Spend a summer at the beach with this enchanting and emotional story about love, loss, and the powerful bonds of female friendship…
Please summarize the book for the readers here:
For Nora Farrell, Tuckahoe, Maryland, isn’t just a summer refuge, it’s home—where she married the love of her life, decided to have a child, and has remained connected with her two closest friends. Even now, long after her husband’s passing, Nora reunites with Margo and Emine every June.
But this year, challenges invade the friends’ retreat. Even as Nora delights in teaching at her dance studio, she is shaken by the possible loss of her beach house…and by a tentative new romance. While Margo directs a musical at the Driftwood Playhouse, she finds her marriage on rocky ground. And Em, who relishes running her family’s café, struggles to handle her rebellious daughter. With their personal dramas reaching a fever pitch, the women will discover that it isn’t only the beach that brightens their lives. Their bond with one another provides the ultimate magic.
Please share the opening lines of this book:
The summer house on Surf Avenue carried some kind of spell, concocted of—I don’t know—salt air, sea grass, and Old Bay seasoning that over the years had permeated its walls and floorboards. Whatever it was, the pace cast fabulous magic. For a while, anyway.
Please share a few Fun facts about this book…
- My main character Nora Farrell owns and runs We Got Rhythm, a Zumba and ballroom dance studio in Tuckahoe Beach, a Maryland resort town. That’s Nora’s summer work. In the colder months, back in Baltimore, she’s a certified dance and movement therapist. As a kid, I took tap, ballet, and jazz lessons, was in love with dancing and have done it in one form or another all my life. So writing about “We Got Rhythm” came easily. But I knew next to nothing about dance therapy. I found the basics online—that it helps patients with physical injuries and emotional problems and how certified dance therapists work in psychiatric facilities, veterans hospitals, and with people suffering neurologic impairment like Alzheimer’s and ALS. However, it was only after the story had begun to percolate that I discovered to my surprise and delight that the national headquarters of the American Dance Therapy Association was located around the corner from my home. And that two of the major practitioners in the profession, legends among their peers, lived in my community, which meant face-to-face interviews if they were willing (they were!). Now that’s what Emine, my Turkish character would call Kismet. So almost from the beginning, I believed Barefoot Beach was destined to be written.
- There’s a good luck charm in every one of my novels: Brooklyn. That New York City borough is featured or at least mentioned in every novel I write. I was born and raised there and it remains a special place to me. The mention may be in passing, or it can have a real impact on the characters. In my first novel, My Favorite Midlife Crisis (Yet) it’s a single line; my character Kat recalls her hippie wedding in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. In Happy Any Day Now, Judith Soo Jin Raphael’s childhood in a poverty stricken Brooklyn neighborhood had enormous influence on her future. And in Barefoot Beach, Brooklyn figures strongly in the background of two of my main characters, Nora and Margo, who grew up and were college roommates in New York City. One of my favorite flashback scenes: adolescent Margo seeing a nude dude Greek statue at the Brooklyn Museum that sets the standard for the physical (ahem!) attributes of her ideal husband. I guess Brooklyn is in my DNA. I know it is, will always be, somewhere in my novels.
- Lieutenant Colonel Scott Goddard, one of my male leads, is a veteran of the war in Iraq and a below-the-knee amputee as a result of wounds suffered there. To say I was out of my depth writing about military amputees is understating it. I was wading into unknown waters. So I did what I always do before and as I write—research. I had connections with members of the armed services and they were incredibly helpful. But I didn’t know any amputees wounded in combat. So I turned to the Internet’s blogs and forums and dove right in. I expected somber discussions about how to deal with parts missing and advice about adapting to prostheses. And there was lots of that. But what surprised me was that these amazing guys and gals were fun….and funny. Their posts were full of info, sure, but they were also supportive, cheerleading and sometimes flat-out hilarious. The discussions about sexuality, for example, were characterized by dry wit and self-deprecating humor. The tone of those exchanges shaped a lot of Scott’s personality. He’s bright, brave, respectful and focused, but he also has a sense of humor served on wry, and that makes him even more attractive to Nora. And sexier.
Please tell us a little about the characters in your book.
Well, to add to what we already know about the three women who form the inner circle: Nora is half Irish and half Italian. And she’s my first redhead protagonist. We have a special bond, Nora and I. The redhead thing. Also: She lost her husband when she was in her thirties and, after Lon’s passing, got stuck in an unchallenging, if safe, personal space. But in Barefoot Beach we get inside her head and watch her try to reclaim her happiness during a very adventurous, life-changing summer.
