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Chandra's Blog


Entries in Cayman (6)


The Next Big Thing Blog Hop

I was invited to this blog event by Dr. Anna Leahy, author of Generation Space. You can read her post here on her Lofty Ambitions blog. Anna has also been a guest blogger on my Writers on Wednesday series--click here to read her past post. Thank you Anna, for inviting me! 

While there is a part of me that is superstitious about talking about work that is out with editors, (documented in The Submission Jinx by Jennifer Haupt at Beyond the Margins) I'm going to throw caution to the wind and dish. 



What is your working title of your book?
The Summer After
Where did the idea come from for the book?
I was on book tour for CHOSEN in a hotel room in Santa Monica. I went to bed with the windows open to hear the ocean and I dreamed the plot of this beach story in the night. It was tricky, though, because I had my three kids with me on tour and we hit the ground running the next day--our promised day in Disneyland and then I had a book club that night. It's a scary thing, trying to hold a story in your mind before you can get it down, like carrying a plate full of steaming, slippery spaghetti, and worrying the whole thing will slip off and be lost. I had to hold that dream until we were on a red-eye the final day to dash down the details of the story. The summary is below: 
 Dean Adler flies to Grand Cayman when his teenage son is involved in a tragic accident on the island; Juliet has been sent there at her family's insistence--an urgent change of scenery. The summer after the loss of their spouses, this widower and widow meet over the sandcastle friendships of their children in the sweltering sun of the Caribbean. 
As Dean and Juliet navigate the tentative steps out of grief, love blossoms among the hibiscus. But the quietly brewing storm of Juliet's secrets threaten the tenuous bonds and their tranquil summer.  All vacations must end, and their love story has a built-in expiration date. When the past catches up with them both, a pending hurricane forces an answer to the question--is the greatest tragedy the loves that they lost, or the potential devastation of what they just found?

What genre does your book fall under?
Mainstream/upmarket womens fiction--the kind of book you would want your book club or sister to read and chat about with you. I always say that I aspire to be a Jodi Picoult, only with a little more grit, slightly edgier, less formulaic. 

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Oh I love this question! The guy in my dream looked exactly like Martin Donovan, who played Nancy's dead DEA husband in Weeds, which I was watching back then. There is something so sympathetic and St. Bernardish about him that the character of Dean grew out of him. I want the reader to feel worried for Dean and the goodness of his heart as Juliet's story unfolds. For Juliet, Sandra Bullock comes to mind. Or Claire Danes, because I want her to play all of my characters, but I don't think she's quite right for this one. 
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
The Summer After -- a dark past catches up with a widow and widower stumbling through grief and threatens their quest for love the second time around.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? 
I am represented by Maria Massie of Lippincott, Massie, McQuilken. This work is currently out with editors.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
It's funny--I was working on another book and while that manuscript was going out, I dreamed this one. I threw together the above blurb and editors got more excited about this story than the one I was clunking away on. I backburnered the first project and wrote this in about six months. It was a new experience, going back and writing from nothing after years of revision on both CHOSEN and the book in the middle. It was a huge relief to see that I could still sit down with a blank screen and create a world.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Nicholas Sparks SAFE HAVEN
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Two things, really. I'm at the age where a lot of friends are navigating the grief of loss, and the challenge of love the second time around. It's hard and heartbreaking and hopeful all at once. I wanted to write happy love stories for them all, but then there's always the past, and the rub, and second time around, often the kids. It's complicated. I love digging around in messy domestic stuff and encouraging the reader to root for a good outcome.  
I also use stories to write love letters to places I have loved and left. I've been waiting for the right story about Grand Cayman, where I was living when I met my husband. Because of our history with the island and the years we lived there, I knew I knew my Cayman story had to be a love story, but there also had to be some drama. This feels right.
the exact spot where I met my husband
What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
The pace of the book is a little faster than a typical love story. Plus there's the setting--who wouldn't want to live out on the remote Rum Point in Grand Cayman for a summer, even if it's only a virtual visit? 
* *** * 
Tagged authors:
Emily Kennedy
Hannah Shelton
Michelle McGee




La Vida Tranquila -- The Adventure Begins


One Family's Pursuit of Paradise  


In 1998, I left a boyfriend who said he couldn't commit to anything more than putting food in the cat's bowl. We were in our early twenties, living in the Cayman Islands. I trained horses and worked the breakfast shift at the hospital kitchen; J was a SCUBA dive master with a marine biology eco-tour operator. We were stumbling along, a few years into a relationship that seemed to have no future, so I pulled an Escape Hatch Back Up Plan from my files and moved on. I left J and trekked to Tarifa, Spain with my Newfoundland dog to study windsurfing, Spanish and mend my broken heart.

