The Lee Robinson General Store in Hatteras will be hosting a wine tasting and book signing event on Wednesday, July 26, from 4:00 – 6:00 p.m. featuring author Jan Dawson and her recently published book, “Storm Season.”
The Hatteras Island-based novel, which tells the story of a couple who reconnects after two hurricanes and multiple decades, has a few outlying connections with Dawson’s own life, and her lifetime affection for the Outer Banks.
“My family started coming to Hatteras in 1964 from the Pittsburgh area, and once we came down here, my dad said, ‘I love this place!’” she says. “Every year after that, we always came to Hatteras.”
Dawson came with her parents for every summer vacation well through her teenage years, igniting a relationship with local resident Dave Dawson along the way. “We were typical beach vacation sweethearts in 1971 and 1972,” she says.
She worked with the National Park Service locally throughout college, but her career would eventually take her thousands of miles away from the Outer Banks. Working in news broadcasting and then the non-profit sector helping residents of war-torn European countries piece their lives back together, Dawson didn’t return full-time to the Outer Banks until the mid-2010s.
Her parents had stayed put on Hatteras Island, building a retirement home in Buxton, and Dawson returned to help take care of her mother who could no longer live on her own. It was then that she reconnected with Dave, and the long-separated couple eventually got married and combined forces to run the famous Cape Hatteras Motel in Buxton.
Though the story of a couple who reunites later in life certainly has a starring role in “Storm Season,” Dawson says that there is very little of herself and Dave in the two main characters, Susan and Chris.
“The only thing that is similar is that there are two individuals of a similar age who knew each other before, and who are trying to decide if they should get back to together again,” she says. “Everything else is fiction.”
In the story, protagonist Susan is haunted by memories of a man – Chris – who disappeared after a devastating hurricane in 1975. Decades later, and after a second storm creates chaos on Hatteras Island, Chris resurfaces, leading to a cataclysmic change in her family’s dynamics, and a rekindling of feelings of love, abandonment, and fear that had been buried long ago.
The later-in-life romance novel was actually shaped months before Dawson put it on paper, and the idea was first sparked when Dawson was trying to find a way to push away her own fears about an upcoming surgery.
“I had a knee replacement scheduled in November, and I had lots of anxiety about it,” she says. “I was lying awake in bed at night, every night, and I thought ‘I have got to put my mind on something else so I can get some sleep.’”
“Well, I started to make up a story, and every day I’d come up with a little more,” she says. “I got a notebook, and started writing things down, and by the time the surgery happened, I pretty much had the whole book written.”
Months later, Dawson wrote a chapter every day, and turned to a new friend and local author to navigate the mechanics of reviewing, editing, and self-publishing her novel.
“At this point, it was a movie in my head, and I was just writing down what I saw,” she says. “If I ever got stuck, I turned to the characters – the characters have their own personality, and they let me know what to do.”
And while the characters and the story may be completely fiction, the backdrop of a storm-ravaged Hatteras Island is not.
“For the 1975 prologue, I had to ask my brother, [Meteorologist Jeff Morrow], about the forecasting tools they had back then,” says Dawson. “Back then, forecasting tools were in their infancy, and islanders relied on local knowledge, like the way the winds or currents were acting.
“For the second storm, in a strange way, I have to thank Matthew and Dorian,” she says. “What Dave and I experienced – and what we all experienced – gave me an education in terms of preparation and recovery.”
Dave and Jan managed the Cape Hatteras Motel during both 2016’s Matthew and 2019’s Dorian, (in addition to a number of unnamed storms and nor’easters), and the oceanfront motel that is perched in an especially precarious section of Buxton always made headlines due to the waves of flooding that would inundate the motel, and neighboring N.C. Highway 12.
“They say write what you know,” she says, “and storms and storm clean-up, and working at a motel, are all things I know.”
Local readers will surely notice these idiosyncrasies of Hatteras Island’s own storm seasons in the book. But on the whole, the story is a bright and beachy read about true love lost and found, family drama, and the conflicts that weave together when two people are reconnected decades after an initial meeting.
“It’s a very easy beach read,” says Dawson. “It’s a sweet romance and has a lot of family dynamics, and it also has a lot about the issues we face with hurricanes, which I think we can all identify with.”
“Storm Season” is currently for sale at bookstores throughout the Outer Banks, which includes Buxton Village Books in Buxton and Books to be Red in Ocracoke Village. (It is also available for sale on Amazon for off-island readers.)
And while Dawson is already considering a second book in the not-so-distant future, in the meantime, she is delighted with the success of “Storm Season,” and its wave of new fans.
“The reception has been wonderful,” she says. “Friends and family have bought it, but so have strangers.
“I do have a second book in my head, and the characters from ‘Storm Season’ may make appearances,” she adds. “When the weather turns and we have cooler, rainy days again, I may sit down and start writing.”
About the book signing event:
Dawson will be at Lee Robinson General Store on Wednesday, July 26, from 4:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. during the store’s wine-tasting event.
In addition to being the author of “Storm Season,” Dawson was also a contributor to The Island Free Press via her regular column, “From the Innkeepers Desk.”