Monday, October 08, 2012

Searching for Halcyon Beach


Some years back I was driving back to Gloucester from Maine on a gray and windy November afternoon. I stopped at a small diner near Salisbury Beach, Massachusetts, for lunch and, at a table near mine, four old guys in heavy plaid jackets and warm hats were having coffee. Their conversation was loud and impossible to ignore. All four of them owned, or had owned in the past, businesses in the area which is known for its arcades and amusement attractions drawing thousands of tourists all summer long. One of their group had been made an offer for an arcade he owned and he was trying to decide whether to take it and retire.

They were pretty funny to listen to. They offered their friend suggestions on what he could do if he retired but he said he had visited Florida and hated it and was afraid if he sold out and had nothing to do all day he'd wind up a drunk. It was a very amusing conversation and it stayed in my mind for years. Last autumn when I started writing Ghosts of a Beach Town in Winter I remembered those guys and they became the “Geezers” in that story.

This past week I finished the second draft of the sequel, Ghosts of a Lighthouse in Autumn, which is also set in Halcyon Beach and features the Geezers, as well as the flamboyant artist Darby McMahon. I sent the story to two of my best readers and so far the feedback is encouraging. I hope to have it up for Halloween.

So, on Saturday, because it was a beautiful day and I wanted to go out and do some leaf-peeping, I drove up the coast to Salisbury Beach and spent some time wandering around with my camera. It was a good day and I wound up taking over 120 photos. It was just as strange as I remembered it all these years later. The contrast of colorful amusement businesses and dilapidated, run-down properties creates a distinctive atmosphere. I don't know what this bright blue building once was but its location directly on the beach amazes me.

Only a few yards farther down the street is the back of an arcade:

And a bar with a dancing monkey wearing Lolita-style sunglasses and a hula skirt. There is a billboard advertising karaoke and men sat in front with bottles of beer.

When I had enough of this atmosphere I drove a little farther north to Hampton Beach in New Hampshire where the contrast was also glaring. Oceanfront restaurants, casinos, and tourist shops were open and there were plenty of people but there were also buildings like this dilapidated restaurant called Mangia – Italian for “eat:”

From there I went down to Plum Island looking for the kinds of cottages tucked in the dunes that I imagined my artists living in and I was not disappointed. I can easily see Fleur Laighton, the heroine in my new story, living here.

I made a gallery of my discoveries and posted it to Flickr.com. You can see if here: Halcyon Beach Inspiration. I hope you enjoy it and I hope you'll check back for the launch of Ghosts of a Lighthouse in Autumn, a story that grew out of a murder-suicide at a lighthouse that I read about years ago. It's pretty spooky and has a very vengeful ghost in it.

Thanks for reading.

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