Ocean City made such an impression on Bill Schweigart during the childhood summers he vacationed in the resort that when he wrote his first novel, he made it the hometown of his main character.
When “Slipping The Cable,” a 338-page nautical thriller, was published in the fall, Schweigart said he was elated, although his celebration was short-lived.
“The book came out on Oct. 16, and I was all excited because Ocean City features prominently in it,” said Schweigart, who works for the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Infrastructure Protection and lives Arlington, Va. “A week later, Sandy was on the way to the shore.”
And so the Oct. 29 hurricane claimed another victim, as Schweigart was forced to postpone promoting his book in order to deal with damage caused by six inches of flood water in his basement.
“I had a week to celebrate, then wham!” Schweigart said. “For the first month, six weeks after the book came out, I was watching Ocean City, Atlantic City, Brigantine getting pummeled. The pictures on television were heart-breaking. I couldn’t even be happy, because the book is very much a love letter to Ocean City.”
Schweigart, 39, who last visited Ocean City for a week in September, said his family rented the same home at 54th Street and Central Avenue for at least 25 years, starting when he was a sixth-grader in Woodbury Heights, N.J. He modeled his main character’s house on that home, he said.
“One of my favorite all-time landmarks was the pier by 55th Street,” Schweigert said, referring to the 59th Street fishing pier. “It’s gone now. It breaks my heart because over my writing desk was a framed picture of the pier. The book comes out and Ocean City is in ruins, and my basement is wiped out where the picture was hung. I had to wonder what karmic gods I had ticked off.”
More than four months after Sandy, Schweigart is finally able to start actively promoting his book. In it, he mentions the Music Pier and Corson’s Inlet, and stages a scene at Bob’s Grill at 14th Street and Boardwalk.
The plot of “Slipping The Cable” focuses on the hostile relationship between a young Coast Guardsman and his vengeful captain. Ocean City, described as “idyllic” by Schweigart, himself a 1995 Coast Guard graduate, serves as a contrast to shipboard life, where escalating tensions between the captain and serviceman follow the junior seaman, even when he escapes to Key West.
“Ocean City was a magical place to me,” said Schweigart, who admitted, “I really didn’t enjoy writing in school. By June, I was chomping at the bit to get away. Ocean City was my get-away. It meant freedom to me.”
Schweigart, the father of a 5-year-old, continues to visit his boyhood haunt annually. Because the southend home of his memories and his main character is gone, he said he, his wife and daughter, along with his sister and her 5-year-old, have begun renting in different locations on the island. Every year, he added, he is saddened to see the disappearance of another landmark or two.
“Campbell’s Seafood had ridiculously good seafood,” he said. “Oooh, that’s gone. I remember Saturday nights when my parents would go out and I would be in charge and we’d get Campbell’s.”
It appears the New Jersey native has fully gotten over his dislike of writing: He’s currently at work on a thriller loosely based on a shrieking creature that terrorized a wooded Washington, D.C., suburb in the 1970s.
As part of his promotional tour for “Slipping The Cable,” Schweigart is scheduled to appear on June 14 as a guest speaker aboard the schooner A.J. Meerwald, part of the Bayshore Discovery Project in Bivalve, Cumberland County.
For information about Schweigart’s book, including how to order a copy online from Barnes & Noble, Books A Million or Amazon, or where to locate copies in brick-and-mortar bookstores, see www.billschweigart.com