PUBLISHED IN: 2018 for Kindle and paperback, 2019 for Audiobook.
THE AUTHOR: William Charles Furney.
THE EDITOR: For the audio version, I would like to credit Deyan Audio, the world’s largest independent producer of Audiobooks.
THE PUBLISHER: Black Hearts Publishing.
SUMMARY: Aphrodite’s Whisper is an epic story that begins in the winter of 1903 with the grounding of a private yacht during a brutal nor’easter on North Carolina’s dreaded Diamond Shoals. Caelyn Canady, a moneyed-class misfit from New York, becomes a castaway forced to save herself and the man who should have rescued her. During her journey home, she finds love on the desolate dunes of the Outer Banks, witnesses man’s first flight, and becomes the woman she knows she is meant to be. Ethan Roberts, her would-be rescuer, is a veteran of the Spanish-American War tormented by the deaths of his best friend and an innocent woman. In becoming a surfman, he has found refuge in the untamed isolation of Cape Hatteras where the next call for help may be the one that finally frees him from his guilt and pain. Whether it be through redemption or death he no longer cares – until the stoic Missourian’s passion for life is rekindled by the slight woman who saves him.
Reminiscent of sweeping historical fiction such as Legends of the Fall and Cold Mountain (with a little Out of Africa woven into its literary fabric), Aphrodite’s Whisper transports the reader to a seldom-explored time and place. Though painstakingly researched, the book’s historical detail serves only as the canvas on which the characters come alive. In short, Aphrodite’s Whisper is a timeless tale of two people who share a love so strong it survives betrayal, war, and even death.
THE BACK STORY: Having spent a lot of time on the Outer Banks throughout my life, it struck me as curious and unfortunate that so little has been written about the members of the U.S. Lifesaving Service who risked their lives saving ship, crews, and voyagers. When I discovered that lifesavers played a key role in the Wright Brothers first flights, the idea of writing a sweeping love story during this time period became an obsession. Twenty years and a half-dozen re-writes later, Aphrodite’s Whisper was finally published.
WHY THIS TITLE?: The relevance of “Aphrodite’s Whisper” has two threads woven into the story’s arc. One is the heroine’s yacht, the Aphrodite. The other…you’ll have to read the story.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? As stated in the promotional blub, this is not a romance (not that there is anything wrong such novels) but rather an epic love story. Some have accused it of being literary, but that’s just crazy talk. It’s the kind of book that transports you to another time and place with complex characters and motivations. It’s part mystery, part suspense, part adventure, and totally compelling. Really, it’s the kind of story that should appeal to almost anyone.
Amazon Customer Bravo! I can’t say enough about what a fantastic book “Aphrodite’s Whisper” is! It is extremely well-written, and not only is it thoroughly enjoyable – I could hardly wait to pick it back up every evening to find out what happens next, as I felt connected with the characters and what was going on in each of their lives – but it was educational, as well (I feel smarter just having read it!). The author has obviously spent many hours researching his subject matter in order to bring it to life within the pages of this novel. Everything flows seamlessly from beginning to end. What an outstanding story – BRAVO!
Glenn B. A great read! Loved this book from start to finish! It had a little bit of everything, romance, history, heartbreak, and much, much more. This author really knows how to weave a tale and surprise a reader. I will give it 10 Stars if I could.
Janelle W. Excellent Read! I don’t normally give book reviews but I just loved this book, the story line kept me so engaged I could hardly put it down, I won’t give out any spoilers but it’s a heart wrenching story and I was a blubbering mess at the end of this book. You will not be disappointed.
AUTHOR PROFILE: A former soldier, journalist, and communication professional, William tapped into a lifetime of experiences and adventures to craft a pirate tale in the tradition of Captain Blood and Treasure Island.
