LONG BEACH ISLAND – No doubt it’s an uncanny coincidence that the beloved Mark Twain suggested that every author should write about what they know best.
Twain’s first novel told of the adventures of young Tom Sawyer, who just happened to grow up in the famous author’s hometown. The backdrop for young adult author Katie Schulze-Bahn’s “Sugar Sand Road” converges on the two places of her own childhood.
“Nota bene,” writes the author before she gets into her captivating piece, “Places and events in this novel are some of my own true-life stories. This is a book of fiction.”
The writer’s warning surely does not include her picturesque description of early remembrances of the sand and surf of Long Beach Island. She invites readers into her world as she knew it, where modest cottages stood amongst what were once large sea captains’ estates.
While enjoying the painting of the local landscape from a child’s perspective and nostalgic view, book lovers find themselves confronted with tragedy. The strike seemed so real that it warranted delicate contact with an author who so easily connected with a concerned reader.
The need to separate fiction from reality proved that Schulze-Bahn had hit her mark. After all, she’d admitted that she did write about what she knew best.
“I’m glad you asked,” said the author. “No, that part’s complete fiction.”
Without giving away the storyline, the events in question relocate the protagonist to another place revered by anyone local. The young girl will return to enjoy the eight-mile stretches of Long Beach Island after spending most of her school-age years in the Pine Barrens.
“The sandy roads resemble fine sugar, running in all directions, and often splitting off into trails leading to forgotten railroads, settlements, and ruins,” writes Schulze-Bahn. “Rivers and streams snake through the dense underground like a never-ending labyrinth…”
And lest anyone worry, the Jersey Devil manages to surface in this fabulous focus on local imagery.
While teens on the brink of adulthood will find themselves looking to see what happens next, the story’s more than enough to hold older audiences engaged as well. First, there’s the disparity in understanding a life cultivating the ocean’s treasures to one farming local lands.
The pictures the author paints of familiar places surely add imaginative value to local readers who will easily recognize them. For those who have tainted views of the Jersey Shore because of mainstream television, they should be earthshattering.
However, beyond the descriptions, include tales of friendship and love. The story also considers the ill effects of grief and depression – real-life and relatable experiences.
While she doesn’t go into detail on a personal level, the author admits it’s another example of her writing about what she knows best. Schulze-Bahn easily identifies with the ups and downs of life.
“It’s a nice coming of age story,” Schulze-Bahn shared. “I wanted to keep it so that ages 12 and up could read it, without worrying about violence, sex, drugs, and bad language.”
While the author and her family still maintain a home on Long Beach Island, their primary residence is in Pennsylvania. Schulze-Bahn said they moved there for her husband’s job.
“I still consider LBI and the Pines home,” said Schulze-Bahn said. “I’m hoping to one day set up a rescue farm for all types of wildlife in the Pine Barrens. I always say if something has fins, feathers, or feet, and they’re hurt or looking for food and a warm bed, I want them to be able to come to me.”
As a gift to herself on her fortieth birthday, Schulze-Bahn decided to hide 40 books for readers to find. But, unfortunately, she was snowed out on her first attempt to hide them.
When the sun went down on a Friday evening, the generous author started driving around and dedicated five or six hours to finding hiding spots for her books.
“When it was all said and done, I hid 20 books in the Pines and 20 on the island,” said Schulze-Bahn. “There’s four left that still remain unaccounted for as far as I know.”
The mother of four, Schulze-Bahn considers her role as a parent the most important part of her life. Her oldest daughter is 15, her twins are 13, and her youngest is 12. Schulze-Bahn said she’s also dedicated to her rescue dogs and can’t say enough about her husband.
“He’s a pediatric dentist, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone work so hard in my entire life,” Schulze-Bahn shared. “He’s been a great supporter and was very patient when I was writing the book.”
“Paul would even cook dinner when I would have a brainstorm and wanted to get a chapter together,” continued Schulze-Bahn. “He does surgeries as well as run his regular pediatric dentistry practice. Even though he’s working on a big project of his own, Paul’s always made sure to be there for me to do this.”