Ayres, 33, lives in Florida with her husband, Dan; and two daughters, Kaylee and Ashley. But from the age of 7 up to 17 she spent her summers visiting her father, Jeff Reynolds, in Grand Haven — and she fell in love with the city.
In her book, Ayres immerses her characters in Grand Haven living. She places them in settings like the state park, the pier and downtown shops.
The story is built around Ayre’s main character, teenager Olga Gay Worontzoff, whose best friend is killed in an accident. To deal with the pain of her loss, Olga's therapist prescribes a list of 18 things to do before her 18th birthday.
The list of tasks that Olga is given is meant to force her to do things outside of her comfort zone — like trying out for the cheerleading squad, fire-walking, breaking a world record and going on her first date.
“18 Things” is a story of rediscovery and true love, targeted for young adult readers, Ayres said.
Ayres is a third-grade teacher and is a leader in her church’s youth group. She said her writing is greatly inspired by her faith and the young people in her life.
“They’ve kept me going these past three and a half years,” Ayres said. “I tell them all the time, ‘Never give up!’ I knew I couldn’t turn around and be a hypocrite and give up on my own dreams.”
“They’ve also brought out the natural storyteller in me,” she added.
Ayres said she enjoyed Grand Haven's waterfront and small-town atmosphere when she visited in the summer months.
“The town seemed magical to me,” she said. “We’d make the trip down to Waterfront Stadium and get some ice cream while watching the Musical Fountain a few times each summer, then take a drive up Five Mile Hill and look out over the city.”
Ayres also chose Grand Haven for the setting of her debut novel because, unlike Florida, its weather has very distinct seasons.
“I could use the seasons and change of temperature to fit the mood of my character,” she said. “It starts in spring and ends in spring, and Olga really does come full-circle and goes through a type of rebirth.”
The book was released at Amazon.com last week.
Ayres said “18 Things” is the first of a planned three-book trilogy. She said the next two books will be called “18 Truths” and “18 Wishes.”
— By Emily Anderson, Tribune intern