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Literature / Passage to November

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Clara Grace cannot recall the events that brought her to this desolate beach. Cold and alone, dim memories surface: a terrible storm… men swept to their deaths… a final kiss from the man who promised never to leave her.

Captain William McTavish believed life was best lived alone... until Clara Grace came to work aboard his ship. Something in her eyes... something in the music from her old violin, broke through his hardened heart... at last he'd finally found his kindred spirit.

Torn from each other by a white hurricane that has devastated the Great Lakes, they must pray their hard-won love can somehow lead them home.

Passage to November is an Historical Romance Novel set against the backdrop of the Great Lakes in 1913, culminating in the worst storm ever to hit the Lakes. The storm, called the White Hurricane by historians, devastated most of the Great Lakes shipping fleet and caused nearly 300 deaths. Written in 2011 by Phyllis DeMarco, the novel went on to win the 2012 EPIC Award for Best Historical Romance.


Passage to November contains the following tropes:

  • Age-Gap Romance: Though not terribly out of touch with the times (early 20th century), McTavish is 17 years older than Clara Grace. He cites this as one of the reasons he cannot allow their romance to continue.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: Firmly believed by Clara and Captain McTavish until the very end.
  • Always on Duty: The crew of the Longhope. Especially Clara Grace.
    • The officers and crew work in shifts. Clara is not so fortunate— if someone wants a meal, she's got to feed him.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: subverted. Clara and Captain McTavish go well out of their way to avoid saying the words "I love you."
  • Anyone Can Die: And boy howdy do we mean ANYONE.
  • Badass in Charge: McTavish, in spades. Retired Royal Navy Commander? Check. Brawny Scotsman with a hair-trigger temper? Check. Shades of Crazy Jealous Guy who will stop at nothing to protect the young woman in his care? Check and check mate.
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  • Banging for Help: When Old Mr. Carew dies, Clara bangs on the galley bell to attract the crew's attention.
  • Beast and Beauty: Particularly in the beginning, before Clara breaks through McTavish's hardened heart.
  • Beautiful Dreamer: Clara falls asleep before McTavish can propose.
  • Berserk Button: Go ahead, try to do something nasty to Clara Grace while Captain McTavish is around.
    • Or flirt with her.
    • Or even make eyes at her, for that matter.
  • Beta Couple: Hiram and Flora Miller. Amusingly, he is terrified of her.
    • Everyone, including Captain McTavish, is terrified of Flora Miller.
  • The Captain: William McTavish, a 40-ish, decorated veteran of the Royal Navy who came to America at the request of Cleveland Transport to run their sole "salty," the SS Longhope.
  • Chest of Medals: Implied, as McTavish's career in the Royal Navy is over and he does not brag about his service, but Clara spots many medals and commendations when she visits McTavish's cabin.
  • The Consigliere: Hiram Miller.
  • Cool Boat: The SS Longhope, a 250-ft canaller originally designed for ocean-going voyages, later outfitted for travel on the Great Lakes.
    • She's temperamental at best, with cargo hatches that refuse to close, a Chadburn (engine order telegraph) that rarely works, Spartan crew accommodations, and a crew shower that spews only cold water among other things. Given the time period, it's likely the ship owners bribed the inspectors to deem it seaworthy.
    • Although the sinking of Titanic a year earlier brought massive changes to the maritime industry (i.e. telegraph machines on all vessels, adequate lifeboats, etc.) the changes only impacted ocean-going vessels. Great Lakes ships were not required to adhere to the new laws. Newer ships were outfitted with the latest communications devices, but older ships such as Longhope were not refitted with such modern conveniences. The only way shipmasters would have known of impending weather dangers were the weather flags raised at various weather stations (which were always too late to be of much use), and their own intuitions. There was no way for these older ships to communicate with other ships, or with anyone on shore.
      • It is stated that the boat's primitive nature is one of the biggest reasons Captain McTavish and his crew loved sailing her. The ship spoke to their own primal nature.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: McTavish shows definite shades of this, particularly when he must escort Clara to public places.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: McTavish's savage beatdown of Eli results in a broken jaw, broken nose, a mouthful of busted teeth, and Eli's being dumped from the boat in Buffalo. Also directly leads to Eli's spiteful order to overload the boat just before the last critical trip of the season.
  • The Cynic: McTavish again. He believes theirs is a Crapsack World and that Clara Grace deserves better than a life lived sailing the lakes.
