Chip Cheek first visited Cape May in 2007 while on a writing retreat when he lived in Massachusetts.
Cheek, 43, grew to love the resort as he visited and stayed at a friend’s beach house repeatedly during the next five years.
The city left such an impression on Cheek he titled his first published novel, “Cape May” and set his story in a 1950s fictionalized version of the resort. His book cover is a photo of Cape May Victorian homes by National Geographic photographer Richard T. Nowitz.
“I haven’t been back in years,” said Cheek, who set his novel’s action in a house on a fictional street named New Hampshire. “I read a handful of coffee table books about Cape May. This is a fictional version of Cape May.”
The Cape May in Cheek’s novel was based on his memory and maps.
“It is a fantastical version of the town,” said Cheek, who added the Cape May Lighthouse is included in his book.
Cheek said he spent more time researching the 1950s, which is the time period when his novel is set, than Cape May.
“Cape May” is a novel about love, marriage and sexuality where a couple of married newlyweds from Georgia come to Cape May for their honeymoon in the fall off-season. They meet a glamorous trio and extend their time in the empty beach town, which results in lifelong repercussions.
Cheek had started a previous novel that he did not finish that gave him the married Georgia couple. He is from Georgia.
“Once I finished my first draft, I felt so confident about the material,” said Cheek, who now lives in California.
Cheek landed his agent based on the first draft of “Cape May.” The agent signed Cheek based on the confidence his first novel could be sold to a publishing house.
Cheek’s agent sent the draft out to 15 different publishing houses. Celadon Books bought it within 24 hours after receiving the draft, Cheek said.
“Cape May,” released late last month, was published by Celadon, which was founded by publishing industry veterans Jamie Raab and Deb Futter and is a division of Macmillan Publishing.
It issues a mix of fiction and nonfiction, but it only releases between 20 to 25 new titles annually.
“I was elated. It was a dream come true,” said Cheek about when he found out Celadon wanted to publish his book.
Cheek spent two months writing the novel’s first draft and the next three years revising his book.
Besides being chosen by a selective publisher, Cheek has seen his debut novel receive some positive reviews from critics, including The Wall Street Journal.
“Henry and Effie’s honeymoon is meant to be their introduction to the pleasures of the body, but in the company of Clara and her promiscuous cohort they lose all track of boundaries. A dozy, luxurious sense of enchantment comes over the story, until the rude awakening at its finale,” The Wall Street Journal wrote.
“I’m continually surprised. I’m very happy to see the reviews. It’s overwhelming,” Cheek said.
Cape May Mayor Clarence F. Lear III received a Google alert about Cheek’s novel. Lear did a little bit of research on his own on the book. He believes the subject matter might be a little to dark for his taste, but he thought there may be some people who decide to visit the city after reading it.
“Technology makes it so easy to stay up on stuff,” Lear said.
Celadon Books is being very cautious about how many book signings and readings he will be doing, Cheek said, but he said he would love to make an appearance in Cape May to publicize his first novel.
“It would be so fun to do an event in the area,” Cheek said.