Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Beach Settings

Many readers have commented favorably on the settings in my books, often centered--although not always--on the Oregon Coast or the Puget Sound area in western Washington. Two examples are my YA romance, Sandcastles of Love and my adult romantic suspense novel, The Fisherman's Daughter. (Both books are available on Amazon.com) Marine background settings do indeed play a big factor in these books. But why beach settings? Why do they evoke strong memories that fuel my writing?
I grew up near Edmonds, north of Seattle, WA. Many decades earlier, Edmonds began its existence as a logging town. Now this “friendliest town in Washington” boasts luxurious condos with sweeping views of the Sound, unique gift shops and boutiques, antique stores, and scrumptious bakeries--just to name a few. In summertime and early fall, colorful hanging flower baskets adorn the main streets, giving the town a festive, European ambiance.

I remember as a small girl scouring the beach in Edmonds for shiny small rocks and shells, and the soft plopping sounds as I dropped each shell into my plastic bucket. Even broken shells would do! (Those were the days when it was all right to take the shells home.) I remember the relatives who visited every summer without fail from the Midwest. They loved riding the ferry, even if it were only to the opposite shore and back. Often in the late afternoon, the women packed up a casserole, a simple salad, and beverages to tote to the beach where we’d spread out our feast onto wind-worn picnic tables. My dad would join us once he returned from work. There we’d eat, laugh, talk and gaze out over the Sound. We'd sometimes make a game of counting the number of vehicles boarding the ferry. And what impressive ferries they were with their multiple decks and their green-and-white, sleek designs.

I remember my early teen years when my girlfriends and I’d walk to the beach during summertime. We’d spread out blankets, slather on cocoa butter, bake under the sun, and look for cute guys. With a briny breeze against our faces, the warmth radiating up from the sand, and the occasional wail of a train that rode the rails paralleling the beach, we were happy Beach Bums for the day. Later during high school, our crowd I often drove to the beach on warm summer evenings. We built beach fires that scented the air with the salty smell of driftwood. We strolled barefoot, feeling the gritty sand between our toes. Later we huddled around the fire to toast marshmallows and solve the world’s problems--or so we thought.  

And a weekend campout on Whidby Island with my biology class resulted in several of us kids getting caught by an incoming tide. What an adventure finding our way out! (That scene appears in my second published book, Double Crossing, released by a German publisher many years ago.)

After I'd married, and our two sons were small, we took them to Edmonds often to visit their grandparents. The beach was always an important part of those visits. How the boys loved to dig in the sand--if we'd forgotten to take a bucket and shovel, they'd improvise by using shells as "scoopers." And whenever they'd hear the Amtrak whistle growing louder, they'd drop their "scoopers" and go running to get a good view of the train roaring by and to wave to the engineer, who would usually wave back!

My husband and I still visit Edmonds regularly. Though our immediate family is gone, some extended family and friends remain, and it’s fulfilling to connect with them. Yet a good part of our time is spent overlooking the beach and the ferry dock. There we love watching the ferry traverse the Sound, hearing the waves lapping gently against the beach, and seeing the rugged Olympic Mountains off to the west.

Yes, some things do indeed change, but not all things. And my memories are forever fixed in time. These are just a few of the evocative sensory details I aspire to bring to my writing.


  1. What a wonderfully nostalgic look back, Sydell. You have such vivid details in your memory, it's no wonder you're a writer. Thanks for sharing with us.

  2. I agree with Dale. You paint a very vivid picture and I could almost feel myself standing there with you, watching the ferries. I have The Fistherman's Daughter, just haven't had a chance to read it yet. I'm sure I'm going to enjoy it as much as I enjoyed this post.

  3. I love your beach settings and I love the beach, though the one I group near is 3,000 miles away in Connecticut. :)

  4. Beach settings and romance seem to go hand-in-hand. I have an old beau that I still talk to once in a while, and we made a promise years ago that one day we would take a stroll on the beach together. Well, he'd better hurry up because it'll be awfully difficult to navigate the sand with a walker. *lol*

    Seriously, I loved your post, and I look forward to reading your work.

  5. There's something about the ocean that calls to the soul, I think. I grew up in New England. The Maine coast has always been my quintessential beach setting (Truce of Trust and Making Memory are both set there.) Then there's the rocks of Gloucester... I've only visited the Oregon coast once. Incredibly beautiful! I wanted to find a beach side motel and stay for a week!

  6. I'm coming in late Sydell, but I love your post. I love beaches too. See the connection!

    I hope, when you visit Edmonds now, and after you've watched the ferries you still do a few of the things you did years ago, like stroll barefoot on the sand, and eat at the picnic tables. There's the blanket and sunbaking thing too:-) Keep enjoying it all.


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