When ferry becomes ‘love boat’

Louisiana native Bill Branley turned a writing exercise into a debut novel, the first title in his island-based publishing company. - Courtesy of One Sock Press
Louisiana native Bill Branley turned a writing exercise into a debut novel, the first title in his island-based publishing company.
— image credit: Courtesy of One Sock Press

Episodic fiction by blog becomes a local man’s debut novel.

A writing exercise on his blog brought forth Bill Branley’s inner Peggy.

She had so much to say, the exercise evolved into Branley’s debut novel, “Sea Changes,” the first title for his One Sock Press publishing company.

“I’ve taken lots of writing classes. One exercise is writing from a perspective not your own to get used to seeing the world from a different perspective,” Branley said. “I was commuting on the 5:20 a.m. ferry with a laptop. Peggy popped into my head.”

Branley blogged “Peggy Finds a Friend” in 70 “episodes” from May to December 2005. After musing the feedback he got from his readers, he chopped about 18,000 words and turned the remaining parts into a novel. Each of the dated chapters originally was a blog episode.

“I had lots of readers who would give me comments,” said Branley, a U.S. Army photojournalist in the ’70s and ’80s whose roots are in New Orleans. “I was able to hone in on the relationships.”

The novel’s namesake is a widow and environmental activist who finds romance on the Bainbridge-to-Seattle ferry. Branley knows the route well, having commuted from the island to Seattle and Kent for the software developer portion of his career. The book’s sub-themes include climate change and the environment and how we spend our resources, he said.

“It’s a good sub-theme, but you’re reading the book for the relationship,” said Branley, who is “trying to be a full-time writer.” As he promotes his novel, he is at work on two other books. These days, he only does software work on a consulting basis for area clients.

“Once I thought of (the character’s) age, I thought of her as a widow,” he said. “My father died in 2002 and my mother was a widow for five years. She died last year. Her sister was a widow (but) they handled it very differently. Her sister went out and did things.”

Although Peggy “is totally the product” of Branley’s imagination, the other characters are exactly like or composites of people he observed on his ferry rides. In addition, many of the events and places in the book are from his own family life.

Branley moved to Bainbridge from Virginia in 2004. He was born and raised in Louisiana and travels there with his wife and two children every couple of years.

“I decided to take my characters with me on trips,” Branley said, which explains Peggy’s travels up the Eastern Seaboard.

Her trip to New Orleans was not planned. Branley got a call late last summer from a hospital saying his mother had suffered a severe stroke. Although his six siblings live much closer, Branley was the only one a nurse was able to reach. The hospital scene in his book is straight from real life, as are the funeral decisions and the hurricane.

“We were planning for her funeral and we had to evacuate,” Branley said. “All of that was exactly what happened. The funeral was Aug. 29, the day Katrina hit. We buried her four weeks later. I went back in October to help my sister (whose house was destroyed) and I took my characters back with me.”

A proponent of “character-driven” fiction, Branley lets his characters decide how to react.

“I tried hard to not script the ending,” Branley said. He did, however, ask his blog readers to vote on a choice of endings, which he took into consideration.

“What they voted was what I thought (the characters) would do,” he said. “(The readers) were in touch with the characters.

“These characters are on a journey,” he said. “They’re trying to figure it out.’

What they learn is “nobody can tell you what to do. You have to stumble through it.”

Branley always wanted to write fiction, but couldn’t get the hang of it. About six years ago, he started taking writing classes and “got better at it.”

“People can experience a story through a character,” he said. “”The value of fiction is that you can think through your problem by living through those same issues in the lives of the characters.”

Branley is not a typical self-published author, but “a real publisher.” He owns the book’s ISBN, and has a printer and a national distributor.

Writing a novel via blog is a rather unique process. Branley likes it for several reasons.

“It’s a nice way to write the first draft of a story. You feel like you have to get it out there. After you have people reading it, you get immediate feedback,” he said.

“Each episode has to be sort of polished on an episode-by-episode basis.”


A ferry tale

Bill Branley, author of “Sea Changes,” will present a slide show and reading at 7:30 p.m. June 29 at Eagle Harbor Books. For more on Branley see

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