This is a post-apocalyptic novel with a twist. No zombies. No terrible, horrible things happening to the main characters. Oh sure. It’s no picnic when Hurricane Walter just about swallows Florida. And Walter is just the beginning, ushering in a world-wide disaster-filled era that changes everything. Well, almost everything. Broadway show tunes miraculously survive. (Sorry about that.)
But Mia Gionfreddo-Fine, a former reporter for a minor metropolitan coastal Florida newspaper, knows she doesn’t have it so bad, post-Walter. Not compared to others. She’s still got her adorable husband Aaron, a dedicated doctor who stays in Florida until the very end– of the state, that is. And she’s got hope. Mia, Aaron, and a small troupe of quirky fellow travelers are determined to make it to New York State, where a better future may be possible.
Along the way, they encounter some scary religious fanatics waiting for Jesus in the Okefenokee Swamp, martial law in the remaining cities, and a government-approved free-love commune for displaced youth.
Mia narrates the story in a self-deprecating voice, but she’s also tends to be philosophical.
As reviewer AnnieLovesToRead writes:
If you are judgmental about others beliefs or you cannot look at your own with truth, don’t buy this book. If you believe that bad things never happen to good people, you probably should. If you want a great read about cataclysmic events, enjoy!
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
There is an old adage (cliche?) that advises: ‘Write what you know.’ Well, I don’t know what would happen if the planet really spun out of control, due to natural and unnatural disaster striking everywhere all at once. But I do know what it was like to work for a newspaper that was more dedicated to supporting an heir-apparent’s theatrical ambitions than to covering all the news that ought to be printed. I also know what it’s like to live through hurricanes, to have quirky coworkers and family members, and to long for a safe place called home.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Most of the characters in New Coastal Times are inspired by real-life characters I have known and loved. As for Mia, the narrator, she’s not me. But she does have many of my foibles.
They Call the Wind Walter
It wasn’t Yvette Carlyle’s fault that the beach washed away and the condos and hotels collapsed into the sea.
She’s only one person, after all. And you certainly can’t hold her responsible for all the people who died when the buildings toppled, or all the struggling hordes rendered homeless and dependent, or the total human and fiscal fiasco that’s been at least as bad as (if not worse than) the recent string of other really horrible natural disasters.
Not to downplay them. I wouldn’t want to downplay them.
The climate is changing, and not for the better. Everyone knows that now, though maybe Yvette didn’t then. Or maybe she just didn’t think much about it then. And every major catastrophe is —well—catastrophic.
But from a purely local and personal perspective, Hurricane Walter really was the worst. Because it happened where we were. Because it seemed to be the beginning of the end for so many— the start of everything falling apart. Because some of the devastation really could have been prevented. By Yvette, had she known. Maybe, a little bit, by me.
Anyway, Yvette is as sorry now as anyone. And you really can’t blame her for everything. Not for the hurricane, obviously. Plus you’ve got to give her this. She’s got spunk.
When we were all holed up on the fourth floor of the old and creaking New Coastal Times building, in the dark and powerless newsroom, as the wind lashed at the windows and the foundation shook, didn’t she come out of her plush private office to give us hope?
Tall, big-boned Yvette, her blonde pixie-cut trimmed to perfection, her eye shadow and mascara and glossy red lipstick as garish as ever, her smile superior, her crow’s feet caked with makeup.
She was never pretty. That was the problem. Or at least one of them, as far as her career was concerned. And despite extensive cosmetic surgery (she was due to have her eyes redone when the hurricane hit) she looked all of her 57 years.
She considered herself a beacon of bravery— an inspiration to us. She could easily have been elsewhere.
Yvette emerged from her recently remodeled fourth floor executive sanctuary, where at least there was light (which we could see under the door), followed by Patty and Paula, her ever-present identical twin administrative assistants.
Patty and Paula— helmet-haired petite brunettes who never dressed alike because that might cause confusion— carried battery-powered lanterns (the best and brightest money could buy) and sacks filled with the food and water supplies that Yvette had evidently been hoarding for the past eight hours. We peons in the newsroom had long since polished off the candy bars, chips, Cokes and Dr Peppers we’d ransacked from the vending machines.The twins looked shaken. But not Yvette.
“Let’s all sing some show tunes,” she said, apparently figuring that was the best way to keep our spirits up.
Yvette belted out “Climb Every Mountain” and “They Call the Wind Mariah” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade” and urged everyone to sing along.
No one did except Patty and Paula, who adored Yvette and always did whatever she told them to do.
The rest of us didn’t know the words, and we didn’t feel like singing.
