A couple weeks ago, a co-worker at the Boothbay Register appeared at my desk holding a book up. I immediately got goosebumps and said, “Oh! I loved that book!” My co-worker pointed across the room and said, “Well, meet the author.” Our newest reporter, Morgan Callan Rogers, smiled and waved.
When I saw the book at the library back in 2012, I had a feeling I'd like it. I judge books by their covers. And their titles. “Red Ruby Heart in a Cold Blue Sea.” If that doesn't grab you, I don't know what will.
I picked it up to read the reviews on the back and the first couple pages. There were several — good reviews from respected authors and publications. Best-selling author Monica Wood had this to say: “The young, prickly, and thoroughly endearing narrator of “Red Ruby Heart in a Cold Blue Sea” got to me in a big way ... I loved spending time with Florine, and I’m still thinking about her. She will break your heart and make you glad she did.”
And it was a third best seller in Germany, where it was released as "Rubinrotes Herz, Eisblaue See."
“Germans love the romance and the mythology of the sea. This story captured their imagination,” Rogers said.
Of course, I judge books by their content, too. I'm a writer, albeit not a published author like my new co-worker, and I firmly believe that writing should be kept plain and simple. Don't try to impress me with big words and flamboyant descriptions. Keep it real, clear and economical, and please don't allow any grammatical errors to get by your editors.
“Red Ruby Heart in a Cold Blue Sea” passed all my tests, visually and intellectually.
The synopsis on the back cover reads, in part: “In July, 1963, twelve-year-old Florine Gilham enjoys an idyllic childhood in small-town Maine — until her beloved mother vanishes. Untethered and adrift in the wake of her disappearance, Florine finds her once-cherished joys — watching her father’s lobster boat come into port, baking bread with her grandmother, and causing mischief with the summer folk — suddenly ring hollow.”
Rogers started writing and illustrating stories — about horses and rock 'n roll — at her cottage on the New Meadows River in West Bath, when she was 8.
She stopped writing fiction at some point in her young life and became a journalist. She became a lot of other things over the years, too: A librarian, a secretary, a reporter, an editor, an actress, a singer, a house cleaner ... “Once I pretended to be Mrs. Berenstain of the Berenstain Bears (series of children's books),” she said.
Rogers moved around a lot, too. She went to school in Ireland, then lived in England for six months. She spent a winter in Seattle “before they had good coffee,” and lived in South Dakota for around five years before moving back to Bath in 2015.
After working as a secretary for a few years, Rogers said something inside her told her she had to write fiction. She applied for a two-year master of fine arts writing program, Stonecoast, at the University of Southern Maine, and was accepted.
Rogers started writing her first novel during her time at Stonecoast. “I learned that every book should have 'a thing' and 'another thing,'” Rogers said. “In ‘Red Ruby Heart in a Cold Blue Sea,’ the main thing is the mother's disappearance, and the other thing is is how Florine is growing up, regardless of that fact.’”
She also learned that every book should have a “bear in the closet,” an underlying tension that the reader is aware of but the main character isn't. “You have to hold that tension for as long as you can ... don't want to let that bear out of the closet until it's the right time.” In ‘Red Ruby Heart in a Cold Blue Sea’ that bear was what happened to Florine's mother, and are they going to find her?”
The third concept that stuck with Rogers from her workshops at Stonecoast was the 'floaty-groundy' concept. She defined this as the need for a story to be grounded, as opposed to ethereal and mysterious. “You can walk me through a gauzy curtain of prose, but please give me a floor to walk on as I pass through that curtain.”
The sequel to “Red Ruby Heart” was published in 2015. I have yet to read it, as I have a book on by bedside table that I'm determined to finish before the due date, but I'm chomping at the bit to start “Written on My Heart.” Though the book continues the saga of “Red Ruby Heart in a Cold Blue Sea,” it is a complete novel in itself; but Rogers hopes people will read both.
It has been almost five years since I read “Red Ruby Heart in a Cold Blue Sea,” and I don't remember a lot of the details. I do, however, remember that after reading it I highly recommended it to several friends. I will re-read it before sinking my teeth into the sequel. I did, after all, get goosebumps when I saw the cover again. Pick up the book at the library, or better yet, get a copy at Sherman's Books and Stationery.