True-life incident inspires writer’s latest story

Published 1:29 am Saturday, June 1, 2019


“Write what you know” is advice that many authors have heard and followed when it comes to putting their thoughts and experiences onto paper or a laptop. Joe Tennis is the example here. Based on an adventure that happened to him and a couple of friends as teenagers, the journalist/writer has written “Swamped!”

Joe Tennis — File Photo

He’ll be selling, autographing and talking about his story from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, June 8, at the Peanut Patch, 27478 Southampton Parkway in Courtland. That won’t be the first occasion the Virginia Beach native has dropped into town. Previous visits have been to promote “Virginia Rail Trails: Crossing the Commonwealth” and just three years ago, “Along Virginia’s Route 58: True Tales from Beach to Bluegrass.”

This time, though, his life experience of a few decades ago has been fictionalized. This story is an answer to readers’ requests for more fiction, such as the “Finding Franklin: Mystery of the Lost State Capitol,” or the two ghost tale collections, including “Haunts of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Highlands.”

From much further west on 58, the Bristol Herald Courier reporter spoke about this coming of age story.

“I actually had written a rough draft [of “Swamped!”] 30 years ago in 1988 while at Tidewater Community College in Virginia Beach. Four teenagers get lost. I left that location ambiguous, it could have been the Great Dismal Swamp or Blackwater River.

“In 1985, me and two guys got lost in Back Bay on our row boat. We were paddling along and the oar cracked 12 to 14 feet on the water. We beached it and walked seven hours before we got back. I was 16 then. I’m 50 now.”

In this newest story, the characters land as kids and come out as adults,” said Tennis, who incorporated thoughts about and philosophy of Henry David Thoreau, of whom he learned about in college.

He acknowledged that Barnes and Noble as well as Amazon have classified his book as young adult fiction, which is fine with him.

“It has a retro feel. There are no cell phones. Getting lost is not so easy now,” he added. “This is the kind of book about adventures in their own backyard.”

The story is dedicated to two friends from that time — Jim and Daniel — though they are not really characters in the story, said Tennis, who added that another figure in the story, Justine, is the more developed person.

“I knew it would take a lot more for her,” he said, adding that a librarian and other people he knew recommended such development. “I listened very intently to what they said. Having an 18 year old of my own helped.”

Tennis said he’ll return to non-fiction for the new book, which will be about U.S. Highway 11, which is the old Interstate 81 and parallels that road now.