Friday, September 19, 2014

Setting defines the place, the plot and the character's journey

                                                        Healing on Edisto Beach 

                                                  by C. Hope Clark
  My second mystery series came about almost as an ultimatum.

C. Hope Clark
I adored my first series: knew its characters like my own family (better, actually), cherished the stubborn drive of the protagonist, but most of all, thoroughly enjoyed the settings in rural South Carolina, a state I adore. But the publisher wanted more diversity in my books, so they asked for a new series. Then they gave me three guidelines for it: a female protagonist with actual law enforcement background, lots of family angst, and a location in my home state since I wrote about it with passion.

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.

Edisto Beach.

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.

Edisto Beach.

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.

Edisto Beach.

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.

          A book I did not want to write became the book I had to write.

            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, awarded Writer’s Digest’s 101 Best Websites for Writers for the past 14 years. Her newsletters reach forty thousand readers. /


  1. Totally sounds intriguing I'm going to have to look for your novels. Thanks for being here today

  2. I loved you post this morning! It makes me want to visit Edisto Beach. Maybe through the pages of your books. You've enticed me.

    I loved the picture of you holding your dog on the beach and your words describing that moment. I am a dog lover too. Thank you for sharing.

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.

  3. Hope, how nice to have you with us today! You make Edisto sound intriguing, and the protagonist's journey sounds compelling...

    So will the series be about her solving crime? And does the island have its own police force? That's an interesting thing about islands. They're often their own entity and first responders are on the mainland. That makes a whole new level of time vs. crime, doesn't it?

    Very interesting! Hey, I brought homemade breakfast this morning. I'm shrugging off Panera because they've made a stand against guns in their stores... my law enforcement friends are NOT AMUSED.

    So we get RUTHY BREAKFAST today! (If you were waiting for Mary to bring breakfast, you'd starve, darlings. I'm just saying. Or you'd get moldy cheese on old bread.)

    Ham and eggs, crispy home fries, Texas toast (avoid if you're low carb!!!) and pineapple cheese Danish....


  4. Good Morning, Hope,

    Your new book sounds interesting.

    I've subscribed to your Funds for Writer's newsletter since it's beginning.

    Thank you for being a friend and advocate to writers!

    Best wishes for your new book series.

  5. You pulled me in. Holden Beach, NC is our Edisto. We've made the trek year after year to escape our busy lives and recharge.

    I'll be sure to look for your new book series. Thanks for sharing today!

  6. Oh my, Hope, your post today gave me goosebumps for a number of reasons.

    1.) Like Jackie said above, you pulled me in immediately, which is the mark of great writer.

    2.) I WANT to GO to Edisto Beach, which AGAIN shows what a good writer you are because I seldom want to visit any locale from a book I read that badly.

    3.) This statement: A book I did not want to write became the book I had to write.

    LOVE this because it is soooo true. My current WIP is a contemp I started before I ever got published (wrote one chapter -- big whoop!), and after writing 10 historicals, I was dragging my feet in diving back in. But ... this suddenly became my lighthouse in a sea of exploring my future as a writer, and now, 2/3 of the way written, that light is finally burning inside, taking me home!

    4.) I did the same thing you did in searching for location. LOVE the East Coast (my first two series are set in Boston), and always had a fondness for Savannah although I have never really been there and Hilton Head, which I have. So I got out a map to look around Savannah and HOLY COW!! I found Isle of Hope, Georgia, 15 minutes away from Savannah, which is a peninsula that becomes an island at high tide. Since my series is all about hope restored, I was ELATED, and now the series is called Isle of Hope. Even better, it's the perfect locale for the story in mind because it's a small, unspoiled community where the only commercial buildings are a Piggly Wiggly, gas stations, and a scattering of other innocuous businesses. It has a rich Civil War history and was the movie locale for Forrest Gump among other movies, so it's a real gem.

    5.) And last but not least, THANK YOU for not picking Isle of Hope, especially given your name ... which I ALSO love!!!! :)

    WELCOME TO SEEKERVILLE, girl, and your book sounds AWESOME!!!


  7. Good morning, Hope! I love the sound of this setting and how it reflects your heroine's journey. I'm definitely going to check out your books -- and I think my mom would like them, too.

  8. Hi Hope~
    WHat a beautifully poetic description of your healing getaway, Edisto Beach. I have always enjoyed the beach for slowing down a speeding life, it does refresh and calm the spirit like nothing else.

