Fireworks over Toccoa [NOOK Book]


Every so often that story comes along that reminds us of what it's like to experience love for the first time--against the odds, when you least expect it, and with such passion that it completely changes you forever.

An unexpected discovery takes eighty-four-year-old Lily Davis Woodward to 1945, and the five days that forever changed her life. Married for only a week before her husband was sent to fight in WWII, Lily is anxious for his return, and the chance to begin their life...

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Fireworks over Toccoa

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Every so often that story comes along that reminds us of what it's like to experience love for the first time--against the odds, when you least expect it, and with such passion that it completely changes you forever.

An unexpected discovery takes eighty-four-year-old Lily Davis Woodward to 1945, and the five days that forever changed her life. Married for only a week before her husband was sent to fight in WWII, Lily is anxious for his return, and the chance to begin their life together. In honor of the soldiers' homecoming, the small Georgia town of Toccoa plans a big celebration. And Jake Russo, a handsome Italian immigrant, also back from war, is responsible for the elaborate fireworks display the town commissioned. But after a chance encounter in a star-lit field, he steals Lily's heart and soul--and fulfills her in ways her socially-minded, upper-class family cannot. Now, torn by duty to society and her husband--and the poor, passionate man who might be her only true love--Lily must choose between a commitment she's already made and a love she's never known before.

Fireworks Over Toccoa takes us to a moment in time that will resonate with readers long after the book's unforgettable conclusion. A devastating and poignant story, this debut novel will resonate with anyone who believes in love.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Veteran television writer Stepakoff breathes new life into a familiar plot and setting in his debut novel. Lily Davis Woodward, once a headstrong, independent dreamer, acquiesced at age 17 to her wealthy parents' wishes and married Paul Woodward, the perfect high society Atlanta husband. Two weeks later, Paul ships out to serve on the European front, and Lily tends the home fires until the summer of 1945, when Lily, about to see her husband for the first time in three years, meets Jake Russo. The “pyrotechnics man,” who's planning the fireworks for the local July 4 celebration, spurs Lily to wonder whether her life is what she really wants. Sparks predictably fly, and after several passionate days, Lily is torn between what's expected of her and the chance to pursue an exciting and adventure-filled life. For sure, forbidden love's been done to death, but Stepakoff's spellbinding descriptions of Jake's unusual line of work and the lush countryside of northern Georgia, the unexpected plot twists, and a surprise ending give this story plenty of oomph. (Apr.)
Kirkus Reviews
As World War II comes to a close, a young woman finds her soul mate, while waiting for the return of her husband from the front lines. Stepakoff, a screenwriter and producer (The Wonder Years, Dawson's Creek) brings his considerable polish to this debut novel of star-crossed lovers. It is 1945, the boys are coming home and Toccoa, Ga., is throwing a celebration party. Lily Davis Woodward is expecting her husband back, a husband she married at 17, lived with for two weeks, and has only honey-colored memories of. A Coca-Cola executive that worked under her father, Paul Woodward is just the kind of man Lily was expected to marry: handsome, traditional, dependable. But Lily has an interior life no one suspects-beneath the Southern manners and frozen smile Lily is an artist and free spirit, unsuited to the straight-laced company life she'll soon lead with Paul. Into the picture comes Jake Russo, an Italian-American, just back from the war, and in Toccoa to set up the fireworks display for the town's celebration. Lily and Jake meet by chance, share a meal in the field Jake is placing his fireworks in and experience the kind of connection neither expected. For Jake, the attraction is simple; for Lily it is life-shattering: reject a house, husband and respectable future for true love with Jake. After a torrid night of sex in a kudzu-covered cabin (the lengthy, puffed-up description of which will set many a teenage girls aflutter), Lily returns to the home she is preparing for Paul, unsure of who she is. The entire story of Jake and Lily is framed as a flashback-octogenarian Lily is subtly warning her granddaughter Colleen against the path of least resistance: Colleen's rigid fiance. Who did Lilychoose? Did fate intervene in unexpected ways? Although there are surprises, too much relies on a predictable sentimentality and the ho-hum adage that hovers above the novel: Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. A formulaic romance, yet undoubtedly destined for big things. First printing of 100,000
From the Publisher
“An impressive debut.”—The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“A super emotionally charged love story.”—RT Book Reviews

“Read it in the tub.”—Redbook

“A luminous love story that readers won’t soon forget, Fireworks Over Toccoa transports you to another time and place. It is at once heartbreaking and triumphant—an affirmation of love in all its forms.”—NYTimes bestselling author, Emily Giffin

Fireworks Over Toccoa pinches the heart, telling a poignant tale of love and loss, of making choices and letting go.  Lily and Jake's passion shimmers from the pages, enveloping the reader in their private kudzu-covered world.  With carefully-crafted characters, a lush and very real setting, this is a not-to-be missed book. Move over Nicholas Sparks!”—Karen White, award-winning author of The House on Tradd Street

Fireworks Over Toccoa literally explodes with life.  Its insights about place and love versus duty are as sharp as an eagle’s eye.  I absolutely loved every character and hated for their story to end.  Kaboom!  A brilliant first effort from Jeffrey Stepakoff!  Congratulations!”—Dorothea Benton Frank, NY Times bestselling author of Return to Sullivans Island

