We’ve got a copy of Marybeth’s new novel, THE BRIDGE TENDER, up for grabs today, along with a sea shell inspired necklace. See the entry form below for details.
The Inspiration Behind The Character of Emily Shaw
It might sound strange, but I have what I would consider an abundance of friends who are widows. There’s Amanda, whose soldier husband died following a tour in Afghanistan, leaving her with four young daughters. There’s LeAnn, whose husband died of cancer, leaving her with a young son. There’s Kitty, whose husband died of a massive heart attack on a summer afternoon, while playing in the pool with their four young sons. There’s Robin, the supreme widow, who lost two husbands– one due to a horrible crime, the other due to a freak accident.
These women– and their stories– have changed my life, shaped my worldview, and adjusted my perspective. The simple truth is that they loved their husbands. They lost their husbands. And that fact has shaped the women they have become: Brave, courageous, admirable, determined, gutsy women who didn’t stop living just because the person they loved most in the world did.
It was that transformation– from grief to hope, from “my world has ended” to “I’m learning to live in this new world” that inspired the main character, Emily, of my new book THE BRIDGE TENDER. Watching these women face, and overcome, so many challenges and go on to support their families, mother their children and still eke out some joy each day informed the kind of woman she is on the page. Any part of Emily that seems real is because I had real inspiration. I have watched and learned and recorded their brave journey on the pages of my heart. And I hope, in some small way, I have paid homage to what they’ve faced, and who they’ve become. They are, each of them, my heroes.
The Real Old Bridge
I’ve written several novels set in Sunset Beach NC: THE MAILBOX, THE GUEST BOOK, THE WISHING TREE and now THE BRIDGE TENDER. Each novel is centered around a real object that draws two people together over time and against the odds. In this new novel, the object is the old pontoon bridge that used to connect Sunset Beach– an island located at the lowest part of North Carolina’s coast, just before you cross the South Carolina state line– to the mainland. The quirky old bridge worked sometimes and then sometimes, it didn’t. Fraught with problems that included broken parts, damage from passing boats, and even the tides, the bridge wasn’t exactly dependable. Stories abound of the bridge breaking and citizens of Sunset either stranded on the island and unable to get off or trapped on the mainland with no way to get back. There were practical issues to consider, to be sure, but there was also some significant safety issues.
So it wasn’t surprising when the state started talking about taking the old bridge out and putting a new, reliable bridge in. And yet the old bridge, in all its quirkiness, was part of the history and culture of Sunset Beach. Would Sunset still be Sunset without the bridge that served as its only access? Would the heart of the place be lost with the bridge? These questions nagged at all of us who love Sunset Beach as the debate over the bridge waged on and plans for its replacement were made. Eventually, as with many things in life, progress reigned and we who loved the old bridge prepared to say goodbye.
But the story doesn’t end there.
I wanted to capture this debate within the community but I also wanted to pay homage to a little band of citizens who found a way to save the old bridge. These folks rallied to find a final resting place for the bridge, to take something that could’ve been a sad ending and make it a new beginning. They arranged to have the old bridge carefully removed and reconstructed on a piece of land not far from its original home, a spot that has become a gathering place for the community complete with festivals and programs and a museum. Without these people the bridge would’ve been destroyed and history would’ve been lost.
In the end, that’s what my novel is all about– taking loss (the main character Emily is a widow who returns to Sunset Beach to fulfill her husband’s last wish for her) and turning it into something hopeful: Not letting the death of something be the final say. The old bridge has turned into something new, thanks to the devotion of a few people who did what they could. And that has made all the difference.