This is one of our promo weeks and I couldn’t be happier to introduce you to David Parmelee and his first published novel, “The Sea Is a Thief”
The Sea Is a Thief
Authored by David Parmelee
List Price: $14.95
5.5″ x 8.5″ (13.97 x 21.59 cm)
Black & White on White paper
Sunbury Press, Inc.
BISAC: Fiction / Historical
For more information please see:
Also available on Kindle and Nook
[For those of you who do not know, a free downloadable Kindle for PC available through amazon.com]
“The Sea Is a Thief” is fine story of young love set in the days of the United States’ Civil War. David weaves a great deal of information into the story and although it is complete and fulfilling, it brought to my mind many questions about the hows and whys of the creation of the story so I decided not to do my usual format of bio and excerpts of a guest’s work, but also to do an interview. I hope you feel free to join in and ask David any questions that come to your mind as well, and I certainly hope that you read “The Sea Is a Thief”.
So, David Parmelee, I know a bit about your background, Although we have spoken many times over the phone,(yet not much recently), we have never met in person…something I hope to rectify this summer. I know that you are from the area of Pennsylvania where you placed the home of your story’s hero, the young Union sailor, Sam, and that you are a graduate of Brown University in Rhode Island, which you named as the home of the ship’s captain, Sharpe. Although many of our generation know something of Chincoteague and Assateague Islands from Marguerite Henry books, (especially “Misty of Chincoteague”), you hear very little of the islands. Why did you pick this location for your story?
It’s great to have a REALLY GOOD STORY to answer a question! Our family has vacationed on Chincoteague for years. Toni Jo [his wife, Dr. Toni Jo Parmelee] and I love birds, and visited there to go birding before we had a family, then returned many years later with the children, who loved it. Assateague is the true barrier island, part of a National Seashore running many miles up and down the coast of Virginia and Maryland—unspoiled, beautiful, totally non-commercial beach. Chincoteague is an island sandwiched between Assateague and the mainland, with narrow channels on east and west. The sun sets over the water. While the town is certainly modern (t-shirt shops and so on), it’s a delightful retreat from modern life.
One year I found books on island history in The Kite Koop (which sells kites and books) with stories dating back to the 1700’s at least. The next time we vacationed there, my two daughters and I plotted out the novel during the drive down, using a small striped notebook that my wife had brought for them to keep a vacation journal. By the time we arrived the major plot developments and characters were sketched out. Some lines in that notebook made it to the final text.
An actual incident—the dispatch of the gunboat Louisiana to guard the island—served as the springboard for The Sea Is a Thief. I posed the fascinating question: what would happen to a hundred Union sailors anchored in a Confederate channel with nothing to do? Of course the answer came back, “We’ve got to find a way for one of them to fall in love with an island girl!” Romeo and Juliet, saltwater Civil-War version.
You’d be surprised who many people don’t know about Misty today. Those classic children’s books are fading. The hotel where Marguerite Henry wrote the story is still a hotel, and the theatre where the film version of Misty premiered in the early 60’s is still a first-run theatre. Pony penning, when the young foals are rounded up, is the high point of the island year. The place is mobbed. Year-round it is a wonderful place for fishing, sailing, seafood, birding, and relaxing on the beach in complete peace. One of my goals in writing the book was to see it on display in the Kite Koop.
Can you tell us a little about the Islands today?
I know you knew about rowboats .I remember calling your wife many years ago when you were still living in Rhode Island and you had just finished rowing her around, but how much did you know about the ships that you mention in your book?
Were there Civil War ships with the same names?
How much is actual historical basis for your story? Did you use the names or situations of any historical personages?
The Louisiana was the actual gunship sent to guard the island from Confederate attack. She was an iron ship, recently converted from a cotton-shipping vessel, and her crew and armament were as described. The “Battle of Cockle Creek” was taken from the historical account, according to which it happened just as described in chapter 1. The two battles of Drewry’s Bluff are real, as are many of the ships involved in them. It’s amazing that the Union was unsuccessful twice in the same spot, just seven miles south of Richmond. The two capitols are just 100 miles or so apart, yet neither fell during five years of war.
