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Santa Maria Sun / Art

The following article was posted on July 29th, 2020, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 21, Issue 22 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 21, Issue 22

Local novelists reimagine events leading up to the 1923 Honda Point disaster off the coast near Lompoc

By CALEB WISEBLOOD

It all started with a tasty burger,” Therese Vannier, co-author of upcoming historical novel Dead Reckoning, revealed before amending—“tastiest burger on the planet.”


Point break
Dead Reckoning is set to be released on Sept. 8, the 97th anniversary of the Honda Point disaster. The book will be available to order through Amazon and other outlets.

NEW NOVEL
Dead Reckoning centers on the Honda Point disaster of 1923, when seven U.S. Navy ships ran aground at Honda Point near Lompoc, ending the lives of 23 sailors.
PHOTO COURTESY OF AMAZON.COM

Vannier’s inaugural dining experience at the Jalama Beach Grill coincided with her introduction to a tragic piece of local history. 

“We sat at the indoor dining area of the Jalama Beach Store while we waited for our food, and I couldn’t stop looking at the walls,” Vannier said. “They’re plastered with photographs, nautical charts, and newspaper clippings with headlines of the Honda Point disaster.”

On Sept. 8, 1923, seven U.S. Navy ships ran aground at Honda Point (known for its treacherous rocky outcroppings), ending the lives of 23 sailors. 

“That was the first time I remember hearing about the tragedy,” Vannier said. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘How did this happen? Who was responsible? What was the rescue effort like? What was the weather like that night?’ I needed to know more.

“After I got home, I kept thinking about the disaster,” she continued. “I kept thinking that someday I wanted to write a story about it.”

Her frequent writing partner Michael Corbin Ray, also a Central Coast local, had not heard of the Lompoc tragedy prior to Vannier’s pitch for their next novel. In 2013, the duo released their first book, The Long Way, a historical fantasy centered on the Opium Wars in 19th century China. Both authors currently reside in Solvang.

“Once you know about it, it’s hard to forget. It’s such a dramatic event,” Ray said of the Honda Point disaster. “It’s kind of haunted us as a story idea for years. It really was Therese pushing that she wanted to write this one. I’m glad she did.”

With both fictional characters and real figures (including Capt. Edward H. Watson, who navigated the ill-fated squadron) inhabiting the novel, Ray and Vannier’s goal with Dead Reckoning was to imagine the mindsets of the sailors aboard each ship before and during the tragedy, while maintaining historical accuracy.


KEEP IT REAL
“We read every nonfiction book available on our subject during the writing process,” Dead Reckoning co-author Therese Vannier said of researching the Honda Point disaster. “It was important for us to keep the moments leading up to the incident as accurate as possible—down to the minute.”
PHOTO COURTESY OF AMAZON.COM

UNFORGETTABLE
“Once you know about it, it’s hard to forget. It’s such a dramatic event,” Dead Reckoning co-author Michael Corbin Ray said of the Honda Point disaster. “It’s kind of haunted us as a story idea for years. It really was Therese pushing that she wanted to write this one. I’m glad she did.”
PHOTO COURTESY OF AMAZON.COM

“We wanted to take the framework of what was known [about the Honda Point disaster] and build a story around it that painted a picture of what life was like for the men on these boats—especially the men down below who paid the highest price for decisions made way above their pay grade,” Ray said.

“We read every nonfiction book available on our subject during the writing process,” Vannier added. “It was important for us to keep the moments leading up to the incident as accurate as possible—down to the minute.”

Court proceedings and documentaries on the Honda Point disaster were also among the duo’s resources during their research. Aside from accurately depicting the event itself, getting the little things right was equally crucial—1920s slang, popular fashion, music,
food, etc.

“We’re like sponges, we can’t get enough juicy details,” Vannier said of her and Ray, who met each other years ago while both working for the SLO Tribune. “For Dead Reckoning, we wanted to know every detail of the time and place.”

After the research process, the duo hammered out the novel’s plot and story structure before Ray took a stab at the first draft, he said. The next step was editing and reshaping the story together with subsequent drafts.

“Therese will suggest changes, and I’ll resist,” Ray said, “and eventually I’ll realize she’s right.”

“It’s typical for people to collaborate on screenplays, books not so much,” Vannier added. “This just works for us. Working with Mike makes it a fun process—a shareable experience, sort of like a writing room.”

“We figure the story is done when we’re both sick of it,” Ray said. “But I don’t think we ever got sick of this one. We’re really happy with the way it came out.” 

Arts Editor Caleb Wiseblood loves hearing from local authors at cwiseblood@santamariasun.com









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