Reality Informs Fiction: Trails in the Sand

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I published Trails in the Sand in 2013, three years after the disastrous oil spill after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion. From the first moment I heard about the explosion nine years ago and through my job as a public relations director with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, I was glued to the news on the struggle to contain the tar balls and greasy water approaching the Panhandle beaches of Florida.

When not working at my day job, I was also starting a novel about a dysfunctional family struggling to change generations of heartbreak.  April 20, 2019 marks the nine year anniversary of this event. Each year on the anniversary, I offer a special on Trails in the Sand, normally priced at $5.99 on Kindle. April 21-28, 2019, the book may be downloaded for $0.99. Click here to grab your copy.

Four years ago, I wrote about the disaster and how the book Trails in the Sand was born. Here is that post to commemorate both the oil spill and Earth Day and to remind us all the importance and fragility of our natural world.

Published originally on April 20, 2015 – Five years ago today, the oil rig Deepwater Horizon caught on fire.  Even though the newscasters downplayed its significance at first, I felt a black cloud deepen. I’d just moved to southwestern Pennsylvania where news of the Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster a few hours away in West Virginia still dominated local news. Twenty-nine men died in that explosion on April 5, 2010, just ten days earlier.

We soon learned that BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico had blown its cap, which allowed gushing oil and killed eleven workers on the rig. As I’ve done for the past two decades, when something bothers me, I start to write. The result from my sorrow and unease with both disasters resulted in the novel, Trails in the Sand.  The novel serves as a reminder of two preventable disasters that occurred within two weeks of one another in 2010. Forty men died and countless wildlife and their habitats were injured or destroyed. Both events touched my life in some way and both made their way into the writing of Trails in the Sand.

When the Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia exploded, twenty-nine miners, doing their job in the bowels of the earth, lost their lives. Subsequent reports showed the company ignored safety regulations, which played an important role in the explosion. At the time, I was in the process of moving from Florida to western Pennsylvania. The mine is located several hours from my new home, so the local media covered the disaster continually for the next few weeks. The national news also kept its eye turned toward a small town in West Virginia where families mourned their husbands, sons, fathers, brothers, and cousins. After April 20, the lens of the cameras shifted to the southwest.

The news began as a whimper before erupting into cries of outrage. An oil rig somewhere off the coast of Louisiana caught on fire on April 20, 2010. Soon the whole rig collapsed, and eleven men never made it out alive. Oil gushed from a well several miles below the Gulf’s surface.

As I made the transition to Pennsylvania, I still held my job in Florida, although I was in the process of leaving. I was a public relations director for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. I made the trip back and forth sixteen times in 2010. I conducted meetings from a cell phone in airports, highway rest areas, and at a dining room table from our small temporary apartment in Pittsburgh.

Every time I started to give my two-week notice to my supervisors, something happened, and my wildlife biologist bosses pleaded with me to stay. During a crisis, the spokesperson for a company or agency suddenly becomes a very important part of the team. Scientists become speechless when looking in the face of a microphone.

Nothing much happened in those early days of the oil spill for the wildlife community, although as a communications specialist I prepared for worst-case scenarios, while hoping for the best. Partnerships between national and state agencies formed to manage information flowing to the media. By May, some of the sea turtle experts began worrying about the nesting turtles on Florida’s Panhandle beaches, right where the still gushing oil might land. In particular, the scientists worried that approximately 50,000 hatchlings might be walking into oil-infested waters if allowed to enter the Gulf of Mexico after hatching from the nests on the Gulf beaches.

seaturtle4An extraordinary and unprecedented plan became reality, and as the scientists wrote the protocols, the plan was “in direct response to an unprecedented human-caused disaster.”

When the nests neared the end the incubation period, plans were made to dig up the nests and transport the eggs across the state to Cape Canaveral, where they would be stored until the hatchlings emerged from the eggs. Then they would receive a royal walk to the sea away from the oil-drenched waters of the Gulf.

aptopix-gulf-oil-spill-1fee0422a0df6673The whole project reeked with the scent of drama, ripe for the media to descend on Florida for reports to a public hooked on the images of oiled wildlife. Since I was in transition in my job, they appointed me to handle all media requests that came to the national and state agencies regarding the plan. From my new office in Raccoon Township, Beaver County, Pennsylvania, I began coordinating media events and setting up interviews with the biologists.

As the project began in June 2010, I began writing Trails in the Sand. At first, I created the characters and their situations. Then slowly I began writing about the oil crisis and made the main character, Caroline, an environmental reporter who covered the sea turtle relocation project. Then suddenly I was writing about her husband, Simon, who mourned the loss of his cousin in the coal mine disaster in West Virginia. I didn’t make a conscious effort to tie together the environmental theme with the family saga unfolding, but before too long, I realized they all dealt with restoration and redemption of things destroyed. As a result, the oil spill and the sea turtles became a metaphor for the destruction caused by Caroline and her family.

