The inspiration for my latest novel, Take Me Home, began in the majestic state of Idaho but the novel opens in the Sunshine State of Florida. Josephine is recently divorced, her marriage of ten years has fallen apart.
Tired of New England winters, she envisioned a better life on the warm, sandy beaches of South Florida . With thoughts of palm trees, warm weather and reggae music dancing through her head, she imagined Gidget meets Stella who helps Josie get her groove on. ~ Take Me Home by Sheila Blanchette
When I first moved to Florida, my husband didn’t join me right away. He had work to finish in New Hampshire. I hadn’t lived alone in a long time, over thirty years to be exact. It was easy to imagine Josie living alone in a strange state following the breakup of her marriage.
Josie’s son Luke joins her for the summer. He’s finished community college and is moving to Colorado in the fall. She’s happy to have him there but she still doesn’t feel at home.
Despite being exhausted, Josie had a hard time falling asleep. The apartment didn’t feel like home . Luke’s presence didn’t change the feeling of dislocation she often felt. ~ Take Me Home by Sheila Blanchette
My first weeks in Florida were a blur. Everything was strange and unfamiliar. The traffic was crazy, I couldn’t adjust to the grid system. SE 5th Avenue, SE 5th Court, SE 5th Road. Mapquest never sent me to the right one. I had to leave plenty of time to find the location of my latest assignment with Accountemps. Josie of course worked in an office too. Write what you know.
“So what does that have to do with me? He thinks he can take it out on me? Who does he think I am, his wife?” “You’re his office wife.” She narrowed her eyes, stared at him. “I’m nobody’s wife, least of all his. I wish I could just walk, right now. I gotta send out more resumes.” They sipped their beers. Jacob kept smiling at her. ~ Take Me Home by Sheila Blanchette
The neighborhoods near the beach my husband and I had fallen in love with were out of our price range. I wasn’t familiar with the gated communities and apartment complexes west of Dixie Highway. I was lost, disoriented. My world had been turned upside down.
My first few weeks were spent two weeks from the beach, a short walk from the very happening Atlantic Avenue. Tony shops, expensive restaurants, and happy hours. Bentley’s, Mazzarrati’s, Jaguar’s pulling up to the curbside valets.
Walking back to her car, Josie passed well-dressed couples sitting at sidewalk tables drinking , eating and flirting. A Bentley pulled up to a valet stand outside a steak restaurant where New York strip cost fifty dollars. Crossing the railroad tracks, she passed an open air bar where sports memorabilia and vintage posters hung on the walls, a band playing in the corner near the sidewalk. ~ Take Me Home by Sheila Blanchette
It wasn’t the Florida I could afford to live in, but it wasn’t long before I was returning to New Hampshire to make the drive south a second time with my husband. By the time we returned, the snow birds had left the beaches and bars to the locals. We were living in Gateway Ghetto as my husband called it. Not really a ghetto at all, but a noisy, large apartment complex on the first floor where a domestic situation erupted one night. It was a far cry from the two acre farm we left in New Hampshire or the Florida we envisioned.
Rolling along the track, the sound rumbled through the apartment as the door slid shut with a thud. Every few minutes it happened again, and again, and again . She mumbled, “Goddamn it. ” The door slid shut, punctuating her thought. They must be crack addicts, cokeheads, neurotic chain smokers. Some nights it went on until three, starting up again at five in the morning. ~ Take Me Home by Sheila Blanchette
That excerpt from the book was plucked right out of a blog I wrote. By then I was blogging about walking. Walking helped me find the Florida I had wanted to move to during those cold winters. I set out to explore my new home with a new purpose. I was immersed in writing the novel. The characters had come alive. I often saw the world through Josie’s eyes.
Passing large homes built along the shoreline, she entered what she liked to call the verdant canopy, a stretch of road sheltered from the bright sun by large tropical trees forming a cool, leafy archway across the street. From there, the view opened to a decent stretch of shoreline where she could finally see the azure waters of South Florida, so different from the steely gray surf she’d known all her life. Two large whale balloons tethered to the parasailing stand on the beach swam across the blue sky. ~ Take Me Home by Sheila Blanchette
She loved the expansive views, the tall palm trees lining the medians , every place she looked an iconic Welcome to Florida postcard. Wish You Were Here. ~ Take Me Home by Sheila Blanchette
The bars seem to be everywhere. The happy hour options are endless. From Atlantic Avenue:
To the Intracoastal at a bar famous for Hemingway having pissed here:
It was easy to be a drunk in Florida. Every day felt like a vacation, although most of the people she met were not retired yet, they worked part-time or were self-employed. When asked, they gave nebulous job descriptions. “I dabble in real estate.” “Consulting.”“I fly to Houston once a month.” “I work out of my house.” Josie liked her cocktails but tried to keep her drinks to two, maybe three on the weekends when someone else was driving. ~ Take Me Home by Sheila Blanchette
There’s a lot more about Florida in the novel, the good and the bad. It is here on these sunny shores that Josie really begins her journey of self discovery.
Florida hadn’t worked out the way she hoped it would, but that didn’t mean she was giving up. Her journey appeared aimless at times, but she didn’t mind being lost. Her purpose was to find her way, to find what she was missing. She still had dreams to chase and nothing to lose. She would trust her instincts. ~ Take Me Home by Sheila Blanchette
As I write this blog, my husband is listening to the news. They are reporting 12 degrees below zero in Chicago tonight, unimaginably colder with the wind chill factor. I am glad to be here in sunny Florida. After work today, I walked the beach in Boca, barefoot, in a camisole top. If you’re planning a trip to South Florida this winter, here’s some of my favorite local spots:
You can also browse though my walking blogs for more ideas on what to do in Florida. I’ve been walking Florida for 260 days now and writing it all down. Check it out.
I couldn’t find a song about Florida, one that I liked, but I settled on one of my favorite rock ‘n roll guys. Tom Petty. Born and raised in Gainesville, FL. Music is always with me when I’m writing and when I’m thinking about writing. I think of this as Josie’s theme song. So does one of the character’s in the book.
“Runaway, go find a lover Runaway, let your heart be your guide You deserve the deepest of cover You belong in that home by and by” ~ Tom Petty