    On the subject of writing to heal, readers do this too. When I read, I can go anywhere, be anyone, live any life I choose, through the story. there's something truly wonderful about that. I know there's a quote about how many different lives a reader gets to live and if you don't read you only get to live once, love that.

    Your books sound wonderful and I'm heading straight to amazon to check them out. Thanks for sharing your journey!


    So we can all identify fellow Villagers among the hundreds of conference goers, the Seekers in attendance will be carrying small smiley face stickers to place on your name tags! So if you're interested, find one of us and get a SMILE! :)

  10. Welcome to Seekerville, Hope! Thank you for your touching post! Your take on setting as a place to heal was a new thought for me, and I'm rolling it over in my mind.

    I'd never heard of Edisto Island, but I've explored a few islands off the coast of FL. Those long stretches of beach with the surf lapping the sand and no one else in sight restores my soul. And is the perfect spot for a crime. :-) Your stories sound wonderful!


  11. Welcome to Seekerville, C. Hope (curious about the C!!!).

    My bags are packed. Looking for my flip flops.

    This is so intriguing.

  12. The Carolinas are so rich with history and lovely beaches. I'm drawn to the ocean. It restores me, touching my spirit and opening me more fully to the wonder of the Lord.

    I've heard of Edisto, but have never been. Now I want to go there...maybe this weekend.

    Also want to read your new series. I'm intrigued by your broken cop who comes home to heal.

  13. Waving to Glynna...

    Love your idea of the smiley face stickers! So appropriate for Seekerville where smiles abound.

  14. Edisto Beach does look very peaceful...Setting can be a very powerful element of a book. Thanks for sharing. :)

  15. Oh oh oh!!!! I've been to Edisto Beach!!!

    Welcome, Hope! What a delight to read about your island experiences! About 5 or 6 years ago, our daughter and her family invited us to meet them at Edisto to share a rented vacation duplex for a week. We flew over from Tulsa, where we were living at the time, and they drove down from North Carolina (where we now live--long story).

    Anyway, it was such a pleasant getaway. Our house was about two blocks from the beach, so we could easily walk over. Our favorite excursion was Botany Bay and the secluded, almost pristine beach. We collected the most fantastic seashells on that trip--and wonderful memories, too! I still enjoy browsing through our photos.

  16. Edisto Beach sounds wonderful. I will have to remember it if I get to South Carolina, which is one of only 7 states I have never been to. Having lived all my life in Nebraska, miles from any ocean, I just love to visit the ocean. It is so mesmerizing to sit and look out over the vast never-ending view. Your book sounds very interesting. I will have to add it to my list.

  17. Hope I think I need an 'Edisto Beach'.

    I'm sorely afraid my version of that is my living room. Closest I get to a special place.

    Well, maybe the kitchen.

    There's food there.

  18. Welcome, Hope! You've just made me LONG to go back to the beach!! Edisto looks beautiful. I've never been there and now want to go.

    Congrats on your new series! Looks like you'll have a beautiful setting.

  19. Oh, you are amazing people! Thanks so much for the kind welcome.

    Yes, Edisto is such a haven for me. If you go, you might see me for not only am I there often, but I am building a house there. It's a marvelous place.

    Murder on Edisto is due out any day now, so if you do not see it on Amazon today, it will be there soon. A book I did not want to write because my favorite. I think you'll see why.

  20. What a beautiful setting, Hope!

    I can just imagine what an island like that is like when it isn't the tourist season - a perfect place for a mystery.

    And like Julie, I love that line, "A book I did not want to write became the book I had to write."

  21. I've been to North Carolina several times, but not to explore, to visit cute kids....

    So I need a vacay time in North or South Carolina. My daughter said I will love, love, love Greenville SC.

    So that's one of my bucket list spots. If Sarah says I'll love it, she's most likely correct! And I'm sorely lacking in Ocean experience! I've got a Great Lake ten minutes away, so that's pretty impressive, and I fell in love with Cape Cod last year.... I like my beaches tough and northern, I realized that in Florida on the Atlantic side. There's probably a seafarer in me.... But Edisto sounds beautiful...

    So tomatoes on the island, picked green. That's interesting right there!

  22. Mary, I hear you. Although any time with YOU GUYS, even virtual, is MY SPECIAL PLACE!!!!

    (Says the woman who rarely gets out of work to go anywhere and lives vicariously through characters in her head....)

  23. Hope
    Edisto Beach sounds awesome. I can see how a location could drive inspiration for the entire story, and in your case, a series. I appreciate the insight into the process you went through for the book you HAD to write.

