Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

April 10, 2014

'Floating' back to readers

Local author puts story to paper during journey to China

By Judy Wakefield
jwakefield@andovertownsman.com

---- — When avid traveler and author Kristin Bair O’Keeffe returned to this area after five years in Shanghai, she had a completed book manuscript and also an adorable toddler in tow.

Three years have passed since that return flight and a lot has happened in that time.

The manuscript is now a just-released book and that toddler is now 6 years old.

Today, O’Keeffe is settled in Andover with her husband, Andrew O’Keeffe, formerly of Newburyport, and their daughter, Tulliver, who attends Andover’s South School. She spends her work day as publications director at Phillips Academy.

“The Art of Floating” (Penguin Publishing, $15, paperback) may have been written in China, but it recalls her time in Newburyport, with the action set on Plum Island.

It centers on Sia, “who stuffed her heart into a cage, and started floating” when her beloved husband disappeared without a trace. Sia then discovers a mute, unresponsive man on the beach, and, over the concerns of family and friends, she becomes determined to help him.

O’Keeffe said the story, inspired by a New York Times article, delves into sorrow and healing. There’s also a losing and finding connection that O’Keeffe hopes isn’t lost on readers.

“Losing one thing, finding another ... it’s a mysterious connection, but I hope they (readers) make it,” she said.

A huge fan of Homer’s “The Odyssey,” O’Keeffe said she drew on the writing style found in that classic. Like “The Odyssey,” “The Art of Floating” opens in the middle of the overall story, with flashbacks playing an integral part in the telling of the tale.

O’Keeffe spent her five years in Shanghai writing the book while her husband, an engineer, was transferred there for work. It is her second book. She released her debut novel, “Thirsty,” in 2009. She has also written numerous essays about China and other subjects that have appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, Gettysburg Review and elsewhere.

A native of Pittsburgh, Pa., she has a Master of Fine Arts from Columbia College Chicago and has been teaching writing for the past 20 years.

While motherhood has meant her writing sessions are limited to the wee hours of the morning when her daughter is asleep, O’Keeffe said she still makes sure to carve out time to pursue her creative passion every day.

“I’m disciplined. ... I write from 4 to 6 a.m. every day,” she said. “I’m always writing.”