Monday, May 4, 2020

A Week at Surfside Beach

With COVID-19 still very much a part of our lives even though some states have relaxed their stay-at-home orders, I’ve discovered an amusing and safe way to have a little beach time.

Author Pierce Koslosky Jr. has a new release coming out entitled, A WEEK AT SURFSIDE BEACH. This is a delightful book. Join me now as we leave the stress behind and take a trip to the beach. This post is a tad longer than most but we are relaxing so it’s worth it.

Thousands of families and individuals are attracted to the South Carolina coast each year, renting houses up and down the beach throughout the seasons. They bring their lives with them when they come to this magical place. In A WEEK AT SURFSIDE BEACH, author Pierce Koslosky Jr. has crafted sixteen poignant short stories that paint a vivid portrait of the beach’s diverse, temporary inhabitants: those people attracted to a landscape both beautiful and overwhelming in its ability to force introspection and change.

Set over the course of a single rental season that ends at Christmas, the book’s unrelated characters all have their stays in the blue beach house, yet each story has a distinct message at its core. Readers will follow people in every stage of life—from a six-year-old entering the imaginary world of crabs to an escapee from a retirement home—and witness their varied individual experiences.

These are stories of hope and redemption, connection and detachment, and lessons taught and learned. Both original and contemplative, heartbreaking and inspirational, A WEEK AT SURFSIDE BEACH brings together a collection of tales with seemingly ordinary, simple, and familiar details—yet underneath their calm, relatable surfaces exist the uncomfortable, extraordinary complexities of life.

First, here is an excerpt from the book for your reading pleasure and then the author provided a Q&A to share more about his charming book.

From the story "The Inflatable Dragon"

Now his fate had fallen into the hands of a committee. His children were nice people, and they meant well, but it was at his expense. Then, one Wednesday night, there they all were in his living room, and he listened to them tell him what was best for him. Safest. Most practical. The easiest—for him, of course. All of this logic eventually boiled down to a place: Mountain View. A community for people just like…him. And close by. They could visit—when they got the time.
Well, all right then.
So a week and a half later, instead of checking into Mountain View with his allotted box of keepsakes, John was on a plane to Myrtle Beach, $7,000 in cash wadded up in his pocket (to stay off the Platinum Amex as long as he could), no return ticket, and blessedly, no one to meet him at the gate. His whole family would be at Mountain View later that day, waiting to see him after he had settled in. It had been a group decision, and the group would be there. Except that John had told each of them that one of the others would be taking him there. In place of himself, he’d left a nice, polite note instructing his family not to worry; it read, “Don’t call us; we’ll call you.”
It was June, but it was still a little early in the season. The traffic wasn’t too bad coming out of the Myrtle Beach jetport now. Lots of groups of guys, like the die-hard golf crew that had been on the flight with him; middle-aged adolescents dedicated to escaping their wives, families, and obligations. John chuckled just watching them.
He was pleased that he could book an oceanfront house at the last minute at this time of the year. There had been a sudden cancellation just before he’d called. The place was in a little complex of ten houses, called Portofino II, in Surfside Beach. His house was 317C, a corner unit right on the ocean. Twenty minutes after picking up his small bag at the luggage carousel, he was in a fire-engine-red Mustang convertible, driving down Highway 17, indulging himself in a naughty smile at the thought of his no-show reception party back in Indiana.

Join me in giving a warm welcome to Pierce as he shares some questions and answers about his writing. Welcome, Pierce.

What took you so long to write your first book?

That is a cautionary tale. I've wanted to be a writer since forever, and I wrote a lot of poetry when I was young and unencumbered. I always "knew" I would write...someday. But not much came of that presumed self-knowledge; there was always another hole in the dike of life that required yet another finger.