I’m a firm believer in the subject choosing the author. When that happens, it’s best to let the muse lead me to the keyboard and allow the words to find their way to the story. Trails in the Sand stands as my testament to the process.

3-D1Trails in the Sand synopsis

When environmental writer Caroline Carlisle sets off to report on endangered sea turtles during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the last thing she expects is to uncover secrets – secrets that threaten to destroy her family, unless she can heal the hurts from a lifetime of lies. To make matters worse, Caroline’s love for her late sister’s husband, Simon, creates an uproar in a southern family already set on a collision course with its past.

Using real-life events as the backdrop, Trails in the Sand explores the fight to restore balance and peace, in nature and in a family, as both spiral toward disaster. Through it all, the ancient sea turtle serves a reminder that life moves forward despite the best efforts to destroy it.

April 21-28 – Only $0.99

 

 

 

DOWNLOAD FLORIDA FICTION SERIES FOR $0.99 CENTS THIS WEEK

Click here to download

Click here to download

ffs_boxset_final

 

Three novels in one package, these novels represent my love for Florida in all its crazy and complicated glory.

Here’s a review from author Uvi Poznansky that I treasure. I love it when others call me a storyteller. That’s my job, but it’s always nice to be recognized as such by someone else.

Review:  PC Zick is a unique storyteller. Her female protagonists are energetic fighters, tackling conflicts within their families and society. Their thoughts reflect what’s in her heart: a caring for a place (hence the name of the series, Florida fiction), a sense of awe when history is unraveled, and a deep passion for a cause, all of which propel them through the twists and turns of the plot, seeking a way to arrive at resolution. Writing in bursts of dialogue, and in short chapters that often alternate in time, she takes it upon herself to weave together political and social strands with familial ones, to create a rich, complex tapestry as the backdrop for her stories. That is why they ring true in the deepest sense of the word. Her dedication on the opening page of Tortoise Stew says it all: “For all the underdogs who fight for justice because it’s the right thing to do.”

In the first novel, Native Lands, the story alternates between two time frames: 1760, where we meet Locka—son of a native tribe in Florida, who suffers the loss of his wife and finds himself attracted to the beautiful Mali—and the present, where we meet Emily Booth, the mother of a difficult teen and the wife of a political candidate Daniel, and the columnist Barbara Evans, who writes about environmental issues. In both time frames, the author bases her writing on in-depth research to create detailed, convincing realities in a manner that highlights the contrasts between past and present.

3-D1Set on Florida’s panhandle and the east coast near St. Augustine, the second novel, Trails in the Sand, presents Caroline, a woman faced with challenges on two levels: her family and her environment. On the family level, she uncovers family secrets–murder, incest, and pregnancies—secrets that went unspoken for as long as three generations back. Going forward, these secrets threaten to unsettle the shaky balance between her, her husband, and his daughter, as they struggle to reach for each other and find forgiveness. On the environment level, they must pull their efforts together, to rescue sea turtles that are threatened by extinction due to environmental hazards brought on by society. In Zick’s writing, the family and environment issue are interconnected: the night scene on a beach near Cape Canaveral, when the sea turtle hatchlings make their way to the sea, is moving on both levels at once. It left trails in the sand, in a direction which for me, evoked hope for a future founded on understanding and acceptance.

TORTISE_webThe third novel, Tortoise Stew, explores further this notion of trying to reach understanding and acceptance even in the face of differences. “If we’re all shouting, who’s listening?” It presents Kelly Sands, a reporter investigating politically explosive environmental issues in the town of Calloway. The story opens with her staring at a bomb meant to scare her away from her investigation. Armadillos and gopher tortoise fall victim to an all out warfare surrounding the development of Florida, while a commissioner is murdered and his wife commits suicide. In this atmosphere of ruthlessness, how can cooler minds prevail, to form a sane solution?

Taken together, these three novels showcase Zick’s gift as a master weaver. They are smartly constructed, rich with detail, and offer both enlightenment and delight.

Click here to grab your copy.

 

 

Reality Creeps Into Fiction – #DeepwaterHorizon

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Oil spread to the beaches where sea turtle hatchlings would soon make their way into the oil-laden waters in 2010.

 

Five years ago today, the oil rig Deepwater Horizon caught on fire.  Even though the newscasters downplayed its significance that morning, I felt a black cloud deepen. I’d just moved to southwestern Pennsylvania where news of the Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster a few hours away in West Virginia still dominated local news. Twenty-nine men died in that explosion on April 5.

