensions, but writing allows me to see or imagine or hear or think and then conjure worlds from words: something from nothing in two dimensions. It’s also immensely portable; I couldn’t have taken clay along on our sailboat.
Stories require enlarging. I’ve been an editor, a poet, a writer of non-fiction. Suddenly, I had to dig a little deeper, to exercise uncertain muscles and keep my brain nimble. In front of me, a few keystrokes away, were new worlds, the ability to people stories and find control in an otherwise out-of-control world.
I didn’t set out to write women’s fiction. I set out to write stories. My agent first dubbed these women’s fiction because they seemed to fit better there than anywhere else. After all, they’re usually about a woman’s journey, oh, and maybe a man’s or a child’s or a town’s.
ZM: You’re books really have deep hearts that readers can connect to. Tell us about your writing journey from draft to publication.
Normandie: What a lovely thing to say, Zan Marie. I write stories that show up on my radar, a what-if from a line or two or the imagined bits of a person’s life, from pain I’ve seen or pain I’ve experienced. People have always fascinated me, which is why I loved to sculpt them and learn their stories. And I’ve always been the listener, the one others came to with their hurts and needs.
When a what-if, a bit of dialogue, or an imagined scene shows up, I write and store it on my hard drive or in a notebook for later use. I have the beginnings (or middles) for dozens of stories that I may one day complete. (Or not.) Sailing out of Darkness is actually the third full-length manuscript I wrote, and Becalmed the fourth.
Becalmed almost wrote itself. I began with a what-if from my aunt’s life and had no idea what would happen to my protagonist, Tadie, what decisions she would ultimately make. As I wrote, all sorts of lovely folk showed up in the Beaufort of my imagination, and Tadie’s choices emerged from the possibilities that opened for her and Will. And, oh, for Jilly. I loved Jilly.
Sailing out of Darkness went through various iterations before landing in its final, published form. In Version One, the story began at the wrong moment in time, because I found myself wanting to excuse Sam’s behavior and so cluttered the writing with backstory. Version Two (or three, who can remember?) fell before my husband’s scrutiny. Do you have someone like that? Someone who doesn’t scruple to tell you the truth about your work? This time, he looked over his glasses and suggested I dump the entire first half and begin in the middle.
The middle? I had thought it ready to submit. I swallowed, squinted, and reread the thing. (Yes, it felt like a thing by then.) He was right: off with its head. The almost-final version began with us there, in media res, which turned out to be the true beginning and not actually the middle of the action at all. Oh, and then some beta readers coughed at the prologue. What? More to discard? I loved that chapter! Snip, cut, sigh…
I’m a tweaker, a slasher, a rewriter, an editor, which means that my book editors finally have to snatch the copy from me with a “Don’t you dare make another change. Proofing only allowed.” It’s the perfectionist in me.
This may not be what you asked at all. I’ve just told you about the writing journey and not the publishing journey. From inception to publication took years of reminding myself that each rejection should be seen as a blessing, that each one gave me a chance to revise and rewrite, to begin a new story, which I could then revise and rewrite, again and again as I watched the years pass. And in the efforts, in the learning, I had years of sailing, of living, of loving. It’s not over until it’s over, is it? If the joy isn’t in the doing, then what’s the purpose? Yes, I longed for a published book, but, more than that, I longed—and still long--to be the best writer I can be…the best me. I wish the journey were easier. I think it is for some people, but that may be because they have less to learn than I.
ZM: I think you answered the question perfectly, Normandie! Many of your characters are sailors. How important has the experience of sailing been to generating your stories?
Normandie: I’m not sure the sailing itself has been crucial, but we tend to write about what we know and love, don’t we? Places—Italy, the sea, Beaufort, New York, Mexico--sometimes cry out with a “Me, me, pick me,” and I turn my head in that direction…because I must. I love boats and being on the water, feeling the breeze rush across my skin, hearing that slap of waves on the hull, experiencing the freedom of moving at a slow pace, at one with the elements. There’s peace on the water countered by moments of terror in a storm, and all provide fodder for stories.
ZM: That sounds lovely!
Normandie: Living on a boat for those years informed much of my life, as did living in Italy, as does living in the South. These influences can’t help but touch my writing, though my second Beaufort book has nothing to do with sailing, and another I’m revising has characters who run amok in Italy and the Middle East.
ZM: Many craft books stress that writers must read and read a lot. Who is your favorite author, or what is your favorite genre? What draws you to a book you read for enjoyment?
Normandie: Oh my, books, books, and more books. They’ve been my best friends for a lifetime. I don’t think I can pick one name—there are too many, and my favorite at this moment may not be my favorite when I pick up a new-to-me author tomorrow. I tend to read stories that consider the human condition; stories of love, be it platonic, familial, romantic, filial, or agape; stories of hope; stories that show heart and depth. I love the deep and lyrical work of Athol Dickson, the tender stories of Charles Martin, the comedy of manners of Jane Austen, an occasional suspense or mystery. Since joining WFWA, I’ve read a number of books by my fellow women’s fiction writers from which I’ve certainly discovered favorites—too many to name.
ZM: What’s next? Are you working on a new book?
Normandie: I’m always working on a new book or revising an old one. Another of my Beaufort books is making the rounds now as I search for a new agent, and I’m rewriting my very first story, the one that garnered an award for me as the best new writer of 1994—which just shows you how long I’ve been at this. (I should never, ever have prayed for patience.) The beginning of the third Beaufort book waits on my hard drive, along with another story that’s set in Mexico. So much to do!
ZM: I need that reminder on praying for patience. ;-) Thanks for your time and wonderful stories, Normandie!
Normandie had the best of several worlds: a Southern heritage, access to schooling in the DC area (which meant lots of cultural adventures), and several years of sculpture studies in Italy. It might have been better for her if she'd used all these opportunities more wisely, but it's possible that the imperfect and the unwise also add fodder for the artist and the writer.
Her life changed radically when she married the love of her life at an age when some would have said she was over the hill and way past her prime. (Clichés often speak the truth, don't they?) A lifelong sailor, she was delighted to find that Michael also longed to cruise lovely waters, which is what they did from Northern CA to Mexico, spending too-few years in the incomparable Sea of Cortez. Sea Venture, their 50' ketch, is back home in North Carolina now because Normandie's mama needed care. Still, it's gorgeous there, too, and she can write from home as easily as she could on the boat.
Her two grown children, son-in-law, and two step-sons are handsome (or gorgeous, as the case may be), talented, and a delight. And now there's a new granddaughter in the mix--woohoo! She just wishes they lived a lot closer to home.
Look for Sea Venture's clipper bow and beautiful lines when she slips into a harbor near you.