What I didn't know when I set out on this adventure was that J would show up three months later. As we sipped sangria in my rented 13th century converted convent room he stunned me by whispering about diamond rings and a future. I said yes, yes of course.

Neither of us imagined that fourteen years, six moves, two big dogs, five careers and three kids later, we would be planning another escape hatch journey out of the United States—this time to the remote bay island of Utila, Honduras, population 2,500.



photo: Briene LermitteThere are days when I am disenchanted with the suburban Americanization of our life. Initially it was J’s soul-crushing commute to New Jersey and the politics of corporate America. But I am also weary of the over-scheduling of our family, the dull khaki uniforms, microwave lunch policies and busywork of prep school. This is not to sound unpatriotic or ungrateful for the many benefits of our life here. It is just that I am noticing some holes in the way I had hoped to raise my children, the things I dreamed I would nurture. I'm aware that they are becoming very good at exactly what we are teaching them—to be American children. They are growing up in a culture of consumers and Super-Sizers. Recently, as we soccer moms jogged the track around our kid’s practice field, there was discussion about who was paying their children for good grades. One mom reported that her daughter’s swimming teammate received an iPad for beating a certain time. There is inherent in our culture a pervasive, assumed privilege.


In the dreamy, early days of parenthood, J and I imagined our children growing up as citizens of a larger world. We wanted them to understand that water came from rain, that food came from the ground, that there were children who played sports for the love of the game, not the accumulation of championship trophies. We hoped to create an appreciation for the wonder of diversity, interacting with people who spoke multiple languages and played music on instruments instead of Guitar Hero. I imagined my children would be friends with kids who had never seen, much less gone to bed sobbing over the loss of, an iPod.

J and I are also hungry for a return to a life that is more connected to nature and the ocean, that original salty sea from which we all crawled. Over the years, we frequently visited family and friends back in Grand Cayman. We introduced our children to the water—we taught them to fish and kayak, how to clean and prepare conch and kiteboard and surf. They have all learned to snorkel the reefs there with appropriate reverence for these delicate treasures of the ocean. They have loved this experience—but for them it is vacation, not their reality. That is all about to change.


When J received an opportunity to develop a luxury, eco-friendly community on the south shore of Utila, we decided to return to the island roots of our relationship as a family. On a remote island where the easiest commute to town is by boat, where there are less than a dozen cars, where fifty foot whale sharks commune with swimmers in the turquoise waters a hundred yards off shore and saltwater crocs cruise the mangroves, we decided to embark on the adventure of a lifetime.

Photo: Brad Ryon 

Last year, our oldest son hit double digits and was swept up in an increasingly huge social and sports life, with a little brother and sister whose schedules and appetite for activity and play dates are equally voracious. J and I realized that the opportunity for us to do this, to take our family on an extensive, international adventure, might not come along again. At least, not with children who are willing. We will homeschool them (the least of my worries as we have done this before when I was on book tour) with the added bonuses of hands on marine biology and Spanish immersion.


The journey begins now. It will embody our longstanding family motto: One of the very best things you can be is flexible. Inspired by a quest for rich experience, this blog feature will chronicle the quenching of our innate wanderlust and our attempt at a life that is simpler and more connected to nature. It will capture our transition from the suburbs of Philadelphia to the mangroves and crystal water of Utila, to a life that is muy rustico y autentico. Please follow along as we take the plunge!

 Boarding our plane from Roatan to UtilaTo read Part Two, The Things We Carried, click here


The Ides of March

Sixteen years ago today, my oldest niece Freya was born on the Ides of March, which means soon she will getting her learner's permit and taking to the roads. Happy Birthday Freya--we love you!

