Taffeta dresses, rocky coastlines, forlorn lighthouses and the constrained modesty of a passionate Victorian romance highlight local resident Maggie Fitzroy’s new book, “Beacon Beach.”
Set in 1886 in Cape May, New Jersey, the novel weaves the romance genre with historical fiction at a luxurious seaside resort called “White Caps.” The main character, Jacy James, struggles with societal expectations, grieving for the loss of her fiancé at sea and her budding feelings for a convalescent residing at the resort, Cole Stratton. All making for one perfect summer read, to be consumed beachside with one’s toes in the sand.
“Beacon Beach” marks Fitzroy’s fourth novel and second fiction novel. A longtime journalist who made a career at First Coast Magazine and The Times Union’s Shorelines, Fitzroy got her start writing at the Ponte Vedra Recorder in 1998, after leaving a job teaching at The Florida School for the Deaf and Blind.
“I felt I wasn't doing what I was supposed to be doing in life,” Fitzroy said.
Self-taught, Fitzroy began with photography, taking pictures of community events. Soon, she realized that pictures weren’t telling the “whole story,” so she asked for an opportunity at writing — which, ironically, was immediately shot down.
“He said, ‘you can't write, photographers can't write, they can't even spell,’” she said.
Rather than letting one editor stand in the way of what she thought she could do, she kept asking until the then new Ponte Vedra Recorder editor, Grace Hayes, came to the position and encouraged her to write and pursue her passions.
From there, Fitzroy taught herself journalism, interviewing members of the Ponte Vedra area and connecting people across the neighborhood. She became interested in the historical landscape of the communities she was in and learning to research and verify facts. After transitioning to the Times-Union and then First Coast Magazine, she found herself wondering what her next step would be. Luckily, her editor at the time doubted her less than she doubted herself.
“Why don’t you write a novel?” she asked.
Fitzroy didn’t think she could, but she didn’t really have a great answer for “why not?” So, she did what she always did, she bought a bunch of books on the subject and learned.
“I don't know why I doubted myself for so long,” Fitzroy said. “But once I knew I had the imagination then I went and got a book called ‘Writing Fiction for Dummies.’"
Fitzroy published her first fiction novel, “Mercy’s Way,” set along the Oregon trail in 1885. She has also written two nonfiction books featuring Northeast Florida history, “Ponte Vedra Beach: Images of America” and “Jacksonville Beach: Images of America.” Her books have garnered large acclaim and can be found at Amazon, Bookbaby, Barnes & Noble, iBooks and Kobo. It is also sold in-store locally at The BookMark in Neptune Beach.
It has been a long road from fiction “Dummy” to distinguished writer, but Fitzroy goes to show that mastering a skill can be as simple as asking yourself, “Why not?” and being up for the challenge.
Maggie Fitzroy will be signing her new novel, “Beacon Beach” at The BookMark at 7 p.m., Aug. 15 during Thursday’s Beaches ArtWalk. The BookMark is located at 220 First St., Neptune Beach. For more information, call (904) 241-9026.