  • Damsel in Distress: Clara, though she is loathe to admit it while working aboard the Longhope.
    • lost, alone, and extremely hypothermic after the storm she's a true damsel in distress, but too weakened to realize it
  • Dance of Romance: subverted. McTavish only dances with Clara when his jealousy of Chauncey Ney gets the better of him.
  • The Day of Reckoning: November 9, 1913. The day— and the storm— McTavish has long feared.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Enforced hard.
    • McTavish's extreme displeasure at having a woman aboard his ship causes him to be unnecessarily cruel to her.
    • Eli's flagrant sexual harassment of Clara would not be looked too kindly-upon today.
    • The fact that no "respectable" orchestra would hire Clara Grace, despite her prodigious musical talents, simply because she is a woman.
      • Which leads to her penniless existence and her fear that if she didn't take the job aboard the Longhope, she'd have to turn to prostitution to fend for her survival.
    • Miller's exasperation at the possibility of the men fraternizing with each other. It Makes Sense in Context.
  • Do Not Go Gentle: When the Great Storm of 1913 hits, the men of the Longhope are literally fighting for their lives, and go to extraordinary lengths to keep the ship afloat. It is only when the boat's steel plates begin to fail that they realize all is lost. See Heroic BSoD.
  • Dying Alone: Miller promises this will be McTavish's end if he doesn't act on his feelings toward Clara.
  • Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job: Penniless and newly-homeless, Clara takes the job as ship's cook out of sheer desperation... and then finds herself begging to keep the job.
  • A Father to His Men: McTavish
  • Feminine Women Can Cook: Enforced and mildly subverted. Clara Grace is a decent enough cook, but she hates cooking. Especially for a crew of eighteen men who are constantly judging her work.
    • She gets better as the story progresses, though, and almost views her job as a way to care for men who have no one else to care for them.
  • Florence Nightingale Effect: Following the union riots in Duluth, Clara cares for McTavish's brutal injuries. Her concern for him catches him off-guard.
  • Grand Romantic Gesture: Captain McTavish pretends to be all sorts of put out by the prospect of escorting Clara to the Cuyahoga County Fair when they put in to Cleveland for a brief stay... but knowing that all she has to wear are work dresses and a pair of hand-me-down trousers, he buys her a beautiful dress and hat for the occasion.
  • Hates Being Alone: McTavish is a loner by nature, but his growing feelings for Clara Grace make him realize he despises his loneliness.
  • Heroic BSoD: Happens to McTavish twice, or may be considered one long BSOD. First, when the Longhope tears against the rocky lake bottom and he realizes they are doomed and then when he reaches the beach and surveys the devastation still coming ashore, including his best friend's corpse and Clara's smashed violin. He can't help but believe that Clara is dead, too.
  • Heroic Neutral: McTavish, who firmly believes life is simpler when lived alone. Until Clara Grace comes along... and even then he fights like hell to protect his heart.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: McTavish and Miller.
  • Historical Domain Character: Chauncey Ney, a real-life lake boat captain who arranged his sailing schedule around various local dances.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: The reason McTavish believes he must let Clara go.
  • The Ingenue: Clara Grace starts out as this, but as the story progresses she gets better.
  • Jerkass: Eli Filch, oh dear God, Eli Filch
    • Old Mr. Carew, the Steward, had plenty of jerkass moments as well. But being old, he was allowed.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: McTavish. All he wants is to do his job and get through life with as little drama as possible. His plan comes to a screeching halt when he's forced to accept a beautiful young woman as the ship's cook. Believing she is a distraction to the crew, he is not nice to her.
    • Lampshaded by Hiram Miller, who points out that the only one distracted by Clara Grace is the captain himself.
      • Even further lampshaded by Miller when he dares McTavish to fire her. he balks at the idea, fearing what might become of such an innocent beauty.
  • Kid Sidekick: Jimmy O'Donnell, a 17-year-old deckhand whom McTavish is grooming to become an officer.
  • Karma Houdini: Having been fired, Eli Filch is not aboard the Longhope when it founders in the storm.
  • Love at First Note: Though she's physically quite beautiful, it is Clara's violin-playing that breaks through McTavish's hardened heart.
  • Love Hotel: The boardinghouse in Duluth.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Clara shows some deep shades of this, particularly when Inspiration strikes.
  • Moment Killer: That dastardly Eli Filch.
    • And let's not forget Hiram Miller, who totally killed a very important moment for our beleaguered lovebirds during a stay at the Love Hotel.
  • No FEMA Response: Enforced, as there was no FEMA in 1913. Subverted by the arrival of the Canadian Lifesaving Service, which on this particular Canadian beach encompasses all of two men and a horse.
