Although I’ve certainly researched more exotic locations than the Jersey Shore and more intriguing activities than crabbing and changing tides, I’ve never enjoyed my research more. I set The Bay At Midnight in the summer bungalow owned by my family until the time I was eighteen. Much of the research involved delving back into my memory as well as into the memories of my brothers and sister. I only wish my parents were still living because I know they would have enjoyed revisiting the house and setting where they spent so much of their lives.
It was a strange and moving experience for me to remember the rooms–the huge screened porch where we spent so much of the summer, the attic where we slept in curtained cubicles, the canal that was my backyard for two months out of every year. When I went back to Bay Head Shores to begin researching this book, I felt a tug on my emotions at the sight of that canal.
It’s true that “you can’t go home again,” but by setting half of my story in the sixties, I felt as if I was doing exactly that. The bungalow in the story was my family’s bungalow, right down to the big table on the porch that was the site of meals and card games and conversation.
Although my books are never autobiographical, this one comes closest. I’m glad, though, that my family never experienced anything like the traumatic events the Bauer family endured. And I was nothing like Julie, the twelve-year-old rebellious and courageous heroine in the sixties portion of the story. I was, however, almost exactly like her sister, Lucy—afraid of the water, the “rag that looked like a man’s head in the dark”, and the rickety pull-down stairs we had to climb to get to the attic. Researching Lucy as a child was very easy for me!
The Bay At Midnight was my first venture into first person story-telling, aside from the journals kept by characters in a few of my books. It’s told from three points of view: two sisters, Julie and Lucy Bauer, and their mother, Maria. The time shifts from today to 1962 and occasionally to the thirties, forties, and fifties when Maria was growing up.
Murder and Mayhem
Lieutenant Robert Dikun at the Point Pleasant Beach Police Department was invaluable in helping me understand how Isabel’s murder would have been handled in 1962 and how the case would be reopened in the current day. I also had fun discovering Nancy Drew books all over again, since Julie’s obsession with them and her desire to be Nancy Drew was so much a part of the story. I had to be careful to make sure the books she was reading had actually been written by 1962.
The Lewis Family
Across the canal from my family’s bungalow, fishermen would stand in the undeveloped grassland and fish. Almost always, they were African American. The water separated our world from theirs, as it does in The Bay At Midnight. I wanted to see how those worlds would interface and I used gutsy Julie to build the bridge between them–with mixed results.
It was a lot of fun researching the music, TV shows, dress, and language of the forties, fifties and sixties. The internet is phenomenal for this sort of research. I actually found a website devoted to the slang of the sixties!
Bay Head Shores and the Point Pleasant Canal
Because the story in The Bay At Midnight is set in one location but during several different eras, I did a good bit of research into the twentieth century history of the Point Pleasant/ Bay Head Shores area. What was particularly fascinating to me was learning about the changes in the canal, which is part of the Intercoastal Waterway. Dredging began in 1908, but the canal didn’t become navigable until 1926 when it finally connected the Manasquan River to Barnegat Bay. My grandparents, like Maria’s parents in the story, built their house on the canal in the late twenties.
The nature of the canal changes over Maria’s lifetime and that of her daughters. It has no bulkheads at first, then receives wooden bulkheads which are changed later to steel as erosion from the swift current becomes more and more of a problem.
By the way, if you’ve read The Bay At Midnight, you’ll understand why I spent a long time studying the tide charts for the area!