Freya at the wheel, 1998

The phone call I got announcing her arrival sixteen years ago makes it easy for me to remember that the same night, J and I had our first date, by which I mean to say, engaged in some drunken dance floor moves at Rumheads Nightclub. I remember Coolio's "1-2-3-4" was played more than once.

Way back when

I'm not sure which is scarier--to think of my niece all grown up at the wheel, or that J and I made a connection that set the course of our future in the bar underneath the World Gym on the Caribbean island of Grand Cayman when we both barely old enough to drink in the United States. Sixteen years ago!


What a long strange trip it has been. In my essay, A Wedding Planner Hangs Up Her Headset, I wrote about the practical applications of our relationship, what love has come to mean to me as an adult and what I wish new brides could know from a vantage point a little farther down the road.

In some ways, we were musing in the shower this morning, it seems like we have always been together, and in others, like sixteen years have flown by. How did we get this far? I made a list of a few things that have made this relationship, which is also a deep friendship, feel easy.


1) we both consider ourselves equally lucky to have each other--by this I mean to say, there is no quiet one-upmanship. Which is not to say that I don't think how damn lucky he is when I tote the garbage and recycling cans back and forth to the curb twice a week, a stereotypically male job. But I also acknowledge how fortunate I am to have a guy who can fix almost anything, who gets up in the frozen pre-dawn stillness on Saturday mornings all winter long to coach the boys' hockey teams, who never lets a day go by without telling me I am loved and desired. 

27 May 2000


2) we take turns holding each other up. And we take turns falling apart. You can let life's knocks break you, or shape you. 

(You can read more about this in the essay about the birth of our son Hayden and our baptism by fire into parenthood)



3) we adopt a teamwork approach. This applies to everything from parenting to yard maintenance to hockey weekends to shaving the dog, which you may see more of in a photo essay called "Shearing Season" in an upcoming dog blog. 


2005 4) he makes me laugh Usually by saying all those things I think but might not say. He tries to whisper them, but he's not a very good whisperer. It runs in the family. Did I mention he also makes both the best coffee and mojitos I have ever tasted?


5) we try to shower and/or have coffee together daily to catch-up. This has been important in keeping us connected during the busier stages of our lives. Sometimes I drive him nuts by bringing notebooks and day planners and agendas to these get togethers. Well, not in the shower. 




 6) we have a commitment to being each other's port in the storm. We make our home a place where people build each other up and expect this of the kids as well. 


7) we travel separately. This doesn't mean I am turning down opportunities for us to go away as a couple in favor of spa weekends with the girls. (Although, wait, that sounds really great right now.) But with three little kids and an enormous, slobbery dog, there are few people willing to take on our brood for extended periods of time. This means that when we need to recharge, we drop each other off at the airport and look forward to hearing via Skype about how it was kiteboarding in the Bahamas or visiting with friends and family in the Caribbean or the Rockies, and checking in on the chaos that ensues when one of us is single parenting at the Hoffstead.

8) he is willing to be married to a writer. This comes up all the time when I am a guest author at book clubs--how does your husband handle your writing? Or let's be honest, people want to know: how does he feel about the character of Dan in CHOSEN? Truth of fiction: Is J the inspiration for the character Dan?

The writer and blogger extraordinaire Julianna Baggott has a standard question in her writerly half-dozen interview about advice for those seeking a long-term relationship with a writer. The answers are painfully, honestly hilarious. Actually, pretty much all of her stuff is great. You should check it out.

For the long answer, you have to invite me to your book club. But the short answer is that J handles it beautifully and he lets me post sappy blogs about how much I adore him (sixteen years later!) on the internet. I also include photos of him doing awesome, sporty things, where he looks really hot. 



9) we have similar passions. Wanderlust, the ocean, family, sports, reading, words and nameplay, and most importantly, a dedication to the nurturing of all things Hoffspring--be they pink or furry or scaled or feathered. See, I said feathered. Don't get me wrong. Things aren't perfect. I'm still working on him about the chickens. 

J and the kids at Barkers Beach, 2012











So there you have them, my off-the-cuff Nine Commandments for 16 Years of Happiness. But I am sure there are more and from those far more seasoned in the game than I am. So I'd love to know: What do you and your partner do to ensure a happy relationship? 