Emine Haydar also evolves over the course of the story. Managing her rebellious adolescent daughter, and facing off with her formidable villain of a mother-in-law, Selda, were aspects of her personality I found especially satisfying to develop.
Then there’s Jack, Nora’s nineteen-year-old son who’s come to a crossroads in his life. As he searches for answers about his past, Nora’s feelings become increasingly conflicted. Mother and son have always been close, but their connection frays as Jack ventures into an unknown present.
Big surprise 1: Margo, Nora’s BFF, tries to steal the story. I found myself in a tug of war with the actress who kept trying to hog the spotlight. Margo is so over-the-top, be it drama or farce, so bitingly funny that she commands attention. But Nora, whose feelings are subtler (except when it comes to maternal or romantic love where she pulls out all the stops), managed to hold on tight.
Big surprise 2: The beach, especially the ocean, plays out as a character in the book. You’ll see what I mean as the plot draws to a frenzied climax.
If your book was optioned for a movie, what scene would you use for the audition of the main characters and why?
I’d like to see a scene that shows the range of the story and the temperaments of the characters. This one takes place in Nora’s office at “We Got Rhythm” after Margo attends a Zumba class. Here you get a taste of the interaction between the two women and the set-up for Margo’s suspicion that her husband, retired baseball icon, Pete Manolis, is having an affair.
After twenty-five years of dealing with an actress, I knew a cue when I heard one. “What’s going on?”
Her eyes filled with tears. No one did tragedy better than Margo. Or farce. Now she sniffed, swallowed hard, and said in a tremulous voice, “Pete’s having an affair.”
I’d learned that you waited a beat before responding to any of her major pronouncements. You didn’t want to step on her lines. And a good thing, too, because she shifted a warning gaze to me. “I know what you’re going to say. That I’ve had these suspicions before and they only panned out that one time, and the past is past. It’s been eighteen years since Alicia, so move on, Margo. Well, I did. But you can’t erase history.”
There had been precedent in the then Yankee player’s affair with a stunning New York City TV sports reporter, a liaison that almost destroyed the Manolis marriage. Pete’s trade to the Orioles had ended that extramarital adventure, but the memory still haunted Margo.
I leaned back in my chair and said with all the sincerity I could muster. “Go on.”
“Okay. He hasn’t been himself for a while. Remember I mentioned I thought it was because of him hitting the big five-oh? But it’s become clear, especially here at the beach where I can keep an eye on him all day, three days a week, that it’s much more serious.”
I must have hoisted a skeptical eyebrow, because she added, nostrils flaring, “I can see it in your face. You’re thinking, there she goes again, Margo the drama queen. But I’ve got the goods. First, he’s on his cell phone almost constantly, whispering conversations, or he ducks into another room. Then, get this, Pete the Luddite is texting. The man doesn’t know how to forward an email and suddenly he’s tapping away with his Shrek-sized fingers on this tiny keyboard. When I asked him who taught him how to text, he told me Janet Buxbaum, the secretary at the Orioles’ front office.” The O’s front office was Pete’s home base for some kind of public relations job that Margo couldn’t exactly define.
“So you think this Buxbaum person could be the girlfriend?” I asked.
“She’d better not be. She’s pushing sixty, with kinky gray hair, and she stinks from the two packs a day she smokes. I will not accept that quality of competition.” When I gave a half laugh, she said, “I’m trying to make light of this, Norrie, but it’s no joke.” She paused for effect. “He bought new underwear.”
Not good. But no need to panic either. “People do occasionally purchase replacement underwear, Margo. Even happily married ones.”
“He switched from boxers to briefs.” Uh-oh. “I found these in the laundry basket this morning.” She reached down into her gym bag and pulled out, dear God, what looked like…
“Black jockeys. So I checked his dresser drawer. Three pairs in black. Three in royal purple. What man wears royal purple briefs unless he thinks he’s got the king in his pants? And quite honestly, lately, it’s been just the oppo—”
My hand flew up in deflection, signaling TMI, then waved at her to get that underwear out of my sight.
In the East Village apartment Margo and I had shared in grad school, we’d talked about our dates in snorting, graphic detail. But when Lon and Pete came along, we stopped discussing the intimate particulars because in both cases we knew almost immediately that these men were for keeps and that kind of gossip seemed like a betrayal.
