After wrapping up the Appalachian Blessings series, how did you decide what would come next?
I thought it was time to add a little variety to my Appalachian setting. I lived near the coast of South Carolina for ten years and loved the idea of taking a mountain man and dropping him into that hot, sandy landscape. It let me use my own experience of trying to adjust to a different climate and way of life. Neither Judd nor I ever got used to how hot it would stay all summer—even in the middle of the night. We also share a deep appreciation for southern cooking!
The story begins with your hero nearly dying in a mine cave in. What was it like writing that scene?
The first pages of the novel are drawn directly from my great Uncle Harry’s experience as a coal miner. He would often tell the story of being trapped in a mine with that boot pressed against his cheek—although his language was more colorful than Judd’s. Hearing him talk about his brush with death certainly captured my imagination when I was a child. It also convinced me that I never wanted to step foot in a mine myself!
Hurricane Hazel provides a turning point in the story—why did you choose to include that catastrophic event?
My first job out of college was doing public relations for the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. I learned a fair amount of coastal history and was impressed with the way Myrtle Beach came to be the tourist destination it is today largely because Hurricane Hazel wiped the slate clean in 1954. Prior to that, Myrtle Beach was a relatively quiet seaside community. After Hazel, there was literally nothing left to hinder beachfront development. Except the Pavilion, of course, and it fit right in with hotels, restaurants, and shops. That beach music mecca weathered the storm—much as Judd does—a little the worse for wear, but still standing.
Larkin is somewhat naïve in her notion about helping the “backward” people of Appalachia. What attitudes do you run into about the region?
I hear a lot of West Virginia jokes when I tell people where I’m from and where I set my books. Of course, the best defense is to know more—and funnier—jokes than anyone else. I’m well aware that much of Appalachia faces serious challenges and has for generations. I hope my books highlight some of what’s wonderful and special about the region—the strength and perseverance of the people, their willingness to lend a helping hand, their pride (which can be a shortcoming!), and their love for the land. I don’t want to paint an unrealistic picture, but I do want to shine a light on the beauty of the people and the place.
What’s next for you?
In 2018 I’m partnering with three Bethany House authors to put together a novella collection that will trace a century or so of one family. A piece of jewelry ties all the stories together and each author is writing the generation that ties into her genre. Kristi Ann Hunter will start us out in 1827 England, then Karen Witemeyer will tackle Texas in 1890. My story is set in the 1950s in West Virginia (of course!) and Becky Wade will close us out with a contemporary tale in Washington. It’s the first time I’ve collaborated with other authors and it’s been so much fun. Writing can be solitary, so having others invested in my story has been a delightful experience.