"Fireworks Over Toccoa is the poignant recollection of a young woman's coming of age and finding love, set against the vivid tableau of small town America during the Second World War, Stepakoff skillfully crafts a remarkable tale of fate and chance, choice and consequences, rewarding readers with a mesmerizing experience."—Pam Jenoff, International bestselling author of The Kommandant's Girl and Almost Home

Fireworks Over Toccoa is a terrific story—moving, whimsical and original, a real page-turner destined for the big screen.”—Joanne Harris, International Bestselling author of Chocolat

“An unexpected love affair of Lily Davis, a WW II bride, is brilliantly portrayed by Jeffrey Stepakoff. Filled with suspense and surprise, I couldn't put it down. As dazzling as the fireworks which brought this war-time couple together, their passionate love affair is spellbinding. I was mesmerized to the last page!”—Marjorie Hart, National Bestselling author of Summer at Tiffany


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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781429937238
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 3/30/2010
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 283,292
  • File size: 267 KB

Meet the Author

Jeffrey Stepakoff

JEFFREY STEPAKOFF has been writing professionally since receiving his MFA in Playwriting from Carnegie Mellon in 1988. His credits include the Emmy-winning The Wonder Years, Sisters, Major Dad, Disney's Tarzan, and Dawson's Creek (as co-executive producer). Fireworks Over Toccoa is his debut novel. He lives with his family north of Atlanta, Georgia.

JEFFREY STEPAKOFF has written for more than a dozen different television series, including the Emmy-winning The Wonder Years, Sisters, and Dawson's Creek, for which he was co-executive producer. Author of the acclaimed novel, Fireworks Over Toccoa, he has also developed and written plays, TV pilots and major motion pictures. Stepakoff holds a BA in journalism for UNC-Chapel Hill and an MFA in playwriting from Carnegie Mellon. He lives in Georgia with his wife and three young children. His fiction is published in six languages.
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Read an Excerpt


Jeffrey Stepakoff

There are no ordinary lives.
- Ken Burns

A moment in the sky, forever in the heart.
- Ernesto Russo



Toccoa, Georgia, 2007
 The two boys road their mountain bikes along the soft uncovered lakebed between the Bartam’s Field subdivision and the old Holly Hills property.
 In 1955, the Army Corps of Engineers dammed the Savannah River, creating Lake Hartwell and flooding nearly 56,000 acres, pretty much everything for miles along the Georgia-South Carolina border.  There were stories of people refusing to give up their land – some reportedly met work crews with shotguns – but in the end, the government won out.  The low-lying pine forests were cut down and any outbuildings in the floodplains hastily bulldozed.  Where creeks once rambled through quiet woods to the northeast of Toccoa, gated golfing communities now rimmed the wide fingers of the massive artificial reservoir. 
 This history was lost on the two boys.  To them the lake was simply a backyard, a place for waterskiing and motorboating, a selling point for the area’s multitudinous new developments spiraling out from the waterfront.  But the record drought which had plagued Georgia since mid-2006 now made watersports, and even swimming in some areas, potentially hazardous.  Rotting sorrel stumps jutted through the water.  Mud-covered rocks lay exposed. 
 So on this day, because playing in the water was not an option, the two ten year-olds rode their bikes along the dirt of the lakebed which had just a few months ago been submerged.  It was sludgy and uneven and though their knobby tires were designed for such things, riding was difficult.  The muddy moonscape was peppered with granites and decayed roots and the occasional beer can oxidized through with rust. 
 As they were navigating and trying to maintain enough speed to stay upright, something caught their eyes.  A glint of metal.  A shiny sparkle off glass. 
 They fishtailed their bikes to a stop.  Both looking intently, they saw sunlight reflecting off something wedged under a stack of large smooth riverstones.  The low waterline lapped at the stones, the sort the boys had seen imbedded in chimneys in multimillion dollar faux-rustic cabins.
 They dismounted their bikes, dropped them and headed towards the riverstone pile, following the glistening light which shone off something that looked very much out of place here.  It was something that no one had seen for over six decades – something that, if not for this record drought, may never had been seen again, as the cabin and its bulldozed riverstone chimney had been underwater since the summer of 1955.