“Black and purple,” I said. “Ravens’ colors. Pete’s a gung-ho Ravens fan. And they had a great season. Maybe he’s just celebrating.”
“He’s celebrating all right, but not with me. With her.”
“Wait. Who’s her?”
“I’m thinking some young thing, big boobs, a fan whose father probably collected Pete’s baseball cards. Don’t know her name yet, but I’ll find out. I have my ways. All I can tell you for sure is Pete the Cheat is at it again. He’s exhibiting the same symptoms as the first time. Almost. The texting is new.”
“And when you asked him about the texting, the phone calls, he said what?”
She flicked me a look that let me know I was the village idiot. “Oh, please. I haven’t asked him.”
“Well, this may seem simple and therefore inconsistent with your script, but if you think something’s going on, why not?”
“Because he’d be furious that I was going through his things the way I did in New York. And he’d deny it like he did before with that Alicia creature. Said I was insecure. I was imagining things. Like the charges for a St. Regis suite on our Visa card were a mirage. If I hadn’t confronted him with that, he never would have come clean. I take care of all the bills now. Nothing so far, but they probably do it at her place.”
“Pete adores you. I can’t imagine after all the counseling—”
“You know what Peter Manolis adores? He adores being adored. Do you remember the Yankee Hanky-Pankies? That’s what he called the women who mailed him their thongs. And what about the groupies who followed him from game to game, even out of town? He laughed about all that drooling over him, but the truth is he reveled in it.”
She dropped her head to her chest as if some master puppeteer had let go of the string. Then, after a whimper, she raised it slowly to tell me, “Look, I’m his wife. I love him. God knows, I wish I loved him less. But I know too much to adore him. I see his dribble on the pillow. I get boomed awake when he’s forgotten to take his Gas-X. And men like Pete, the stars, they become raptors, with the fans feeding their egos. When the adoration runs out, they crave it. And now, after a famine longer than in the Bible, he’s got fresh meat. What’s tastier than that?”
A genuine look of pain swept across her face. Under the Botox, the collagen fillers, the plumped-up, pulled-tight skin, she looked stripped down to herself. And scared. She said in a whisper, “The thing is, even after all these years and what we’ve been through, I don’t want to lose him.”
What do you want people to take away from reading this book?
First, that women’s friendship is a powerful force. When the call goes out, “Sister, down! Sisters rally!” your female friends are on the scene pronto with sympathy and support. That’s the kind of friendship we should cherish and nurture. I know it saved me a number of times.
Second, that the human species has an unquenchable drive to survive. Wounded by IEDs or heartbreak, we fight for life. And not just life—a good, satisfying life.
What are you currently working on? What other releases do you have planned for 2016?
I’m about midway through a book that takes place in Brooklyn (!) and Budapest, present and past, and traces female friendship from is inception in childhood through decades. It touches on lost and found connections, obsessive love, the nature of truth, and secrets….many secrets. How’s that for ambitious? BTW, it’s also funny. I “write funny,” so all of my novels have that comic relief threading through. I know I’m having fun writing it.
Thanks for blogging at HJ!
Giveaway: Print copy of AREFOOT BEACH by Toby Devens
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he beach house carried some kind of spell, concocted of—I don’t know—salt air, sea grass and Old Bay seasoning that over the years had permeated its walls and floorboards. Whatever it was, the place cast fabulous magic.
For Nora Farrell, Tuckahoe, Maryland, isn’t just a summer refuge, it’s home—where she married the love of her life, decided to have a child, and has remained connected with her two closest friends. Even now, long after her husband’s passing, Nora reunites with Margo and Emine every June….
But this year, challenges invade the friends’ retreat. Even as Nora delights in teaching at her dance studio, she is shaken by the possible loss of her beach house…and by a tentative new romance. While Margo directs a musical at the Driftwood Playhouse, she finds her marriage on rocky ground. And Em, who relishes running her family’s café, struggles to handle her rebellious daughter.
With their personal dramas reaching a fever pitch, the women will discover that it isn’t only the beach that brightens their lives. Their bond with one another provides the ultimate magic.
Meet the Author:
Toby Devens, known for her women’s fiction, is the author of Happy Any Day Now and My Favorite Midlife Crisis (Yet), as well as a humorous collection of poetry that was excerpted in Reader’s Digest and other national publications. She has worked in publishing and public relations and has led writing workshops. She lives in Maryland.
Facebook Author page: https://www.facebook.com/tobydevensauthor/
Excerpts. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.