We soon learned that BP’s project in the Gulf of Project gushed uncappable oil and eleven men lost their lives. As I’ve done for the past two decades, when something bothers me, I start to write. The result from my sorrow and unease with both disasters resulted in the novel, Trails in the Sand.  The novel serves as a reminder of two preventable disasters that occurred within two weeks of one another in 2010. Forty men died and countless wildlife and their habitats were injured or destroyed. Both events touched my life in some way and both made their way into the writing of Trails in the Sand.

When the Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia exploded, twenty-nine miners, doing their job in the bowels of the earth, lost their lives. Subsequent reports showed the company ignored safety regulations, which played an important role in the explosion. At the time, I was in the process of moving from Florida to western Pennsylvania. The mine is located several hours from my new home, so the local media covered the disaster continually for the next few weeks. The national news also kept its eye turned toward a small town in West Virginia where families mourned their husbands, sons, fathers, brothers, and cousins. After April 20, the lens of the cameras shifted to the southwest.

The news began as a whimper before erupting into cries of outrage. An oil rig somewhere off the coast of Louisiana caught on fire on April 20, 2010. Soon the whole rig collapsed, and eleven men never made it out alive. Oil gushed from a well several miles below the Gulf’s surface.

As I made the transition to Pennsylvania, I still held my job in Florida, although I was in the process of leaving. I was a public relations director for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. I made the trip back and forth sixteen times in 2010. I conducted meetings from a cell phone in airports, highway rest areas, and at a dining room table from our small temporary apartment in Pittsburgh.

Every time I started to give my two-week notice to my supervisors, something happened, and my wildlife biologist bosses pleaded with me to stay. During a crisis, the spokesperson for a company or agency suddenly becomes a very important part of the team. Scientists become speechless when looking in the face of a microphone.

Nothing much happened in those early days of the oil spill for the wildlife community, although as a communications specialist I prepared for worst-case scenarios, while hoping for the best. Partnerships between national and state agencies formed to manage information flowing to the media. By May, some of the sea turtle experts began worrying about the nesting turtles on Florida’s Panhandle beaches, right where the still gushing oil might land. In particular, the scientists worried that approximately 50,000 hatchlings might be walking into oil-infested waters if allowed to enter the Gulf of Mexico after hatching from the nests on the Gulf beaches.

seaturtle4An extraordinary and unprecedented plan became reality, and as the scientists wrote the protocols, the plan was “in direct response to an unprecedented human-caused disaster.”

When the nests neared the end the incubation period, plans were made to dig up the nests and transport the eggs across the state to Cape Canaveral, where they would be stored until the hatchlings emerged from the eggs. Then they would receive a royal walk to the sea away from the oil-drenched waters of the Gulf.

aptopix-gulf-oil-spill-1fee0422a0df6673The whole project reeked with the scent of drama, ripe for the media to descend on Florida for reports to a public hooked on the images of oiled wildlife. Since I was in transition in my job, they appointed me to handle all media requests that came to the national and state agencies regarding the plan. From my new office in Raccoon Township, Beaver County, Pennsylvania, I began coordinating media events and setting up interviews with the biologists.

As the project began in June 2010, I began writing Trails in the Sand. At first, I created the characters and their situations. Then slowly I began writing about the oil crisis and made the main character, Caroline, an environmental reporter who covered the sea turtle relocation project. Then suddenly I was writing about her husband, Simon, who mourned the loss of his cousin in the coal mine disaster in West Virginia. I didn’t make a conscious effort to tie together the environmental theme with the family saga unfolding, but before too long, I realized they all dealt with restoration and redemption of things destroyed. As a result, the oil spill and the sea turtles became a metaphor for the destruction caused by Caroline and her family.

I’m a firm believer in the subject choosing the author. When that happens, it’s best to let the muse lead me to the keyboard and let it the words find their way to the story. Trails in the Sand stands as my testament to the process.

3-D1Trails in the Sand synopsis

When environmental writer Caroline Carlisle sets off to report on endangered sea turtles during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the last thing she expects is to uncover secrets – secrets that threaten to destroy her family, unless she can heal the hurts from a lifetime of lies. To make matters worse, Caroline’s love for her late sister’s husband, Simon, creates an uproar in a southern family already set on a collision course with its past.

Using real-life events as the backdrop, Trails in the Sand explores the fight to restore balance and peace, in nature and in a family, as both spiral toward disaster. Through it all, the ancient sea turtle serves a reminder that life moves forward despite the best efforts to destroy it.

