by C. Hope ClarkMy second mystery series came about almost as an ultimatum.
|C. Hope Clark|
I panicked starting from scratch.
The new protagonist took a while to gel because I wanted to feel her heart. Slivers of her came and went in my mind as did ideas on how to make her family a challenge. But the location? Where could I place an entire series and not feel like a cliché? Charleston, Hilton Head, Myrtle Beach were out. My readers knew that I wrote setting like a character, and I had to be in love with the place to enable a strong series with place. Then it hit me.
Rustic, secluded and devoid of neon and franchise, this beach had changed little in thirty years. Romantic, calm, a place of healing.
I visited Edisto first as a teen with my parents. Then later I found myself employed with the US Department of Agriculture in Charleston, and as manager of the office, had to know my clientele well. Edisto was that island furthest from the office. A location where I packed my lunch and gave myself plenty of time because I never knew when the drawbridge across the waterways would be up. Two lanes the whole way, lined with marsh, egrets, and palmettos, smelling of pluff mud. The farmers I served were in no hurry except during harvest, with tomato pickers sweaty and strong, the green fruit piled high in baskets and trucks while salt air wafted in from nearby waters.
Where I have a dear friend. A friend who is always there for everyone she knows. A friend who loves people, regardless their background. A woman who, in spite of being hurt by a long-time pal, explained to me that she cannot afford to lose friends because they all contribute something positive to her life. A deep soul whose laugh makes me smile.
Edisto is known by the natives as a place where you start another life, and leave another behind, with no obligation to share that past life to justify the present. It’s safe, on the edge of the world, where countless people escape for a week out of the year to pretend they live this leisurely all the time. Who also hoped to take a piece of it home somehow, in some way.
Where I’ve run off to in order to soothe a hurt. To forget painful people, to put life into a positive, proper perspective.
Where I took my old dachshund, newly blinded by glaucoma, so that she would feel wind in her face, bark, and walk without fear of bumping into obstacles. I can’t make myself remove the pictures from my camera of me holding her, the fall wind and spray in our faces as we sat on a pier there, remembering how we both needed that trip in order to heal a bit.
The protagonist fit this place.
She was broken, both by fate and some choices she made which cost her two family members. Returning to her Southern roots, she’d forgotten how much conflict existed under her parents’ roof after being away over fifteen years. With her memories faded over time, and her current pain so intense, how could she not make another mistake by returning?
Stuck in a world without her husband, with a child to finish raising, having forfeited a profession that once defined her, she found herself lost with no momentum to head in any direction. Until her father hands her the keys to the house on Edisto Beach.
As I embraced what Edisto Beach meant to me over time, I found my story. My character became three-dimensional as her pain wrapped around mine, making it tangible enough to put on paper.
If you do an online search for Writing to Heal or Healing With Writing, you’ll find dozens of sites, authors, books, and blogs, all professing how stories exorcise our demons. It’s a tried and true practice with abused spouses, orphaned children, and wounded veterans. Sometimes we don’t know how hurt we are until we put it into words.
Often I’m asked how much of my writing is real, how much of the protagonist is me. Do I use my writing to heal?
No, I use place. This time it’s Edisto Beach, and for the next several books it’ll be Edisto Beach. Writing just happens to be the fruit of that healing.
C. Hope Clark’s debut novel of The Edisto Island Mysteries is Murder on Edisto, a work she’s amazed came from her hand. Released September 2014 via Bell Bridge Books, it’s available wherever books are sold. Hope is also author of The Carolina Slade Mystery Series, and editor of FundsforWriters.com, awarded Writer’s Digest’s 101 Best Websites for Writers for the past 14 years. Her newsletters reach forty thousand readers. www.chopeclark.com / www.fundsforwriters.com