All the names of islanders are taken from Civil War-era records in the Chincoteague Library, which I think was once a barbershop. I used names randomly. Many family names have been on the island for generations, among them Daisey, my heroine’s name. The Daisey family today is famous for decoy carving; among the most collectible are those of Delbert “Cigar” Daisey (b. 1924). One of the fun threads from The Sea Is a Thief would the progress of Beau Daisey, who makes decoys that are “more beautiful than they need to be,” as a carver. I see him as the forefather of many Daisey carvers, though his character is fictional.
Port Clinton, PA is a very real town near Hawk Mountain, a hawk-watchers paradise. You can drink at the Port Clinton Hotel, where the canal boat pilots drank while Sam repaired their boats. The town depended on canals in the 19th century, then became a railroad center. Today the canal beds are dry and the tracks rusty. You still buy hard-to-find penny candy from a 100-year-old store that roasts its own peanuts. You can choose the degree of roasting. The Appalachian Trail crosses right through Port Clinton.
I learned about small boats when my daughter and I rebuilt a 1924 Old Town wood-and-canvas canoe under the supervision of Alda Maturi, a master boat builder. That helped me with the sneak skiff, though not the larger vessels. Alda was my Nautical and Maritime Affairs consultant, and advised me on anything that floated. I’ve done some canoeing and can imagine taking a small boat across a channel in a gale, though I’d rather not.
How much research did you have to do?
Great question. I’m the sort of person who gets annoyed when I see something I happen to know about depicted incorrectly in fiction, so I pledged not to let that occur. I sure hope I got it right. I mapped out Sam and Anna’s routes across the Channel to Assateague on a marine chart. For the battles I turned to Shelby Foote’s encyclopedic work on the war. He was prominent in Ken Burns’ miniseries and is among the foremost scholars on the subject. Since reliable cameras were developed around this time, many photos of the era still exist, including photos of ships and sailors.
One decision that almost went the other way was to give Mary Daisey, a seamstress by trade, a sewing machine. Singer patented the foot-powered machine in 1851; it’s unlikely that a woman as poor as Mary would have had one—but I have one, and I wanted her to, so perhaps I stretched that a bit.
One thing I depended on was to place the action scenes in places that I know: a familiar field or patch of woods, say, so that characters could move across them predictably and realistically, instead of operating in a physical world without boundaries. I hope it feels more real that way. Sam’s infantry battle is one example.
You go into detail not only about the uniforms, but all of the clothing, including the women’s. (ALWAYS important!).Where did you find that kind of information?
I have an online collection of lovely daguerreotypes from the period, both military and family. Some are on the facebook page and http://www.theseaisathief.com. My theatre background gives me a love of costume in literature, I suppose.
I am so glad to that you paid attention to detail,(drives me nuts when I read information that is ‘off’; it ruins the whole story for me. I go all “Adrian Monk” about it and fixate on the goof!)
Are you a Civil War buff?
I am now, but my knowledge doesn’t scratch the surface of what real students of the war know.
You have written what I believe is making a come-back, a pure love story in every sense of the word, based on romance and personal relationships, not immediate, so-called intimacy, and has virtually no love scenes save true-love’s kisses and warm embraces. AARP magazine has suggested Young Adult novels to its members who are tired of all the carnality in many books. I know that you are a religious man, a Catholic, (though none of the characters in the story are; I know that area is still not highly Catholic), and that you are father of four; two in their twenties and two still in their teens. Did that play a part in your decision to write such a chaste story?
Wow—that is a most thoughtful question. Actually, the time period dictated the morality. Even Shakespeare makes many sexual references, but I believe that the activity itself was less common than all those references implied. Both Sam and Anna are churched people, as almost everyone in the U.S. was then, and both were young. I tried to capture the intoxication of first love from both his and her point of view, especially the headiness of physical intimacy that was limited, but still overwhelming to the lovers. I hope that Anna does not come across as a shrinking violet; she’s enjoying herself in that first encounter on the beach!
Though it wasn’t specifically my goal to write a G-rated novel, I’m glad I did. No vampires or dystopias, either. I hope I start a trend.