Favorites on Friday--Sunset

And I don't just mean here, with the sun sinking down into the Caribbean Sea, dancing up off the water in riotous shades of orange and aqua. I don't love it just because whenever we are here, this is the time of day I come home from my beach run and rinse off, and depending on the wind direction, we spray the kids with OFF and fire up the blender for Tingaritas, and we marvel as people have done from the beginning of time, as the sun slides down the sky. (What are Tingaritas? See recipe below.) The boys wrestle on the beach or perfect their sand stops, we chat with friends and wave to the last snorkelers making their way home. We plan dinner, the evening ahead as the light paints everyone and everything in the most flattering shade of peach, and the waves break, the tinkling of shells and corals and sea glass on the tidepools.


At home, there is sunset ritual as well. There is something calming about the transition from day to night, the shift for us at home from being mom+kids to reunited family. It is the time when we five-o'-clock-fling clean the house, shuffling the debris of the day back to its place. It is when I usually try to catch a quick run, to the crest of the hill where cars park for the view of the sun behind the Pennsylvania treeline. I cherish these moments alone that leave me recharged for the evening routine and ready for dinner, hungry to come back to my family.


tingarita in CaymanTINGARITA RECIPE

(not to be confused with Tingolayo, one of Quinn's favorite songs about a Caribbean donkey)

Note: If you are like my sister, and prefer your recipes full of things like measurements and details, I am sure the internet or the back of the Jose Cuervo bottle or someone at the liquor store can help you find a good sunset cocktail recipe involving tequila. This is more of an approximation, a suggestion open to creative interpretation. And the best part is, even when they're bad, they're pretty good.


- 1 bottle of Ting, Jamaican grapefruit soda (Bigga will work as well). Down here, these are in the gas station, and along with an Island Taste beef patty from Four Winds Esso, were a regular staple of our diet circa 1996-99. Not easy to locate stateside, but at home I have found them in the West Indies section of Wegmans Supermarket. 

- some Cointreau

- some silver Cuervo tequila, about double the amount of the Cointreau, but half the amount of the Ting.


-salt and sugar

-wedge of lime or grapefruit


Put liquid ingredients and ice in the blender. Salt and sugar the rim. Garnish with whatever fancy tart citrus you have handy. Serve with sunset. 











I am coming to the end of my two week tour of the West Coast, consisting of book clubs where I have enjoyed being the guest author, an appearance at Powells and more notably now, thirteen straight days of single parenting and taking our homeschooling show on the road. 


Today we arrived at the beach in Oxnard as the marine layer burned off over the Channel Islands. A pod of porpoises came in to the final breakpoint and cut through huge breaking waves right in front of us and a sea lion cruised by, his eyes on ours, not ten feet away. Amazing.  I was content to stand and take in the vastness of the ocean, the clear canvas of cool grays and blues, sea and sky with my pantlegs rolled up so the saltwater and sand could exfoliate three-days-of-flip-flops-at-Disneyland grime off my feet. But serenity was short-lived as I became locked in a struggle to inspire healthy respect for the ocean in my fearless just-turned-nine-year-old who is starting to think he might know better than me in most areas, including water safety.


The surf at Hueneme was breaking loud and variable, huge cross currents converging in front of us and surfers, grown-ups in wetsuits, were being ripped off their boards. One came at us, unleashed in the shallow whitewater like a broad javelin. I watched as a stand-up paddler had a wave double his height swell and break over him. I looked around the beach for other swimmers, families, kids, and found nobody but the most die-hard surfers, a few dog walkers and fishermen. This was not Cayman with its mellow aqua water or the Jersey Shore with its ubiquitous lifeguards and their whistles.

Below: my kids run to the surf at Hueneme Beach 

But Hayden, who couldn't get enough of the Disney rollercoasters and thrill rides from his newly acquired height of 48 inches screamed an enthusiastic "YEAH!" and ripped his shirt off, throwing it back towards the beach in preparation.