    Your protagonist sounds really interesting and one your readers will really want to root for.

    Thanks for sharing your experience (and your healing place) with Seekerville.

  24. Hi Hope, Welcome to Seekerville. What a great post. My settings have to have character also. Unlike you though, I find my havens in the mountains or desert. The beach is too restless for me. Maybe because I grew up on the beach I had too many nightmares about tidal waves. lol

    Anyway love the sound of Edisto Beach and the premise of your new books. Thanks for sharing.

  25. Sandra,

    I understand about the ocean being restless, but the backside of Edisto is on the marsh. So calm. I live on a freshwater lake inland right now, and my husband keeps trying to pry me away to move to the ocean. It's hard to choose because you are right. . . it's calmer on the lake.

  26. Hi Hope.
    Your post conveys such strength. Like Julie, I found your sentence 'A book I did not want to write became the book I had to write' to be most striking. Thanks for sharing your insights.

  27. Great news!!!! Publisher just said the book will be live and available on Monday night/Tuesday AM. Fantastic, and I got to announce it here.

    This is an amazing community. I think I shall have to get more involved. Love the friendship expressed here.

  28. Nice post, Hope. I love a strong setting, either in a time period, a place or both. I was recently impressed with Melody Carlson's "River" series. I also liked the Cedar Key series by Eva Marie Everson. I really like the idea of coming "home" for healing. I believe strongly that there are places that heal and that people have "spiritual homes." Unfortunately I can't do that right now because my characters are on the Oregon Trail, sigh, but I hope to have a special place series some day.
    Love the relationship with your dog, very touching.
    Kathy Bailey

  29. Speaking of dogs, I'm a doxie fan. When Dixie finally left us, both deaf and blind, we felt a huge hole for over a year. My husband had her cremated in her bed, and a pretty box selected to keep her ashes in my study, where she always stayed by my side. Today we have Winnie and Roo, both dachshunds. I've always written with a puppy at my feet or at least without reach for a petting.

  30. Lake or ocean? Hmm. And Hmm again. I like an ocean for walking, dreaming, praying. I like a lake for swimming. You can't really do laps in the ocean. Also, as a onetime parent of young children, I have to admit that LAKE SAND IS EASIER TO GET OFF THAN BEACH SAND. I will get few arguments on this. Lake or beach? As long as it's water, I'm not choosy.

  31. And then what about that Southern girl who kept yapping about how she'd think about it tomorrow? Her special place was that plantation Tara and nobody did it better than Margaret Mitchell. Even if it was the only thing she did.

  32. Hi Hope:

    Your post today is especially interesting from my POV. I love to give seminars and speeches. I see that you also give seminars; however, they are on ‘being a shy’ writer. Now there seems to be some internal conflict in that situation. (I suppose the conflict generates energy to perform at the highest level.)

    I also 'feel' for the ‘crime’ in this post which seems to be like the groom at a wedding – necessary but not particularly special. : )

    What about the crimes in your stories? Is it a challenge for the reader to solve the mystery before the end of the book? Or is the book really about the hero’s journey – the heroine’s character ARC? In other words: is it a whodoneit? Did your publisher, who wanted a different location, ask about what the crime was going to be?

    BTW: as a marketing person, I love a cliché location as long as it is beautiful and has been visited by hoards of travelers. Past visitors and future wantabe visitors are all potential prospects to buy the book. The trick seems to be to show the hidden, insider, non-cliché view of the location. Donna Leon does this for Venice. Hers is a view from the inside out. Which makes me ask: did you do for the Agricultural department what Nevada Barr does for the National Park Service? That is, show the internal politics of the bureaucracy? Your website makes me think this is a possibility.

    If a location is a major attraction, why not have a great new location with each book? Nevada Barr has mostly done this by having crimes in different national parks. I believe that location sells books. At least I buy books because I want to ’visit’ the location.

    One last point: I like the crime to fit the location so that the crime, as it must be solved, could only have happened in that specific location. Barr does this very well – otherwise, the great location is just scenery. I want to live the location.

    Now for the important question: When “Murder on Edisto” comes out, will it also be available as a Kindle book? I want to read it ASAP. I’m sold on the setting.


    P.S. This question keeps going through my mind: If you are not shy will you still benefit from reading your “Shy Writer” books?

  33. Lovely post. I live less than one hundred miles away in SC and have not visited Edisto Beach.

    Perhaps you can send a small bill to the Edisto Chamber of Commerce on your promotion.

    The character sounds marvelous. Best of luck with it.

