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It’s not a good idea; Nordan and Sara both know it. Both are over forty. Both love their spouses. Both are drunk. Both naked—and not thin. Both wonder if the other is lying when they say, nearly simultaneously, “I’ve never done this before.”
And they’re friends—or think they are. It’s difficult to tell. They were total strangers before they checked into adjoining hotel rooms in Jubilation, a planned community featuring Key West-styled homes in sherbet colors with white picket fences. The resort is Gingerbread Victorian, with a permit-only beach where the sand is raked into traditional Zen patterns three times a day. There are no homeless people in Jubilation. No tattoo shops. There’s nothing sordid, or dangerous. You can’t even walk down the side streets unless you have security clearance; surveillance cameras are everywhere. It’s not the kind of place you’d have an affair in.
But here they are, naked—and a little cold. It’s off-season.
N.M. Kelby is the author of Murder at the Bad Girl’s Bar and Grill (published in June 2008 from Shaye Areheart/ Random House), as well as Whale Season (Shaye Areheart/ Random House), In the Company of Angels (Theia/Hyperion), and Theater of the Stars (Theia/Hyperion). Her story “Jubilation, Florida” was selected for National Public Radio’s Selected Shorts, and later recorded by actress Joanne Woodward for the NPR CD Travel Tales, and included in New Stories from the South: Best of 2006 (Algonquin Books). She is the recipient of a Bush Artist Fellowship in Literature, an NEA Inter-Arts grant, the Heekin Group Foundation’s James Fellowship for the Novel, both a Florida and Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship in fiction, two Jerome Travel Study Grants, and a Jewish Arts Endowment Fellowship.
Q&A by Hannah Tinti
- HT: Where did the idea for this story come from?
- NK: My big sloppy heart. I have a couple of male friends who are like my brothers: they tease me, make sure I eat my vegetables, and watch my back. And, because I have such an unwieldy heart, I love them. Luckily, this does not panic my husband. Still, the word ‘love’ is very loaded, but I don’t know how to explain it otherwise. I do ‘love’ them. I am loyal to them, and would do anything for them—and their families. I also love key lime pie, but deserts don’t usually take you out for too many beers when Kirkus reviews your first novel. So, I guess I have to say that I love my pals more.
- HT: What was the most challenging aspect of writing this story?
- NK: The pitch of it. Comedy is a dance that forces you to pay honor to both the folly and bravery within us all.
- HT: Have you ever visited a planned community like ‘Jubilation’? Why did you choose to set the story there?
- NK: Yes. I have been to Celebration. It made me afraid. Very afraid. You can be afraid too. Here’s the link: www.celebrationfl.com. I tried to take a picture of the post office and nearly got arrested. I guess they get a lot of riff-raff driving vintage Mercedes Benz convertibles (I only mention this so I can take the car off my taxes). Maybe they thought I was going to sell fake Gucci bags out of the trunk.
- HT: The relationship between Nordan and Sara develops through their conversations. Is it difficult to lean so heavily on dialogue to create your characters and propel the story forward?
- NK: Drove me crazy. I kept tuning the lines over and over again. The pitch has to be dead-on and not overdone. But I needed to use that method, because Nordan and Sara are all about words. All these two do is talk, talk, talk. They would drive you crazy if you were at a party with them. So, when they unravel, language has to fail them.
- HT: The sea turtles add a magical element, just at the right moment of the story. Did you plan to use them all along, or did their appearance surprise you?
- NK: I did plan for them. I thought it would be lovely to show the reader that wonderful overwhelming and terrifying moment of magic in the world. There’s a nesting beach near my house so I’m pretty familiar with the spectacle. Plus, it makes you realize how easy it is to meet one’s soul mate is when you’re green and live in a shell. Who needs E-Harmony? Just eat a little algae and hang out at the beach: love will find you.
- HT: Is there a chance for Nordan and Sara?
- NK: I think so. I do think that they do love each other in way that is without language, and without definition, and it terrifies them enough to make them want to continue on. They just have to figure that out. For these two, sex will be important. Not so much the act, but that moment after when they feel so profoundly connected they can’t put it into words. And don’t need to. Words often get in the way of the heart.
- HT: How long did it take you to complete this story?
- NK: It usually takes a year or so. I’m really a novelist. I begin a story because I’m stuck with the novel. Then I go back to the novel when I finish a draft. I need to think about stories for a long time before I write them.
- HT: What is the best bit of advice about writing you have ever received?
- NK: Be fearless. I’m all over that.
- HT: What are you working on now?
- NK: I have a comedic novel WHALE SEASON coming out under the Shaye Areheart imprint. I’m so excited about that. I just love her—again, more than key lime pie. I’m also working on a collection of dark and funny short stories set in Florida called WE ARE ALL JUST VISITORS HERE. And finally, I’m plugging away at my new Florida novel, also dark and funny, THE SOLTICE OF WINTER. So, I need a housekeeper. Or, maybe, I can just tape Swiffers to the dogs.