I wished for J to be there, more experienced with the ocean when it was dark and ominous, a veteran surfer, windsurfer and kiteboarder, someone who had stared down waves bigger than these in Baja and out at the main channel. I wanted another grown up, my coparent, to assess the situation, to help me guide our son. I even thought briefly of taking a video clip and emailing it to him, then calling him for a bi-coastal parental consultation, because this is what being the giddy owner of a fancy new iPhone does to you...

"Just up to your knees, then," I said lamely, feeling every bit like the nervous nelly dad Marlin in Finding Nemo with his suggestions that his son play on the spongebeds with the toddler fish. 

And still Hayden jerked his bare shoulder out from under my restricting hand and plowed out into the foaming water.

"Haybes, wait," I faltered.

I looked to the only other adult nearby, a surfer surveying the waves, a guy about my age. I was preparing to ask if he knew the currents here well, and would he let his kid in the water, but he was already jogging toward Hayden, yelling over the roar of the water for him to stop, and for this guy, Haybes did. He listened as this stranger told him that this area was too dangerous for swimming, that there were still decent waves but less current a few hundred yards off, down by the jetty.

Blushing from being spoken to by a stranger, Hayden sulked back to me and his younger siblings whose arms snaked around my thighs. He gave me a grouchy thump with his shoulder as he passed. I stood there equally chagrinned--why hadn't I stood my ground earlier when everything in me was saying this was more surf than he could handle? The thing is, I want my kids to have fun--my backpack is crammed with a testimony of receipts to waterparks, themeparks, carnivals, zoos, helitours, museums and science centers all to this end. And here we are at the largest ocean in the world! What could be more fun than the ocean?! Except, of course, when it looks and sounds like a hungry, roaring predator, anxious to swallow up my kids forever like Pinnochio's Monstro. (Sorry for the second Disney reference in one post--I was just 'experiencing the magic' for the last three days. Might need a brain scrub.)

So I thanked the surfer and shepherded my kids down the beach to the suggested place where the waves looked more like Cayman when a Northwester blows in, decent surf, but predictable, waves that come in straight, break and go out. I let the boys wade in and get tumbled in the chilly water. Max took a few spins in the break, got some sandburn on his shoulders and abandoned body surfing for beachcombing but Hayden stayed in until he was blue-lipped, shrieking with joy and taunting, waggling his surf-shorted bum at the waves that summarily took him down. 


I stayed crouched at the edge of the water, half my attention on Piper as she doodled in the sand behind me, eyes darting to Max sifting through seaweed a the water's edge, but ready to rush for Hayden should he not surface quickly enough. Letting him bodysurf in the Pacific, build memories and feel that exhilarating pull of the water's power, trying not to think about all of J's aunt's stories about people who have drowned here at this very beach, experienced swimmers, kayakers, surfers, adults, children... Keeping these stories to myself because I don't want him to grow up afraid, but I also can't let him set all the boundaries.

As my kids get older, I struggle between hovering and hands off, between choosing for them, and letting go. Last week on our Santa Monica beach ride, Max insisted on leaving the hotel room wearing flip flops instead of the shoes I suggested for bike riding. Surprise; as we pedaled along the waterfront he had to stop, exasperated, several times to retrieve a lost flip. I managed to keep the 'I told you' to a mere two times. (Okay, three.) But flip flops vs. sneakers was a choice I was okay with letting him make. In Disneyland, Hayden informed me that my insistence that WOMEN on the restroom door meant "Moms and Kids" didn't fly, and he would be using the MENS room from now on. Okay with that one too... Sort of. Yes. Okay. He's nine. I'm right outside. It's freaking Disneyland.


But today, the height of the surf, the force of the water, that audible clap as waves broke--today I made the unpopular choice, and we found something that reeked of compromise. I never fully relaxed on the beach and Hayden's eyes kept drifting longingly down to the surfers and their rides on waves triple the height of his, you know, over here on the spongebeds...with his mom watching him. If you know Hayden, then you understand that the idea that other people are having fun, more fun than him, it's torture. 


Today I think I made the right choice. Anyway, we're here in our cute Mexican-themed motel room, Hayden snoring safely away beside me, his resentment receding like the tides. But I also know we will meet this situation with increasing frequency. Just me and Hayden, facing off in front of the dangerous bass thump and allure of something so much bigger than us both, no lifeguard on duty.