In late July and early August of 2016, I stayed with my wife, Keri, and daughters Eleri (then nearly 13) and Harmony (7) at a charming Airbnb cottage in the Ocean Park neighborhood of Santa Monica. The cottage was nearly a hundred years old, on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean, a few blocks away. Outside in the sidewalk, the words IGNORE ALIEN ORDERS had been carved when the cement was still wet, most likely in the 1960’s.
Harmony was in the first remission of her cancer fight of 2 years and three months. It was the fifty year anniversary of the Beach Boys landmark album Pet Sounds, which I played relentlessly on a bluetooth speaker during our stay of eight days. A block away was the charming Ocean Park branch of the Santa Monica Public Library. Down the hill on Main Street were ice cream shops and eateries, and beyond, the beach, where we relaxed, built sand castles, splashed in the cold Pacific, and caught waves on boogie boards.
In this idyllic time and place, I was away from writing entirely. I had recently put to bed the first draft of Echo’s Sister– about a girl whose little sister is fighting cancer– and had begun work on Thirty Parks, about a girl whose father takes her on a tour of all 30 Major League Baseball parks in a desperate attempt to repair their relationship. But while away from writing, I was seduced by the setting, which became the inspiration for a novel. Then the characters walked in, and Summer and July was born.
Ocean Park is an easy place to fall in love with. So naturally my narrator protagonist, Juillet, is a gothic girl who is not the least bit happy to be visiting for a month, and is determined not to have any fun. But why?
On day one of her 31 day visit, she meets local girl Summer. Summer loves skateboarding and surfing, and is so stoked about chasing good times, Juillet finds herself unable to refuse her overtures at a summer friendship. But beneath her sunny exterior, is Summer hurting?
Summer and July was conceived as a crush story. But it is also a story about friends helping each other find their courage in difficult times. Oh, and it’s also about ice cream, guacamole, veggie tacos, and catching waves.
I have not hidden my affection for this story, which is my favorite of the stories I have given birth to thus far. And Summer– seen through the eyes of Juillet– is my favorite character that I’ve come to know through writing. I also will never forget Juillet, Otis, and The Big Kahuna, though he is a man of few words. The novel is, by my reckoning, a love letter to decades of surf culture, to seaside holidays, and to the way a young person can bloom during a short period in a new setting.
SUMMER AND JULY is the sort of novel written by a man living in an intermission between rounds of fear and pain, in love with his family, and with life. It is scheduled for release by HarperCollins on July 7, 2020. I am so looking forward to sharing it with the world.