Then when I turned 50, I made a deal with myself that I would publish a book by the time I was 60—I mean ten years, right? —Well, I missed my goal by nine years. But after I made that pact with myself, I began making the time and I started to write—again. I wrote my first short story at age 54, and it isn't even in the book; it was a mess. But I had started, and not telling a soul what I was doing, I kept writing. I tried to write a story on each of our fall beach trips, and one shiny day I realized that I now had several stories, and that I had achieved critical mass. I got serious about rewrites, the beach-rental-season framework came to me as in a dream, and then the whole thing came to life. "It's never too late to be what you might have been." (George Eliot)

Why is a Nebraskan writing about the beach?

I grew up in New Jersey—an East Coast kid. In the summer we would drive up to Maine or New Hampshire; in the winter we would make the tortuous, pre-McDonalds, two-lane drive to South Florida (where my Dad ended up retiring). I can still hear my Dad's voice: "Don't make me come back there!" It was great. It was also pre-sunscreen. I remember trying to see how big a sheet of skin I could pull off of my sunburned leg. I got hooked on the ocean.

The beach was in my blood, but fortune took me to Nebraska. One year my younger brother came back from Surfside Beach, South Carolina and he told me, "It's just like Florida in the '60s." My wife and I and our twin two-year-olds went to check it out, and we immediately fell in love with the place.

None of this answers the question. I'd say the "why" part is also about the "how" part. It's at the beach that I feel the most creative. It takes me plenty of time and elbow room to be able to write. That's what the beach gives me, and in my own way, that's what I want to give it back. I want to capture the transforming nature of the place, and so I write about the beach and how it effects people.

What significance does this place and beach house have to you and your family—what has kept you returning year after year?

If you go to the same place again and again, just about everything that can happen to you in life—good and bad—will find a way to happen there. After that, the whole thing just becomes self-reinforcing. Your history and it’s become entwined. A thousand memories. You come to love a place as much for what has happened there as for the place itself.

My brother and his family have been going to Surfside longer than we have, and now they take their kids and grandkids. A few years back they wanted to surprise a six-year-old granddaughter with a trip to Disney World. They told her they were going to Surfside Beach instead, to throw her off the track. When they arrived at the Orlando airport, they said "Surprise!" The child asked, "Aren't we going to the beach?" When they said "No, we're going to Disney World!," she burst into tears.

It's like that.

How have your life experiences—as a philosophy major, as someone who has worked in the prison system, and as someone who is now a CEO—affected or contributed to what you write about?

Well, this couldn't get cornier, but after my few score years, I have begun to realize how alike we all are. Well, at least similar. It was a systemic shock to be a middle-class white kid walking into a maximum-security prison in North Carolina in 1972. It was 100% "Cool Hand Luke." But after a few terrified months, I settled in, and the guards were waving me past security. I was seven separate locks away from my car and my desk was one floor directly beneath the gas chamber—but you know what? Anything can become familiar. And why is that? Central Prison was its own weird universe, but the human experience is common to all of us. 

Business was a second education. For a recovering Marxist, it was sink or swim. I learned a few things: 1) If you're "in charge" of people, you soon realize that all you want is for them to want what you want, and you sure as hell aren't going to get there by yelling at them. 2) Don't tell someone to do what you can't do yourself. 3) Some people can be absolutely brilliant, but that's not everything. You want to know that when you blow that whistle to charge up out of the trench, that you can count on them coming with you, not just "thinking about it." 4) If someone tells you that they can't sell your product without a green telephone, buy them the green telephone; then it's on them. 5) You can't buy loyalty, but you can earn it. 6) If you claim that you're in business to make a profit, then share those profits; you'll always make more when people make more too.   

Can you tell us more about your come-to-Jesus epiphany? Does your faith tie into your writing at all?

It's funny, because there was a long stretch where I was a die-hard atheist and enjoyed making fun of Christians. It was the age of "Jesus Freaks" and communes, but I wasn't buying it.
When I turned twelve my parents had a sudden spasm of religion, and my siblings and I were hauled off to Catholic church. I was a colossus in my Catechism class of seven-year-olds. I had my Confirmation the week after my first Communion. I became an altar boy. But then my Dad got into a heated argument our priest, and he and my mom stopped going. Sundays my parents would drive us kids to church, drop us off, and pick us back up an hour and a half later. And what a feast would be waiting for us when we got home—donuts! Crumbcake! Never underestimate the dividends that guilt can provide.

