Last Thursday, while sampling protagonist Liz Talbot's favorite chocolates (Dove Chocolate Promises) , the group equally enjoyed talking about her story, Lowcountry Boil. Topping this off, its author Susan M. Boyer joined in the discussion and answered all questions -- serious & frivolous -- with Southern style and aplomb. Members liked the way the story balanced lightness with depth, and agreed the characters were all people they would want to visit again in further books. Several members wished they could visit (or live!) in Stella Maris. Susan talked about how she came to create a fictional island with its own history. She used aspects of two real islands off the Charleston coast, Isle of Palms and Sullivan Island, and having lived in Mt. Pleasant, she has a true feel for life in that area. Making it fictional gave her the chance to build all the infrastructure a town would need to be self-sufficient, and yet have the feel of a "Mayberry"-like small town. This way she can put any building, landscaping, etc. she wants into the story while still taking characters off-island to the real Charlestown, Greenville, and other towns. When she uses these other places she can include actual restaurants, and landmarks that readers know about or could visit. She even created a map for Stella Maris, which can be found on her website. (Click here to go to it!)
In answering questions about the story of this first story, Susan revealed that Lowcountry Boil, took eight years to get published. Members were impressed with her fortitude, commenting on the strong kind of committment it takes to become a published author. Another aspect of the writing we all enjoyed was the depth of detail Susan achieved with the families on the island, how their generational histories affect the current generations living there, and is woven through the various threads of the plot. We asked her how she went about achieving this, and even more so, how she keeps track of it all. In addition to keeping a spreadsheet on all of her characters, Susan went the extra mile and (very creatively!) used ancestry.com for the families. This has had the unexpected side effect of getting site hits for real people who "could be related to" her fictional ones!
Group members named Blake, Merry and their mother (in addition to Liz) as favorite characters. Everyone got a chuckle out of their mother's insistence that if [the girls] only put on a little lipstick, it would fix them right up. We found the current and potential tensions between Blake and Liz on the detecting front to be realistic and a point of interest to follow with the series. We all agreed Merry needs to do alot of re-thinking about her taste in boyfriends - and that she and Liz are very believable, strong sisters, with their own compelling points of contention to read. A member particularly approved of how Liz handled the situation when Michael assumes that Liz will just fall in his lap when he finally thinks about divorcing Marcie the Schemer. We talked about whether or not Liza was truly "still in love" with Michael, or if it was more a case that she couldn't accept that after 10 years, she was still losing out to Marcie. There was some irony about this, since we all agreed that Marcie's main motivation is to have whatever her cousin(s) have. We also commended Liz for the way she handled Scott the snake. The one male in Liz's life we were most frustrated about however, was the long-absent Nick -- who seems to have some "potential"... We debated whether Liz would be able to get past the fact that not only is he her business partner -- he's her ex's brother. Susan shared that we'll definitely get to know Nick better in the second book, Lowcountry Bombshell (Click title to go our catalog for it.)
An interesting question was raised by one member concerning justice, and how mysteries usually have murderers and co-conspirators facing some form of justice. Did Susan think about Merry's actions regarding Kristen and Troy in terms of repercussions? Susan focused on the life-threatening circumstances Merry faced and how little time she had to deal with the situation in which Kristen and Troy were partnered. Merry's situation involved self-defense, and the resolution of the whole story does show that Merry has been affected and reassessing alot of her choices.
There were two other sets of beings who feature prominently in the story: the dogs, Rhett & Chumley, and the ghost of Liz's best friend, Colleen -- who died when she was 17. Susan has owned a golden retriever herself, and we agreed that not only was Rhett a fine Southern name, he really was kind of a dog in Gone With the Wind... As for Colleen, Susan told us that she wasn't even in the first two versions of the story, but given the strong, and numerous ghost stories that permeate the South, including Colleen just felt right. Susan also works to make sure that Colleen does not start taking over the story. She's had great feedback on her as a continuing character, so we'll definitely be seeing her in further Lowcountry adventures.
Covering all aspects of Lowcountry Boil, members asked what exactly went into it and how you serve it. Susan listed the basic ingredients, which include seafood - usually shrimp, corn on the cob, onions, potatoes, & sausage - usually andouille, etc. cooked in beer, spread out on newspaper and eaten from there. (Here's a link to country singer Trisha Yearwood's version of it.)
We couldn't let Susan leave without finding out what's in the works for Liz and company, and were delighted to hear that next April will see the publication of Lowcountry Boneyard -- followed the next year by Lowcountry Bordello (which got quite the reaction!)
Once again, the group really enjoyed the book, the discussion, and the chance to chat with Susan about it. We do welcome more discussion, so please feel free to leave a comment!