Jamestowner writes coming-of-age novel
With his father lost at sea, and his mother in deep debt to a local loan shark, 14-year-old Jake Cole is quickly learning that he is the only one who can right the ship. Needing $10,000 to save the family diner, the awkward teen turns to quahogging as his salvation – although darker opportunities also surface.
Jamestown resident Jay Primiano is the co-author of “Swim that Rock,” a novel about a boy who is hastily tasked with securing his family’s future. Primiano, 53, is a first-time novelist, although he has penned other works. He’s had some poetry published, and has also written short stories, screenplays and theatrical productions, but “Swim that Rock” is his first large-scale project available for consumers.
“It’s realistic fiction,” said Primiano about his first novel. “All writers draw upon their experiences to some degree. The book’s about the benefit of hard work. It’s about persistence and diligence, and about caring for people.”
Jake, the protagonist, is an eighth-grader whose family owns the Riptide, a diner located in a small community on the coast of Narragansett Bay. While he shows clumsiness on land, he more than makes up for it on the water, where he is as able-bodied as his father.
When his father goes missing after a boating accident, and his mother falls into $10,000 of debt, Jake has to use his marine expertise to earn money so he can save the family diner. Otherwise, he’ll be forced to move west with his mother, leaving his father behind, who Jake still believes is alive.
Looking for quick cash, Jake takes different jobs with two men on opposite sides of the law. The teen earns honest money during the day with his father’s best friend, who teaches Jake the finer points of raking for quahogs. His other job is less dignified. Jake works for Captain, a salty, modern-day pirate who steals boat motors and fishes illegally.
The novel is a coming-of-age story with autobiographical overtones. Primiano grew up in Barrington, and by the age of 19, he became captain of his own clam boat. Needing help, he hired an 11-year-old neighborhood kid to be his first mate. That young boy was John Rocco, co-author of “Swim that Rock.”
Rocco is an illustrator and children’s book author. He has written award-winning books including “Wolf! Wolf!” and “Blackout,” a 2012 Caldecott Honor winner. He is also the illustrator of Whoopi Goldberg’s “Alice,” and is the cover artist for the bestselling series “Percy Jackson & the Olympians,” which has sold millions of copies worldwide.
Remaining best friends since they clammed together 35 years ago, their two families got together for the holidays in 2008. During Rocco’s visit to Jamestown (he lives in Los Angeles), Primiano mentioned that the two should write a book together. “I was thinking of a modern-day ‘Treasure Island,’” he said.
Although they’ve discussed the idea before, nothing came to fruition. This time, however, Rocco’s wife told them to just start writing.
“Boy was she right,” says Primiano. “I was very inspired at that point. So we started writing a series of short stories of our experiences together that we could build a book from.”
Both men, on opposite sides of the country, would wake up at 5 a.m. and write for a few hours before their wives and children awoke.
“Interestingly, that is the same time we used to wake up to go fishing back in the 1980s,” said Primiano. “The early hours were appropriately inspirational for a couple of fishermen turned storytellers.
After years of writing and bouncing their stories off each other, the two began working together in person to merge the tales.
“At first it went very much the same way as when we worked on the boat,” said Rocco. “Jay would dig up all the stuff from the bottom, and my job as a picker was to sort it all out. Put all the quahogs in the right buckets and throw the rest away.”
While co-authoring a book may seem troublesome, Primiano said there was only one major quarrel between the writers. “John didn’t like it when I would chew gum and blows bubbles,” Jay quipped. “I snapped my gum, and that probably got on his nerves. Other than that, we had no major arguments. It helps that we’re such great friends. We had some disagreements, but trying to maintain a voice between two people can be tricky. It was definitely an interesting project.”
Primiano lives on Melrose Avenue with his wife, Lisa, and their two daughters, Jessy, 16, and Sophie, 14. Both girls attend North Kingstown High School. Primiano is the recreation director of the Charlestown parks department, a position he held in Jamestown in the late 1980s. He has lived on the island since he bought his house in 1995.
The co-authors have recently been busy on a two-week book tour, which reaches Jamestown this weekend. A launch party will take place at the Jamestown Arts Center on Saturday, April 26. A VIP event begins at 6 p.m., and the party opens to the public at 7 p.m. People can RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org. Primiano expects friends and family from across the country to attend, including a trip across the Atlantic by Karen Lotz, CEO of Candlewick Press, the book’s publisher.
According to Primiano, the novel is especially suited for teenagers, and it teaches a lesson about hard work.
“Sometimes the right thing to do is a little blurred,” said Primiano, “but it’s important to make the right decision.”