Sunday, December 8, 2013

Trails in the Sand by P. C. Zick: Interview and Excerpt


Welcome!   I'm so happy to have you back for another visit. Thanks for agreeing to answer some of my questions.  How did you start your writing career?

I have always been a writer and reader. I dabbled with writing during vacations from teaching. I always received praise for my writing. As a high school English teacher, I became known as the “writing teacher” and taught creative writing and gave writing workshops to other teachers. When I burned out on teaching students to write, I began getting more serious about my own writing, and one summer I finished a novel that had been languishing in a file cabinet drawer for ten years. A small publisher picked it up after my tenth query letter. Then I began writing press releases for local groups. That led to an offer from the local paper to begin writing human-interest pieces. By the end of 2000, I realized while teaching full time, I still managed to earn $5,000 for my writing. I retired from teaching in June 2001 and began working as a journalist while writing novels in the evening and early morning hours. I’ve never looked back. It’s very exciting to be involved in the new revolution in writing and publishing today. I’m learning something every day that teaches me I still have much more to learn.

Tell us about your current release.

Trails in the Sand is about restoration and redemption in both nature and human relationships. It also asks the question:  Can we make up for something we destroy? As the main character, Caroline struggles to save her family, she’s also reporting on efforts to save wildlife from the oil spill. Her reporting leads to writing about the efforts to save sea turtles nests as oil continues to gush into the Gulf of Mexico. Her husband Simon is also grieving the death of his cousin and best friend Jason who was one of the miners killed in the Upper Big Branch coal mine explosion in West Virginia weeks before the oil spill.

I was embroiled in the real-life drama as a public relations director for Florida’s fish and wildlife agency. I handled the media from the sea turtle nest relocation project that took place during the summer of 2010. At the same time, I was beginning a new relationship with a lost love from thirty-five years ago and was in the process of moving to Pittsburgh. Two weeks prior to the oil spill, twenty-nine miners were killed in a coal mine explosion in West Virginia, just a few hours from where I was moving. It all fell into place to write about the oil spill and coal mine disaster and our quest for profit and fossil fuels at any cost and the obstacles facing reunited lovers under trying circumstances.


Tell us about your next release.

I started Native Lands back in 2007 but life interrupted it when I took a job with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. It’s one of life’s serendipitous moments, the job helped me do research for both Trails in the Sand (published earlier this year) and Native Lands which I pulled out of storage a couple of months ago. I had 200 pages of a work in progress. Now I’m culling through and refining the plot. Soon I’ll begin the second draft. The story is set in the Florida Everglades and St. Augustine. Later this month, I’m headed to the Everglades for a self-imposed writer’s retreat and hope to get it in shape for my beta readers. I’m excited about the book. The plot involves the destruction of the Everglades by an international conglomerate intent upon making Florida its prototype of creating fake natural living communities. A group of ordinary citizens band together to stop them.


Has someone been instrumental in inspiring you as a writer?

I have to give credit to the leader of my first writers' group. I joined as a hobby with no serious intention of making writing my career. We had been meeting for months, but no one was producing much of anything and we all had plenty of excuses why we hadn't written anything all month. The leader finally threw up his hands and said, "Writers write. It's as simple as that. If you're not writing, then you're not ever going to be a writer. Just do it." Most of the other members were insulted, but I took those words to heart, and I began diligently working on my first novel. It was the push I needed to get started.

What is the hardest part of writing your books?

The hardest part of writing is finding the time to do it. I write as my full time job, yet it seems the marketing and promoting tasks take up an unequal distribution of my time. Today I've carved out the rest of the afternoon to write--as soon as I finish this interview!

What does your significant other and family think of your writing career?