  • Oh, Crap!: oh so many:
    • Clara, in her first moments aboard the Longhope.
      • Actually, more like her first few weeks aboard the ship. Several months pass before she is even grudgingly accepted as a member of the crew, and then she's the topic of all the hot gossip.
    • Clara, after she innocently plants a grateful kiss on the captain's cheek following his Grand Romantic Gesture. She's terrified the act will scare him away.
    • McTavish has an Oh Crap moment before they are due to return to their home port of Cleveland for a brief stay. While the officers talk about their plans for their time off, McTavish announces his plans to work on upgrades to the boat. He then realizes he's just left the door wide open for one of the other men to swoop in and sweep Clara off her feet by showing her a good time in the city.
      • Which Second Mate Travis Whitney promptly attempts to do, unsuccessfully.
    • McTavish, when he realizes that his bosses are ordering him to overload the Longhope at the worst possible time of the year.
    • As the Great Lakes Storm of 1913 intensifies, Captain McTavish and his wheelsman look on in horror as another lake freighter swings too close to the SS Longhope— they avert the impending collision just in time to see the monstrous waves tear the other boat to pieces and drag it to the bottom of Lake Huron. A similar fate awaits them when their boat's steel plates give way.
    • Still believing all will end well, Clara Grace follows Miller to the deck... only to discover what's left of the crew swinging out the last remaining lifeboat which is ripped from its winches and hurled into the roiling lake.
    • Having survived the wreck of the SS Longhope but likely dying of exposure, Clara Grace must watch as bits of wrecked ships and the dead, frozen bodies of her friends are violently slammed ashore.
      • Also becomes a Break the Cutie moment when she realizes that the captain's body may be the next corpse to come ashore.
  • Orphan's Ordeal: Clara Grace was orphaned at age 6 and makes occasional references to her deceased parents and to her lonely life as the outcast of the orphanage where she was raised.
    • The death of Old Man Carew hits her hard— not because he was particularly nice to her, but because his death brings back memories of the loss of her parents.
  • Platonic Life-Partners: Clara and Jimmy. She even helps him write a marriage proposal to his sweetheart back home.
  • Plucky Girl: Clara Grace, whose "Positive Thinking" mantra and generally sunny outlook on life defies her grim circumstances.
  • Relationship Upgrade: The relationship between Captain McTavish and Clara Grace undergoes several upgrades throughout the story:
    • The boss/employee relationship ends over dinner while docked in Milwaukee, and is upgraded to a sort of secret romance.
      • The secret romance is not much of a secret to anyone, though. Nineteen people in as closed a society as a boat are bound to take notice.
    • The "secret romance" is upgraded to full relationship status following their encounter at the Duluth boardinghouse.
    • Ultimately upgraded to engagement and finally marriage by the end of the story.
  • Secret Relationship: What McTavish hopes his relationship with Clara will be. Knowing the men on his boat, he feels this is more for her sake— but when their relationship becomes fodder for gossip amongst the crew, McTavish uses it as a reason to push Clara away.
  • Shipper on Deck: Despite being a Moment Killer, Hiram Miller is bound and determined to make sure Clara Grace and Captain Mc Tavish end up together.
  • Smug Snake: Eli, dear Lord, Eli. Gets away with doing as little work as possible, agitates for the unions to sow discord amongst the crew and officers, and sexually harasses Clara throughout the story... knowing full well he'll get away with it because his uncle owns the shipping company they all work for.
  • Sneaky Departure: Averted. Clara tries this when the Longhope reaches her first destination, only to be thwarted by a riot between unionists and the Duluth police.
  • Starving Artist: Clara. No respectable orchestra will hire a woman, no matter how talented a musician she might be.
  • Survivor Guilt: Clara shows shades of this in the epilogue.
  • Thinks Like a Romance Novel: Clara, who believes Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters to be the Great Triumvirate of English authors. She even goes so far as to accuse McTavish of secretly having an insane wife (insane because, of course he'd driven her insane) hidden away somewhere in Scotland.
    • A Shout-Out to Jane Eyre, which Clara claims is her all-time favorite book, aside from the Bible.
  • Through His Stomach: Subverted, inverted, and later enforced. His officers and crew love the meals she makes for them, but McTavish is loath to admit that Clara is a very good cook. "Adequate," is the word he initially uses to describe her cooking. His estimation of her skill improves as the story (and their relationship) progresses.
  • Will They or Won't They?: They don't
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: Miller's sort-of pep talk to the drunken and heartsick McTavish. It doesn't work. Until nearly the end.