Buckhead district of Atlanta, Six Months Later

 “And I think we should get pregnant right away,” Drew Candler said, turning off of Peachtree onto a tree-lined side street.
 “We?”  Colleen turned in the leather bucket passenger seat and playfully raised an eyebrow at him.
 “Well, I’m a participant in this process too.”
 “So you’ll be carrying a bowling ball in your belly?
 “I’ll be rubbing your back.”
 “Will you be changing diapers?”
 “Every chance I get.”
 “Midnight feedings?”
 “Wouldn’t miss ‘em.”
 “And what happens when you’re on call?”
 She couldn’t help but laugh.  He always had the right answer to everything.  “See, this is why my friends’ husbands hate you.”
 “Because I’m the sensitive type.”
 “You’re raising the bar too high for these poor guys.”
 He feigned a worried expression.  “Oh man, you didn’t tell anyone about the little love notes, did you?”
 “I’m gonna get whacked,” he joked.  “They’re gonna invite me out for a beer and beat me.  I can see this coming.”
 Drew drove up to the front gates of an elegant new housing development, punched a code into the callbox, and drove in as the gates opened.
 “Hey I’ve told them about your affinity for lying around all Sunday in your boxers watching football and eating nachos, but I get no sympathy.”
 “I can be more of a jerk.  Really, I know I can.” 
 “I know, my dear.  You can do anything you set your mind to.  That’s one of the things I love about you.  But I’m good with the football and the nachos.” 
 He broke into a broad smile and turned his eyes towards Colleen for a moment, taking her in as he had from the first day he saw her.  She was so beautiful, he thought, as he always thought.  Even with her black hair pulled back in a casual ponytail away from her dark eyes as she had it today.  How could anyone look at her and not think the same thing?  Somehow this notion was reassuring to him.
 They pulled up in front of an expansive new house, a little too big for its lot, but stunning nonetheless.  Where once a single ranch-style home sat on two wooded acres, there were now nine estate homes.  Hundreds of containers of azaleas and dogwoods and Cherokee roses, ubiquitous in these kinds of North Atlanta communities, were lined up along the curb, ready to be planted in the modest yards.
 “What do you think?”
 “Wow.”  She just stared at the residence, at a loss to articulate any kind of detailed response.
 “Wow is right.  Come on.”
 Drew hopped out, jogged over to Colleen’s side of the newly leased luxury sedan, and opened the door for her.  With a boyish glee that belied his tall build, he grabbed her arm, marched her up the front walkway and into the open front door.  They were hit with the intoxicating scent of fresh paint, new appliances and sawdust. 
 He watched as she took in the house. 
 “Five bedrooms up.  One below.  And the master suite is off the main, around that way,” he said, pointing.  “Oh, and just off the kitchen, over there, they call it a family studio.”
 Colleen peered into a large room with washer-dryer hookups, a worktable, a message center desk with cellphone docks, and three built-in childsize lockers with coathangers and space for boots and books.
 “There’s room for more than three lockers.  You know, just in case one ever wanted to expand.”  Drew couldn’t be happier. 
 Colleen continued looking around at the house for a long time.  It was as though Drew had extrapolated everything she had ever mentioned in passing about the future and what he had seen on the dogeared pages of the house and style magazines she’d recently been perusing and what he heard discussed at dinner parties and golf outings and silent auction cocktail events by those who had their names on wings of buildings vital to the community and then put it all together and came up with this house.  Her friends would most likely describe this house in the same terms they talked about Drew.  It was an ideal house.
 However, to stand awake in the middle of such a thing, to hear the wraithlike echoes of children to be born and days to be lived and nights to be pondered among these planked halls was to stand in the future, to see it and know it plainly.  No more hazy morning daydreams about what life might be.  No more giddy talk over lattes or margaritas.  This was it. 
 It was a gorgeously plated meal that was ordered for her, one she was reluctant to disturb with immutable matters rendered by the fork, but even more loath to send back untouched.  What Drew happily took for overwhelming excitement was in fact apprehension over the sudden reality set before her.
 She hadn’t known him for very long, but what she did know seemed very right.  Whatever doubts or questions she might have had about the future and what she wanted out of it were always allayed by his certainty.  He was always so sure about everything, about a life that would be very much like that of the most senior partners in his practice, and about how she fit seamlessly into that.  Along with his other attributes, Drew possessed a kind of confidence that could sweep a girl off her feet.  But there was something about standing here in this house that made her realize how quickly the future was happening, and just how little thought, of her own, she’d really given it.
 His blackberry rang and involuntarily he snapped it off his belt and answered it.  “Yes.  How many centimeters?  Yes, that’s fine, page the anesthesiologist.  I’ll be there in thirty minutes.”  He hung up and snapped the phone back on its belt cradle.
 “I have to get to Northside.  I’ll drop you on the way.”
 “You go ahead.  I’ll call the office and have someone pick me up.  I want to stay here for a little while.”
 “You know, it might be time to give them your notice.
 “We’ll talk about that.”
 “Whatever you want.  I just hate seeing you working at a job you don’t need or love.” 
 He gave her a kiss. 
 “When I saw this place and thought about us here,” he said.  “I felt like all the pieces are just snapping into place.  So what do you think?”
 “What do I think?”
 “About the house!  Do you like it?”
 “It’s amazing.”
 “No but.”
 “Come on, Colleen.  This is your fiancée you’re talking to.  What’s wrong with the house?”
 “Honestly…” she said, looking around, searching for words to describe her complicated feelings.  She settled on simple truth.  “Absolutely nothing.  It’s perfect.  It’s a perfect house.”
 “Good.  Because I put an offer in last night.”  He gave her a broad smile and then walked out, his footsteps echoing as she stood alone in the enormous empty house.
  Watching him hurry down the walkway and hop in his new car, Colleen wondered what was wrong with her.  She never had a problem committing to things.  She made plans weeks in advance, bought multi-year magazine subscriptions, she was someone who turned in term papers early.  She knew how to make choices and act on them.  Then again, this house, she wasn’t really being asked to make much of a choice about it. 
 But how much did that matter?
 Lifting her head, she rotated it around again.  Yes, it was like looking at a model home picked out for a magazine shoot.  So what was the problem?  What else was there beyond perfect?  What was there to think about? 



