There are two things about herself that Izzy has always known with absolute certainty: One, that she was adopted and two, that she has an affinity for the sea. For from her earliest memories on, the ocean has always called out to Izzy. But her adoptive parents thwart her attempts to get closer to the sea at every turn.
When Izzy turns eighteen, she goes in search of her past and her birth family. It’s a quest that will take her to the boardwalk of Ocean City, New Jersey, and to a mysterious fur coat that might hold all the answers to Izzy’s questions.
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- Boardwalk Baby is a novelette of 8200 words. This story is a digital premiere and has never been published previously.
- In German, abandoned seal pups are called “Heuler” (howlers), because the sounds they make sounds like crying babies. Around one hundred “Heuler” are found every year on the German North Sea coast and raised in the seal stations of Norddeich and Friedrichskoog, until they can be returned to the wild.
- One day I thought: If selkies are seal shifters, does this mean that there are selkie “Heuler”, too? And what if such a selkie “Heuler” was found and raised by humans? The story grew from there.
- We never learn if Izzy was truly abandoned as a baby or if her mother intended to return for her. This mirrors the situation of “Heuler”, some of whom are not truly abandoned, but merely left alone by their mothers for short periods of time, when well-meaning tourists find them and take them to the seal stations.
- I always assumed that hunting seals for their fur had been banned years ago, following the horrifying footage of baby seals being clubbed to death, after which fur coats became so politically incorrect that no one would have wanted to touch a coat of seal fur ever again. In the late 1970s, my grandmother was even attacked on the street for wearing a seal fur coat that likely dated from the 1950s, i.e. long before seal hunting became politically incorrect. However, while researching Boardwalk Baby, I found to my own surprise that seal hunting is still legal and quite widely practiced in many countries, partly for traditional reasons and partly because apparently there still is a market for seal fur.
- The Child of Hope adoption agency as well as the picture book The Greatest Gift are entirely fictional. However, there are very similar books intended to help children come to terms with the fact that they are adopted.
- Most of the Ocean City locations described are real places, though I took some artistic liberties. The various foodstuffs Izzy consumes are all things that can be bought and eaten on the Ocean City boardwalk.
- The title refers not just to the fact that Izzy was called the “boardwalk baby” in the press, but also to the fact that in the first half of the twentieth century, the boardwalks of US seaside resorts often included so-called “infant incubators”, a medical innovation cum sideshow attraction where premature babies were raised in the then newly developed incubators to save their lives. The entrance fees paid by visitors financed the incubators. I don’t know if Ocean City ever had an infant incubator attraction, but nearby Atlantic City did.
- The parallels between the infant incubators of the early twentieth century and the seal stations on the Dutch and German North Sea coast should be obvious, especially as the seal stations also are popular tourist attractions.
- The incident where Izzy’s mother throws away the fish sauce is based on something that happened to me. My mother once threw away a perfectly good, half full bottle of fish sauce, because she didn’t like the way it smelled and thought it had gone off.
- The cover image is a stock photo by Ukrainian photographer Mykyta Starychenko. Given the photographer’s nationality and location, it’s likely the photo was taken nowhere near New Jersey, but rather on the Black Sea coast. However, I love the longing look on the model’s face and the fact that she actually looks like a teenager.
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