Susanna Graham-Pye, a learning specialist at the Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School in Harwich who also teaches creative writing, has just published her debut novel, “There Is A Season” (Hound Hill Press, 2017).
“I believe there is magic in the natural world if we pay attention, and that it is a part of our stories,” Graham-Pye said in an email interview last week. “I like to think there are glimpses of that mystery and wonder in my stories.”
At the heart of Graham-Pye’s novel is Bea. When we first meet Bea she is trying to fall asleep during a heat wave that has already killed nine people. It is the summer of 1996, and Tropical Storm Allison is winding its way up toward this unnamed (off-Cape) small town in Massachusetts. Chet and Natalie are still delivering the evening news on Boston TV.
On Bea’s mind are her animals. Rescue animals, that is. They’re recuperating in her basement—baby possums, a swan, a skunk “ready for breakfast.” Upstairs are a multitude of rescue birds, including a blind pet crow named Eddy.
Graham-Pye based Bea in part on a woman she once profiled for a newspaper, Karen Von Den Deale, who founded Wild Care in 1989 in her Brewster backyard. Eventually Wild Care outgrew the backyard and moved to Eastham. It now boasts a state-of-the-art waterfowl rehab tank and to date has treated more than 22,000 birds, mammals and reptiles of 275 different species.
“Bea shares Karen’s fierce passion for the plight of wild animals trying to survive alongside people,” Graham-Pye says.
The lingering heat wave is also affecting Harry, a postal worker who lives across the street from his parents. Harry wants to find a companion in life, but he isn’t sure how to go about it. “Harry dreamed of being with someone, just being without trying,” Graham-Pye writes. In what now seems quaint, Harry composes a personal ad that he places with the local newspaper. Potential dates respond by leaving messages on Harry’s answering machine.
Swirling in the background is a cast of eccentric characters trying to make the best of their lives. Readers may think of the novels of Anne Tyler, Graham-Pye’s “all time” favorite author.
Chapters begin with the coordinates of the storm as it moves toward New England. The natural world—the sounds of bees, the animals Bea is treating, the tropical storm and the heat—plays a huge role in this novel. Of roses, Graham-Pye writes, “the fragrance fills your mind with the sum of all the times you’ve ever brought a rose close and breathed the petal-cool, hot-powder scent of love.” But then there’s the sound. Is it words? No. Bees. “Thousands and thousands in the roses, moving leaves, touching opalescent, fine-veined wings, and you keep smiling,” she writes in poetic prose.
Graham-Pye thinks of “There Is A Season” as a fairy tale for grownups, with Harry’s story shaped by the classical hero quest cycle. “Grand epics are really our lives, our adventures,” she says. “I’m not sure we always realize how awesome, profound, amazing our lives are—we don’t perceive our own personal journeys as fairy tales—but they are.”
One way or another, Graham-Pye has been writing for much of her adult life. After graduating from Nauset Regional High School, she majored in religion and Biblical literature at Smith College. She was heading to Harvard Divinity School when she came home to the Cape for a break and began writing for newspapers. She began at the Brewster Oracle, then moved to the Orleans Oracle. She segued on to the Register and the Cape Codder, and sold advertising and freelanced for The Cape Cod Chronicle.
“I often wonder about that ‘ink in your veins’ thing because my grandfather was a reporter for the Boston Transcript; his brother was managing editor of the Miami Herald,” she recalls.
When her daughters were babies and Graham-Pye found herself a stay-at-home-mom, she earned a master’s degree in creative writing from Goddard College. “That’s really when I started to take my fiction a bit more seriously, though I’d been writing fiction for quite some time,” she says.
Between many of the chapters are charming pencil drawings of birds, fireflies, chipmunks and other creatures. Graham-Pye and her two daughters created the drawings. The cover image was painted by Graham-Pye’s late mother. On a sad note, Graham-Pye’s father, who encouraged her writing, wanted to see her first novel in print. Last July “he passed away at 1 a.m. of the day the final proof arrived in the mail,” she says.
Graham-Pye is donating $2 per book sold to Wild Care in Eastham.
“There Is A Season” is available at Booksmith/Musicsmith, 136 Route 6A, Orleans and also through Graham-Pye’s website HoundHillHappenings.com.
Graham-Pye will sign copies of “There Is A Season” on Saturday, Nov. 11 from noon to 3 p.m. and on Sunday, Nov. 12 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Alternative Gift Market sponsored by the Unitarian Church of Barnstable, Route 6A, 3330 Main St., Barnstable.