Debut Novels By Local Authors Explore Different Coming Of Age Stories

By: Debra Lawless

Topics: Local authors


When author Joseph Gibbs was working on his debut novel “Frank” (Brogan Camden, 2022), he had two high-profile literary mentors, both of whom he met while working as a bartender in Florida.

The first was John Knowles, author of the 1960 coming-of-age novel “A Separate Peace,” who would come in to the restaurant on slow days, allowing the pair to talk.

“He was an amazing man, with a southern, almost aristocratic voice,” Gibbs remembered during an email interview last week. “He would read my work, and direct me and mentor me on my writing.” Here’s a little bit of trivia: Knowles was partial to chardonnay and lobster bisque. Knowles died in November 2001, before he and Gibbs were able to meet for his 75th birthday dinner.

Gibbs’ second mentor was Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. Gibbs met Goodwin and her husband Richard, a presidential speech writer, in a second bar where he worked. When he completed a draft of “Frank,” Gibbs gave it to Doris to read, “and she was thrilled with it.”

Gibbs ended up living in the Goodwins’ house in Concord while rewriting his novel.

“I tend to write in the early morning hours — I feel most clear-headed at that time. In the dark cold of Concord winter, I would often run into Doris in the very early morning, and we would go off to write.” Later in the morning, Gibbs would join the couple for breakfast, “and then everyone would go to separate rooms to continue writing.”

Gibbs moved to Cape Cod full-time in 2010, and he currently tends bar at Buca’s Tuscan Roadhouse in Harwich.

Above the title “Frank” on the book’s cover is the sentence, “Every family has their hidden crackpot.” This provides a little taste of what is to come in this idiosyncratic and funny coming-of-age story. Brogan is 17, a senior at a New Jersey prep school, heading to MIT on a full scholarship. Through the years Uncle Frank (a “philanderer, con artist, gambler”) has been sending Brogan birthday checks that smell of gasoline, but otherwise Frank is more of a myth than a real person.

(And if those birthday checks make you think that Frank is generous, you might reconsider. Brogan’s parents won’t let him cash the $10 checks — they’re that sure they’ll bounce.)

Uncle Frank shows up uninvited on Thanksgiving, much to the horror of Brogan’s parents, Will and Linda. Here is Brogan’s first view of the mysterious Frank, seated at the holiday table. “He was bald, with a big handlebar mustache. I wondered how he can eat through that mustache. Just above the neckline of his shirt, I could see a cheap looking tattoo on his neck. A set of two playing cards, a joker and an ace of spades.”

Then, this: “When he stood, the gasoline smell made me think that the air would explode at any moment.”

Adding to Will and Linda’s nightmare, Frank invites Brogan on a weekend-long trip. Through a bit of deception, Brogan and Frank finally take off in Frank’s supercharged “gleaming bullet” of a 1968 Chevy Nova, and the road trip is on.

Frank is a man of strong opinions. He aims to tutor his nephew in everything from gambling to strip clubs to what a man’s choice in alcohol represents. Here is Frank on basketball: “Too dependent on delicacy, on personality. A game of stars. Divas.” What about football? “That’s scientific. Math. The individual in service of the team. The collective.”

In speaking at a book launch event in Concord last February, Goodwin called the book “a magnificent novel,” and “wonderfully comic, funny.” She said she believes Gibbs is “at the dawn of a great career” as an author.

Gibbs, a native of New Jersey, graduated from Fordham University with a bachelor’s degree in English literature in 1996. After graduation, he traveled in Europe for a few months, using Ernest Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast” as a kind of tour book. Gibbs is currently working on his next novel.

Gibbs will sign copies of “Frank” at Yellow Umbrella Books in Chatham, on Saturday, May 27 from 1 to 2 p.m.

Chatham author Missy Miller has just released her first novel “Under the Gypsy Moon: The Land of Thee” (Melissa Miller, 2023). In this novel, a young person referred to as “She” or “the girl” goes on a quest of self-discovery fraught with many perils. While the book is being marketed as “adult fantasy, it is a book for all ages to enjoy,” Miller says.

Miller is a 2005 graduate of Chatham High School and a lifelong Chatham resident. She and her husband are raising their family in Chatham. Before she devoted her time to homeschooling her children and writing, she taught yoga here for about a decade.

Miller will host a release and signing party for “Under the Gypsy Moon” on Saturday, June 3 from 4 to 7 p.m. at the historic John Hallett House at 193 Main St. in Chatham. The event is open to the public and will feature Lucia Moon Designs, Honey & Wine Design, Powellness Creations, food from Chatham Harvesters and beverages.