After graduating high school in Virginia Beach, Va, Furney served in the U.S. Army as a tank commander where he learned how to blow junk up, eliminate bad guys with economy, and lead good men through chemical, biological, and radioactive environments. Whereas these skills prepared him for civilian life in metropolitan arcadias such as Chicago, L.A., and Philadelphia, he instead decided to go to a university of higher learning. After arming himself with a BS degree from the University of Colorado’s School of Journalism in Boulder, he ventured out into the world as a reporter where he proceeded to hone his skills at pissing people off with the written word.
Along the way, he earned degrees in public relations and advertising. He became one of the first five people in the country to become a Certified Communicator in Public Health. He had his own column in the Jacksonville Daily News. He was a director of public relations for private industry and the director of communication for several government agencies. He established two public affairs offices where none previously existed; one for the State Health Director’s Office and the other in the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response – the state agency created in 2001 to oversee preparedness efforts associated with biological attacks and pandemic outbreaks.
As a public health communication expert, he coordinated or participated in the media/public information responses to health crises involving AIDS, anthrax, SARS, E-coli, Pfiesteria, Brucelosis, Legionnaires’ disease, SIDS, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, Small Pox, West Nile Virus and numerous hurricanes. He also collaborated with the CDC Office of Communication on several health issues and was a certified trainer of their Emergency Risk Communication Program. He was a member and president of the National Public Health Information Coalition – twice.
AUTHOR COMMENTS: Although Aphrodite’s Whisper was my first novel written, it is my second novel to be published. It was written, and re-written several times over a 20-year period. I spent about three hours of research for every hour of writing and, according to the critics, it shows. It was a labor of love and the characters will be with you long after you’ve finished the story. But to truly appreciate the story, you have to listen with your heart.
Although the yacht was registered to Jack Canady, the Aphrodite was his daughter’s passion. Caelyn had talked him into purchasing the vessel and she had named her. And though she would not yet call herself an expert sailor, she was competent enough to understand the seriousness of her situation.
The wind was pushing the lifeboat south-by-southwest, driving them ever farther from the Hatteras lighthouse and into the darkness. There would be a steady stream of freighters sailing up and down the coast, but even after it turned light the tiny lifeboat would be hard to spot in the rough waters. Having no food or water, the provision of which was the first mate’s responsibility, their chances of survival were almost zero. She had known from the beginning that hiring Ansel Stick was a mistake but she had had little choice. The Aphrodite required a
first mate who knew steam engines, and Stick had been the only sailor with such skills available. It was not the first time her impatience had gotten her into trouble.
Prying herself out from under the unconscious lifesaver, Caelyn shifted around as much as she dared in the rolling lifeboat and placed his head in her lap. Though the boat’s shallow decking kept them from having to sit in water, they had no protection from the bitter cold and rain. Each swell passing beneath them pitched the boat over on its side so far they came close to capsizing several times. And when she thought their situation could not get any worse, a huge wave breached the port rail, soaking them to the bone.
“Zeb!” the lifesaver called out above the wind after the wave hit. “Zeb! Answer me! I’m coming for you! Hold on!”
Rather than a dream, the desperation of his pleas spoke of a dread memory, and Caelyn wondered at his torment.
If only the wind would die down a little, she thought in frustration. I can’t do anything to help either of us as long as this keeps up.
Later in the night, while lost in thoughts of her bad decisions and things that must be done to survive, the lifesaver startled her back into the moment with a horrifying scream.
“NOOOOOOO!” he shrieked, his voice so laced with terror it was as if he was seeing the Keres reaching out to claim his soul. Caelyn shivered at the thought and grasped his hands to give comfort. But the unconscious surfman gripped her fingers so hard she cried out in pain and fought to pull her hands free.
Fully alert now, she realized that the water collecting in the lifeboat was rising fast. The little vessel was half full of water and would soon start to sink. Shunting the fear that battled to take control, she began a methodical search about the boat with her hands until she found the bilge pump. Several minutes of steady pushing and pulling on the handle siphoned off enough water to stave off the immediate threat. For the next several hours, she alternated between sheltering the lifesaver’s face from the rain and pumping the bilge. It was precious little comfort, she knew, but it was far better than doing nothing and feeling like a helpless child.
