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Readers, click here now through March 29, 2018, to read MEN AMONG SIRENS, Volume I in the Virginia Southern Point Collection FREE–no strings attached! Order today and be careful how hard you shake the family tree.
Ruby Bohan’s upcoming marriage to her childhood sweetheart has all the makings of a fairytale, but a fated discovery just days before the wedding threatens to leave no one in her family unscathed–including her doting adoptive uncle. Ruby’s mother, Ainsley, has only hours to tell Ruby the real story of their lives, beginning 24 years earlier with her own troubled marriage and a chance encounter destined to follow her for the rest of her life. Once Ainsley’s painful revelation is complete, Ruby must decide if she can go through with her wedding, forgive her mother, and preserve her disabled father’s life-altering belief that their family tree really is as it seems. The power and burden of knowledge has passed from mother to daughter, and now her family’s future rests in Ruby’s youthful hands. Will she use what she’s learned to hold her family together, or tear it apart?
A touching and compelling story of three generations of independent, charismatic women navigating through love, tragedy and reconciliation, MEN AMONG SIRENS takes place over four days, yet carries the reader on a 20-year journey from the Navy hub of Virginia’s southern coast to the formidable, rustically beautiful wilderness of Michigan’s upper peninsula, whose people and lifestyle remain a step removed from the high-tech, breakneck-paced lives most of us lead.
You portrayed the military aspects of the book very accurately. Are you a Navy spouse?
A. No. Most of the knowledge I have is passively acquired from living in a Naval port for 23 years. My father was a Navy Officer early in his life, and I dated a few “Navy Men” when I was younger. And, of course, the character of Blaine is based on a Navy Pilot I met during the first Gulf War.
Q. Did you have an alternate ending to the story, or did you plan from the start for things to end as they did?
A. Early on, I struggled with two endings, but reverted back to the ending I eventually used, based on the characters “telling me” what they would do via their personalities and evolution throughout the book. In the end, it was the only feasible way for the story to conclude.
Q. I got angry with Ainsley for her initial response to Chris’ accident and her decision not to make a change in her life after what he did to her. Why did she stay in the relationship?
A. She made her choice in response to what she had experienced with John, and her unwillingness to remain passive in the face of another loss.
Q. I wondered if Chris knew, in the end, things he didn’t admit to knowing, about his family.
A. Without giving too much of the story away to those who haven’t read the book yet, I will say that he received a gift from Ainsley and Ruby, which they never disclosed to him.
Q. None of the book’s advertising or promotional material hints at Blaine’s profession. Some readers might find it shocking. Was that intentional?
A. Men Among Sirens is ultimately about a family, and real families face issues that cross the lines of social norms and acceptability. None of us is immune to human desire, weakness, call it what you will. That includes Blaine MacGearailt, Ainsley Bohan and the rest of us. The book doesn’t condone their actions but instead follows along with them on their journey to reconciliation. I don’t use Blaine’s vocation as a marketing point because I don’t want to overshadow the substance of the book with any kind of sensationalism, especially with what’s in the media right now.
Q. Are you from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan?
A. Yes and no. I consider myself a semi-Yooper, because although I was not born there, my mother’s family is from the U.P., and my siblings and I spent two months of every summer—and some holidays—from gestation to our early twenties at my grandparents’ retirement home in a small town on Big Bay de Noc. I still travel there in the summer and winter with my family to get my annual “fix” of pasties, Trenary Toast, blueberries and the lake.
Q. Is Ainsley Bohan based on a real person? Is the book based on actual events?
A. All of the characters in Men Among Sirens are fictitious by definition, although aspects of each are pulled from people I’ve known throughout my life. I will say that many of the events in the book did occur, but not necessarily within my family or in any one geographical region. I interpret the adage “write about what you know” to mean “write from a place of personal perspective.” In the case of Men Among Sirens, that was more about the pathos and evolution of the characters than recording a chronology of factual events. Physically, Blaine was based on a Navy FA-18 fighter pilot I met in Virginia Beach in the early 1990’s who hailed from Houghton, Michigan, believe it or not. Ren Mercer was modeled after a close family friend from Michigan. And, I’m sure some locals from both Virginia and Michigan will recognize bits and pieces of friends and neighbors mixed into the other characters in the book. I will concede, however, that Attila is based directly on one of our family dogs, who died when I was 17. He was every bit as wonderful as Attila was written. His name was Mr. Chips.
Q. Does the Bohan’s Victorian house from the book really exist?
A. Yes, but not in Virginia. To protect the privacy of the current owners, that’s all I’ll say about that.
Q. Where is Makwa Point?
A. In my head! That’s another question I’ll leave to my readers to try to determine.
Q. The book cover is beautiful. What is the sculpture on the cover illustration?
A. It’s a public work of art in Copenhagen Harbor, The Little Mermaid by Edvard Erichsen based upon the Hans Christian Anderson story.
Q. Will there be a sequel to Men Among Sirens?
A. I intended the book as a single title, and I’m currently working on another book, but that question keeps coming up, so I may have to reconsider.
