We spent this past weekend on the island of Chincoteague, located on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. It was one of those rare weekends when we didn’t really have any plans. I had just finished the first draft of my next novel, which takes place on the island, and Ken asked if he could read it. Several chapters in, he told me that he loved the writing and the storyline, but I had many geographical errors. It has been years since I spent any time on the island, and to be honest, I never paid that much attention to which waterways were which or how much marsh there is instead of sand. His remedy? To pack up the camper and head to Virginia.
Ken’s brother, Tom, and his family moved to Chincoteague many years ago, but as the children grew older, and life got busier, we found it hard to all get together on the island, so Tom and his crew always come up to Maryland rather than everyone going down to Virginia. But true to his nature, Tom welcomed us with open arms and was the perfect host and tour guide. We arrived late Friday night after watching Morgan’s field hockey game, ironically, just thirty minutes away from her cousins’ home. Ken and I stayed in the camper while the cousins all slept in the house, or didn’t sleep, as they hadn’t been together for a while and wanted to spend as much time together as they could.
On Saturday, Tom gave us a tour of Chincoteague, a name taken from the Native American name, Gingoteague, which is believed to mean, “Beautiful land across the water.” It is indeed across the water, across the Chincoteague Bay from the rest of Virginia and across the Chincoteague Channel from Assateague Island, both a State and National Park. Many people my age and older will recall the beloved novel, Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry, about the pony who swam across the channel to the annual firemen’s pony auction and then made her home on Chincoteague. We drove to the beach on Assateague, passing several herds of the wild ponies, and then back to Chincoteague to Memorial Park and then through the downtown.
After lunch, Ken, my mother-in-law, and I struck out on our own so that I could see everything through the eyes of Kate, my main character. We climbed to the top of the Assateague Lighthouse and visited the island museum. At the museum, I learned so many things that had never turned up in my research, such as, when Assateague, once the more populated island, became privately owned, the inhabitants rolled their homes down to the water, put them on boats, and floated them to Chincoteague where some are still standing today, almost one hundred years later! You can bet that someone in my book will live in one of those homes! Also, in the museum, we saw the real Misty, a treat for any girl who, like myself, devoured the book series as a child.
Later in the afternoon, Tom and his wife, Sandi, took us on a boat ride. We literally circumnavigated the entire island, and I was treated to a view of the island that I had never before seen. I also found the perfect location for Kate’s winter getaway. To wrap up the day, Sandi served us some of the best crab cakes I’ve ever had. We talked about my book and the island, especially the history of the island as it relates to the Coast Guard. Approximately 75% of the retirees on Chincoteague are former Coast Guard. Those valiant men and women play a large role in my book, and I was honored to spend the weekend of 9/11 in a place where those who serve are held in the highest regard. Banners honoring all of the young men and women currently serving in the Armed Forces are proudly displayed up and down Main Street, including one of my nephew, Ty.
As I learned with my previous books, nothing beats personal research. There’s a lot that I can learn and see online, but there’s nothing like visiting a place in person, talking to its people, seeing firsthand its beauty, and immersing oneself in its culture. I am so grateful for the time and attention that Tom and Sandi gave to our tour and my questions and to my husband for giving up his weekend so that my book can be as authentic as possible. I look forward to paying my respects to the people and history of Chincoteague Island.
Amy Schisler is an award winning author of both children’s books and novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her book, Picture Me, is the recipient of an Illumination Award, placing it among the top three eBooks of 2015. Her latest book, Whispering Vines, is now available for purchase.
You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor on Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and on her web site http://amyschislerauthor.com.