'The Old Beach House': Author Marilyn Turk's novella inspired by Grayton Beach, Seaside
NICEVILLE — When Marilyn Turk got the opportunity from her publisher to write a beach novella, she could hardly feel more qualified.
Although the Niceville resident is new to writing contemporary novels — she wrote her first one, “Never Too Late” recently — she said she’s been going to the beach all of her life. The setting is the most important to Turk.
“I have to be able to see it,” she said. “‘Never Too Late’ was set in a Niceville-like area, where you were commuting distance to Destin. My character actually worked in Destin. But the beach one called ‘The Old Beach House’ was set on the beach, so my imaginary place was kind of like the old and new of Grayton Beach and Seaside, combining that area.”
Turk’s Christian beach novella, “The Old Beach House,” which is set in a fictional place called Beach Haven, was published in June. She will do a book signing from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday at Sundog Books at 89 Central Square at Seaside.
Before the Me Too movement
The plot follows Courtney Morgan, a young woman in her 30s who went to college, got a master's degree and started working at a large marketing company. All was well except for having “one of those overbearing, chauvinistic bosses,” Turk said.
The opening scene is a cocktail party where Morgan’s boss asks her to talk to a client.
“She didn't like the guy; he had a reputation,” Turk said. “He was an older man who's been married several times and (is) kind of a womanizer. She didn't want to go socialize with him, because she didn't want him to think she was interested in him.”
“Her boss threatened her that if she wanted to keep her job, she needed to be more sociable, or whatever it took,” Turk said. “So she didn't, and he ended up having her let go.”
While the boss couldn’t fire Morgan for that; he found a way to eliminate the position. Morgan knew it was retaliation.
That’s how the character ends up at her grandparents’ beach house.
“That’s the place where you had good memories, where you could go back and feel like you were comfortable and relaxed and it was just a good, nice place to be — and if you've been in the corporate world, which I was in,” Turk said. “I had a jerk for a boss for a while.”
Turk relates to her protagonist. She remembers once having a customer, a chef of a large hotel, make an advance toward her when she was Morgan’s age.
“I was trying to be professional, just like all the guys,” Turk said. “Some guys don't understand that women can be nice without thinking they're coming on to him. It’s one of those things that you're like, ‘What did I do to make you think I had any interest other than business?’ ”
When Turk told her boss, she feared it would blow up into a huge scandal, she said. Instead, nothing happened.
This was well before the Me Too movement. She remembers once writing about the experience and receiving much feedback.
“I had so many people tell me, the people my age around here, that the same thing has happened to them when they were working,” Turk said. “Then it was like, either they blame you for giving off that kind of a message or they act like it's no big deal because men are just like that, so you didn't get any kind of support. A lot of women never said a word because it would just make them look bad. It would never make the guy look bad; it would make them look bad.”
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Turk’s character found a new career in the end. She hopes Morgan will show people they don’t have to bow down.
“She didn't have to give in to what the corporate world demanded of her,” Turk said. “She found something else that was more meaningful."
Meet Beach Haven: A blend of Grayton Beach and Seaside
"The Old Beach House" is definitely a beach read.
Beach Haven bears much resemblance to the nature of South Walton, Turk explained. Morgan’s grandparents’ beach house was built in the 1950s.
“If you think about Grayton Beach and that area, there's not too many old houses there anymore,” Turk said. “My son actually worked in construction business, and the property is so valuable there that people will pay a lot of money, and then they'll tear down whatever's there and then rebuild some kind of new modern thing. So this girl, her house is kind of an oddball thing, because it's a vestige of old Florida in an area that’s become very new and contemporary.”
There is a lot of pressure on Morgan to sell it.
“She doesn't want to, as there were a lot of memories there from her family,” Turk said. “She doesn't know what she's gonna do right now. But in the meantime, she runs into an old friend, of course. It's a romance.”
Much of the imagery is based on experiences from Turk's real life.
Turk remembers telling her son about the novella as she was writing it.
“He was like, ‘Oh Mom, you’re talking about people,’ ” she said. “I was like, ‘These aren’t real people.’ They have a disclaimer in the beginning, like, ‘These are all fictitious characters. Any resemblance is totally accidental.’ It's a big treat. It’s set on the beach. It has a lot of flavors of our local beaches, particularly around Walton County, but it is a work of fiction.”
The novella also has a twist in it that Turk didn’t see coming when she started writing it.
“Quite often that happens, because I have an idea of where I'm starting and where I'm ending, but sometimes I don't know what's gonna happen in between,” she said. “I say, ‘I just follow my characters around and see where they go,’ and somebody else said, ‘But they might go where you don't want them to go.’ So far, mine have been pretty well behaved. They just surprise me.”