You’re right about Catholicism; there are two churches on the island, both Protestant, as they actually were. Today there is a lovely little Catholic church with a tiny churchyard containing the graves of a few Catholic islanders.
Your book was published by a traditional publishing house, Sunbury Press. Did you consider self-publishing, online publishers and/or going with purely electronic books?
Self-publishing, never; I figured if it wasn’t worth publishing, no one would, and game over. I got three yes’s from smaller independent presses after striking out in a misguided attempt to interest large publishers such as Scholastic. (I got some nice notes from interns.) Two of the publishers who expressed interest were brand-new and focused entirely on e-books. Nothing wrong with that, but I did want to see the book in stores. Two of my goals were to see it on the “Brown Authors” shelf in the Brown bookstore and too see it for sale on Chincoteague. The third was to present a copy to my 8th-grade English teacher George Germak, to whom the book is dedicated. He was extremely influential in my life. So, a paper copy mattered to me for personal reasons, though the market seems to be going the other way.
I discovered all these publishers on Writer’s Market–an excellent online resource. When I saw what Sunbury had accomplished over the past ten years I thought I would be doing very well indeed if they went for it. To my delight, they did.
I read that Sunbury Press is local to your area of Pennsylvania and has a selection rate of 5%, (publishes approximately 5 % of submitted manuscripts.). How did you decide on Sunbury?
I got really lucky there, didn’t I? They have a particular interest in the subjects I was writing about. It was an extraordinary compliment when Lawrence Knorr said “yes.” They have been delightful to work with, by the way. My editor was very kind to me and they have met every deadline and kept every promise. Fine people.
How did you submit your manuscript?
I followed all the instructions on Writer’s Market, because I knew absolutely nothing. Go thou and do likewise.
Do you have an agent?
No. I’ve been told that one good path to success is to submit queries to agents, who act as sort of reviewers for publishers; if you can get the agent to take you, the chances of attracting a publisher are better. Had I failed in my attempt to find a publisher without an agent, I would have gone back and tried that route. Everything takes so long in publishing that I didn’t want to wait in line twice!
Can you offer any advice and how-to or what NOT to do when writing or submitting a novel?
I was helped tremendously by Randy Ingermanson’s blog and tutorials. He wrote Fiction Writing for Dummies (after I wrote my book) and invented a fantastic thing called The Snowflake Method that you should investigate. http://www.ingermanson.com.
I agree on the Writer’s Market; can I also make another suggestion? “The Practical Writer” Therese Eiben and Mary Gannon, editors. Poets and Writers Magazine Press, 2004. I read it from my local library and ordered it used online for a couple of dollars…it is worth gold.
I wrote a great deal of the book in hotel rooms while traveling for business. Just don’t turn the TV on. It’s really quiet. Apparently this is how J.K. Rowling finished Harry Potter, too, so that makes at least two of us.
I was paranoid about following all the formatting instructions when submitting. If you read queries and submissions all day long, you no doubt develop strong preferences, which I tried to accommodate. Why make a bad first impression? One of the pieces of advice I love is to pretend you are on an elevator with a publisher. You mention your book, and she asks, “What’s it about?” You must be able to answer the question before the elevator stops. Good advice, huh?
Yes, David. I have heard “The Elevator Pitch”, used for plays and screenplays as well. The most important ways of being published are focus and know-your-audience. You have to have a steady ‘voice’ to your work and write to your target audience. That doesn’t mean that you ALWAYS have to write in the same vein. Many writers work all over the spectrum,(even using different names) , but each work must be consistent.
Can we expect to see more writing forthcoming from you? Do you have a WIP?
I really think I will. I have a short story percolating and a cool top-10 list suitable for a coffee mug. Seriously, yes. I love it. I had no idea I could write publishable fiction until this experience. I’m greatly encouraged. You folks have encouraged me all by yourselves!
David will be checking in to answer your comments and questions, although his wife, (my cousin), and their teenage son are opening in a community theater production of “Les Miserables” tonight. (Break your legs!) We’ll understand if there is a delay in answering later posts.
David, I know you also will be traveling in a few days but if you can check in when you can, (as we have a few people that often come in after the weekend), we’d appreciate it.
Comments, questions, anyone?