Michael Kardos is co-director of the creative writing program at Mississippi State University and has lived in that deep southern state for eight years. Still, the Jersey Shore has been the muse for his short stories and both of his novels.
Raised in West Long Branch—his mother was an English teacher in Deal; his father a pediatrician—Kardos graduated from Princeton University and played drums in a Springsteen tribute band. These days, memories of New Jersey serve his art. “When you’re no longer living in a place, the noise falls away and you’re left with the more interesting parts,” says Kardos.
His latest novel, Before He Finds Her, out this month (Mysterious Press), is set primarily in the fictional Shore town of Silver Bay. It tells the story of a young girl who goes into hiding after her mother is murdered. Fifteen years later, the girl returns to Silver Bay in hopes of finding her mother’s killer.
Kardos created Silver Bay from a mix of personal memories and youthful experiences in Monmouth County. And while many of the locations are his own inventions, Shore staples like Spring Lake’s Sandpiper Inn appear, albeit with geographic disparities.
A fascination with the Jersey Shore is a constant in Kardos’s fiction. His first book, One Last Good Time (Press 53, 2011), is a collection of short stories set at a fictional version of the Long Branch pier, which burned down in 1987.
Jersey still feels like home to Kardos, but he says the likelihood of him and his wife, poet Catherine Pierce, each finding professorships in the state are slim. They liken the hunt for tenure-track jobs in academia to “the NFL draft with no money.”
Kardos has begun work on his next novel, most likely about a magician and possibly based in New Jersey. His two sons, ages four and eight months, are Mississippi born and raised. “But, no southern accents yet,” he jokes.