Toccoa, a Few Days Later

 What could you say to a young woman who thought she was in love when you thought she might be making the biggest mistake of her life?  Lily chewed on this as she waited for her granddaughter. 
Lily sat in a comfortable chair on her wraparound porch, looked out at the Blue Ridge foothills and drank her morning Coke.  It was in the traditional curved glass bottle, upon which the tiny words “Hecho en Mexico” were affixed.  Every month since July of 1988, when the Georgia bottlers started using corn syrup, Lily drove to a small Hispanic-owned shop in Gainesville and bought her stash of Mexican-bottled Coca-Cola which was still made with cane sugar.
 Lily liked living alone.  She missed her husband, of course.  But since his passing four years ago, an odd kind of restfulness had made its way into her days.  She often told herself that this was simply the opportunity provided by more time on her hands.  But deep down, she knew it was something more.  It was as though the seams of her life had been let out just a bit.
 Eighty-four years old, living alone in her big house, Lily was lonely at times.  But this was a feeling, an exquisite bittersweetness, which she didn’t entirely mind.  Simply put, Lily was at peace.
 Her residence, a white Queen Anne-style classical revival, was built in 1901 on a hill just north of town.  It was initially used as a “summer house” for well-to-do boarders escaping the heat in Atlanta.  In July, during the day, they would sit out on this sprawling porch in high-backed white rocking chairs, sipping sweet peach tea and enjoying the cool Appalachian breezes.  And at night they would drink gin and tonic and marvel at the wonder of a billion stars over Toccoa.  Since then, everything had changed, and not much had changed.  The world was such a different place, but there were the same stars, same kinds of yearnings beneath them.
 Lily watched as a large car pulled up the hill and parked in front of her house.  Stretching her legs after the hour and a half drive up from the city, Colleen got out of the shiny new sedan, which Lily thought was way too big and stuffy for her granddaughter.  But these kinds of vehicles were apparently one of the enviable perks of working in sales for a huge pharmaceutical company. 
 “Grandma, the kudzu is nearly up to your front porch!”  Colleen said as she bounded up the walkway in front of the house.
 “It’s fine.  I just trimmed it back this week.”  The broad-leafed vine made its way out of the woods behind the house but was cut before it could invade the lawn.
 “Why don’t you just have the gardeners get rid of it once and for all?”  Colleen scooped up the newspaper resting on one of the stone steps leading to the porch.  “You’ll wake up one morning and you won’t be able to get out your front door.”
 “You leave my kudzu alone.  We have an understanding.”  Lily grabbed her granddaughter hugged her quickly and then held her back for examination. 
 “How’s life in the fast lane?” said Lily.
 “Fast.  In fact, I can’t stay too late.  One of Drew’s partners bought a table at this silent auction blacktie thing at the Grand Hyatt tonight.”
 Lily noticed that Colleen made very little effort to hide her lack of enthusiasm for the event.  A million things rushed through Lily’s mind, but she just smiled. 
 “You ready to see it?”  Lily said.
 Colleen took a deep breath and nodded.   