3-D2

 

 

Florida Fiction Series – New Review

ffs_boxset_final I’d like to share with you a recent review from my Florida Fiction Series. I love it when others call me a storyteller. That’s my job, but it’s always nice to be recognized as such by someone else. It’s been a discouraging year where my book sales are concerned, but for some reason, I continue to write. And I continue to tell stories. I don’t know if my friends and family tire of it, but if they do they’re too polite to tell me. So for now, I’ll let someone else tell the story for me. From author Uvi Poznansky, here’s a review for three novels all created with the intention of telling the reader a great story.

PC Zick is a unique storyteller. Her female protagonists are energetic fighters, tackling conflicts within their families and society. Their thoughts reflect what’s in her heart: a caring for a place (hence the name of the series, Florida fiction), a sense of awe when history is unraveled, and a deep passion for a cause, all of which propel them through the twists and turns of the plot, seeking a way to arrive at resolution. Writing in bursts of dialogue, and in short chapters that often alternate in time, she takes it upon herself to weave together political and social strands with familial ones, to create a rich, complex tapestry as the backdrop for her stories. That is why they ring true in the deepest sense of the word. Her dedication on the opening page of Tortoise Stew says it all: “For all the underdogs who fight for justice because it’s the right thing to do.”

In the first novel, Native Lands, the story alternates between two time frames: 1760, where we meet Locka—son of a native tribe in Florida, who suffers the loss of his wife and finds himself attracted to the beautiful Mali—and the present, where we meet Emily Booth, the mother of a difficult teen and the wife of a political candidate Daniel, and the columnist Barbara Evans, who writes about environmental issues. In both time frames, the author bases her writing on in-depth research to create detailed, convincing realities in a manner that highlights the contrasts between past and present.

3-D1Set on Florida’s panhandle and the east coast near St. Augustine, the second novel, Trails in the Sand, presents Caroline, a woman faced with challenges on two levels: her family and her environment. On the family level, she uncovers family secrets–murder, incest, and pregnancies—secrets that went unspoken for as long as three generations back. Going forward, these secrets threaten to unsettle the shaky balance between her, her husband, and his daughter, as they struggle to reach for each other and find forgiveness. On the environment level, they must pull their efforts together, to rescue sea turtles that are threatened by extinction due to environmental hazards brought on by society. In Zick’s writing, the family and environment issue are interconnected: the night scene on a beach near Cape Canaveral, when the sea turtle hatchlings make their way to the sea, is moving on both levels at once. It left trails in the sand, in a direction which for me, evoked hope for a future founded on understanding and acceptance.

TORTISE_webThe third novel, Tortoise Stew, explores further this notion of trying to reach understanding and acceptance even in the face of differences. “If we’re all shouting, who’s listening?” It presents Kelly Sands, a reporter investigating politically explosive environmental issues in the town of Calloway. The story opens with her staring at a bomb meant to scare her away from her investigation. Armadillos and gopher tortoise fall victim to an all out warfare surrounding the development of Florida, while a commissioner is murdered and his wife commits suicide. In this atmosphere of ruthlessness, how can cooler minds prevail, to form a sane solution?

Taken together, these three novels showcase Zick’s gift as a master weaver. They are smartly constructed, rich with detail, and offer both enlightenment and delight.

Click here to grab your copy.

I hope you’re staying safe and warm on this treacherous weekend here in Pennsylvania. It’s a good chance to stay inside and read. Here’s two other box sets that might interest you. Heroes to Swoon For is available for $.99 cents and At Odds with Destiny is available to pre-order also for $.99 cents. Release date set for March 3.

Click cover to pre-order

47a53-heroes2bto2bswoon2bfor_3d_medium

Trails in the Sand – Indie Book Award

ibdbadgeI woke this morning thinking today would be a day filled with nice things. I can’t say why I felt this way, but I did. A few minutes ago one of the many nice things happening today appeared in my inbox.

Royal Certificates

Sometimes when we just keep plodding along despite our feelings of failure and inadequacy, life will boost us back up and show us that we really are on the right path.

I’ve had a few weeks of feeling as if I wasn’t getting anywhere as an author. Whenever I felt most discouraged, I kept writing and I kept promoting my current works.

This award is just for a day, but the good it does to my heart, mind, and attitude will last far longer.

Check out the feature on Trails in the Sand: http://indiebookoftheday.com/trails-in-the-sand-by-p-c-zick/

Let this be a lesson for those of you out there pursuing your passion. Keep going and find the rewards for your work in the small satisfactions that sometimes come in small packages to fill the well of creativity.

