By Josette Keelor
Jonathan Kuiper's identical twin brother Stephen was on his way to his own baby shower when a car accident killed him. Family were all traveling to the shower in Crofton, Md., when it became a wake.
It was this experience in 2005 that inspired Kuiper's recent novel about brotherly love and overcoming the grief of losing a loved one.
On a fall afternoon at Randolph-Macon Academy in Front Royal where he teaches math and coaches track and cross-country, Kuiper, 34, talked with enthusiasm about his brother and the story that took him years to finally sit down and write.
When dealing with grief of loss, he said, "You can't just turn it off or turn it on. It's just constantly there and I think for me it was like I was too busy focusing on other things that I didn't really work through all of the grief.
"So then when I made place for that I was able to sit down and then dive into the whole personality that was my twin brother, and that's when I was actually able to write the book," he said. And dive in he did. He wrote the rough draft in four days.
In college, Kuiper studied history, then joined the Navy and initially was hired by R-MA as a restriction officer, but he said he's always had an interest in writing. Even before deciding to write a book, he wrote seven or eight feature-length screenplays. In 2000 when his girlfriend at the time asked him to write a love story for her like Nicholas Sparks' "The Notebook," he said why not.
He wrote "Our Place by the Sea" for his girlfriend in a couple of days, which is how he wrote his screenplays too, planning out the entire story beforehand so he could write each one in one go.
"I'm not a writer who just sits down and writes five pages every day," he said. "It's like, no, when I'm ready I will sit down and write for a weekend."
"And then I'm done for months and I don't write for awhile," he said. He started focusing on books after his brother's death, publishing "Our Place by the Sea" and a nonfiction book called "A Lightworker's Perspective" through Publish America. This year in April, after the book rights were returned to him, he republished "Our Place" through CreateSpace.com.
When he self-published "Running With Vince," he included an epilogue that explains the reality behind the story -- a reality he's been careful not to reveal when he markets the book about twin brothers, Christian and Vince, who spent a good part of the book on a road trip just acting like brothers do.
The cover features side-by-side images of Kuiper running in two different outfits so the runners look like twins.
"[It's] a book for dealing with grief and for loss," he said. All he usually tells people is, "a tragedy occurs while they are on their trip."
The rest is better kept a surprise, and he said everyone so far, from his friends and family to his students at R-MA, tell him after reading his book they "totally didn't see that coming."
"If you've suffered loss," he said, "this is a book you should read."
Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or firstname.lastname@example.org