Turning the Page with Hazel Jacks

With writers like Jack London connected to our small town, there were bound to be more wordsmiths to follow. I recently got the chance to chat with longtime Benicia resident and recently published author Hazel Jacks about her Fire Island books to learn what the romance series entails, how she decided to self-publish, and what’s up next.

CE: Give me a rundown! What’s the series roughly about? 

HJ: So, the series is set in Fire Island, which is this little island off the coast of Long Island, New York. I’ve only written half of the books I have planned; in total there will be six books. The whole series is about a group of friends, and each book focuses on a different one. The first two books are considered a duet; the first book hangs on a cliffhanger with a happily ever after in the second. The third is a standalone book. There’s a lot of time-jumping in the books and it’s kind of fun to go into pop culture things from the times. I LOVE music and I especially have this passion for early 2000s pop-punk music—I still listen to it. The first two books include a lot of musical references. All the books have a playlist for the time period and set the mood of the book or what’s happening.

CE: Tell me a little bit about the main characters in the first two books. 

HJ: The main male character is a Fire Island local, in his early 20s, kind of like—how can I say this—an outgoing player-type, who works on the ferry. The main female character is from a ritzy family in NYC who comes to Fire Island every summer; she goes with her best friend the last summer before they go off to college. The main male and female fall in love, and there’s a bit of an age gap with about six years between them. That first book chronicles their first summer together. It’s about first love, feelings of falling in love for the first time, and navigating those feelings. It ends on a cliffhanger—you’ll have to read the second book if you want to get some closure.

CE: These books take place by the water in a small community—did Benicia have anything to do with sparking this idea?

HJ: Fire Island is a very, very small island where cars are not allowed; the only way you can get there is by ferry. You have to walk, ride a bike, or water taxi to get from town to town. In that sense it’s very different. I do love the small town feel and I guess a little nod to Benicia would be that there’s a bar and restaurant in the book called the Sundowner. I was never old enough and never made it into the Sundowner in Benicia, but I did try to find little inspirations to connect me to Benicia. In the second book, the female character works at a record label. I called it Skateside Records—to me and the people in my friend group, we called the end of the marina skateside. I have little nods to Benicia and things that mean a lot to me personally sort of slipped into the books.

CE: Have you always known you’ve wanted to be a writer?

HJ: No. I hated writing when I was younger! But I’ve always loved reading. In 2008, the idea for this book came to me and it was, ‘oh my gosh, I want to write this. I want to tell this story.’ I was writing off and on for years, and by writing I mean that I had 20 or so pages written. I’d come back to it every so often, but during Covid, I started reading a TON. Somebody had given me their old Kindle. I’ve always been so against it—I want to turn the page! I realized it’s quick, affordable, and I didn’t have to have a nightlight on my bed while my husband was sleeping—super easy. I was gobbling up books. I started to realize a lot of the romance authors I was reading, most of them were all self-published. It got me thinking; these people are doing it! Late 2021 was when I was like, ‘I’m going to pull out my book and research how to self-publish, how to get an editor, cover designer, how to format a book, how to write a book’ (laughs). Something flipped in my brain and I was super committed to getting this done.

CE: Can we have any hints about what the fourth book will entail? 

HJ: It’s going to be set in 2006 and it’ll be a summer book, which is different from the third book that’s set in the dead of winter; it’s snowy, cold, not very much a beachy book. I haven’t announced yet who the book is about, but I have started writing it. Stay tuned!

The Fire Island series (currently Saltaire, Return to Saltaire, and Surf Road) can be found on Amazon.com or at The Filling Station Goods & Gifts on First Street. You can also learn more at Hazeljacks.com.