There’s Something About Islands, a guest post by Michael D. Beil
When I first started thinking about The Swallowtail Legacy: Wreck at Ada’s Reef, the only thing I knew for sure was that it was going to be set on an island in one of the Great Lakes. As I began to fill a notebook with ideas, I realized that it had to be fictional; too much of the plot depended on the island’s unique geography. So, early in the process, I drew a map of Swallowtail Island. It’s in the western end of Lake Erie, very close to the Canadian border and a few miles north of South Bass Island, home to the very real village of Put-in-Bay, a popular spot for boaters, bikers, and all sorts of vacation-goers.
One reason I was so determined to set the book on the island is that I actually like the idea of the physical limitations it creates. The water creates a barrier for the action, which I think is a great thing for a mystery. There’s a reason so many great mysteries and thrillers have isolated settings: it works! The Orient Express stuck in a snowbank, Jack Torrance stuck in the Overlook Hotel, and, of course, And Then There Were None, which just happens to be the best-selling mystery of all time. Treasure Island, Lord of the Flies, and Jurassic Park all take place on islands. And there are hundreds more.
In addition to the practical, plot-related reason, though, I have a confession to make: I have kind of a thing for islands, and always have. It’s entirely possible that my love for islands came about because of a surreal family weekend trip to Put-in-Bay in the summer of 1969. About the time that half a million people were gathering in Woodstock, the six of us climbed into the station wagon and drove west to Port Clinton. Back in those days, what was advertised as “The World’s Shortest Airline” flew ancient Ford Trimotors from Port Clinton out to Put-in-Bay and the other Lake Erie islands. And I’m not kidding when I say ancient. Production of the “Tin Goose,” as the Trimotor was affectionately nicknamed, stopped in 1933, and by the late 30’s, it was already considered out of date. With its boxy, corrugated fuselage and exposed engines, it would be right at home in an Indiana Jones movie. (In fact, it is a Ford Trimotor that crashes in the mountains in India in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.) Looking back, I am utterly amazed that my mother, no fan of flying under the best of circumstances, allowed her entire family to board something more akin to a flying school bus than a modern airplane.
Once we were inside the plane, the pilot pointed to me and waved me into the cockpit. “How’d you like to be my copilot?”
He didn’t have to ask twice. I strapped myself into the co-pilot’s seat as we rumbled down the runway and into the air. When we had leveled off for the remainder of the ten-minute flight, the pilot nodded at the steering wheel in front of me and said, “You take it for a while.” Then he made a big show of lighting a cigarette (ah, the good old days, right?) while I grabbed for the wheel. He motioned for me to turn a little to the right and I slowly turned the wheel until Put-in-Bay and all the surrounding islands came into view. There was something about those tiny plots of land all alone out there in the middle of the lake that really got to me. How cool it must be to actually live there!
And so began my love affair with islands. Over the many, many years since, a number of islands figured in my life — the islands of Pymatuning Lake where I grew up, Put-in-Bay, Mackinac, Nantucket, Manhattan, and, for one glorious month, Carleton Island in the Thousand Islands region of New York.
In the same way that characters are often composites of real people (in my case, often my students), the fictional Swallowtail Island is made up of little bits of all the islands in my past. And, after spending hundreds of hours there in my imagination while writing the first two Swallowtail Legacy books, the fact is that I’m crazy about the place! I’m truly sorry that Swallowtail Island doesn’t actually exist, because I would love to spend some time there.
Meet the author
In a time not long after the fifth extinction event, Edgar Award-nominated author Michael D. Beil came of age on the shores of Pymatuning Lake, where the ducks walk on the fish. (Look it up. Seriously.) For reasons that can’t be disclosed until September 28, 2041, he now lives somewhere in Portugal with his wife and their two white cats, Bruno and Maisie. He still gets carsick if he has to ride in the back seat for long and feels a little guilty that he doesn’t keep a journal.
About The Swallowtail Legacy 1: Wreck at Ada’s Reef
Punctuated with transcripts, letters, maps, black-and-white illustrations and more, The Swallowtail Legacy: Wreck at Ada’s Reef is a vibrant contemporary mystery with a classic feel exploring righting past wrongs, redefining family, and finding yourself.
Twelve-year-old Lark Heron-Finch is steeling herself to spend the summer on Swallowtail Island off the shores of Lake Erie. It’s the first time that she and her sister will have seen the old house since their mom passed away. And while her stepfather and his boys are okay, the island’s always been full of happy memories—and now everything is different.
When Nadine, a close family friend, tells Lark about a tragic boat accident that happened off the coast many years before, Lark’s enthralled with the story. Nadine’s working on a book about Dinah Purdy, Swallowtails’s oldest resident who had a connection to the crash, and she’s sure that the accident was not as it appeared. Impressed by Lark’s keen eye, she hires her as her research assistant for the summer.
And then Lark discovers something amazing. Something that could change Dinah’s life. Something linked to the crash and even to her own family’s history with Swallowtail. But there are others on the island who would do anything to keep the truth buried in the watery depths of the past.
A compelling and complex mystery with a classic feel, Wreck at Ada’s Reef is perfect for fans of The Parker Inheritance, Holes,The Westing Game, and anyone looking for a satisfying puzzle that stretches across decades.
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 02/15/2022
Series: The Swallowtail Legacy
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years
Filed under: Uncategorized
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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