Title: Compass North
Author: Stephanie Joyce Cole
Published: December 2013
Publisher: Champagne Book Group
Word Count: 81,000
Genre: Women’s Fiction, Romance, Mystery/Thriller
Content Warning: Minor Violence
Recommended Age: 16+
Synopsis: Meredith slips into a new identity and a new life in a small town in Alaska, she discovers it’s not that easy to leave behind the baggage from her past.
Set in the spectacular natural landscape of Southcentral Alaska, COMPASS NORTH tracks an unexpected journey of personal reinvention.
Reeling from the sudden breakup of her disastrous marriage, Meredith barely escapes a freak accident in Alaska and is presumed dead. She stumbles into a new identity and a new life in a quirky small town. As new friendships grow, Meredith has to learn to trust in herself again.
When a romance with a local fisherman unexpectedly blossoms, Meredith’s secret jeopardizes her hopes for future happiness. And someone is searching for her, someone who will threaten Meredith’s dream of a reinvented life.
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Excerpt from Compass North by Stephanie Joyce Cole:
Meredith sat squeezed against the wall behind the wobbly table with the plastic checkerboard cover. She pushed the last bits of her hamburger bun around her plate. With the long drive finally over, they had stopped to eat at a trailer-turned-diner on the fringe of town.
“So, can we drop you someplace before we take off?” Evan waved to the waitress, motioning for the check.
She took a deep breath and ran her fingers along the pattern in the tablecloth. “Well, I’m not sure…um, I haven’t really decided where…” She looked up and saw Evan frowning at her.
“You don’t have a plan? No place at all to stay tonight?”
Meredith shook her head.
Jan bit at her lower lip and stared at her. “Gee, Meredith, we just assumed you had it all worked out. I wish we could offer you a place, but we’re couch surfing right now until we can get back into our old apartment.”
She saw Jan and Evan exchange anxious glances, and she felt a pang of shame. This wasn’t what they bargained for when they offered a stranger a ride. They didn’t expect to be responsible for me.
Meredith looked down at her hands. She took a deep breath. “I…guess I thought there might be a cheap hostel. I guess I just didn’t think…”
She didn’t have any plan. None at all. She’d hardly focused her thoughts except when the memory of the accident raged back into her head, and when that happened, the terror and pain were almost too much to bear. So she’d tried to smooth out her mind, just letting the hours pass, letting the fatigue and the strangeness of all this wash over her.
No plan. But something had changed now. This was all crazy, but she felt she was watching someone else, someone brand new sitting here in this rundown but cozy restaurant, and that new person was the one with no place to go. It was like play-acting, like being inside of someone else’s skin. Here was a new someone, who didn’t know where she was going to sleep tonight, but this new person wasn’t stumbling around, lost, dragging a huge, black bag of mistakes and bad decisions. She lifted her chin and stared out the window.
“Wait a minute.” Jan looked at Evan. “What about Auntie Rita? I saw her outside just a few minutes ago.” She turned back to Meredith. “She’s not really anyone’s aunt—at least as far as we know—but my mom always made me call her that. I know she’s got a bit of room. She was trying to rent out a spare room a while back, but she didn’t get any takers, I guess.” Jan shrugged.
Evan smirked. “Big surprise. No one wanted to live with Rita. How can that be?”
She glared and him and breathed an exasperated sigh. “Her place is out of town, but you should be able to get back tomorrow without too much of a problem. Rita drives in all the time.”
“Rita, really?” Evan gave a low whistle. “You’re really ready to go there, Jan? You know how she can be.”
Jan pointed her finger at Meredith. “Look, it’s past noon already, and she doesn’t have a clue about where she’s going to sleep tonight. Rita likes me. Well, at least I think she does. I’m going to find her.”
Evan rolled his eyes up at the ceiling. “Rita…jeez…”
Meredith sipped her coffee and stared out the window. She tried to keep her thoughts steady. Now what? She did need a place to stay. She needed to be in a place where her new self might exist, just for a little while. She didn’t want this new Meredith to disappear, not yet.
Puffs of dust bloomed as a brisk, stinging wind whipped at the loose dirt in the parking lot. It was only late September, but the few people outside wore gloves and hats pulled down snug over their ears. Just beyond the rough lot, a greenish-black wall of spruce trees huddled close, their thick boughs knocking and bouncing in the wind. And behind them the tops of jagged and fierce peaks seemingly leaned forward, looming over the spruce. The wild world pushed back here, refusing to let the manmade world have the upper hand.
I am in a new place where I don’t exist. The old Meredith doesn’t exist here.
What inspired this story?
Authors often get asked this question, and they often respond with blank stares. It’s not because they are being difficult, but sometimes they just don’t know the answer.
Fiction writing is a bit mysterious. Where does the story come from? Often a story floats–or storms–into an author’s mind and demands to be told. I’ve written stories that snuck up on me in that magical time between sleep and wakefulness. I’ve written stories that have been prompted by the routine and the mundane, like a short story I wrote after daydreaming in a supermarket, about a woman who comes to the aid of a child shoplifter but soon finds that she’s taken on more than she’s prepared to handle.
COMPASS NORTH is a bit different in that the core concept blossomed from a very concrete event, the tragedy of 9/11. When the World Trade Center fell, many people lost their lives in the conflagration and their remains would never be found. But there had to be some individuals who escaped death simply by pure luck: Maybe they had just gone off site for coffee, or maybe they darted out to do an errand. For most people, escaping the terrible event would be followed by a joyous reunion with friends and family. But, I wondered, what if a person were desperately unhappy and realized, as the catastrophe unfolded, that she was “dead.” Would there be a temptation to take an extraordinary step, to stay dead and flee, in the hope that somehow there could be relief from the depths of unhappiness after all?
That idea continued to nag me, and Meredith came to life. Meredith was worn down and abused emotionally by her husband for years. As COMPASS NORTH opens, Meredith is on a bus tour in Alaska, and she narrowly escapes a massive accident, and she’s presumed dead. At first, in shock, she is pulled along by circumstances and misunderstandings, but then she starts to make choices. She tries to build a new identity and life in a small Alaskan town, but she finds that it’s not easy. COMPASS NORTH is about secrets and the price to be paid for keeping them. But it’s also about the joy of personal rediscovery, as Meredith forges new friendships and a romantic relationship unexpectedly emerges. COMPASS NORTH is the story of a woman finding her courage and overcoming her past in the beautiful expanse of Southcentral Alaska .
About the Author:
Stephanie Joyce Cole lived for many decades in Alaska before she recently relocated to Seattle, WA, where she lives with her husband and a predatory but lovable Manx cat. She has an MFA in Creative Writing, Fiction from the University of Alaska, Anchorage. Her goal is to write books that are both thought-provoking and entertaining, and that will carry readers into an adventure in small-town Alaska.
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There is a tour wide giveaway. Prizes include the following:
• Five mystery eBooks from Champagne Book Group. Books will be selected at random from publisher.
• $20 gift card to either Amazon or B&N, courtesy of Joyce Proell
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