Monday, May 31, 2010

The Mailbox

There are, in the Carolinas, hidden gems tucked away in a forest, a glen, along the shoreline. They are places off the proverbial beaten path, but they're worth the visit. In South Carolina: Cape Romain and Bulls Island; Cypress Gardens; the Chattooga. In North Carolina: Pearson Falls; places deep in the, for me, too rugged Linville Gorge. Lake Mattamuskeet.

With such treasures, it is no wonder authors including Nicholas Sparks, Dorthea Benton Frank, Mary Alice Monroe and Patti Callihan Henry set their stories among the cypress trees, brackish marshes, or along sleepy Lowcountry shores.

The latest Carolina tale is given to us by author, MaryBeth Whalen. In The Mailbox, Ms Whalen doesn't just deliver a journey involving "loss, hope, and the beauty of second chances", she gives readers a glimpse of one of North Carolina's hidden gems, and a little known landmark: Sunset Beach and the Kindred Spirits mailbox on Bird Island.

Despite all our travels, all our attempts to explore the Carolinas, we had no idea Sunset Beach existed. Shortly after moving to eastern North Carolina, a member of my hiking group recommended Bird Island, but we thought it near Hammock Beach near Emerald Isle, in Carteret County's Crystal Coast. My perception was gratefully corrected when I learned about Ms. Whalen's novel.

Look at a map. Find Myrtle Beach in the northeast corner of South Carolina. Follow Highway 17 northward, and when you reach Calabash, just over the North Carolina border, train your eyes to the east. If you're using Google or Bing maps, zoom in to the area. Along the curve of the shore you'll see Sunset Beach, Ocean Isle, Holden Beach. A chain known as the South Brunswick Islands.

The southern island is Sunset Beach. This is the place Ms. Whalen sent her character, Lindsey Adams, home to. As we did during our recent visit, Lindsey would have driven across a bumpy one-lane wooden bridge to an island just three miles long. It is a quiet place. A place devoid of commercialism. An isolated refuge with cute, pastel beach houses tucked among wax myrtle dunes and pink oleanders, and tidy streets.





But, like us, Lindsey Adams had another goal in mind: Bird Island, a coastal reserve. Once an island itself, but now connected to Sunset Beach by a long stretch of pristine beach.

Sunset over Bird Island, seen in the distance


From our visit, I know Ms. Whalen's Lindsey would have meandered across long boardwalks that rise and fall with the dune. At the beach, she would have found families and couples laughing, swimming, building sand castles. But she would have turned right, and walked across the sand toward Bird Island, passing plovers and pelicans, and those with a strong desire for a brief moment of unhampered existence.




Sunset Beach from Bird Island Coastal Reserve

And as with us, Lindsey searched for the Kindred Spirit mailbox. Literally, a mailbox stuck in the dunes. Here, people write notes and leave them inside, where only those resilient, or determined enough to brave the trek will find them. In The Mailbox, Lindsey Adams veers off the beach and to the mailbox, where she pours her heart, her love, and her life as she tries to make sense of her world, battered like the surrounding shore.

To put this into perspective, though we walked at least a mile down the beach, bordered on one side by sand and the other, the ocean, we never found the mailbox.

I was more than intrigued, so I asked Ms. Whalen a few questions.

An Interview with MaryBeth Whalen

Why did you choose to focus your story on the Kindred Spirits mailbox. Was it based on an event in your life?

I have always been drawn to the mailbox--there is such a sense of mystery and folklore surrounding it. As one of the characters in the book says, it's a place where God hears you better.

When did you decide to write the story?

A few years ago I got the idea to wrap a love story around the mailbox. Once I had the concept I couldn't let it go. I kept writing and writing. I never thought I could finish a whole novel, but this one gripped me enough that I did.

What do you want your readers to take away from the story?

Lindsey's journey to find the love her heart longs for. As she is disappointed by love with men, she discovers that the love of God will never disappoint her and that she can trust Him. I want readers to take away the idea that God loves us, He never stops pursuing us, and He loves to throw us little surprise parties in life-- if we are willing to risk and trust Him with the results. 

The Mailbox is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Christianbooks.com.

Centered on a real landmark on the coast of North Carolina, The Mailbox blends intriguing folklore and true faith with raw contemporary issues that affect every woman. When Lindsey Adams first visits the Kindred Spirit mailbox at Sunset Beach, North Carolina, she has no idea that twenty years later she will still be visiting the mailbox—still pouring out her heart in letters that summarize the best and worst parts of her life.

Returning to Sunset for her first vacation since her husband left her, Lindsey struggles to put her sorrow into words. Memories surface of her first love, Campbell—and the rejection that followed. When Campbell reappears in her life, Lindsey must decide whether to trust in love again or guard herself from greater pain. The Mailbox is a rich novel about loss, hope, and the beauty of second chances.

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Copyright 2010. All Rights Reserved. Do not copy or distribute without written permission.

Mailbox and book cover photo courtesy of MaryBeth Whalen

Nothing of value was exchanged for this promotion. As with all our visits, we pay for all travel expenses, and promote each destination out of affection for the Carolinas.

5 comments:

Tonia said...

The book is fantastic - can't wait to go visit sometime - AND looking forward already to the SEQUEL!

philip said...

I can't believe you went that far and turned around without seeing the mailbox and leaving your own thoughts with the Kindred Spirit. You need to go back and try again. It's still down there and easy to find. You don't even have to walk all the way to the jetty.

Kimberli Buffaloe said...

Me too, but it was late and we were on a tight schedule. That just gives us an excuse to return, one I'll definitely use!

philip said...

A little more info and history if you're interested.

http://www.ourstate.com/kindred-spirit-mailbox/

Kimberli Buffaloe said...

I thought at first that I'd read that article, but it turns out I hadn't. Thanks for the link. That's an area I'd definitely like to return to someday.

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