Whenever I visit new places, I often buy a piece of artwork by a local artist, usually a painting or drawing. In Maine, the lighthouses intrigued me the most. Of course I couldn’t decide among them, so I ended up with two framed prints. One of them is the Pemaquic Point Lighthouse in Bristol, Maine.
Decades ago, when Tim and I spent a summer at a camp in Maine, we drove to Portland, about forty miles away, on most days off. There we reveled in all a coastal town has to offer, from lighthouses and whale watches to lobster and clam chowder. Due to Tim’s fondness for seafood, we must have tried every possible seafood diner, especially ones overlooking the harbor. Years later, we experienced Bar Harbor as well.
Whose Waves These Are by Amanda Dykes brings to mind our times in Maine. But it harkens less to leisurely strolls along the pier and more to the powerful crash of waves against the rocks—like the lighthouse prints on my wall. There’s power, there’s grandeur, there’s strength—in lighthouses as well as people.
Likewise, there’s a history of pain, neglect, estrangement, and regret. But that’s not the end of the story. In this one, there’s also a beacon of light, hope, and renewal.
A dual timeline World War II story set on U.S. soil, Whose Waves These Are was Amanda Dykes’ debut novel. It won the 2020 Christy Award Book of the Year.
In the wake of WWII, a grieving fisherman submits a poem to a local newspaper: a rallying cry for hope, purpose . . . and rocks. Send me a rock for the person you lost, and I will build something life-giving. When the poem spreads farther than he ever intended, Robert Bliss’s humble words change the tide of a nation. Boxes of rocks inundate the tiny, coastal Maine town, and he sets his calloused hands to work, but the building halts when tragedy strikes.
Decades later, Annie Bliss is summoned back to Ansel-by-the-Sea when she learns her Great-Uncle Robert, the man who became her refuge during the hardest summer of her youth, is now the one in need of help. What she didn’t anticipate was finding a wall of heavy boxes hiding in his home. Long-ago memories of stone ruins on a nearby island trigger her curiosity, igniting a fire in her anthropologist soul to uncover answers.
She joins forces with the handsome and mysterious harbor postman, and all her hopes of mending the decades-old chasm in her family seem to point back to the ruins. But with Robert failing fast, her search for answers battles against time, a foe as relentless as the ever-crashing waves upon the sea.
Just like the rhythmic waves crashing against rocks on the Maine coast, this stunning novel carried me on waves of emotions. Its ebb and flow engulfed me in thought-provoking nuance. Meaningful metaphors cascaded in beautiful prose.
“How can a body undo a hurt so deep? . . .
This is one of those moments that life hinges on,
marking the course of whatever comes next, years and years of it.
Will they stuff it down and seal this chasm with mortar, hiding the broken . . .
or will they let the hammer above them come down in its full force,
split it wide open?” — p 274
During World War II, in a small nautical town in Maine, Robert Bliss wants to honors those who served and sacrificed their lives. Responding to his published poem, people send their rocks from all over the states to commemorate their lost loved ones.
However, tragedy and family estrangement interferes. Even in 2001, his great-niece, Annie, is forbidden to stay in touch with him.
But Annie is drawn into the fray when she returns to Ansel-on-the-Sea and Seaman’s Rest. Upon her arrival, the town seems to be sizzling in secrets which she ascertains from whispers and averting eyes. She meets and/or reconnects with Bess, Ed, Arthur, and others, often through the help of the mailman, Jeremiah “Fletch” Fletcher.
The dual timeline works perfectly as Annie discovers aspects of the past and why family bonds were stretched too far and thin.
Thus commences a tale of faith, courage, reconciliation, hope, and healing. That would be enough, but if you love novels that lean literary with lovely prose, you’re in for a real treat.
Join me for some Q & A with author Amanda Dykes.
Questions about Whose Waves These Are
What was your inspiration for writing Whose Waves These Are? What’s your personal connection to the setting or situation?
I was wanting to try my hand at writing something set in a small town, since that’s a setting I know and love, having grown up in one. I’ve long had a fascination with New England, Maine in particular, and so I settled on a lobster fishing village.
At first I envisioned it being very community-centric, where most characters played an equal part in the story. But then one of them, this rugged/gruff lobster fisherman who became an accidental poet, sort of took over the story, and the rest is history!
How did you develop the character and backstory of Robert Bliss? What prompted your idea of the poem and rocks?
I’m fascinated with ruins and stone structures in general and one day got to thinking: what if there were some stone ruins which weren’t actually ruins? That is to say, what if rather than deteriorating from a complete structure, the construction of something just stopped? What and why would that be?
Then came the idea for the poem, and the rocks coming by post and from there it was just a very long series of questions, all in the shape of “why?” Why did he write the poem? Why did people mail rocks? Why did the stone structure stop?
How did you develop your heroine Annie Bliss? What would Annie have to say about you?
Annie came onto page as someone who studies people (hence her chosen profession in the Anthropology field), making Ansel-by-the-Sea (a village where the people are the heartbeat of everything) a really interesting place to have her land. She was looking for belonging…and Ansel is a place that is paradoxically cautious with outsiders, as well as deeply relational and generous with whatever they have to offer, so she had some nuanced waters to tread . . . but I’m so glad she found a home there.
What would she have to say about me? This question made me laugh to imagine her thoughts. She might say, “Here’s a person who is continuing to learn to lighten up, and it’s a good thing! She lived for a good long time in a place of hyper-analyzing and timidity, and although she’ll always be on the quiet side, she’s learning that she loves deeply to laugh, and that every person is a living, fascinating story to be learned and listened to.”
Did your characters hijack the story or did you have full rein? Did you plan or “discover” the story as you wrote?
Bob totally hijacked it! See answer #1 above. 😊
How do you want Whose Waves These Are to resonate with your readers?
