Thursday, November 11, 2021

Spotlight on Kinley Bryan, author of Sisters of the Sweetwater Fury


Based on actual events...

It's 1913 and Great Lakes galley cook Sunny Colvin has her hands full feeding a freighter crew seven days a week, nine months a year. She also has a dream—to open a restaurant back home—but knows she'd never convince her husband, the steward, to leave the seafaring life he loves.

In Sunny’s Lake Huron hometown, her sister Agnes Inby mourns her husband, a U.S. Life-Saving Serviceman who died in an accident she believes she could have prevented. Burdened with regret and longing for more than her job at the dry goods store, she looks for comfort in a secret infatuation.

Two hundred miles away in Cleveland, youngest sister Cordelia Blythe has pinned her hopes for adventure on her marriage to a lake freighter captain. Finding herself alone and restless in her new town, she joins him on the season’s last trip up the lakes.

On November 8, 1913, a deadly storm descends on the Great Lakes, bringing hurricane-force winds, whiteout blizzard conditions, and mountainous thirty-five-foot waves that last for days. Amidst the chaos, the women are offered a glimpse of the clarity they seek, if only they dare to perceive it.

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Kinley Bryan

Fun Facts

(Stuff you may or may not already know!)


My ancestors were captains on the Great Lakes

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I was inspired to write Sisters of the Sweetwater Fury by stories of my great-grandfather Walter Stalker, a captain on the Great Lakes in the early 1900s. He was at the helm of the four-masted schooner Golden Age, a position previously held by his uncle when the 1913 storm hit. My great-grandmother Annabel served as a cook and at least one of their children was also aboard. They sheltered for days in an island cove until the storm ended. I’m in awe of their bravery and that of all sailors who faced the fury. While I decided to write a story about fictional sisters instead of my great-grandparents and steel freighters instead of schooners, it was family history that led me to the Great Lakes Storm of 1913.


Wave breaking on the shore of Lake Michigan by Lincoln Park on November 10, 1913. 
Source: Chicago Daily News, Inc., Public domain, Wikimedia Commons

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Speaking of hurricane-force winds…

I grew up in Ohio, where hurricanes were something we only heard about on TV. My kids are having a very different experience. Five years ago, we moved to the Atlantic Coast, and since then we’ve had to evacuate three times due to a hurricane threat. One hurricane hit our town, but we were lucky that our home sustained minimal damage (ironically a couple of our storm shutters blew down the street). My husband and I approach hurricane season with apprehension, but our children look forward to the possibility of a “hurrication”! They get to miss school, stay in a hotel, and eat in restaurants. We have fun exploring whatever town we find ourselves in.

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The first time I wrote a fan letter

When I was in third grade, my teacher, Mrs. Hertle, suggested I write a letter to the author of The Boxcar Children, a children’s book series I loved. I don’t remember what I wrote to Gertrude Chandler Warner, but I did so enthusiastically and eagerly awaited a reply. Weeks after Mrs. Hertle mailed my letter, she called me to her desk. She held up the envelope containing the letter I’d written. Frowning, she pointed to a word stamped on it in bright red, all caps. I remember feeling like I’d done something wrong, like the envelope was admonishing me. When I asked what the word meant, Mrs. Hertle said gently, “It means she died.” And that was how I learned the word “deceased”!


Source: Dorothy Lake Gregory, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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I was a competitive gymnast as a kid

I started gymnastics lessons when I was three, won my first blue ribbon at five, and at nine I competed in the state finals in Ohio, winning gold for uneven bars and silver for all-around. After that season I progressed to the next level, which meant the moves were now more complex and quite a lot scarier. I said to my parents and coaches, thanks but no thanks. While I loved gymnastics, that love was no match for my instincts for self-preservation. And so I retired at age ten.

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I can bake a good scone

It’s a skill I picked up in 2020 when I couldn’t go to a coffee shop to write. Instead, I would bake chocolate chip scones (or blueberry, or raspberry white chocolate), play the background noises of a coffee shop (on, pour a cup of coffee, and write!


Source: Kinley Bryan

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Kinley Bryan

Kinley Bryan is an Ohio native who counts numerous Great Lakes captains among her ancestors. Her great-grandfather Walter Stalker was captain of the four-masted schooner Golden Age, the largest sailing vessel in the world when it launched in 1883. Kinley’s love for the inland seas swelled during the years she spent in an old cottage on Lake Erie. She now lives with her husband and children on the Atlantic Coast, where she prefers not to lose sight of the shore. Sisters of the Sweetwater Fury is her first novel.

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