The opening scene of Cynthia Newberry Martin’s first published novel, Tidal Flats, takes place in Provincetown, where the two main characters, Cass and Ethan, begin their love story. Martin, who divides her time between Columbus, Ga., and her home here in the West End, started writing the book six years ago, and it was published in September by Bonhomie Press. According to Martin, “I had been writing it every day, looking out at the tidal flats, and it got into my pores and my eyes. I just absorbed it. And it just came out. I brought the main characters here to Provincetown.”
The book tells of a couple who get married but want different things. Because of this, they make a short-term agreement out on the breakwater to Long Point to bridge this divide. Through Martin’s deftly woven storytelling, we learn how promises can be shattered and repaired, and how compromises are reached. There are suspenseful moments, and you’ll find yourself rooting for both Cass and Ethan, wanting the situation to work out, but there are no easy answers.
Martin’s love for New England began when she attended a summer camp in Vermont as a young girl. Then, as an adult in 2006, she signed up for a summer writing workshop at the Fine Arts Work Center that novelist Pam Houston was teaching.
“That was the first time I ever came to Provincetown, and I liked it,” Martin says. “I liked it a lot. The next year I came back to take another course, and I liked the town even more. And for the next five years, I would come back in the summer to write.”
In 2012, after Martin’s youngest son graduated from high school, she was largely free of parental obligations. She knew that she didn’t want to stay in Columbus or just travel around. She wanted to be by the water and considered driving to Florida once a month. Instead, she rented one of Day’s Cottages in Truro for the entire summer. Then she knew.
“For some reason, at that moment staying at Day’s, cycling into town, looking at the Monument — at that moment it all came together,” Martin says. “I just fell in love with Provincetown. Gradually, I just got closer and closer — staying in the East End, then in the middle of town, and now finally here in the West End.”
What is it about the place? “I wanted a different life, and it was here. With good connections, I can be here in seven hours. It’s the air, the light, and the people. After that, it doesn’t matter who you are or what you do. The feeling that we are all in this together. It’s a feeling unlike any place else I have ever been.”
Martin owns the iconic house on the waterside that’s known as the “flag house” because of the large American flag that hangs in front during the summer season. In 2016, she switched it out with a Hillary flag.
The concept for Tidal Flats came to her after she had finished her third unpublished novel. She tried to put it out of her head, wanting to take a break, but the idea kept reoccurring. All Martin knew was that it had three parts — the first would be called “All’s Fair,” because it wasn’t; the second was about a marriage; and the third was about one of the main characters going to either Vietnam or Afghanistan, the two wars of her lifetime.
Afghanistan won out because Martin, on a flight from Atlanta to Boston, sat next to a documentary filmmaker returning from Kabul who showed her photos of his recent sojourn. When she got to Provincetown, she started writing. Can a marriage work when two people want dramatically different things? Martin’s husband was still in Georgia, deeply involved in his law practice, while she embarked on this new adventure. The story took on a life of its own.
Martin’s life has been full. She is fluent in French and taught English in France between college and law school. She became an attorney, specializing in trusts and estates. She raised four children. When her youngest was two, Martin began reading Barbara Kingsolver, Ann Patchett, and Ellen Gilchrist. They became the inspiration for her next career.
“I thought, I want to do what they do,” Martin says. The result was coming to Provincetown and writing Tidal Flats.