I hope it brings hope. That sounds simple, but hope is no simple thing . . . I wrote it in the midst of deep personal grief after losing my father suddenly, and so this tale is in some ways very reflective of the ways God dove right into my own storm, wrapped his arms around me tight, and never let go. I hope He does that for readers too, whatever they are facing.
What unusual thing did you do or discover while researching for this story?
I got to interview a lighthouse expert over the phone! It was so interesting, hearing from him firsthand more about lighthouses and Fresnel lenses than I ever could have learned just in the written literature that’s out there. People always have such unique angles, thoughts, and insights—it is always worth talking to whomever we can, when researching.
Questions about writing
What books have been most influential for you as an author?
Books that don’t necessarily fit squarely in a genre are inspiring to me. We always have a bit of a hard time classifying my books into a genre too, so maybe I feel a kinship with them, but favorite books that have moved me deeply in this “non-category” category include A Gentleman in Moscow (Amor Towles), Long Way Gone (Charles Martin), All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr), and more. I’m also a longtime fan of George MacDonald, and find that many of G.K. Chesterton’s thoughts and writings resonate with me as well.
Where do your story ideas usually originate from—character, plot, setting, theme, or a combination? Share a little about your novel writing process, and the length of time it takes to complete a book.
It’s rarely ever plot, but usually a mix of the other elements. Yours is the Night sprang from being deeply moved by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the symbolism of the guards’ work there. Set the Stars Alight came after learning about a ship that had been discovered beneath the World Trade Center, and learning about a little-known profession called forensic astronomy. All the Lost Places bubbled up out of being so moved by the origins of Venice, which to me are so redemptive and tell such a gospel story in and of themselves.
It takes me anywhere from 9 months to 2 years to write a book. Lately, it’s more like 2 years, starting with pondering story ideas for the next book while I’m finishing up the draft of my current project. Then comes research, travel when possible, brainstorming, plotting, writing (and research continues throughout the whole process), and editing . . . and finally, 2 years after initial ponderings, a book releases!
You’ve written historical novels set in a variety of places and time periods (World War I and II, France, Venice, Maine). Are you drawn to any particular setting or time? Are there other settings you want to explore in future novels?
I’m drawn to everything…it’s a problem (haha). There is so much meaning and fascination in every locale and bit of history. My next novel (releasing summer 2024) takes place in Colorado, which has been such a beautiful place to research and explore. It’s the first time I’ve written a story set on American soil since I wrote Whose Waves These Are, which came out in 2019, and I’m not sure where I’m headed next!
I’ve thought about Scotland, several readers have requested Ireland. I’d like to learn more about the Mississippi River, but so far in all of these ponderings, nothing has leapt out with the little stomach-flutter I get when I know that this is the one. Once I turn in my next manuscript, I’ll turn my attention more to this and do some exploring to see where we might be headed next. I’m all ears if anyone has requests or ideas!
What is the biggest challenge of writing a dual timeline novel and how do you overcome it?
Fitting two complete stories into the space of one is the biggest challenge, but I love it because the flip-side of that is that it requires a lot of interaction and trust with the reader. The things I leave out or allude to, I plant hints for the reader to pick up. It’s like a dance, a relationship with the reader, and I love that.
Please share something about a current project or the direction you want to go as an author.
Here’s something fun…I recently had to change my Facebook page name from “Amanda Dykes, Novelist” to “Amanda Dykes, Author”…because I’m branching out! I never thought I’d say this, but it appears I have a nonfiction title coming out in the future. That’s all I’ll say for now, but stay tuned!
Do you have any advice for aspiring novelists?
Oh, friends. Keep writing. Rest when God calls you to rest. Dive fully into whatever he calls you to—and if He calls you away from writing for a time, rest in knowing all is not lost—He has His plan and His timing so perfectly in hand, and there is so much meaning in every single thing He calls us to, writing or otherwise.
But when hope feels dim, or you question if it’s worth it, or you’re swept into discouragement…those are the times to hang on and press on. You are not alone in this. He is with you every step of the way. Your words matter because He put them in your heart, and more than that: you matter, because He put you here. For such a time as this.
Back to Laura . . . On a similar note . . .
If you like dual timeline fiction that leans literary, you might enjoy my novel, Fifteen Minutes with Mr. Baum. This story spotlights L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Set in Holland, Michigan, this pre-published novel alternates between 1980 and the early 1900s. Read more and watch the book trailer here.
If you like Southern fiction or stories about family secrets and small town dynamics, you might enjoy my re-launched novel All That Is Hidden. Set near North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains in 1968, the story spotlights the bond of family and the connections of a tight-knit community. Northern exploitation threatens as a father’s hidden past catches up to him and tests family ties. Learn more and watch the trailer here.
All That Is Hidden awards:
- Winner of the Artisan Book Reviews Book Excellence Award
- Semifinalist in Serious Writer’s Book of the Decade contest
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Amanda Dykes Bio
Amanda Dykes is a drinker of tea, dweller of redemption, and spinner of hope-filled tales who spends most days chasing wonder and words with her family. She’s the winner of the 2020 Christy Award Book of the Year, a Booklist 2019 Top Ten title, and the winner of an INSPY award for her debut novel, Whose Waves These Are. She’s also the author of Set the Stars Alight (a Christy Award finalist), Yours is the Night (recipient of the Kipp Award, Christy Award finalist), All the Lost Places (starred reviews from Booklist, Library Journal, and Foreword), and three novellas. Find her online at amandadykes.com.
Join me next time for a visit with author .. INDEX…or Sigmund Brower??????
Meanwhile, have you read Whose Waves These Are or any others by Amanda Dykes? Do you gravitate to dual timeline stories? Answer in the comments below.
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