Maya Angelou wrote, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” That’s the predicament of your novel’s protagonist, Lukas Landon.
What’s keeping him from telling his story?
Presently, it’s water. The roughly 150 feet of it between him and the surface. The idea for my debut novel, The Ocean Above Me was inspired by several different real-life water rescue events.
I’m fascinated by the concept of how a body of water, an ocean, lake, river, or even monsoon rains, can separate us from the rest of humanity.
One event most people recognize is the 2018 rescue of the Wild Boars football team in Thailand. A mesmerizing moment with a fairytale ending in which 12 young boys and their coach were extracted from deep inside a water-filled cave by a team effort of international cave divers and Thai Navy Seals.
Another true-life story that captured my imagination was that of Nigerian Harrison Okene, a cook aboard a tugboat which was capsized and sunk in the Atlantic in 2013.
Okene survived for three days inside an air pocket until he was discovered by salvage divers. I wondered what he thought and felt for all that time alone in the dark. Wondered if he re-examined his life and thought about things he might’ve done differently or things in which he took pride.
This scenario seemed a perfect circumstance for a troubled individual like my protagonist, Lukas Landon. A former war correspondent on a downward personal and career spiral, haunted, not by what he saw, but by his own actions while reporting the war in Iraq.
Would he accept being trapped at the bottom of the ocean in a shrimping trawler as poetic justice for his sins? Or would he try to survive and make amends for what he’d done?
This paradox became the core concept of the novel and the engine of its narrative arc. Accept your fate or change it.
An interesting post-script to the Okene story is that he emerged from his rescue with an understandably crippling fear of water. He gradually overcame that and recently became certified as a commercial diver.
More recently, the world became captivated by the disappearance of the Titan submarine. Which tragically imploded on a commercial voyage under the North Atlantic to the wreckage of the Titanic.
I was thinking about how entranced people were by the event. Like watching surfers getting worked on 100-foot waves at Nazare, the Wild Boars rescue in Thailand, Okene trapped in his submerged tugboat, or saturation diver Chris Lemons (Last Breath documentary) left for dead on the ocean floor — the Titan tragedy is a reminder of the absolute dominance of the ocean as well as its ability to inexplicably enrapture us to the mysteries of what happens beneath its surface.
Maybe because it’s in our very essence. At 60 percent water ourselves it’s impossible for us to look away.
I also think my novel will appeal to anyone who wonders about the nature of their own character. How they might respond knowing the end was near — with grace, desperation, or something else altogether.
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