EXCERPT FROM THE STRAY by Jennifer Olmstead
Volume II, The Virgina Southern Point Collection
Copyright © 2017 Jennifer Olmstead and Titian Press
Sandwiched between the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean, Southern Point was just that—a ten-by-fifteen-mile tract of green space at the lowest coastal point of the state, a striking juxtaposition to the established neighborhoods and burgeoning suburbs that enclosed it on its three land sides. The few roads leading there from Norfolk shrank without warning from highways framed by sidewalks and pedestrian crossings, to two slim lanes bordered by deep ditches clotted with amber water and strands of chartreuse algae. The water levels in the ditches fluctuated with the seasons and ocean tides, sometimes rendering whole sections of road closest to the bay impassable for days at a time. Though inconvenient to Southern Point motorists, the situation spelled opportunity for its resident great blue herons, who laid claim to selected pools in the transient waterways, and stood frozen in place for hours, waiting for their amphibious prey to drift within striking range. Above the road, faded telephone poles laced with black cable formed makeshift stanchions against contiguous, and seemingly endless, soybean and wheat fields.
Every few miles, a lone cypress or oak tree stood watch over clusters of chalk-white gravestones—vestiges of the era when Southern Point’s Confederate residents found their eternal rest in family cemeteries. Historic farmhouses wrapped in white wood siding shared rambling acreage with crumbling slave cabins, which were repurposed by the current landowners into storage sheds and chicken coops, their grim past disregarded or denied or, in some cases, mourned in secret. Pedigreed horses sparred and grazed within the pastures of boarding and breeding farms, surveying and evaluating each passing car or truck.
And then there were the strawberries. Southern Point boasted more than a dozen strawberry farms, offering retail and wholesale buyers tons of pre-picked or u-pick berries from early May through June. Each spring, Southern Point’s annual Strawberry Strut served up music, carnival rides, and an infinite assortment of edible strawberry creations, from ice cream to salsa. City dwellers and summer tourists crammed their cars into dusty parking lots, unloaded bonneted children and plastic totes, and spent the day bottoms up in the fields, picking berries and getting their annual ration of country air. Strawberries were such big business in Southern Point that migrant workers traveled from as far away as Florida and Mexico to work the spring season, living in tents and trailers, traveling from farm to farm on foot or astride secondhand bicycles, and sending their earnings home to family and friends.
The odds were that suburbia would, in time, consume Southern Point, but that was a decade or so in the future. For now, its lightly traveled roads offered year-round pastoral beauty at each turn. They were a cyclist’s dream.
All photos and content © 2017 Jennifer Olmstead and Titian Press
Jennifer Olmstead on the premise of THE STRAY: “In the U.S., this year alone, 66 million people cycle—at all levels—for a multitude of reasons. Cycling is an integral part of their lives. Readers want to know, is Dare Jordan, and his cycling fixation, obsession, real? Each of my books is borne from an actual life event—the characters, however, evolve as an amalgam of people who crossed my life at various points. In the case of Dare Jordan and THE STRAY, the concept for the book stems from a grave cycling accident involving my older brother, who is an avid cyclist, and, yes, who does own a Ben Serotta custom road bike. The event happened several years ago and devastated our family. I still remember the phone call from my brother. The paramedics were on the scene. He’s 6’8” and has a deep voice. The man on the phone squeaked out my name and could barely let out a breath. If he hadn’t used my childhood nickname, I wouldn’t have believed it was my brother. His voice was distorted because he had a collapsed lung, broken bones and was running out of oxygen. It took quite a while for me to be able to process the potential loss there and gain enough distance from his hit-and-run and recovery to craft the accident into the story. Although I write fiction, I pull significant elements of life experiences into the mix, and some of those experiences are extremely painful. One has to be in the right mindset to be able to go into those depths and commit to that process. I don’t want to analyze Dare’s character too much, because I know as an avid reader that when I have discovered a character in a story, I don’t want someone else telling me anything about that character that would sway my image. I don’t want to be told that what they’ve done isn’t possible, or that they don’t look the way I’ve conceptualized them. I don’t want to compare Dare to the person inspiring his creation, but I’ll simply say that my brother is a wonderful guy, a great brother and uncle, a generous man. In the end, we don’t write about a perfectly neutral day in our lives where everything clicks and nothing’s out of sync. Who wants to read that? We’re compelled to write about things that impact us—either end of the spectrum things we can’t accept—things we can’t comprehend. I think one of the most important aspects of Dare Jordan is that underneath the complex layers of his personality there’s a very simple issue. How much protection is enough protection, and how much protection is too much? All of us are the children of someone and when we look back on our childhood and upbringing, we can always find fault with our parents to some degree. And, as parents, we want more than anything to protect our children, but that’s not always possible, nor is it always the best way to equip them to go out into the world. And then there’s the question of whether when you’re protecting your children, are you actually protecting yourself?”
Jennifer Olmstead’s meeting place for thoughts on southernmost Virginia and THE VIRGINIA SOUTHERN POINT COLLECTION