Q You are deeply concerned with environmental issues, which often find their way into your novels. Nature, therefore, is among your muses. But how do you conceive of your plots and characters?
A: Thank you for recognizing my efforts to highlight our gorgeous landscape and animals in my novels.
My writing process is organic to the species I research. First, I do academic research and interview experts. Then I roll up my sleeves and volunteer. I am an intuitive writer, and my themes, plots, characters, et al., evolve from what I glean from the animals.
For example, for "The Summer Wind," I set the story against dolphins. Dolphins are excellent in communication and have strong family bonds. So I created a dysfunctional family and each character has a unique communication problem, such as autism. By creating parallels of nature and human nature, I can bring an awareness to the animal issues through the power of story rather than dumping research or "teaching," I also find it deepens and enriches the plot, characters, metaphors, etc.
Q: Some novelists write books based on their own experiences, others invent everything, or most everything. Where do you fall on that continuum? How much of yourself do you invest in your stories?
A: I do not write about my life or anyone I know. This would limit my characters. That said, I use my experiences to bring authenticity to my novels.
For the Lowcountry Summer Trilogy, I've gone out on our estuarine waters with NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) to research our resident dolphins and volunteered at the Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key, Fla.
In "The Summer Wind," my readers get personal and emotional experiences with dolphins because I've been there. I write what I know. Believe me, I cannot make up anything as vibrant and true as what I experience first hand!
Q: Tell me a little about "The Summer Wind," the second in your Lowcountry Summer Trilogy. What prompted the writing of this book, and of the series?
A: The Lowcountry Summer series was prompted by the staggering fact reported by Dr. Pat Fair of NOAA in Charleston that 48 percent of our resident dolphins are contaminated. That's almost half!
Dolphins are a sentinel species. Mammals, they are our siblings in the sea. When we see those high statistics, we look for health issues in humans, as well. Dolphins are the backdrop for the trilogy, but the novels focus on three young women and their strong, wise and a bit wily grandmother.
"The Summer Wind" stands alone, and is Book Two of the trilogy set on Sullivan's Island. In Book One, "The Summer Girls," Mamaw invites her three granddaughters back to Sea Breeze, knowing that at summer's end she will go to a retirement home and sell the family house.
In "The Summer Wind," the focus is on Dora, the eldest. Dora feels she is a failed Southern belle. She's lived her life under the pressure of too many "shoulds" and rules. But life hasn't turned out as she'd expected: her marriage failed, her son has special needs and the only reason her house is standing is because the termites are holding hands.
I think a lot of readers will identify with Dora and cheer her on as she shuts out the critical voices and listens instead to her own heart. Like the dolphins, Dora learns to laugh and enjoy life!
Q: Do you have a daily writer's routine?
A: I am an early riser and do my best work when my mind is fresh. So I like to wake at dawn and tiptoe up to my office and write while the subconscious still whispers in my ear. I take a break to work in my butterfly garden, a pure pleasure.
Of course, in the summer when a sea turtle comes ashore, the team (the local Island Turtle Team, a group of volunteers dedicated to protecting the loggerhead sea turtle population) calls and I'm on duty!
Under deadline, I will write for 12 hours or more a day. I do several revisions and work closely with my editor. While doing research/volunteering, I'm out in the field, so my writing is chiefly story structure. In order to write at this pace, my world revolves around my research and writing. Thank heavens I love what I do.
Q: What's next?
A: I'm currently writing Book Three of the trilogy, "The Summer's End," which will be out in June 2015. But the series won't be over! I'm also writing "A Lowcountry Wedding" to immediately follow. While I finish this series, my antennas are up and I'm beginning research on another species. That's another story ...