 Lily had been cooking earlier in the day and the inside of the house smelled of something wonderful, risotto with summer vegetables, Colleen guessed.  Lily was a famously good cook and Colleen always came here hungry, knowing she would be fed something simple but sublime.
 Colleen loved the inside of this house as much as she loved the porches outside.  In fact, with its massive quarter-sawn paneling, heavy oak pocket doors, lacquered walnut flooring, fine dentil molding, grandly carved staircase and the various fireplaces with their immense hardwood mantels, there was something about being surrounded by all this natural wood that made one feel right in the middle of nature, connected to it, even though it was all inside.  They simply didn’t make houses like this anymore and being here always transported Colleen from where she was in her life to a place where she could reflect on it.  Along with the house, its connectedness to nature and history, her grandmother’s steadiness and the smalltown ease of Toccoa all contributed to make this a place of peace and perspective for Colleen.  
 Lily set the long rectangular box down on a knit rug in the center of the living room floor.  Box cutter in hand, she slowly knelt down beside it.  Colleen just sat quietly, letting her grandmother tend to this long-awaited task.  Colleen looked around the room, all the times over the years she had heard reference to the contents of this box rushing over her. 
 Along with framed photographs of a life well-lived, the living room was filled with art.  Colleen had been in this room so often since she was a little girl, but she never ceased being amazed by the fascinating pieces collected by Lily over the years.  These were not the cold “fine art” paintings and objects that wealthy collectors mounted in their homes as evidence of business conquests and participation in the lineage of old money.  Lily’s house was filled with what could best be described as folk art:  vibrantly painted religious-visions by Rev. Howard Finster, colorful wood-relief carvings by Eddie Owens Martin, strange and beautiful pottery by Lanier Meaders.  These self-taught rural artisans who Lily met and befriended were overlooked by the society matrons of high art, until recently.  Today some of the work was just as valuable as the Picassos that hung in Buckhead mansions, not that their financial value mattered much to Lily.  Each piece was a cherished story to her, one which she was always ready to share. 
Except for one piece.  Perhaps the most magnificent of all.  A mosaic made from broken and brightly-colored pieces of glass depicting exploding blue fireworks on a starry sky.  Colleen’s favorite, the piece hung prominently on the wall, but Lily had very little to say about it.
 With the box-cutter blade on its lowest setting, protruding barely a quarter inch from its metal casing, Lily cut the heavy cardboard container open lengthwise.  With the care and certainty of a surgeon opening a rib cage, Lily inserted her weathered fingers into the incision and broke the box open.
 “It’s beautiful,” Colleen said.
 Inside the box was a wedding gown, its satin bodice lifelike and full, bursting with acid-free tissue paper.  Colleen knelt down on the other side of the box and ran her hand down the side of the dress.  She inspected the pale silk lace.  Caressed several pearl beads.  Then, she pulled the dress out of the box, standing to reveal its full length, the soft fabric rising from the cardboard like mist over a creek at dawn.
 For a long moment, Colleen just stood there, dress in hand hanging before her, feeling quite unsettled.  For as stunning as the dress was, there was something ghostly, cadaverous, about it.
  Sensing this, Lily said, “You’re not going to hurt my feelings if you don’t like it.”
 “No, no, the dress is gorgeous.  It’s just… suddenly all so real.  I mean, I’m really doing this.”
 “Yes, dear.  You’re really doing this.”  Lily said.  “Unless you really don’t want to.”
 “Of course I want to.  I’m just a bit nervous about it all.  That’s normal.”
 Offered no rising inflection, but a statement of fact to which retort was not welcome, Lily just looked long and hard at Colleen.  There was something left unspoken between the two women – which both knew, but neither needed to articulate.
 “Drew is perfect, Grandma.  Perfect.”
 Perfect.  That could be the greatest flaw in the choice of a husband.  Lily knew this quite well.  For of course there was no such thing as perfection in marriage.  Only a checklist of certain standards and attributes which, even when found in a man, are all rendered meaningless by the trials of a life together.  No, joy came from somewhere that wasn’t on those premarital checklists.  But this was not an easy thing to explain, particularly to someone who was not asking for an explanation.
 “It’s your decision, dear.  You can try it on.  And we can get it tailored for you.  Or I can take it back to the drycleaners, have it repacked and put it back in the closet.  Whatever you want to do is fine, but it’s your decision, do you understand?  About this, listen only to yourself.”
 Allowing her granddaughter to absorb this, Lily picked up the pieces of the cardboard box and headed for the kitchen where the recycling bins and cases of empty coke bottles were kept.  On her way, she also picked up the newspaper that Colleen had brought in from the porch.
 In the kitchen, Lily dropped the cardboard on top of a green bin near the back door.  Then she dropped the newspaper on top of the pile as well.  But before she turned, something caught her eye.  She picked up the still folded Toccoa Record and started reading.  Without taking her eye off the paper, she opened it and placed it on the table. 
 Resting both hands on either side of the paper, she steadied herself.  Slowly, she leaned over the paper, reading even more intently.  An expression somewhere between disbelief and amazement began to sweep over her face.  Her mouth fell open.  As she finished the article, she looked up, off, as though she were someplace else, and as this information took hold, it set into her knees which could no longer sustain her.
  “Grandma?”  Colleen walked into the kitchen just as Lily stumbled back and slumped into a chair, visibly transfixed by what she had read.
 Concerned, Colleen went to the table, seeing the headline of the story in front of Lily:  Museum Displays New Finds.
 “Grandma, what is it?” Colleen said.
 Lily pointed to a picture in the paper.  “This is mine.”

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Reading Group Guide

Letter from author Jeffrey Stepakoff

"I once heard a well-known screenwriting teacher say that the greatest challenge for the writer is not so much what to write, but what not to write. What he means is that writing is part craft and also part way-of-living; every moment in life is filled with possibility to be examined, fleshed out, and fully realized on the page. From people-watching during a trip to the mall to a fascinating article buried in the Sunday paper to a humorous interaction among family during a holiday meal, story possibilities abound.

I've developed a method over the years. Whenever I come across something that strikes me as especially interesting or inherently dramatic, I scribble it down or tear out the article and throw the material into a manila folder which goes into one of several tall stacks on the credenza behind my desk. If I continue to think about that subject or come across new material, it goes into the folder. When a folder gets big and fat and I'm constantly reaching for it, I know that this is a story I need to tell - one that will quite literally become a focal point of my life for months, sometimes longer. Monomania is the best word I know to characterize this process and, I have to say, when you've got a story that you love, it's absolutely exhilarating.

This is how FIREWORKS OVER TOCCOA was born, in what is now a tattered and torn and coffee-stained folder with the title "Fireworks Project" written on what's left of the tab.

In 2001 my family and I lived in a house in Valencia, California (a northern suburb of LA) which sat on top of on a hill overlooking the valley where Six Flags Magic Mountain was located. Every night in the summer, just after sunset, the amusement park would put on a truly magnificent fireworks display, and my wife and young children and I would sit upstairs on our front balcony and watch, captivated. It was such a wonderful time for us, filled with such great feelings, and I found myself thinking a lot about fireworks that summer. This longstanding American tradition and art form is so beautiful and, really, quite romantic. But where does it come from? How are the fireworks made? And who designs them?

These questions went into the folder, and throughout that summer the folder grew. I learned that while fireworks are an American institution, the earliest version was created in ancient China to deter evil spirits. I also learned that fireworks are rooted in the creation of gunpowder and have very much in common with munitions used for war. While the Chinese continued to develop the art and science of pyrotechnics in the eastern world, the Italians were the first Europeans to use begin crafting grand fireworks displays. Several Italian families mastered the art of fireworks, passing down recipes for unique displays from generation to generation. When Italians immigrated to America a hundred years ago, many of the old "fireworks families" brought their recipes with them. Today, several of the most well-known American pyrotechnics companies are still run by families of Italian descent such as the Gruccis, Vitales, and Zambellis.