3-D1

Click on cover to purchase on Amazon

 

Writer as the Main Character

woman writerThe main characters in most of my novels share at least one characteristic. They all write for a living or aspire to be writers. In my latest release, Trails in the Sand, the main character is an environmental writer. The choice of career is no accident on my part, and as an author, I’m not an exception for creating characters who write.

Pat Conroy’s Beach Music is the story of travel writer Jack McCall who escapes into his work to lose the past. In Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, Jo March’s passion for writing fuels her until she marries the professor. Thanks goodness, we’ve come a long way since the novel’s publication in 1868.

In Trails in the Sand, environmental writer, Caroline Carlisle, writes about the wildlife impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The wildlife experts in Florida choose her as the only reporter allowed to cover the sea turtle nest relocation project, which involved digging up nests and moving the eggs to the Atlantic coast to save them from the oil. She’s able to observe the momentous event firsthand. Much to her surprise, she begins to uncover secrets about her family in the pursuit of the sea turtle story. Caroline’s status as a reporter allows her special access, which helps unfold the plot.

I use writers as main characters because they are perfect observers and can go into situations where the average character couldn’t or wouldn’t go. On the television show, Castle, Richard Castle writes murder mysteries using a New York City detective as his main character. As a result, Castle researches his novels by going to murder scenes with the detective and helps to solve cases. Far-fetched maybe, but it’s enjoyable. His status as a writer allows him latitude to observe and write realistic, yet fictional, plots

Writers uncover information and find ways to expose culprits. In the novel I’m currently writing, a minor character is a newspaper reporter. The main character relies on him, not only for information about her husband’s murder, but she also gives him information in hopes he can help solve the mystery.

Writers are resourceful with contacts in high places, which can help move the plot along. Most reporters, in the real world, keep their sources close. In the case of Trails in the Sand, Caroline Carlisle speaks directly to wildlife officials, receives press releases, and enjoys loyal, established relationships with her sources, which brings her into the inner workings of government during the crisis. She also knows how to do research, which again is a plus for plot movement.

There’s another reason for a writer to use a writer as a character. Research makes up a large portion of my life when I’m working on a novel. Even though the author makes up the plot details, the details still need to be accurate and plausible. When I wrote about sea turtles and their habits in Trails in the Sand, I needed to research how long they lived, where they nested, how they made a nest on the beach, how long the eggs incubated, and what happened after the hatchlings emerged from the eggs. It took me days to research the details to write one scene where a sea turtle comes ashore to lay eggs as two teenagers watch on the beach.

I didn’t need to research the life of a writer because I’ve lived it. I’ve been a journalist. I’ve traveled for the job. I’ve worked with scientists, and I’ve interviewed many people in very strange situations – a man who owned a pack of hairless dogs he kept at his home in a rusty and remote trailer in north Florida comes to mind.

Some of my favorite people are writers, and they qualify as “characters” by many standards. I might as well use them in my stories. They make good company in a rather isolated career.

Caroline tries to explain to her mother that she wants to be a writer when she’s sixteen. I think I wrote this scene because I wished I’d been brave enough to tell someone I wanted to write at that age. Instead, I did the acceptable thing and became an English teacher. From Caroline Carlisle on writing in Trails in the Sand:

“You can’t be a writer,” Momma said when I was sixteen and told her of my career plans. “You need a profession you can count on to support you. You can’t depend on a man, especially the way you act.”

“I want to be a writer,” I said. “Who says I can’t be the next John Steinbeck?”

“I certainly hope not, young lady. Isn’t he that writer who killed himself a few years back? Is that the kind of life you want for yourself?”

“Of course not, Momma, and you’re thinking of Ernest Hemingway. Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath. I want to write a book like The Pearl – so brilliantly poignant and symbolic. The Grapes of Wrath is all right, but somehow I think if you can get the message across in fewer words, you have truly mastered the art of language. He uses ants and oysters to tell his tale.”

Momma stared at me as if I’d lost my mind. And I guess in the world of Calico, Florida, I did stand out as a little odd. I spent long summer days down on the riverbank reading, writing, or observing the world around me. Nature became my home, and the turtles, frogs, and birds of the Calico River that bordered our town were my friends.

“Where did you come from, child?” Momma asked. “How do you know these things? Sometimes you talk just like Alex.”

“Uncle Alex? He liked to write?”

“He loved nature, absolutely loved everything about it, and talked about it like you do.” Momma was no longer staring at me; she was gazing out the kitchen window into the back yard. “He loved chasing fireflies, too, just like you.”

“I wish I’d known him, Momma. What if I study marine biology? Is that a substantial subject?”

“It’s something,” she said as she turned back around. “At least you’ll be able to teach. You’ll need something to do with your life.”

