Last updated: July 26. 2013 7:24PM - 1053 Views
By Christopher J. Hughes

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Author: Dave Parmelee

Publisher: Sunbury Press, Mechanicsburg

Available: Borrow a copy from the Osterhout Library, Wilkes-Barre; available online at sunburypressstore.com, amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com, $14.95.

After years of family vacations to the island community of Chincoteague, Va., Dave Parmelee, 56, of Shavertown found the inspiration for his first novel.

Released on March 19, “The Sea is a Thief” uses the island’s decision to remain loyal to the Union during the Civil War as the backdrop for a romance story. Parmelee said the idea was built in a single car ride with his two daughters on a trip to the vacation destination about five years ago.

“We actually have the little notebook where we wrote down some of the key characters and plot points. I used almost all of them. It’s fun to look back and see how that started,” he recalled.

The book, though set in Chincoteague, Va., has a strong connection to Pennsylvania. The hero hails from Port Clinton, Parmelee said.

Along with a recent reading at the Osterhout Library in Wilkes-Barre in support of the book, Parmelee had a pair of book signings and a reading scheduled this past week in Chincoteague during the island’s annual Pony Penning event.

Times Leader: What’s the basic story behind ‘The Sea is a Thief’?

Dave Parmelee: “It’s the story of a perilous romance between a young Union sailor who is sent on a gunboat to protect the island of Chincoteague and a young wildlife artist who lives there.”

TL: How did you discover the Chincoteague’s historic significance during the Civil War?

D.P.: “Our family has vacationed there for many years. … Chincoteague is a lovely little family vacation town. … It’s best known for the wild ponies in the 1940s children’s book, ‘Misty of Chincoteague.’ The wild ponies roam freely, and they’re protected of course.

“One year, we picked up a book on local history, and I found out that during the Civil War, Chincoteague actually voted 198-2 to remain loyal to the Union even though it’s part of Virginia. … The Virginia mainland actually sent a ship to blockade them, so the city fathers appealed to the Union to send another ship, which sank the first ship and sat in the harbor for three months to convince the mainland to leave the island alone. We read the story, and the next time we went to Chincoteague, my daughters (Susanna, now 23, and Andrea, now 18) and I sat in the car and we actually plotted this out. We said, ‘What if one of the sailors on that boat had met one of the local girls?’ The real event was the jumping-off point.”

TL: How long did it take to write it? Did you think you were onto something bigger?

D.P.: “It took me about 18 months. I would write it in little bits. I travel quite a lot, so I would sit in a hotel room and just not turn on the television. I haven’t turned on a TV in a hotel room for years. I would just sit at the laptop and write. … When I finished it, I said, ‘I wonder if it’s actually publishable.’ I had no idea, so I sent it to a friend to read it. She really enjoyed it. Then I sent it to a friend who is a freelance editor who works for some of the big publishers in New York. He said, ‘Absolutely, this is publishable.’ “

TL: Have you ever had anything else published?

D.P.: “The first actual published writing I did were columns for the Times Leader. I wrote 110 or so columns every two weeks from 1998 to about 2002. That was a real privilege. That was wonderful. … It was an opinion column that focused on local news from a conservative point of view.”

TL: You held a reading at the Osterhout on July 11. How was the book received?

D.P.: “It was a new experience for me. I’ve only read from it twice. One was at my daughter’s Advanced Placement English class at Dallas. I read to the English and AP History class. I’m sort of learning how to do it. Public reading is a very different thing. I felt I had the attention of the audience, and one person said, ‘What happens next?’ If your reader says what happens next, you’ve got them. The Osterhout bought two copies. It’s such a thrill to have it on the shelves of the library where I went to borrow books when I was a little kid.”

TL: What’s been rewarding about sharing the book with others?

D.P.: “The most enjoyable thing is when someone you know has read it, and they tell you what they like. You start to talk about a character and how they felt about what the character said or what somebody did. Or I left some loose ends and they wonder what happened to somebody. … They walk on that path with you, which you only walk in your imagination.”

TL: Any ideas for a second novel?

D.P.: “I think I could do it again. I have a very interesting character who is a medicine woman who lives on the island. In the course of the book, she disappears, and we don’t know what happens to her. I could put her in a lot of interesting places in the Reconstruction.”

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