All of this history fascinated me and in the fall of 2003, I contacted several pyrotechnics companies, two of which were located in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania, about an hour north of Pittsburgh--a city renowned for their outstanding fireworks displays. Known as the Fireworks Capital of America, Lawrence County is still home to some of the world's biggest pyrotechnics companies, including Zambelli Fireworks Internationale and Pyrotechnico. That fall, I toured the entire Zambelli plant located on a secluded 400 acre hillside just outside New Castle, PA as well as Pyrotechnico, founded and run by the Vitale Family which had an illustrious history making explosives for the US Navy during World War II.

Touring the plants was amazing. There are really still only a handful of family-run companies in this country that make the vast majority of our fireworks. Manufacturing, as you can imagine, is a dangerous business and remarkably low tech. It's basically families, and workers who have been with these families for generations, all sitting together in these low concrete buildings rolling high explosives into paper by hand. Built with grounded corrugated iron roofs, the low buildings, called "magazines," are scattered about 100 feet from each other so that if one explodes the others will be spared. Some of the buildings are entirely packed to the roof with finished fireworks shells of every size and shape imaginable. Others store vats of raw explosives and chemical powders. And others are used for manufacturing. To assemble the fireworks shells, workers mix and bake special chemical batters from which they cut small stars that look just like holiday cookies. They also create colorful compounds from secret substances that are packed into the outer layers of multi-break shells. They produce and pack entire pyrotechnics shows of all sizes that are then shipped to destinations all over the world. This is how it was always done and this is how it is still done; a true art form. There's something simply wonderful about that.

Most memorably on my trip, I had dinner in a local restaurant with George "Boom-Boom" Zambelli, founder of the great Zambelli Fireworks Internationale, his wife, Connie, and his daughters. What I didn't know at the time was that George was very sick. When I read about his passing a few weeks later, I suddenly understood why he had been particularly candid and emotional during my interview with him at dinner and why Connie cried through much of it. During this interview, he talked a great deal about the magic of his work and the "engraving effect" of fireworks. "He always thought fireworks were magic," his son, George Jr., said about him. "He was like a painter who painted the sky."

When I returned to Los Angeles, I began developing a big sweeping TV drama based on this research about a fireworks family. Unfortunately, as often happens, the pilot went in another direction.

But I couldn't let the story go.

A few years later, I decided to focus my writing on fiction. Reflecting on the work that I enjoyed most and what was most important in my life, I knew immediately that for my debut novel I wanted to write a story about fireworks, a love story.

Around this time, I also began visiting Toccoa, Georgia, a city of about 10,000 at the base of the Blue Ridge Foothills. My wife's family is from Toccoa - her grandfather was once the town mayor - and I absolutely fell in love with the community. A small southern town in the classic sense, Toccoa had been home to a major training base for paratroopers during WWII. In fact, the town and the nearby base featured prominently in HBO's BAND OF BROTHERS miniseries. The more I learned about Toccoa and what life was like there during the 1940's, when the second world war tore families apart and amplified the need for love and connection to others, the more I realized how perfect a setting it was for my story.

Much of Toccoa is still exactly as it was sixty years ago. You can walk down Doyle Street, though the center of town, squint your eyes a little, and almost see the soldiers and their fiancées dancing to swing music. It's very romantic. I spent many days walking the streets of old downtown Toccoa, looking at the vintage buildings, dreaming about my fireworks project, and the characters started springing to life. A great deal of the novel was literally dreamed up during those walks… down by the train station, the Currahee Military Museum, the sprawling Holly Hills estate, the historic Simmons-Bond Inn and so many other wonderful places. Moreover, folks there were so nice and helpful, and just like many southerners, they really wanted to talk!

So - fireworks, handsome Italian boy back from the war, beautiful young southern girl, small town in North Georgia, America, Fourth of July, 1945 - I was off!

I wrote a first draft of the book in the winter of 2008, while my wife was pregnant with our third child. Those days and nights were kind of magical. Cold outside, cozy in our home, I sat at our dining room table, often listening to big band and jazz, writing on my laptop, digging deep into true and lasting and all-encompassing love, while Elizabeth, my wife, nine months pregnant, sat in the living room reading and knitting, our other two kids fast asleep upstairs above us.

It's funny. When you write television and movies, tens of millions of people see your work, and I suppose every once in a while you think about them. But when I wrote this novel, I found myself thinking a lot about the reader. It's such a commitment to pick up a book and listen to the thoughts and whispers and heartache and dreams of another person, told through characters and a world that the author has culled from countless notes shoved into a manila folder over the circuitous course of a decade. In so many ways, it's an act of faith, an act of connection. So, thank you for trusting me with your time. Thank you for your faith in what I have to say. Thank you for connecting with me."

