Reading Selection of the Month: Of Sea and Cloud

Publish date:

Tyrus Books, a member of the Writer's Digest publishing family, announced the launch of Of Sea and Cloud, an exciting new novel and Recommended Reading selection by Jon Keller. Here are some reviews from Publisher's Weekly and Kirkus:


"The death of a fisherman...sparks a deadly feud in this...tale that vividly portrays...the unexpected beauty...of Downeast Maine.... Keller builds suspense slowly but inexorably...about what will happen when his fiercely independent sons find out how he died." --Kirkus Reviews

"The rich lore of the Maine lobstermen combines with an energetic narrative and muscular prose to make Keller's fiction debut a winner." --Publishers Weekly

Here's a bit about the book: Nicolas Graves raised his sons to be lobstermen. Bill and Joshua (known as Jonah) Graves grew up aboard their father's boat--the Cinderella--learning the rules and rites of the antiquated business they love. But when their father is lost at sea and the price of lobster crashes worldwide, Bill and Jonah must decide how much they are willing to risk for their family legacy.

Standing against them is Osmond Randolph--former Calvinist minister, mystic, captain of the Sanctity, and their father's business partner for more than twenty years. Together with his grandson and heir, Julius, Osmond is determined to push the Graves family out of their lobster pound, regardless of the cost or the consequences.

Buy Of Sea and Cloud now >>

Enjoy this interview with the author, Jon Keller:

You’ve spent considerable time in parts of the country known for the natural splendor—how much did the starkness and largeness of nature play into the atmospheric tone of Of Sea and Cloud?

A huge amount. More than any other single factor. I moved to the downeast coast of Maine after nearly a dozen years in Montana (where I’d worked for years as a wilderness guide) and I was absolutely blown away by the seascape—not just by the beauty, but by what I saw as such an absolute and consuming starkness. For weeks on end, the world could go cold and gray in a way I’d not witnessed—so many subtle and varying degrees that could be at once completely harsh and beautiful. I was working on a lobster boat, so I spent huge amounts of time watching the water and the sky because there was nothing else to look at but lobster bait, which is just dead fish.

I worked—bizarrely enough—for a captain who’d gone to Wesleyan, and he quizzed me daily on the classics—the Greeks, Shakespeare, the Russians. . . And I was reading Robert Alter’s translation of Genesis, and the Robert Fagles translations of Homer, and flipping through Milton, so all of that stuff was pounding around in my head while I was standing on the lobster boat looking at the sea and sky and coastline. I soon began to see within the land and people something nearing on the epic. When I started writing Of Sea and Cloud, I fell immediately into a voice that felt to me to echo this epic starkness—and, more importantly than echoing,

I hoped that the voice would resonate in and through the novel in the way the coastal landscape resonates in and through the downeast world.

Consequently, Of Sea and Cloud is a book that asks something of the reader, just as the coast of Maine asks something of those who inhabit it.

How many characters are based on people you’ve met? How many characters have you thought about in those quiet hours who did not show up?

In Of Sea and Cloud, only two of the characters are based on real people—Bill and Virgil—but not to the extent that I envisioned them as looking like someone I knew: physically and mentally and emotionally, both Bill and Virgil took shape in my mind; only facets of their beings were based on actual people.

Bill was a combination of two lobstermen I worked with at a lobster pound—a captain and his sternman, both of whom were high-energy fishermen who acted tough but were actually kind and endearing men. Husbands and fathers.

A lot of Bill’s dialogue came from these two—after a day of work at the lobster pound, I’d go home and write down as much of what they’d said as I could remember.

Virgil was initially “based” on the lobsterman I spent years working for, but he quickly evolved away from the real man and into his own character. What remained was largely his relationship with Jonah (akin to my relationship with this fisherman) and his role in the community—this aging fisherman who was widely respected within the fishing community. It was an old fashioned respect, one that truly meant something. People listened to him, trusted him, sought his advice as if he were a leader, though he was not . . . and that had a huge impact on me.

As far as characters who did not show up in the book . . . I had in mind a pair of clam diggers that would be based on a few guys I see on the mud flats and at the clam shops—two guys who dig clams each day only to be broke before they go to bed each night, no matter how much they earn. Guys who drive around the one small town, smoking and drinking and doing nothing else, ever; never in their lives leaving a specific and unbelievably small radius. Guys that have never seen an interstate, let alone a city; guys who wouldn’t last a day in most places in the US. I’d tried at various stages to fit them into the novel, but each time I ended up cutting their scenes.

Did you feel a responsibility to capture this world from a different angle? Is there an emotional component to the culture and community of lobstermen you hadn’t seen/heard, but that you thought was critical to understanding?

No, I actually felt the opposite: I felt guilty for wanting to write about this lobster fishing world because it was such an old and insular place, and I was so new to it. It took me two years of working on the boat full time before I began to write. I’d taken notes, and had written a bunch of research-based articles concerning the economics and politics of commercial fisheries for a monthly paper, but when it came to the culture, I felt that I was touching on something nearing the sacred, and to write about it would be a form of trespass.

Then one day, while working on the boat, it dawned on me that I could spend a lifetime on the stern of a boat—but I was a writer, not a lobsterman. By then, I felt like I’d put in enough time to not be a total interloper.

Even so, I made the main character, Jonah, as a first generation local—not a seventh or eighth generation—for the simple reason that I didn’t feel comfortable presuming that I understood what life must be like as a member of a multigenerational family in such an isolated place. I believe that fiction writers have a serious responsibility, especially when writing about something that others view as sacred—and on the downeast coast of Maine, the entire culture is wrapped around the lobster industry.

At the same time, I’ve lived enough places, and in enough small towns, to be aware of when a place is undergoing a serious shift. I’d call it a cultural unraveling, perhaps, and it results in loneliness and desperation that I hoped to capture in the book. It’s the confusion that results when a sub-culture doesn’t evolve as quickly as the culture that surrounds it. The technology has changed, the standards of living have changed, the world has changed . . . yet the way of life has not, and the result is a cultural tailspin, a potential breakdown.

Isolation, I think, works backwards in this case; instead of safeguarding a place from the onslaught of a global economy, the isolation exposes it. Many young fishermen are no longer learning to care for the industry the way their fathers and grandfathers had; instead, they take out huge loans and buy huge boats and catch unprecedented numbers of lobsters. The captain I worked for was of the older generation, and so I heard him, on a daily basis, talk about the changes he was seeing—the younger generation’s apathy, the infringement of big business, the loss of waterfront access. It was all happening at once. I was writing about globalism—and about the blatantly corrupt relationship between corporations and federal fisheries agencies—for the newspaper while working on the boat. I was immersed in the industry that I was writing about; I was researching global fisheries, but working within them at an incredibly local level. Both viewpoints came out in the book, and I believe that their culmination allowed me a unique view of the culture that surrounded me.

Buy Of Sea and Cloud now >>

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