Though exhausted from exposure and from the pumping, when dawn broke Caelyn remained undaunted. Once again she left the surfman at the bow, this time to take the seat in the center of the lifeboat. Bracing herself against the cold, she removed her oil skin coat, her wool sweater, and her blouse. In an instant, she slipped back into the sweater and coat. As brief as her nakedness had been, her tolerance was low. Her teeth began to chatter from shivering and the rest of the muscles in her body soon followed. For the next few minutes she was unable to control movement of her limbs. When warmth began to return and the trembling subsided, she returned to the bow and spread out the blouse to catch the rain. Again and again she let the rain soak the blouse, then twisted it above her head so that the water ran into her mouth.
“Here,” she said to the unconscious lifesaver after letting the blouse soak again. Though doubtful he understood, hearing her own voice helped bolster her confidence. “You must drink
this. I don’t know how much longer we shall be out here and I need your help. If you don’t wake up soon I’m afraid it may mean the end of us both…and I’m not ready for that yet. I’ll never be ready for that.”
A sudden tightening of her throat and welling of tears took her by surprise. She swallowed her fear and turned her attention back to the lifesaver. Though not sure he was taking it in, she continued to twist the water from the blouse onto his lips – until the rain stopped. Nature was taunting her.
“Is that the way of it then, fair Artemis?” she asked aloud, the stress of the moment bringing out the crisp annunciations she had inherited from her British-born mother. Even in the face of death she turned to her beloved Greek mythology for inspiration and guidance. “Another setback…another chance to prove myself? You don’t know me! You don’t know me any better than the rest of them! Damn you all! I…WILL…SURVIVE!”
Words that began as defiance had turned to rage. But while the anger might keep her warm, she understood that it would do nothing to help her live. Latching onto the rush that came with the fury, she channeled the energy into finding solutions. It was the way her mind worked when freed from the shackles of those who would limit her.
As she considered and eliminated various possibilities she realized that she had failed to consider the most obvious. She knew that Ansel Stick had not supplied the boat with food and water because one of the last orders he had shouted to the crew was to have them brought up from the galley. But a lifeboat should also have non-perishable supplies stored onboard to help castaways!
For the first time since sunrise she took a careful look around the lifeboat. There were only a few possibilities where survival equipment might be stored – the bench seats being the most obvious. On closer inspection, she saw that the seats were box containers, with the tops serving double duty as places to sit and as hinged lids that covered the boxes. Unfastening the latch on the seat closest to the stern, she opened the lid.
Recoiling in deep-seated terror, she tripped backward over the next seat and fell in a heap in the bottom of the boat! The lid slammed shut with a sharp BANG as she fell, triggering an avalanche of sounds and images from her subconscious she had never experienced before. The shadowy outline of a man, his features unformed and indistinct, wavered before her. His mouth moved as though speaking but she heard no words. Though somehow familiar, she had no idea from where the image had risen or what it meant. Was it a forgotten memory, a long-lost dream, or had it been conjured up by fatigue? And then the image was gone, disappearing as quickly as it had appeared, trailing into nothingness, leaving her too emotionally spent to move.
She remained in the bottom of the boat for several minutes, collecting her breath and piecing together the cause of her hysteria. She hated herself for having such unreasonable fear. For some unfathomable reason, she had always loathed guns. But as much as she hated them, never had she reacted so strongly.
The thing in the seat-box wasn’t even a real gun, she reasoned to herself. It was a flare gun, mounted to the underside of the lid. It must have been the noise the lid made when it slammed shut that had triggered her strange reaction. But why?
Clenching her jaw, she pushed the mystery aside, determined to regain control.
Whatever is wrong…it will have to wait. Now is not the time for such foolishness.