They got divorced. It was a long, drawn-out affair—ugly, and very, very loud. When my prayers didn't change the situation, that was it for me and God.

I still wanted "answers." I tried everything. I said everything. Transcendental meditation, sitting Zen, Hare Krishna, macrobiotics, past life regression. I went to a healing sounds workshop. I became a second-level Reiki master. I studied with a self-styled Sufi for a year and a half. I had some truly weird and freaky "spiritual experiences," but everything felt like it was coming from the outside in, if that makes any sense.

And then, there I was, in the midst of my own divorce, feeling like a total failure and thinking, “what's the point in living?” I was standing in my apartment bathroom, and I cried out to God. Nothing happened. No blinding light, no voices. But...a few days later I was in court to get the divorce granted and I was very upset. And then—while the judge was talking and asking me questions—I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was unmistakably a hand, and I turned to see whose it was, but there was no one there. It was electric, and suddenly I was completely calm. A moment before I was about to jump out of my skin and now I was at peace. That's when I knew that God is real.

I have said that I am on the "Jesus is Lord!" team...but unaffiliated. I have, in thirty years of believing, experienced a number of miracles—or "God-related coincidences," if you prefer. How does this affect my writing? I think if you can read through the New Testament and the idea of Hope doesn't stay with you, you probably ought to read it again. Having been an atheist, I'm very sensitive to people and their own search. My twenty-year-old self would be making fun of me right now. I want to communicate that there is more to life than the five senses, but I want to write and let the reader decide for themselves.

Do you have another project in mind?

Yes, I have a large part of a novel sketched out. There's a middle-aged man, a cult, a grandmother, and a precocious five-year-old. I call it a "comic novel" to myself. I'm having fun with it, but it isn't there yet. This time I'm hoping to finish a book in less than fourteen years.

Pierce, thanks for sharing these behind the scenes tidbits with us and good luck finishing your new book in less than 14 years.

Author Pierce Koslosky Jr.
For those who aren’t familiar with the author, here’s a bit of background on him.

Pierce Koslosky Jr. graduated with a degree in Psychology from Duke University, and then worked three years in North Carolina’s maximum-security prison. He moved to Nebraska, and four decades later is the chairman and CEO of a manufacturing company.

He lives in Omaha with Candy, his wife of thirty-five years, and with one very fortunate golden doodle. They have four children who could not be less alike.

Pierce and his family have gone to Surfside Beach, South Carolina for over twenty-five years. For most of that time they have stayed in blue house on the cover of A WEEK AT SURFSIDE BEACH. They bought the home in 2000 and rent it out in summer. Originally a poet, he began writing these short stories fifteen years ago, inspired by entries in their guest book.

Thanks so much for stopping by today. I hope this made you smile and forget the craziness of the world for at least a few minutes. Is there a place where you (and your family) go each year to get away for everyday routines?


  1. Thank you and Pierce for the much needed smiles. YAY JOHN.
    And huge congratulations to Pierce for proving it is never to late to fulfil a dream.

  2. I have so many wonderful memories of the SC coast and this post really brought them back to me. Love the George Eliot quote, too: great point. And I think it's great that Pierce ended up buying the home that he so enjoyed renting over the years.

  3. What an interesting way to tie the threads of a story together, Mason! And there is definitely something about beachside vacations. They do leave us with strong memories. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I've been to that beach. What a unique idea to set a series of stories there.

  5. Hi Mason and Pierce - what a fun post ... and I love the idea of buying the cottage you'd been renting all those years. The stories sound just so much fun - and congratulations on the future publication - good luck all round. Take care - Hilary


I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's post. Thanks for dropping by.