Lance Betterly, a bookish-looking kid just out of J-school (this was his first job) looked stunned. I don’t think he’d ever heard a show tune before. But he contained his astonishment.
Not so, Lisa McCoy, a cop reporter about my age who was five months pregnant at the time.
“What the fuck does Yvette think she’s doing? This is fucking ridiculous,” she muttered into my ear, but not so softly that others didn’t hear.
It was between choruses, and Lisa had about all she could take.
“This isn’t a goddamn hootenanny for Christ’s sake. This is the big one. The ocean is swallowing buildings whole, and we’re sitting here listening to Yvette sing fucking show tunes?”
She was incredulous.
Patty (I think it was Patty) gave her a dirty look. But Lisa wasn’t worrying about job security. She was way past it at this point. We all were. Except maybe Lance.
And besides, she was right. This was the big one.
Before the phones went out, including everyone’s cell phone (the towers, apparently, had all toppled), Terry Logan, the paper’s prize-winning photographer who knew no fear because he wasn’t all that bright, called in. He said he had lost sight of Jason Hernandez, the not quite so fearless general assignment reporter who reluctantly volunteered to go with Terry to get a first hand look at Walter because somebody who could write had to go. Or so we thought. That was the thinking at the time.
“The Bleu Heron is crumbling, Flora Del Mar is lilting like the leaning Tower of Pizza (he said pizza, not Pisa) only worse. Everything is going down,” Terry told us. “I’m up to my waist in water and…”
His phone cut off then. The National Weather Service reports stopped, too. The TV in the newsroom reverted to static. And then the power went out. That was it for the newsroom computers. No backup batteries.
Everyone who could evacuate had left while there was still time. Everyone who didn’t or couldn’t heed the warnings was in trouble. That was clear.
Lisa stayed because she was one of those gung-ho reporters who thought it was her sworn journalistic duty to be in the thick of things whenever news broke out, even if the news happened to be the hurricane to end all hurricanes, and even if she happened to be in a family way. She figured Walter could be her big chance to shine, to have her story picked up by the wire services. To get noticed. And her husband wasn’t there to there to rein her in. He was an ensign in the Navy on a ship deployed somewhere in the Middle East. She was delusional.
Lisa had been my closest friend at the paper for two years, ever since Aaron and I moved to Florida— to the coastal town we sometimes jokingly referred to as mini-Miami. Which it really wasn’t. A mini-Miami, that is. Just a small, rapidly developing slice of East Central Florida paradise that was starting to boom again after the real estate bust, populated mostly by well-off retirees, not so well-off working people, and seasonal influxes of sun-seeking tourists.
I tried very hard to convince Lisa to leave when the meteorologists started predicting that Walter would be a Category 5-plus when it hit land. Our land. She was pregnant, for God’s sake. She could easily have gone to stay with her mother in Georgia. But she wouldn’t hear of it.
Not that any of us really believed, deep down, that we were actually going to get hit by a Category 5-plus hurricane. Whoever heard of a Category 5-plus? Katrina, bad as it was, was only a Category 3 or 4 when it came ashore and clobbered New Orleans several years ago. We figured the experts were probably erring on the side of caution in their predictions to make sure people didn’t end up getting stranded on rooftops.
Still, Walter was bound to be big news, which is why it had to get covered, or so we thought. Lisa (who got really ticked off when Jason Hernandez got picked instead of her to go out into the storm with Terry Logan) wasn’t the only one at the paper who took her calling seriously. Guess they couldn’t quite believe that print journalism was a dying occupation, and there was really no future, career-wise, for them here, no matter what they did.
In addition to those who felt duty bound to work through the hurricane, there were some reporters, like Lance, who had no local family ties or responsibilities and nowhere else to go, so they figured they might as well volunteer. None of us was being forced to put ourselves in harm’s way for the sake of print journalism. May it rest in peace.
Yvette stayed because she wanted to, I guess. The twins stayed because Yvette stayed. And because their husbands weren’t going anywhere, either. Patty was married to the deputy chief of police. Paula’s husband, Hank, was operations manager of the paper. I don’t know what operations managers do. No one knew what Hank did except walk the halls and whistle. But before the storm hit, he made sure everyone in advertising, circulation and accounting, on the first, second and third floors, knew that they weren’t expected to stay as the hurricane approached, and weren’t expected to return to work until things really calmed down. They all promptly left. He also sent home all the pagination and press people. Which made it moot, we realized too late, for any reporters, editors or photographers to stay, since there was no way to put out a paper, except maybe online. Except The New Coastal Times didn’t have an online edition. Yvette didn’t believe in the concept.