 

Book Blitz with Juniper Grove Book Solutions

Trails in the Sand BannerIt came as a delightful surprise when Jaidis over at Juniper Grove Book Solutions wrote me an email to inform me I’d won a one-day book blitz. I readily accepted my prize, and now the big day has arrived. There’s a drawing for my Florida fiction and environmentally focused novel, Trails in the Sand. U.S. winners will receive a paperback edition and international winners an eBook. Eighteen bloggers signed up to host me. Check out their blogs and enter to win.

Beach Driving and Other Atrocities

sea turtle (loggerhead) hatchling (Photo by P. C. Zick, 2006)

sea turtle (loggerhead) hatchling (Photo by P. C. Zick, 2006)

By Patricia Zick @ P.C. Zick

Today I’m working on my next novel about Florida and its fragile environment. Native Lands begins when Mangrove Mike notices the sound of machines ripping apart his beloved and sacred Everglades. He brings it to the attention of his friend Barbara, who is an environmental columnist for the Miami Herald. Meanwhile, further north in St. Augustine, an environmentalist turned politician uncovers a development that is ripping up wetlands near his home. Through a series of events, the two parties join together to stop the destruction of the natural world they treasure.

One of the environmental issues I address in the novel is beach driving. Unfortunately, too many Florida beaches still allow vehicular traffic on its beaches, although during sea turtle nesting season – May through October – the hours are curtailed so as not to have lights on the beach when sea turtles come ashore to lay nests and when the hatchlings come out of the nest to march to the sea. But the traffic from a typical summer day is intense, and those vehicles leave ruts in the road and disturb the habitat for not only the turtles, but for the nesting shorebirds as well. Many species of both turtles and shorebirds are endangered, which means they are on the brink of extinction. Disturbing the habitat where they engage in reproducing the species can be devastating.

In my novels, I try to educate as I make environmental issues a part of the plot. Here’s a little excerpt from Native Lands where the Booth family of St. Augustine volunteer once a week for sea turtle patrol.

The Booths drove the deserted A1A Highway before 6 a.m. on Saturday. They drove south to Crescent Beach, past rows of condominiums blocking the view of the Atlantic Ocean. When they arrived at the public parking area, a vehicle from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission sat alone in the otherwise empty lot. When they pulled in next to the van, Peggy, the biologist in charge of the sea turtle program, climbed out of the driver’s seat and struggled to shut the door on the van against the winds whipping off the ocean.

“It’s churning out there this morning,” Peggy said. “The sand’s blown over the dunes so even if something happened last night we probably wouldn’t be able to see the tracks. We only have a couple of nests so far, but we want to be able to find them once the wind settles down.”

“We might be doing this quite often this year, if the reports about the hurricane season pan out,” Daniel said. “What if we get a hurricane here?”

“We do the same thing. We reinforce the tape and posts around the nests and hope they survive the tides and winds. Then we go out as soon after as possible to make sure the nests can still be found and later to check for hatchlings,” Peggy said. “Let’s hope the predictions are wrong.”

“I heard this morning that we’re feeling the outer bands of Tropical Storm Claudia,” Emily said. “It’s headed straight for the Florida peninsula.”

“It’s so early in the season, I doubt anything will come of it,” Peggy said. “But still this is good practice in case we get something later in the season.”

“Peggy, I got a call from Tim down in the Everglades,” Daniel said. “Seems one of our little crabs managed to wash up on the docks down there.”

“I heard,” Peggy said. “Amazing, isn’t it? OK, let’s get organized for this morning’s walk. It’s probably going to take a little longer than usual because I need all the walkers to make sure the current nests are securely marked.”

The female sea turtle trundles from the sea starting in May continuing through October to lay eggs on Florida’s beaches. However, most of the nesting takes place during the first part of the season. During the later months, the patrols look for signs of the hatchlings emerging from the nests. In the first months of the season, the volunteers look for tracks indicating a sea turtle came ashore to lay eggs the night before.

“I guess we’d better walk slow and closer to the dune line,” Janie said. “Maybe we should spread out more.”

A female sea turtle comes onshore during the night and using her front flippers, pushes aside the sand before using the hind flippers to make a deep hole large enough to deposit 100 to 120 eggs. She then pushes the sand back over the eggs and hightails it back to the sea. She might come ashore several more times during a season to lay a nest during the summer nesting season, but she will never return to the nests already laid.

Instinct brought her to the site of the nesting because most likely at least thirty years earlier that same turtle emerged from a nest in the same approximate location.

When Janie learned about the habits of the loggerhead – the most common of the sea turtles to come up on the beaches of St. Johns County – during her training the year before, she became passionate about keeping the beaches free from danger for these ancient ocean dwellers.

