It All Started with a Song

Maggie with lighthouse

Beacon Beach refers to a real place that flourished in 1886, when my historical romance, “Beacon Beach,” took place. It still exists today, linking the towns of Cape May and Cape May Point, at the very southern tip of New Jersey.No one in real life, however, calls the stretch of sand, sea and dunes linking the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay “Beacon Beach.” My book’s characters, Jacy James and Cole Stratton, dubbed it that. They were inspired by the lighthouse nearby. As far as I know, the beach has no official name.

If the lighthouse inspired the pet name, what inspired my story about a young woman who comes to Cape May to find a lost love — and instead finds the truth about herself? It began one morning when I woke up with a song running through my mind. It seemed to come from nowhere, complete with melody and lyrics. I’d never heard it before. So, I quickly grabbed paper and pen and wrote the words down. It was a song about loss. A woman was singing about missing someone she loved. It was haunting and beautiful, and I knew it contained a powerful story.

But what story? It had nothing to do with my life, and the voice wasn’t mine. I had just started writing fiction, and I knew the tale was mine to tell, if I accepted the challenge. I was excited. At first, I thought it would make a great Broadway musical. Why not? I already had the first song. Now, I just needed to come up with a plot, some more songs and a script. But who was this woman, and who was she singing about? Over time, she began to materialize in my imagination. Her plight, her situation and her loss evolved into a plot for a historical romance. It was then that I knew I had to write Jacy’s story as a novel. My second novel, after “Mercy’s Way.”

Murray Hall, a grand, oceanfront hotel, once existed down the road from where I live in Northeast Florida. It was built in 1886, in what was then called Pablo Beach (now Jacksonville Beach). It burned down only four years later. At first, I thought about making Murray Hall the setting for my novel. But the hotel was terribly isolated and that would limit my story. So, I decided to set it in Cape May. It was a natural decision. People first began traveling to Cape May by schooner in the 1820’s, and it became America’s first seaside resort. In the Victorian era, everyone who was anyone went there. It was a happening place. And I had a connection: My sister, Janet, works for the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities, essentially the town’s historical society. That gave me access to historians and books so I could write the book with historical accuracy. Even more important, for the purposes of the plot, Cape May had a lighthouse. That same lighthouse still exists today, and people still climb it. And when they do, they gaze down upon the beach that looks much the same today as it did in Jacy’s day: Beacon Beach.

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