Author Jacquelyn Mitchard on ‘Two If by Sea,’ Raising Children and Writing

The story tells the tale of Ian, a boy who has unusual psychic gifts and has a great ability to influence people and events, and what happens to him and those around him.



“Someone who’s a prodigy, someone who has an extraordinary ability, sort of brings out the best and the worst in us,” says novelist Jacquelyn Mitchard of her new novel, “Two If by Sea,” published by Simon & Schuster.

The story tells the tale of Ian, a boy who has unusual psychic gifts and a great ability to influence people and events, and what happens to him and those around him. There are elements of the supernatural woven into a more naturalistic plot. The central character, Frank Mercy, informally adopts Ian and his brother, and then finds himself dealing with many difficulties. One is that they are pursued by a group of bad guys who want to use the boy’s powers for their own ends.

“He wasn’t right in thinking that he could outrun trouble, but he had good reason for doing it,” says Mitchard of Mercy, who tries the geographic cure for their problems. The story takes place in Australia, the U.S. and England. “[But] I want there to be a real spine in a story, and that is why I set some of the story on a farm, because it was homely and about as close to the earth as you can get.”

Mitchard has had an unusual life herself. This is her 20th book; the first was the 1996 “The Deep End of the Ocean,” which was the first selection of Oprah Winfrey’s book club and made it hit the top of the bestseller list. It was made into a film starring Michelle Pfeiffer. Her other books include “The Most Wanted,” “A Theory of Relativity,” “Cage of Stars” and “No Time to Wave Goodbye.” These books have been bestsellers, too, but have not made it to the top spot on the list.

Her work has received a great deal of critical praise. She writes for children and young adults, as well, continues to write journalism and was a contributor to More magazine for a number of years.

The novelist, who is originally from Chicago, became a newspaper writer and a lifestyle columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. She married journalist Dan Allegretti, and they had three children, but she was widowed when he died of cancer at 45. Later she married artist/carpenter Christopher Brent and they live on Cape Cod with several of their children, who now total nine, some of whom are adopted. She met her second husband when he came to her house to do a carpentry project, which was never finished.

She says of writing, “Telling stories is thrilling, whether I’m telling them to my family or telling them to a larger family. I want my stories to interrupt good marriages and strong work situations.” She adds, however, “It seemed like a really funny way to try to make a living, and it still does.”

Mitchard also writes for young adults through an imprint she runs, Merit Press, named for one of her children. Writing for teenagers involves specific skills, she points out. “The teenager has to be central to the mayhem and conflict and has to be the one who solves it without the help of any adults. Also, the emotional pitch is higher; if you brush against someone in the hall, you feel like you’ve been branded. Adults don’t live as close to the surface; they’re not pitched as high.”

Then she says, “I have to do my novel-writing in spurts, in fits and starts, because living in a small house with my still-at-home five children, I don’t have a great deal of access to privacy and large chunks of time.”

One solution is to “bum a house” from someone; another is to go to an artists’ retreat like the Ragdale Foundation in Illinois for a few weeks.

Next up for Mitchard: “My next book is about three-quarters finished; it’s a classic ghost story and it’s about a ghost who’s sort of an archaeological ghost. The spirit who causes all the mayhem is young girl who was part of the original European settlers in the 1600s [with the Plymouth Bay Company] and something happens with her in life, and then in the after life, she haunts two of her descendants, a middle-aged woman and a teenage girl.”