Though her hand still trembled, she braced herself, lifted the seat’s lid again and peeked inside. Her heart began to race as the bulky flare gun came into view. Her face flushed hot and perspiration seeped out on her forehead but she managed to control her fear for the moment.
It’s not really a pistol, she argued to herself. It’s only a device to shoot flares, to signal for help. It could save our lives.
But the thing was close enough in shape and function to a real weapon that the anxiety began to seize control again. Taking a deep breath, she forced herself to reach toward it.
I have to do this. Our lives may depend on it.
The closer her hand moved toward the gun, the harder it shook. She had stopped breathing and teetered on the edge of passing out. At the last moment, realizing that she was about to faint, she closed the lid and sank to her knees in defeat. Her aversion was so strong that she could not overcome it, even in the face of death.
She shook as much from frustration as from the exertion. But as her fear began to subside, anger and defiance rushed in to replace it.
If I can’t use the flare gun, then I must do something else. I can’t…I won’t just sit here and let us die.
Unlatching the lifeboat’s oars from their stowage clamps along the hull, Caelyn mounted them in the oarlocks on the gunwales and began to row. A woman of slight build, she struggled with the heavy oars at first, accomplishing little more than to splash water. After several awkward attempts she found her rhythm, propelling the boat a few feet forward with each pull. Though the victory was intoxicating, it was short-lived. Less than an hour later she was forced to stop. Her small hands, raw with blisters, were no longer able to grasp the oars.
Their situation was desperate. It mattered little that the wind was dying and the sky was almost clear. Without fresh water, they would not survive long. Exhausted, she rested against the oar handles crossed in an X before her.
How had things gone so wrong? This time yesterday she had been on her way back to New York, satisfied with the decision she had finally made. No, it was better than that. Her voyage to Florida had been the answer to a prayer.
Her Aunt Frances in St. Augustine – her mother’s twin who had emigrated from England to be closer to her sister – had helped Caelyn work through her concerns and reservations about marriage without making her feel self-conscious about her indecisiveness. She despised being
the way she was. It was the trauma of her mother’s death that had driven her into a shell as a child. As she grew older, her father’s overprotective, obsessive manner had kept her imprisoned behind invisible bars, affording few opportunities to rediscover her true nature. Even her closest girlfriends would be amazed to learn of her secret desires to travel and study, to do something positive with her life. As they had grown older and moved on with their lives as adults, she had remained in place, never growing, never breaking from her shell.
Her infatuation with sailing and later, the Aphrodite, were the only endeavors she had ever been passionate about. It was acknowledgment of a small facet of her true self, a seed that would sprout and grow if given the chance. And though she believed her father saw it as an indulgence that might threaten his plans, he did not interfere. She wasn’t sure why but often suspected he saw it as the lesser of two evils.
When the time had come to leave her aunt, Caelyn was at peace with her decision. As soon as she got back to New York she would meet with Hunter Winslow and accept his offer of marriage. Having resolved her apprehensions and decided the next steps, she had wasted no time departing St. Augustine. As the Aphrodite’s foresail had caught the morning breeze and slowly sailed from Matanzas River into the Atlantic, she waved a sad farewell.
“I expect to see you at the wedding,” she had called out. But the expression on her aunt’s face told her it would not be so. Frances despised Caelyn’s father so strongly that not even the marriage of her only niece would prompt her to suffer his proximity.
Now, as she retraced the return leg of the voyage in her mind, Caelyn cursed her impatience. The prudent thing would have been to sail during the day and anchor in protected harbors at dusk. But sailing by night meant arriving in New York in half the time. Just after nightfall on the third day the failing of such logic became painfully obvious.
Though it had rained for most of the afternoon, the bad weather had been little more than a nuisance at first. Neither she nor the crew had any way of knowing that the storm closing on them was the beginning of a full nor’easter. Soon, the hard winds forced them to lower all the sails and switch to steam power. Running sails during a strong blow could snap a mast, and with the engine to power them, the risk was unnecessary. They would have been better off on the leeward side of a barrier island, but the seas became too rough too fast to attempt a run through an inlet. They had been left with no other option but to ride the storm out on the open sea.
