Home Again: Why I Finally Set a Novel in My Home State, a Guest Post by Tack & Jibe Author Lilah Suzanne

Today on the site, we’re thrilled to welcome author Lilah Suzanne to celebrate the release of their newest, a contemporary f/f Romance called Tack & Jibe that releases from Interlude Press today. Here’s a little more on the book!

Raised on a small island in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Willa Rogers has a picture-perfect nautical life: hanging out at the beach with her friends, living in a cozy seaside cottage, working at a sailing store, and running a hugely popular sailing Instagram. It’s so convincing that her overzealous online followers register her to compete in the High Seas, a televised national sailing championship.

Too bad Willa doesn’t actually know how to sail.

Desperate to protect her carefully curated life, Willa tracks down four-time High Seas champion Lane Cordova, and begs her for a crash course in sailing before the race begins. But Lane’s mastery of the water is matched only by Willa’s ineptitude—and her growing crush on Lane isn’t helping matters. When the competition threatens to go awry and take her idealized life with it, Willa has to figure out if she can save her reputation from sinking while taking a chance on love.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | IndieBound | Bookshop

And here’s the post!

The shopping center when you first come into town features a gas station-slash-Italian grocery store, an eyebrow threading studio that is also, somehow, a U-haul rental center, and next to that, a vape store. This a town that was put on the map in the 1800s thanks to a railroad stop and a natural spring that locals claimed had healing powers— a spring that has since dried up and a train depot that is now a brewery. The rows of brick buildings branded with historical marker placards are occupied by shiny new stores: a juice bar, a coffee roaster, an artisanal chocolate cafe, even more breweries. There’s a new library; an expanded town hall; and a newly-opened art center. The art center, with its white-washed facade and picture windows, sits in the center of downtown, around the corner and across the street from a gun store that boasts over 6,000 guns in stock. It’s a complicated place; a town in flux, but from what to what I’m not quite sure. A rural small-town turned suburban enclave for certain, but just as transplants from colder places north of the Mason-Dixon bring more progressive views, an undercurrent of conformity remains.

The suburbs, like much of the South, is not a place to make waves.

It’s fitting, I suppose, that the first story I’ve set in North Carolina is about a character who struggles with the desire to be someone else, somewhere else. Someone who feels as if they must contort and misrepresent themselves in an effort to fit in and who, in a pretty straightforward metaphor for wanting to get the heck out of dodge, dreams of literally sailing away and never coming back. And yet.

And yet, there’s this tug of home. This is the place that’s shaped them. That’s shaped me. Isn’t this odd little town part of who I am? Won’t it always be? Could I really leave, even if I wanted to? Do I want to? Wherever you go there you are… This is the push-pull at the center of Tack & Jibe, a story that asks a lot of questions about authenticity and truth and finding yourself when you aren’t in a place–literally or metaphorically–to explore that fully.

In truth, I didn’t even realize I was writing these themes in Tack & Jibe until I was well into the editorial process. It was one of those oh, that’s what I was working through here, moments. I am several books and short stories in to a writing career and just now am I writing about the state where I’ve spent most of my life. Just now am I really exploring the complicated relationship I have to home and self and identity and loving a place that doesn’t always love me back. Why? Maybe I just needed time. Maybe I needed to write about other things first. Maybe I just didn’t feel like it. Maybe, like Willa and Lane in Tack & Jibe, I needed to know I could leave if I wanted to. And maybe I do, even if it’s only in a story. But maybe I don’t.

This is what I love about North Carolina: The accent, the sweet tea, the barbeque, the mild winters, the pine forests, the mountains, the beaches, the way people smile and say, “hey!” and genuinely welcome you to their home and heart even when they don’t know you all that well, not really. How people surprise you by being open and loving when you’ve come expect the opposite. Here’s what I don’t love: How change is still slow to come and hard-fought, the gut punch of realizing you don’t belong somewhere after all, knowing there are parts of you that you have to hide, knowing you aren’t safe, knowing that if they knew really knew you, they wouldn’t welcome you into their home and heart. Not really.

I don’t have answers to any of the questions or conflicts I ask in the book nor do I in real life. Like the town I currently reside in, perhaps I’m in flux. I’ve left home before and I probably will again. For now I’m here because, well, because I am. I’m happy though, and in the book, Willa ends up happy. But Tack & Jibe is a rare story where I didn’t neatly wrap up all the loose ends, which troubled me at first until I realized there exists the possibility of multiple happily-ever-afters unspooling from the place where the story finishes. For a lot of us, a sense of home and a sense of who we are is complicated. And for me, for Willa, for Lane, for a lot of people, it probably always will be. Ultimately, that’s what the story is really about. Well, that and sailing.

And romance, of course.

It’s complicated.

***

Lilah Suzanne is a queer author of bestselling and award-winning romantic fiction. Their 2018 novel Jilted was named a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award and a Foreword INDIES Award, and won a Bisexual Book Award for romantic fiction. Their critically acclaimed Spotlight series included the Amazon #1 bestseller Broken Records, along with Burning Tracks and Blended Notes. Lilah also authored the romantic comedy Spice, the novellas Pivot & Slip and After the Sunset, and the short story Halfway Home, from the holiday anthology If the Fates Allow. A writer from a young age, Lilah resides in North Carolina and mostly enjoys staying indoors, though sometimes ventures out for concerts, museum visits, and quiet walks in the woods.

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