New novel is a love letter to the Pine Barrens

Katie Schulze-Bahn wants readers to see natural beauty in New Jersey 

Having received a degree in journalism, Katie Schulze-Bahn always wanted to be a writer. Her first novel “Sugar Sand Road” was published in April 2021 and pulls inspiration from her real-life love of the Pinelands. In this photo, Schulze-Bahn stands on a trail at Franklin Parker Preserve, a property she helped acquire as board secretary for the Rancocas Conservancy (Katie Schulze-Bahn/Special to The Sun).

When her family pulled into a Tabernacle driveway for the first time, Katie Schulze-Bahn was rapturous.

As kids, she and her brother would go looking for snakes, frogs and other critters. The Pine Barrens became their playground, an experience that sticks with her even now.

Earlier this month, Schulze-Bahn published her first novel, “Sugar Sand Road,” a coming-of-age story inspired by her Pinelands adventures and summers in Long Beach Island. The main character of Katie feels like an outcast, but grows through exploration in the Pine Barrens.

“Tabernacle is definitely where my heart and soul is,” the author said. “Katie’s always the black sheep, so I could relate to that, too.”

Her husband’s job brought Schulze-Bahn to the suburbs of Philadelphia, but as a self-proclaimed “country and beach girl,” she felt out of place on the Main Line. 

When she began her family of four children, Schulze-Bahn also struggled with PTSD and postpartum and perinatal depression. She had tried to write before, but it became difficult as she navigated tough times.

“Finally, I had this idea for this book,” she recalled. “They say write about what you know and what you love, and I did both. This spilled out really quickly.”

Schulze-Bahn pitched the novel to nearly 300 agents and was rejected by half.

“There’s no market for first person narratives,” she recalled them saying.

But she pushed forward, self-publishing the book with the endorsement of friends like New York Times bestselling author Linda Greenlaw. Schulze-Bahn knew, despite hundreds of naysayers, that her story needed to be told.

“Sugar Sand Road” is a love letter to the Pine Barrens, the Jersey Shore and to young people trying to find confidence in who they are. For the author, the book that gave her comfort as an adolescent was “Charlotte’s Web,” by E.B. White. Schulze-Bahn hopes her novel can have the same impact on its readers.

She also wants “Sugar Sand Road” to introduce a larger audience to the magic of the Pinelands. 

“It is funny when you’re from this state that people look at it as the armpit of the nation, and yet it’s called the Garden State,” Schulze-Bahn noted. “Well, why is it called the Garden State? I hope I can express that a lot in the book and get more people to appreciate that this place is a natural wonder.”

Some proceeds from the book will be donated to New Jersey Farmers Against Hunger, an organization she volunteers at which provides fresh produce to those in need.

“I’m in a spot right now in my life and I always have been, where I have basic necessities,” the author explained. “I’m happy, I’m healthy, I have food and I have a roof over my head. Not everybody is as fortunate as we are, and I think it’s really important to give back.”

“Sugar Sand Road” can be purchased on BookBaby at https://store.bookbaby.com/book/Sugar-Sand-Road. More information about the author is available on her Facebook page, Author Katie Schulze-Bahn.