Every Boat Turns South mixes memoir-like adventure with a moving coming-home tale. This is the exciting premise of J.P. White's new mystery novel, Every Boat Turns South (The Permanent Press).
The book opens and closes in Florida, but its sultry and terror-filled center is set in the Turks & Caicos Islands and in the Dominican Republic. By interweaving the Florida bedside scenes with Matt’s confessional account of his wild life in the Caribbean, White subtly builds sympathy for his ne er-do-well drifter, as Matt slowly reveals the truth about Hale by coming to understand his own impulses and needs and by cherishing, through memory, all that his father had taught him. The writing in both sections forcefully lyrical and full of maritime detail (sailors will love this book) suggests an autobiographical prompt, but clearly the author is in command of a style that effectively serves his complex plot. The flashbacks pulse with sensuality, the take on island natives and tourists is nothing less than superb: The hotel swarms with interracial couples strung together like rosary beads . . . white women, pale as chalk, lean into black men like they ve found the Rosetta stone. White men pull at strings of mulatto women like taffy. Meringue and rum, greed and sex rule. Everything. Everyone. As one of the novel s shrewd and exotic characters says, we all have our weaknesses once we get to the islands.
We interviewed J.P. to find out more about his book. Enjoy!
Q. Thank you for this interview, J.P. Can we begin by having you tell us why you have a passion for writing mystery and do you write other genres?
Among other things, life is certainly a mystery. Some call life a divine mystery. Others are less charitable. At the heart of all mysteries are secrets. They are found in every culture and in every mythology. The mysteries and secrets I'm drawn to are universal: sex, birth, death, the after life, nature, our multiple definitions of God.
Q: Your latest book, Every Boat Turns South, is basically set in Florida but the more intense scenes are on the Turks and Caicos Islands. Have you traveled to these exotic locations to make your book more believable or did
you research them?
I grew up in Ohio and spent my youth sailing on Lake Erie. At the end of my junior year, my father told me we were sailing our boat to Florida which is where I finished high school. In the early 1980s, I spent the best part of two years in the islands doing sailboat deliveries -- so yes I'm very familiar with the waters that my own story travels.
Q: I'd love to know what is the meaning behind your title?
There are three layers I built into the title. Matt Younger, the protagonist of my novel, is hired to deliver a boat south from West Palm Beach to St Thomas in the British Virgin Islands. Matt's own life went south, literally and figuratively, years ago and now he has returned north to make a confession to his dying father. And finally, as the body wears out and dies, it too goes south.
Q. Did you outline before you wrote your book or did you just go with the flow?
There are many things I might have done better and with greater efficiency. I might have made a detailed outline. I might have taken a class. I might have worked with an editor up front. But no, I did none of those. I stumbled through multiple drafts over ten years. Oddly enough, my writing process matches the errant ways of my hero, so maybe the process and product were in sync from the beginning, but I just didn't know it.
Q. Who was your favorite character in Every Boat Turns South and why?
Everyone in my story is deeply wounded, so the question should really be whose wounds do I like the most. I like Philip because he is mostly the eternal optimist which is an essential trait to have on any boat. Things go wrong routinely and you need an attitude of resilience and strength if you intend to go offshore.
Q. Who was your least favorite character?
Everyone in my story holds back information, so the question here should be, which character is hardest to forgive. And there I would have to say Sam Wells, the owner of the boat that Matt Younger takes on his southern delivery.
Q. What was the hardest part to write?
The role of the mother who has been so broken by grief that she can't find common ground with the one son who is still alive.
Q. What was the inspiration behind the story? Where were you when you came up with the idea?
I had a cousin who was a blue angel pilot and his plane crashed. He was a family god: handsome, dashing, funny, reckless. He was intended to live forever but he died young and that one death broke my uncle's family apart. The grief that won't quit is also at the center of my story.
Q. Do you plan on writing more novels?
I have two other books in the works. The first is an historical adventure story called Whiskey and Hard Water about a 13-year-old girl who sets out in a sailboat to rescue her father from three men who have kidnapped her father and taken him to Canada.
Q. Thank you for this interview, J.P. We wish you much success with your book!