The Aphrodite had made it to Hatteras and the Diamond Shoals a few hours before midnight, guided by the beacon of the cape’s unfailing lighthouse. Dressed in a set of crewman’s storm gear, Caelyn had stood with her helmsman at the wheel. The Aphrodite was her vessel – she would not leave its survival in the hands of others while cowering below deck.
The goal was to make it past the shoals and the relative safety of the northern waters. But as they struggled past the cape’s point the engine had lost power. Drifting toward the shoals and certain death, Caelyn ordered one of the crewmen to drop the sea anchor. It was too late. The Aphrodite’s keel had snagged the sandy bottom of the shoals, bringing them to an abrupt halt. There she had sat, stuck in the shallows and the relentless pounding of the waves.
Caelyn could not remember every detail that followed. The one thing she knew for sure was that Ansel Stick was not on deck when she had needed him most. It was not until they began lowering the lifeboat that he appeared from the engine room. Despite her protests, he had forced her to climb aboard and had jumped in behind her.
“Don’t worry,” he had shouted to the four confused sailors left on deck. “I’ll go first to make sure she doesn’t drown.”
The idea that she needed help, especially from the man whom Caelyn somehow knew was responsible for condemning her sweet Aphrodite, had made her furious. If not for a quirk of fate, Ansel Stick would have been with her now instead of the lifesaver. Caelyn shuddered at the thought, glancing at the man to reassure herself that he was still alive. If he came to, he might be able to help, or at least keep her company. If he did not regain consciousness soon he might sink into a coma. At worst, she might be trapped on the small boat with a dead man.
By mid-afternoon, Caelyn judged that they were four or five miles off Ocracoke Island, drifting with the current. Though the air was cool, the sky was clear and the sun was warm on her skin. If they removed their storm gear and laid low, out of the wind, their clothes would have a chance to dry.
As she tugged off the lifesaver’s gear she saw that his left wrist was swollen and purple and feared that it might be broken. The blouse she had used to catch the rain would now serve another purpose. Caelyn tore off the sleeves to wrap his hand and used the remainder of the cloth to fashion a sling. She was doing everything possible to increase their chances but what they needed more than anything else was water. Unless someone found them soon the lifesaver would die from dehydration, and she would not last much longer.
With nothing left she could do, Caelyn studied the lifesaver’s face, wondering what manner of man he might be. His dark beard hid the more telling features but she could tell he was a younger man, about thirty. His skin was tan and weathered but not yet turned to leather like that of a fisherman. Both his face and his hands were lean and sinewy, no surprise for someone whose profession was rowing a glorified rowboat. He wore no rings or chains or jewelry of any kind. She took him to be a man of simple means and simple tastes as befitting his profession. There was nothing particularly remarkable about him except for the suggestion of an underlying strength. He had an inner strength as well, she sensed, or was it the imagination of a grown woman too long indulged in the romance of classic tales?
Chiding herself for such childish musings, Caelyn turned her attention to the setting sun and the growing sense of foreboding that came with it. It would be impossible for anyone to spot them at night, and by morning they would be far away from the shipping lanes. There would be no passing ships to spot them.
Placing her face in her hands, she sobbed, cursing the strange aversion that kept her from doing the one simple thing that might save them. But only for a few moments. She may not be stronger than the phobia but neither was she weak of constitution and determination. The tears shed were seen by no one and the release of pent-up emotion gave her new hope. Settling in next to the fallen lifesaver to share body warmth against the growing cold, Caelyn prayed to the only gods that had ever afforded her comfort.
LOCAL OUTLETS: Various book stores on coastal North Carolina and New Bern, NC.
WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Amazon, Kindle, iBooks, Audible.
PRICE: $20 paperback, $10 eBook, $17 Audible.
CONTACT THE AUTHOR: http://www.billfurney.com.