“If the beach is changed in any way, wouldn’t it confuse the mother and cause her to go back to the sea?” Janie asked her father one night soon after they began doing the patrol.

“Yes, that’s why they ask residents to keep the lights off on their houses.”

“And what happens if the female can’t get over the tire tracks to the dunes to lay her eggs?” Janie continued.

“I’m not sure, but I would bet it disrupts the natural order of things,” her father said. “It’s more of a problem for the hatchlings trying to crawl over those ruts to the sea. The longer it takes for them to march to the ocean, the more susceptible they are to predators.”

“What predators?” Janie asked.

“Ghost crabs, dogs not on a leash, and vehicles driving on the sand.”

“I wish they wouldn’t let anyone drive on the beaches,” Janie said. “Can they shut the beaches at least during nesting season for both the turtles and the shore birds? Some of the birds that nest here are endangered species, too.”

“They won’t do it as long as the tourists demand access with their SUVs, but I’m not opposed to helping you fight the battle.” Daniel put his arm around his daughter and smiled.

Emily knew Daniel felt pride in Janie for her willingness to fight for the defenseless sea turtles and birds. Emily felt the same pride. Now in their second year as volunteers, their efforts to close the beaches to cars had been fruitless despite trying to form a group of concerned residents. As the wheels continued tearing up the beaches of St. Johns County, Janie learned how slowly the wheels of government turned.

Florida Novels by P.C. Zick

Wild and wacky of small town Florida politics explode in Tortoise Stew.

Wild and wacky of small town Florida politics explode in Tortoise Stew.

Using Real Life in Fiction

By P.C. Zick @PCZick

Originally published April 23, 2013 on Words Unlimited, Back Story

During April 2010, two significant man made disasters occurred in the United States. Both of the tragedies became a part of my life for the remainder of the year and led me to question how we live our lives. It took me some months to make the connection between the two events, but when I did, they both found a home in Trails in the Sand, the novel I began writing in late 2010.

Florida's sea turtles saved from oil spill in Trails in the Sand

Florida’s sea turtles saved from oil spill in Trails in the Sand

The first tragedy occurred on April 5, when a coal mine exploded in West Virginia, several hours away from my new home in western Pennsylvania. Twenty-nine miners, trapped inside the mine, died that day. The local Pittsburgh news carried very little else as hope ebbed and flowed on the first days after the explosion. But finally, on April 9, the governor of West Virginia made a tragic announcement. All twenty-nine miners were dead and had not made it to the safety room as hoped. My husband works with the mining industry in his job as an engineer with a water solutions company. He knows the coal mining industry very well so we kept our eyes and ears tuned to the news, first hopeful as everyone else, and then, more than curious about how and why the explosion occurred in the first place. The answers became clear in the months following the deaths. The company, Massey Energy, had cut corners in safety procedures. The resulting reports are gruesome and indictments are still coming down for the highest echelon in a company that for a long time flagrantly disregarded the safety standards for coal mining.

 

Two weeks later, all eyes turned to the southeast of West Virginia when another explosion caused an oil rig to catch on fire and fall to the ground, exposing a deep well in the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana. On April 20, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill explosion killed eleven workers. For months, oil gushed out of the well unabated. Petroleum headed for the Gulf beaches. Within a few weeks, wildlife began appearing on the barrier islands covered and smothered in oil. The photos of birds immersed in a wet suit of petroleum played continuously on the news and horrified the world.

Even though I’d moved in Pittsburgh in April 2010, I was still working for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as a public/media relations director until they found my replacement. The oil spill and the threat to Florida’s wildlife put my departure on hold for months. As I watched the news unfold about what caused the mine explosion from my home in Pittsburgh, I was fielding media calls, writing news releases, and pulling together facts sheets on oiled wildlife. By June, I was appointed to handle all the media during the sea turtle nest relocation project where 250 nests were dug up on the Panhandle beaches of Florida and eggs were transported to the Atlantic side of Florida for hatching and release. The project was unprecedented and received the attention of national and international media.

It didn’t take long for a culprit in the oil spill to have a name: BP. Once again, a large corporation sacrificed human and environmental safety in the pursuit of profit. My mind was churning and mulling over the connection between the two events.

In my spare time, I began writing a love story called In the Garden about two people reunited after a long separation. The subject began to have a life of its own. I wanted to write about my mother who died in 1998. Through various tidbits I’d gleaned over the years, I suspected that my mother gave birth when she was a teenager back in 1933 or ’34. I researched as best I could. I interviewed her only living sibling in 2011 and went through writings left by my mother and her father, my grandfather. My grandfather had been a miner in Cornwall until he came to the United States in 1900. When he arrived, he went to work in the copper mines in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan before giving his life to God and entering the ministry of the Methodist Church. Yes, my mother most likely became pregnant in a small Michigan town at the age of fifteen or sixteen, and she was the daughter of the Methodist minister. It scarred my mother for life, and in turn, it left its mark on her five children. I’ve spent my life recovering as I attempted to piece together my mother’s story.