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 93 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 22, 2010

    too much sex not enough story

    The beginning development of the characters did not match up with the story. Out of no where this war bride awaits the return of her long missed husband's return within days by having a torrid sexual affair out of no where. There was no character development. The time period details were weak: announcement of twin pregnancy?! How did they know that back in the 1940'?! The blunt rough tactless description of the sex acts was not in line with the supposed character of the characters. It not only did not make sense, the ending was convenient and unnecessary. Very hard to believe. A woman can throw her whole life and reputation away on a whim yet not take one hour out of her life to contact her lover to stop him from leaving town. I would be ashamed to give this book as a gift due to the erotic nature of the storyline. So reader beware! I immediately got it out of my house. I love romance that is developed and that is time and age appropriate, but this was nothing but sex for no purpose. It did nothing to develop a storyline. The writing was choppy and the occasional long word throw in to make the writer appear intellectual. It did not flow. This will not be the next Nicholas Sparks.

    7 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 23, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A nice read, but with already told love stories.

    Short but light, Fireworks Over Toccoa by Jeffrey Stepakoff is a nice novel and a quick read. Opening in 2007, grandmother Lily recounts the story of a love affair she had in the summer of 1945, days before her husband was due to return home from the war. Having only been married for a short time before her husband was sent overseas, Lily feels as though her privileged life has been missing something. Unhappy with her restrictions, yearning to break free from society's expectations, Lily follows the tail of a firework and finds Jake Russo, young, handsome, damaged, and passionate. During their brief time together they explore the boundaries and battles of true love. But Lily's familial and domestic duties bound her to Toccoa, while Jake's life expects him to leave.

    One could say this was a pleasant sort of novel. The writing was not bad, the character voices were realistic, the setting was perfect, and the images were lovely. But if I'm to be perfectly honest, the flaws that I found outweigh the nicer parts.

    Lily seems quite happy with her life before her husband is sent to war. We are told how they met, how he loved to watch her, how she was different from other girls, brash and bold, and basically how she charmed him and they were happy together. Yes, they were only married a brief time before he was sent away for years, but I found inconsistencies in Lily's narrative about how she had always felt unhappy in Toccoa. If that's how she truly felt, why was she written so happy before? Why not show us in the beginning that she was unhappy, instead of making it a later excuse for her to fall for the Fireworks Man days before her husband is due to return? It seems to me like the reasons we're given to justify her love for Jake are thrown together as the novel progresses, instead of being constructed in the beginning. I was glad when Lily's father told her to pull it together when he figured out she was up to something, since, to me, she was being selfish and unrealistic. We're told she talked to her husband frequently during the years he was away, so why now? Why this unexpected (convenient) emotion that she's supposedly had all along?

    Additionally, the similarities to other works of fiction were too obvious to pass up. Take the beginning of the movie Titanic (old lady sees news article about a recently found artifact that used to be hers which brings up memories of old love affair), and add it to the middle of The Notebook (including a slow-motion run-toward-each-other-in-the-rain scene), pick one of the few available endings, and you've got Fireworks Over Toccoa. Now, none of these works are bad per se, but they've all been done before, so reading them in a new novel is a bit redundant. I'm always piqued when I feel like an author is assuming I'll be okay with gross similarities such as these.

    I was a little surprised to see that Stepakoff has been a television producer and screenwriter for some years, as it would seem to me that the number one rule you should never break is having your work be so similar to another that readers are annoyed. I find it hard to believe editors wouldn't notice. The back cover says Fireworks is "The next great love story." But really, the love stories in this novel have already been told. If you like these types of books, you will like Fireworks Over Toccoa, as I said, it's not bad. But if you really are looking for "the next great love story," I might pass by this one.
    (I re

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 6, 2010


    FIREWORKS OVER TOCCOA by Jeffrey Stepakoff is a historical romance set in 2007 Toccoa, Georgia and 1945 Toccoa, Georgia.It is this author's debut into romance. It is well written with details and depth. It is a glimpse into the love and sacifrice during 1945. It has romance, sacifrice, fate, chance,fireworks (gives in depth details into the making and carrying out the display), choice and consequences. It is a page turner, fast paced, full of surprise that brought a wartime couple together, their passionate love affair, the need to fulfilled their duty,and destiny. This is a wonderful love story and shows great sacifrice and courage. This book was received for review and details can be found at St. Martin's Press and My Book Addiction and More.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 26, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Bridges of Stephens County, perhaps?

    A sweet, sweet story that put me in mind of Robert James Waller's Bridges of Madison County. This WWII era love story is set in the lovely town of Toccoa, Georgia, just a few miles north of where I live, so the setting had a particular appeal to me. The characters are a bit predictable, but the romance is touching. I wish the story of the granddaughter was more clear, and I would have loved to have some more parallel story from Jake, but that wouldn't have been true to the narrator. This is a short book, less than 300 very small pages; it's a perfect beach read / rainy day on the couch book. Worth the time it takes to read.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 13, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    lackluster love story

    I was hoping Fireworks over Toccoa was going to be the best new lovestory, almost better then Nicholas Sparks, but after reading it, it's a very unforgetful book. I liked the story line between Lily and Jake, b ut it felt rushed to me. They fall in love, and boom, the book is over. I wish the author was have gone more into depth between the characters and really made their romance blossom. The ending seems to be a bit of a heartbreak to me. I don't want to let it all hang out, but my heart went out to Lily in the long run. One thing I did love was Lily's Star, the blue firework. If you are waiting for another book to come in, or something along those lines, its a good filler. Yet not something I would keep on my bookshelf forever.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 24, 2012

    High Recommended-a must read

    This has been one of my favorite reads of late. He writes so as you can visualize the story. It felt like it was a story someone was telling to you about a friend or family member. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 29, 2010

    Absolutely fantastic

    I normally dont care for historical romances, but this was an amazingly well story that I could literally not put down. I stayed up until 3 am reading it. A story of absolute true love, and love at first sight. Beautifully written with such detail that you feel like you are actually there with them.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2010

    A heart touching love story!