After checking the building— built in 1928 and infused with what management considered to be the latest technological marvels every 10 years or so (our computer system was purchased second hand from a Midwest paper that was one of the first to fold) — Hank went home to check on the dogs. Hank and Paula bred miniature cockapoos. He was supposed to come back with supplies. He didn’t come back.
I stayed because Aaron wouldn’t go. He would never think of evacuating. Unlike reporters, doctors can truly be of use when bad things happen. So Aaron remained on duty at the hospital where he was a resident in the family practice program. And, God love him, he was determined to stay there treating the sick and injured for as long as he was needed or for as long as the building stood. Which we both knew would likely be a lot longer than the New Coastal Times building, since the hospital had been storm-proofed and was several miles inland. The quaintly archaic newspaper building was downtown, just across the bridge from the ocean.
Aaron wanted me to get in my car while there was still time and head toward upstate New York, which is where we’re from. But I didn’t. I wasn’t crazy about driving on the interstate in the best of times. Nor was I a particularly good driver on any kind of road, even in pleasant weather, if you want to know the truth. But a person has to get around.
I tended to subconsciously slip into one speed— 45 miles per hour— whether I was driving on beachside side streets where the speed limit was 25, or I was on I-95 where most people liked to do at least 75. I would start out going the right speed, and I’d try to pay attention. But I had a serious daydreaming problem that kicked in whenever I was behind the wheel.
“Mia drives like Mr. Magoo,” Aaron used to tell people. “She doesn’t get into accidents, she just causes them.” (Usually only fender benders, but still.)
All things considered, I really thought it was best for me to steer clear of bumper-to-bumper evacuation traffic that we heard wasn’t even moving 5 miles per hour, let alone 45.
There were eight of us on the fourth floor during the worst of Walter, including the twins and Yvette— shining star of the region’s only year round semi-professional musical theater, benefactress of the arts, and publisher of The New Coastal Times. In that order.
Despite Lisa’s loudly whispered tirade, Yvette, trouper that she’s always been, kept on singing. She had a vast repertoire of show tunes. And since it was a dark and stormy night (sorry, but I’ve always wanted to use that phrase), and we didn’t have anything else to do, we listened politely. Even Lisa eventually settled down. She sat there rubbing her bloated little pregnant belly staring off into space. We had gathered in a corner of the newsroom as far away from the rattling windows as possible, in a sort of informal semi-circle around Yvette.
Then she started in on “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair” (her signature number from “South Pacific”) and we lost it.
We’d never laughed at Yvette before. Not to her face.
Stan Rosenblat, the paper’s not-so-humorous humor columnist and keeper of all Carlyle lore, was the first to chortle out loud. Then the big belly laughs began.
“Oh shit,” mumbled Meg Wolenski, who was always serious and in control— as much as she could be, anyway. Most of us respected her, even though, as metro editor, there was only so much respect she could expect. Meg started laughing, too. She couldn’t help it. And before long, we were all practically rolling on the floor in the dim glow of Yvette’s battery-powered lanterns as the storm raged around us. I guess it was nerves, combined with the absurdity of the situation. Yvette was doing hand motions while she sang. Pretending to wash her hair.
Our sudden hysterics didn’t seem to faze her at first. But before she could finish the song, her strong soprano voice began to crack. When she got to the part about sending him on his way, she started falling apart. Way became “waaay” and then “whaaah.”
She was no longer younger-than-springtime Nellie Forbush, the part she first played at age 42, when the then-newly built, acoustically pure, and aesthetically unique, multi-million dollar New Coastal Times Performing Arts Center opened with a production of “South Pacific.”
The theater, which was Yvette’s raison d’etre, was constructed so close to the waves, audiences claimed they felt like they were actually in the South Pacific when her company regularly reprised that show.
Maybe that’s what finally got to her. Worrying about her theater. I also don’t think she liked being laughed at.
Yvette broke down. She began to sob. Patty and Paula looked stricken, too.
“Why? Why?” Yvette wailed theatrically.
The food and water had already been distributed. And it was clear the singing was done for the night.
After a while, Yvette pulled herself together, got up with all the dignity she could muster, and followed by Patty and Paula— who backlighted her with flashlights— made her way back to her office.
You had to feel sorry for her.
Or maybe not.
My very favorite reader review begins: “If Carl Hiaasen and Fanny Flagg had a love child…”
Well, I’m not Carl and Fanny’s love child, but I would love to be. I’m actually a former newspaper reporter (like Mia, the main character in New Coastal Times).
Born in Rochester, NY, I live in Florida, where I worry about hurricanes, but not enough to move.
Have you read this book or others by this author? Tell us in the comments how you liked it!