With all of these events and life histories swirling in my head, I changed the course of my novel and renamed it Trails in the Sand. I wanted to write a book about how we destroy things and then attempt to recover and restore, if possible. It begins with a teenager on a beach watching a sea turtle lay a nest on St. George Island, Florida.

The chapters on the BP oil spill and the Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster are from actual news clips and press releases. I used a description from my grandfather’s journal to describe the early years of the patriarch in the story. My mother’s story is weaved into the story as well. The main character, Caroline Carlisle is an environmental writer who sets out to write about the sea turtle project.

That’s how my novel came to life. I wrote Trails in the Sand to show it’s never too late to restore and recover from tragedy, and it’s never too late to find love.

Trails in the Sand is available on Amazon Kindle and in paperback. It’s also available on Nook at Barnes and Noble.

sea turtle (loggerhead) hatchling (Photo by P. C. Zick, 2006)

sea turtle (loggerhead) hatchling (Photo by P. C. Zick, 2006)

 

Summer Writing on Florida Novels

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

I’m still here even though I’m not posting as much. Summertime and the living is anything but easy around my house. The garden is starting to produce, the boat is in the slip, and the kayaks beckon every time I walk by them.

Saturday we spent a portion of the day doing yard work and then headed out for a cruise down the Ohio River. When we came home we had peas to shuck and blanch before freezing. We finished around midnight.

But somehow during my days I’m finding the time to write my next novel, Native Lands (changed from Safe Harbor). I started writing this novel in 2006 and now I have bits and pieces of a story. I know most of what’s going to happen unless one of the characters forces me to change direction. It happens. Now I’m going through and doing the smoothing of the cement act, chapter by chapter. Even though I left this story in 2007 to pursue other things, I still know the characters. The problem is I have too many of them and some may have to wait for the next novel that’s waiting patiently in a little binder on the floor of my office. Both novels are set in Florida.

I’ve already written two Florida-based novels. Even though I don’t write novel series, my themes tend to follow the same environmental lines. I decided to start a Facebook page – Florida Environmental Novels. If you’re so inclined stop by and “like” the page. I post wildlife photos, articles from environmental groups, and updates on my writing.

One of my favorite characters in Native Lands is Benjamin Palmer, a new age charlatan, who offers aura massages at the local Farmer’s Market in St. Augustine. Even though he’s a part of the antagonist side of this novel, I have loved writing about  him. I wonder if other writers like their antagonists as well as their protagonists. Let me know what you think. For now, here’s a little excerpt.

Benjamin Palmer worked the farmer’s market every Saturday morning as if he was a hawker at the carnival luring people – mostly young women – into his booth for five-minute aura massages.

“I can see your aura, and it is beautiful,” he said to potential recipients of his new age method. “I can make it shine just like silver after a good polish.”

To change a person’s whole entire life essence, he only charged ten dollars – a bargain in a city where new age solutions usually cost much more. However, most of those other methods gave customers something in return, such as relaxed muscles after a deep tissue massage, or a chart outlining the next year’s influence of the stars and planets, or an actual picture showing the colors of the person’s surrounding aura, or even a deep meditative state after a Reiki treatment. The recipient might even walk away with something tangible, such as polished stones. When clients left Benjamin’s booth, they took away an empty spot in their wallet.

Benjamin’s massage consisted of him moving his hands within an inch of a person’s body in the “field of the aura,” he said. He concentrated on the spiritual power centers, known as charkas, on the body, he told his clients. His hands might linger over the heart chakra, if he sensed a heart that needed healing. It also lingered over the chest, if the client happened to be a well-endowed female.

“I can unleash your creativity,” he said to one woman who walked by as Rob watched. “I can see you are a very creative person already, but after my massage you will not be able to stop attracting the creative impulses that will come your way. You have a story locked up inside, and I hold the key.”

The woman continued on her way, giving up the chance to write the next great American novel.

“You’re missing a great opportunity,” Benjamin yelled after the retreating figure.

Other Florida environmentally themed novels by P.C. Zick:

Florida's sea turtles saved from oil spill in Trails in the Sand

Florida’s sea turtles saved from oil spill in Trails in the Sand

Wild and wacky of small town Florida politics explode in Tortoise Stew.

Wild and wacky of small town Florida politics explode in Tortoise Stew.

All three in one box set

All three in one box set