My husband, my daughter, and a handful of friends always support me. My husband is very proud of me. He’s an engineer,so the literary world was unfamiliar to him when we married. He supports my quest to see what I can do as an author of fiction despite my lack of income at this point. My daughter Anna is an artist – she paints – and she was my earliest cheerleader for leaving teaching and pursuing what I love. She’s one of my trusted beta readers because she’s honest and interested in seeing that I put out my very best work. One of my friends is a voracious reader and strict grammarian, and I trust her to read my early drafts and give me feedback. Then I have several friends who love everything I write. I am very grateful for their support.

Do you have any suggestions for beginning writers? If so, what are they?

Good writing entertains. Readers must be transported and forget they are reading a story. Fiction must have some elements of believability. Fiction also requires research. If you are writing about a medical procedure, you can’t just make it up. You need to do your research. If you’re writing about a real place, the details must be accurate. I recently read a book with a kayaking scene in it. I’m a kayaker, so when the author had the male lead place the woman in the kayak, and he jumped in the same seat behind her, the author lost me as a reader. She also referred to the paddles as oars (used in canoeing). Writers must know the essentials of grammar. I was a high school English teacher and then a journalist so I had the background. However, writing fiction requires some different skills, and writers must be able to adapt. I keep several grammar books near me as well as the AP Stylebook, the Chicago Manual of Style (mostly used in fiction), Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, and many other research books on nature and the environment (usually an important element in my fiction.). One more piece of advice: Whatever style you use, be consistent throughout your book. Trails in the Sand mentions “oil rig” and “coal mine” throughout the story. The dictionary says these words can be either one word or two words. I chose to keep them as two separate words, but I made sure I did that throughout the entire novel.

A Florida Environmental Novel - Love Triangles, Loggerhead Sea Turtles, and the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

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. As the main characters fight to save their family, wildlife conservation and the environment serve as reminders that life moves forward despite the best efforts to destroy it.