    Jeffey Stepakoff did a wonderful job with "Fireworks over Toccoa". The story reminds me a little bit of "Titanic" in the fact the story is told in flashback when Lily, an 84 year old woman, comes upon an artifact that brings her back to the past and reveals a truely marvelous and heart touching love story. As the synopsis says, Lily was married very young and really only for a week before her husband left for World War II. Can you imagine? ...For 3 years, her husband was away at war! Then a week before he's due to come home, Lily meets Jake Russo who is the pyrotechnician hired to set off the firework display for the return soldiers. When the two meet, the passion begins and Lily is torn between the commitment she made to her husband and now to herself and Jake and all the emotions he has awaken in her. This is truely a wonderful love story!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 13, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Nice Love Story

    Fireworks Over Toccoa is the quick, light, romantic story of Lily, a girl who has been raised to know her place in society who falls in love with Jake, an Italian pyrotechnician who has recently come home from World War II. The story is told through a flashback Lily has when a war artifact is displayed in the historical museum and she seems to be the only one who can tell the story of what the artifact is and how it came to be. Lily was married at 17 and shortly after her husband left for war. He is due to come home after 3 years away when Lily meets Jake. Lily must choose between the two. I felt as torn as Lily must have felt! I loved the setting of Toccoa and I could feel the close knit small town as though I were there. I enjoyed the escape to a much simpler time. It is a passionate story and really tugged at my heartstrings! It is a wonderful story. Once I started it, I read it straight through. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves a good love story. It's a great story for a Sunday afternoon! This is Jeffrey Stepakoff's debut novel and I think he does a fine job capturing the essence of love and it's conflicts. I hope he writes more novels as enjoyable as this one.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 2, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Bridget's Review

    As Lily looks back on her life, she is still shocked by the happenings that have turned into the person she is at the age of 84. As a young woman she said "I do" and then a few days later to fight in the second WWII wasn't easy on the new couple. When the time comes for her to see her husband again, she is giddy like a child. With a big homecoming celebration in the works, she meets a man that will forever change her. She didn't mean to meet Jake and fall in love underneath the fireworks that were literally set off by Jake. Which man will Lily decide to keep, the one she married or the one who makes her understand true love and passion?

    This book reminded me a lot of The Notebook. I absolutely love a romance story that makes you feel like you are right there watching the entire event. Fireworks Over Toccoa is a breathtaking read and it shouldn't be missed by romance fans.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2015

    One of my Favorites

    This is one of my favorite books sside from Nicholas Sparks novels. Beautiful story.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 23, 2015


    Beautifully written! A great love story!!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2012

    A war time romance.

    Intriguing and honest.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2012

    Great Historical Romance

    I may be a little biased, because I am from North Georgia, but this was a great book!!! Great beach read, which is exactly where I read it last summer. Romantic, touching and slightly sad. Can't wait to read his next.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 18, 2011

    Must read!!!!

    Loved it and you will too!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 23, 2011

    Great read

    Beautiful story and very well written... I will probably read it again and again.

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  • Posted October 23, 2011


    A short but intense love story, left me wanting more.

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  • Posted October 10, 2011

    Amazing read

    I absolutely fell in love with this story. Enjoyable read !

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  • Posted September 18, 2011

    unexpected passion, unplanned sacrifice

    "Fireworks Over Toccoa", by Jeffrey Stepakoff, is just like life itself--either more or less than what you expect, but never exactly what you anticipate. At times I wasn't sure if I liked it, and then on the next page the story line would turn around and be completely captivating. I did like the characters very much. Lily Davis is a young Southern woman cultivated by her mother, Honey, to be a society belle. Her father, Walter, with whom Lily shares some private family jokes, lets her mother rule the roost. Lily has some private dreams, but she is a good and dutiful daughter, and marrying handsome and well-to-do Paul Woodward is no hardship. Just two weeks after their marriage, Paul, an executive with Coca-Cola, is sent off overseas in his role as a support services provider for the armed forces. During his absence of over three years, Lily is left in a sort of limbo. Definitely a bride, but barely a wife, Lily waits at home for Paul. Just before his scheduled return, Lily meets Jake Russo, the fireworks expert hired to put on a big welcome home show for the returning military personnel. Lily and Jake find themselves intensely drawn to each other, and their physical relationship is needy, raw, and life-changing. Once they join together in passion, their lives will never be the same. Lily's father, Walter, was my favorite character. There was more depth to Walter than anyone suspected, and he came through when he was needed. With this debut novel, Jeffrey Stepakoff has put his own creative twists and turns on a touching story of wartime romance and the sacrifices we never expect to make. I look forward to reading his second book, "The Orchard", in the very near future.

    Review Copy Gratis Thomas Dunne Books

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  • Posted August 29, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    A firework that lit up my life

    Beautifully written, passionate, and real. I enjoyed every moment of this heartfelt love story!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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