  34. Becke, I just filled out the membership for the Edisto Chamber of Commerce, to be the only author in their membership. And I intend for them to get to know my books well. *wink*

  35. Vince,
    I speak not only on Shy Writer Reborn, but also on funding, contests, promotion, and more. Yes, I’ve come a long way in terms of my shyness, but I never cease to be nervous and a little frantic before I present. I think it’s a matter of believing in what you’re speaking on. Passion drives through shyness.

    I am so happy you asked this question. You are absolutely right. My style is a whodunit/hero’s journey combination, and not primarily one over the other. As a reader, I want to be sensitive to the hero’s passion and drive, which has to come from a deeper place than just solve a crime. I’m struggling with nailing that passion in the second book as we speak, but it will be there when I’m done.

    The publisher asked for a static location in SC since I know the state so well. With the Carolina Slade Series, they already knew I could find a crime. But I have to admit they were more concerned with the romance of the location and the struggle of the protagonist. I escalated the crime for my own satisfaction. But they contracted the book without a clear eye as to what the crime would be.

    I absolutely did for US Dept of Agriculture what Nevada Barr did for the National Park Service. I use the internal and external politics that evolve around agriculture. I know it well. A lot of people have enjoyed seeing that side of agriculture, but the publisher wanted something outside of agriculture for those who didn’t appreciate that environment. Thus, the Edisto Island Mysteries. I’m so glad they pushed me in that direction. I’ve grown so much.

    The Carolina Slade Series does utilize a different locale in each book. The Edisto Island Mysteries stick to one remote area. I like having both. The latter capitalizes on the romance of the beach, and anyone who loves a beach will gravitate toward this series, even if it’s restricted to Edisto Beach, South Carolina. Beach combers as a whole understand the setting.


    Absolutely, Vince. It’s coming out next Tuesday at Amazon, and will be on all e-reading devices, though B&N, Kobo, and the ones other than Kindle tend to take longer to pop up online.


    Absolutely. The Shy Writer Reborn covers promotion with tricks on how to make it easier. It just so happens that what makes promo easier for the introverted, works for all.

  36. Hope, I just downloaded your book The Shy Writer Reborn. I still have your original The Shy Writer on my bookshelf and remember how freeing it was to get another introverted writer's perspective! Can't wait to see what new insights you offer in the updated version!

  37. Myra

    Bless your heart and thanks so much. That book is near and dear to me. It's a challenge to be introverted and have to put yourself out there in both story and promotion. Hope it works for you!

  38. Hi Hope:

    You wrote, “I absolutely did for US Dept of Agriculture what Nevada Barr did for the National Park Service,” and that’s all it took! I just downloaded, “Low Country Bribe”, and found that it has a Audible book that’s just $3.99 when you buy the Kindle version. So I downloaded the audible file because I like to listen to books at the office when I am doing physical projects. I wish authors would mention that they have Audible books as well as Kindle and print.

    And because Myra has purchased both your “Shy Writer” books, I just downloaded “The Shy Writer Reborn”.

    Now, if you’d only let me know the next time your doing a presentation in Oklahoma, I’ll see if I can make it.

    I think I’ll take a peek into “The Shy Writer Reborn” right now here at work.

    Thanks for coming by. Seekerville gets the best guests.


  39. Hi Hope,

    Your setting sure has intrigued me!I love beaches and this one looks amazing!

    Congrats on your release! Wishing you many sales!


  40. Glynna,

    Happy faces and Hearts for LI! Wow, I'll be glowing with stickers!

    Thanks for thinking of this!

  41. Thanks for the purchases, Vince. I'm not an audio fan, and I'm not a fan of that narrator for Lowcountry Bribe, but everyone's different. I think you'll like SHY.

  42. Setting is everything sometimes. As much so as a main character. In this case, setting molded and saved this character, in my opinion. I love the place.

  43. Loved this post, Hope!
    Sorry I'm late chiming in today (and missed visiting Seekerville at all yesterday)but now I really want to visit Edisto! I've heard of it, but being a Georgia girl we always head to our coast (Jekyll and St. Simon's Island--which we LOVE).
    I'm sorry about the passing of your precious dog, but glad you've added some new canine family members (even though the new ones don't ever replace the others). Pets are such a special part of our family.
    Thank you again for visiting!
    Blessings, Patti Jo

  44. Hope, I loved hearing the background of your next series. I enjoyed the Caroline Slade series and this one sounds intriguing. Can't wait to visit Edisto Beach through the pages of your book.
    Cindy Huff