1956 – St. George Island, Florida

Alex and Gladdy Stokley sat on the sand as the reddish glow from the setting sun disappeared and left the beach shrouded in darkness. The light of day remained only in memory as the waves rhythmically beat upon the shore where the brother and sister sat in silence.
“Moon’s rising,” Alex said half an hour after the sun left the horizon. “See the light edging its way over there? It’s going to be full tonight.”
The tide was going out as they sat on a linen tablecloth that served as a blanket; they smuggled it out of the family’s beach house as they escaped the rage of their father an hour earlier. Alex produced a crumpled pack of cigarettes from the front pocket of his white T-shirt. He cupped his hands to light the match and then the cigarette. He pulled a second one from the pack, lit it from the already glowing stick, and handed it to his sister. Gladdy touched her brother’s hand before taking the offering.
“Everything’s going to work out,” Gladdy said. “You’ll see. Daddy will forget all about it once he goes back to work on Monday.”
“He’s not going to forget, Gladdy. Not this,” Alex said. “And neither will I. Do you think you can forget it ever happened?”
“I can try. You can try. Let’s just put it out of our minds as if it never happened. Please, Alex. We have to.”
“It won’t work. It’s hopeless,” Alex said.
“Look,” Gladdy poked her brother who was older by ten months.
She pointed to the edge of the shoreline only feet away from where they sat on the sand. The light from the rising moon illuminated the beach in a soft white bath.
“It’s a loggerhead,” Alex said as a sea turtle lumbered out of the ocean and laboriously began its march to the dune line. “You can tell by its big head.”
“I bet it’s going to lay eggs,” Gladdy whispered.
They sat motionless as the turtle, not more than fifty feet away, pulled itself through the sand. The loggerhead moved slowly but steadily, using first the front right and then the left rear flippers to pull it forward. Then it repeated the action with the other diagonal flippers. Its march from the sea was distinct from the other species of turtles that came ashore in Florida to lay eggs. The green turtle, Kemp’s ridley, the leatherback, and the hawksbill also laid their eggs on the beaches of the peninsula, but loggerheads were by far the most numerous.
The female loggerhead, so graceful as it floated and swam in the ocean, now tromped through the sand dragging nearly 300 pounds of body weight. Every few minutes, it would stop and dig its snout into the sand.
“She’s testing the temperature,” Alex said. “That’s exactly how it was described in that book Daddy threw in the trash tonight.”
Alex read any book he could find about the ocean. Archie Carr just published a book about the sea turtles, and Alex checked the book out of the library in Calico, where the Stokleys lived, before they came to St. George Island for the summer. He’d received special permission to keep it for three months. When his father came to the dinner table that night and saw Alex sitting with his elbows on the table and The Windward Road propped up on his glass of milk, Arthur Stokley snatched the book and walked out through the kitchen to the back porch and threw it in the trash.
“We do not read at the table,” Dr. Stokley said when he returned. “You have the manners of a heathen and the sense of a moron. You never fail to disappoint me.”
“But that was a library book,” Alex said.
“All the more reason not to have it at the dinner table,” Dr. Stokley said. “You’ll have to tell the librarian you lost it, and earn the money to pay for it.”
When the turtle reached the edge of the sea oats and grasses protruding from the dunes, she swept the sand with all four flippers before using her front flippers to push sand out of a large area. The loggerhead kept rotating her body around the area until a place big enough for her body indented the sand. She used her cupped rear flippers as shovels and began to prepare the cavity for the eggs.
After digging for what seemed like an eternity to the teenagers, the ancient creature placed itself in the body pit with its rear end just at the edge of the cavity. They watched as three eggs dropped into the hole followed by a clear thick liquid. The process was repeated over and over again.
“That’s mucus to keep moisture in the nest while the eggs incubate,” Alex said. “Are you counting how many eggs she’s laid? The book said they can lay up to 200 in one nest.”
“I’m up to 82,” Gladdy said. “There’s 83 and 84.”
After counting 124 eggs, they watched as the sea turtle filled in the cavity with its rear flippers and then swept the area in an effort to disguise what lay beneath the surface.
When the turtle finished her job, nearly two hours after she came from the sea, she began the slow return back to the ocean. Alex rose from the sand and followed the loggerhead.
“Alex, what are you doing? You can’t go swimming after dark – the undertow is too strong.”
“Did you know sea turtles always return to lay their eggs on the beach where they were hatched?” Alex said as he walked backwards into the sea following the trail of the female loggerhead. “The eggs will hatch in about two months, Gladdy. Be sure to come down here every night and wait for them to emerge so you can help them go home. Remember 124 eggs and remember the location.”
Alex turned toward the ocean and kept walking until the sea engulfed him, and he went under.
“Alex, come back,” Gladdy yelled out over the surf, but the only answer came from the sound of the waves lapping the beach. “We’ll find a way.”
Gladdy pulled the corners of the tablecloth up around her shoulders and waited for her brother to reappear. The waves came back to shore time after time, but as she sat transfixed in her spot on the beach, Alex never returned with them.

 P.C. Zick began her writing career in 1998 as a journalist. She's won various awards for her essays, columns, editorials, articles, and fiction. She describes herself as a "storyteller" no matter the genre.

She's published five works of fiction and two nonfiction books. Prior to 2010, she wrote under the name Patricia C. Behnke.

She was born in Michigan and moved to Florida in 1980. Even though she now resides in Pennsylvania with her husband Robert, she finds the stories of Florida and its people and environment a rich base for her storytelling platform. Florida's quirky and abundant wildlife - both human and animal - supply her fiction with tales almost too weird to be believable.

Her fiction contains the elements most dear to her heart, ranging from love to the environment. In her novels, she advances the cause for wildlife conservation and energy conservation. She believes in living lightly upon this earth with love, laughter, and passion.

"This is one of the most exciting times to be an author," Ms. Zick says. "I'm honored to be a part of the revolution in writing and publishing."

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1 comment:

Patricia Zick said...

Thank you for featuring me today, Laurie. Your support of authors is phenomenal, and I am very grateful.