I’ve always been a bit smitten by the tropics. As far back as I can remember I wanted to write and be near the ocean. I should expand on that a bit: I wanted to be near, in, or beneath the ocean’s surface. By the time I was in my early thirties, I had a decade of working on dive boats, jumping around the Caribbean and writing for scuba and travel magazines under my belt. Those years were priceless, not only in terms of the environments and cultures I was lucky enough to experience, but for the opportunity to write about them. My writing teeth were cut on sailboats, beaches, and port town taverns and for that I consider myself fortunate.
It goes without saying that when I decided to cross over into publishing fiction, the stories would take place someplace tropical. West Across the Board is set in one of my favorite locations: The Florida Keys. I fell in love with the island chain years ago, not only for its stunning scenery, collage of cultures, and pristine waters, but for its fascinating history. Closer to Cuba than the U.S. mainland, Key West was more accessible by boat than car until the mid 1930s. It was during the 1930s that I chose to set my novel. This gave me a great opportunity to research an era in the southern keys that I’ve always been interested in and an excuse to spend more time on Key West.
West Across the Board begins in 1999 with 86 year old Lázaro driving from Boston to the Florida Keys to see his dying friend Dominic before time runs out. As he drives, he remembers not only his younger years in Key West, but his reasons for fleeing his island home and his friend over half a century before. Lázaro, a gifted Cuban mariner and fisherman in his youth first met Dominic at Sloppy Joe’s Saloon in 1934. The two young men bond instantly over a game of chess played in the smoky tavern. The games continue and after every one, each man’s win is scratched into the back of the board. As the game tally grows, so does their friendship. The games are a constant during an era that saw devastating hurricanes, shipwrecks, and even war.
Prior to his journey back to the keys, Lázaro retrieves the old chessboard and makes a startling discovery. The number of scratches, first marked in the saloon over sixty years before and uncounted until now, has the two men evenly tied. As he drives towards the keys, Lázaro is forced to confront a past he has struggled to forget while anticipating the reunion with his old friend and what could be their final game.
Much like the tropics, the game of chess is endearing to me. Not because I’m any good at it, but because (much like my characters) I still play chess with my childhood friend–a tradition that has continued for nearly 30 years. Across the board from each other, we have enjoyed and talked about happy times and supported each other while weathering loss.
West Across the Board is a story about friendship, hope, loss and reconciliation set against a colorful, historically accurate backdrop. Perhaps the most consistent comment I receive from readers is that after finishing the novel, they wanted to visit Key West. I hope of each of them does.
Andrew Jalbert is the author of WEST ACROSS THE BOARD. You can visit his website at www.jalbertproductions.com.
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