• JC Wing

Life in a fictional town

The preorder for my next book, Harbor Song, went live on Amazon yesterday. Every book for me has been a journey. All of them have been written for different reasons, and all of them mean a great deal to me in different ways. Each one is very personal, and, as strange as it might sound, each one of them has its own personality. I’ve been thinking about how Harbor Song came to be, which means I had to write about it. For those of you excited about this new release, I thought I’d share.

In January of 2019, one of my fellow author friends sent me a message. She had an idea for an anthology. Would I like to be a part of it? This friend happens to be Jennifer Sivec, whom I adore. She was one of the first authors I met and worked with back in the Booktrope days, and when I started Wing Family Editing after Booktrope’s demise, Jen was one of the writers who stuck with me and helped me build my own group of authors. I’m not sure she could come up with any project I wouldn’t love to take part in, so when she pitched me her idea, the answer was an easy and immediate yes.

There was one other writer Jen and I wanted to bring aboard. We were hoping the three of us could make this our project. Robin Nunes, or, as her writers know her, Lark Griffing. When we shared what we were thinking with her, she was as excited as Jen and I were. That’s when the three of us began planning and plotting. That’s when the idea of taking one fictional town and making it the basis for all the stories that would make this anthology began. That’s when Grey’s Harbor, a fictional little town on the coast of North Carolina, was born.

We’d all been a part of anthologies in the past, but the idea behind this book was different, and it excited me. I thought it would be fun to see how each author would write about the same place, even bring some of the same characters together, and create several different stories that made up a whole. This was a collaboration of a whole different kind. We asked several authors who started the project with us, but for different reasons had to drop out. When it was said and done, there were five of us who contributed to Grey’s Harbor: Jennifer Sivec, Lark Griffing, Piper Malone, Carol Cassada and me.

I’ve been writing for a long time. I can’t actually remember the first thing I wrote, or when I wrote it. My imagination has always been a lively place, and I’ve been making up stories for as long as I can remember. I’ve been dabbling with a trio of characters for some time now, writing bits and pieces, countless scenes, a loose storyline … but while I really enjoy these characters, I hadn’t come up with one main plot that worked, that I was happy about. When we decided to do this anthology, they were the first thing that came to mind.

The story that I wrote for Grey’s Harbor is called Man in the Moon. The scenes I’d already written for these characters took place in a southern setting, and the genre we were shooting for was romance. Unless it’s romantic comedy, that hasn’t historically been my thing, but I thought that the genre really fit these characters. I thought I had it made. I already had a ton of stuff written. This was gonna be cake.

Yeah. First rule of thumb when it comes to a creative endeavor. Don’t ever think it’s gonna be cake.

I tried to make what I’d already written work, but it didn’t have a foundation. There were just a bunch of ideas, different scenes I’d written, and none of them really came together. The characters had history, but it was vague. I put everything I’d written in the past away. I kept the characters but started over from scratch.

Things were going great. Trey Mason and Magnolia Jane Spencer. Trey calls her by her last name—a trait I find endearing for some reason—and I built the base. The history between them became clearer, and I was establishing their relationship with each other and of this quirky little town that was slowly starting to feel more and more like a real place. Then I brought that third character in. For reasons I still haven’t figured out, she changed a lot from the first scenes I wrote. Her physical appearance stayed the same—small, short black hair, piercings, a lot of silver jewelry—but her place in the other characters' lives shifted, her personality altered, and eventually, she became Izzy Edwards, Magnolia Jane’s aunt. She stepped in and then started to take over the entire story.

There was some history I wanted to build, but I had less than 25,000 words to work with, so I had to be brief with that part of it. M.J. and Trey had a lot of story that needed to be told, but as I was writing, I found my words flowing quickly … and most of them were about Izzy. There was just something about her. I felt comfortable with her. She’d been through a lot. She was a tough woman, someone who the town trusted and respected, but there was something there … The story I’d already written for her was only scratching the surface, and I was drawn to this woman. Yes, I realize this may sound strange, especially to non-writers. I was creating Izzy. She’s a fictional character made up entirely in my imagination. It makes sense that I would already know all there was to know about her, but it doesn’t always work that way. Her story was building, taking amazing shape, and I was having a blast with her. The problem was, she was being way too pushy. Man in the Moon wasn’t Izzy’s story.

I wound up taking a lot of words out of that manuscript. Thousands of them. I saved them to another document, and I did write M.J. and Trey’s tale. I was finally able to give them the story I hadn’t been able to create before, and I was incredibly pleased with the result. These two characters had been living in my brain for so long, and they deserved a good, strong narrative. (Thanks for being patient, guys. I knew it would happen eventually.) Izzy was still there, though, in the back of my mind. There was a lot there, and she was being loud about it. She’d been left hanging, and I needed to finish things for her.

We released Grey’s Harbor in January. We got a lot of positive feedback, and the reviews were amazing. Readers seemed to love the idea we’d come up with, and they told us they wanted more stories from this little coastal town. Happily, we gave it to them. Five more books were released shortly after. Robin wrote Grey’s Landing, Hope Adrift and Harbor Tides, and then Jennifer published Perfect Seas. Harbor Song, Izzy’s story, will go live on October 27. We’ve got ourselves a beautiful little series, folks.

I’ve written about characters before—how oftentimes they do things that are unpredictable, how they can take off and tell a part of the story that even the author can’t predict. Here’s something else I think is true: Sometimes certain characters show up because the author needs them. There is something about their story that the author needs to tell, even if the author doesn’t really understand why. Part of me needed Izzy when she showed up, and there are many things I love about this woman. I feel like I still need Izzy, and I think it’s safe to say there will be more from her even after Harbor Song is released.

Life in this fictional town has been quite the experience for me. If you haven’t yet visited Grey’s Harbor, you should. You don’t have to worry about travel plans—flights or hotels, or the fear of a global pandemic—and hey, we have a beautiful coastline, a historic lighthouse and great food. You might find that you really like it here.