Hello again, friends! Here is a Q&A about Charleston Tides. Some questions are about the book, some are about writing in general, and some are about me! (Just a word of caution, if you haven’t yet read Southern Rain and Northern Fire, there might be a few spoilers for those two books. However, there shouldn’t be any spoilers for Charleston Tides, and I encourage you to read the Q&A before you read the third and final book of the series.) Here we go!
Q: Which was your favorite storyline: modern or historical?
A: I think more about the historical, but if I had to choose, it would be the modern. I love the coastal feeling of it, and there can be something sort of magical about a contemporary tale. The chemistry between Adrian and Adeline was always compelling for me.
Q: Do you think the modern and historical storylines overlap?
A: I do! There is something almost indefinable that binds the two stories together. I have had several people tell me that they feel a close link between Shannon and Adeline. There are several ways their stories intertwine: relationships that began quickly, the complications of parenthood or its void, fear of the uncertainties of love… There are several more, but for me, the strongest thing was that there was always something similar in the mood and tone of the two stories. And of course, there is the house, which is the same setting for both stories for a large portion of the series; Ravenel-Thompson House is almost a character in itself!
Q: Does Charleston Tides stand alone?
A: No. You need to start with Book 1, Southern Rain, and continue with Book 2, Northern Fire, to get the full story and understand everything that happens in the series. In that way, the series is a bit like a saga, but I don’t call it that because the word “saga,” in addition to just meaning a long story, which this is, also can mean a highly emotional, heroic tale, which this is not.
Q: Do you have a favorite moment in the series thus far?
A: I really liked the brief vacation to Sullivan’s Island that Adeline, Adrian, and Jude take in Northern Fire. I also enjoy the moment that Shannon finds out it is John Thomas on the ship in Northern Fire!
Q: Are any of your characters based on people in real life?
A: Nope! I’ve always heard all of the fun stories about Jane Austen including her quirky neighbors and friends in her books, and I think: she could never get away with this in the South! Part of the joy of writing to me is the creation level of it. I don’t think it would be very fun to pattern characters after people I know because it would turn into mimicry, which takes the creative process out of it.
Q: What kind of music would your main characters listen to?
A: I think Adrian listens to Frank Sinatra and Michael Bublé in the series. Adeline strikes me as a Colbie Callait/Jason Mraz girl, maybe with a little Fleetwood Mac thrown in. For John Thomas and Shannon… I don’t know: Schubert? Chopin? Tchaikovsky?
Q: What was the most difficult to write about Shannon?
A: She has a bit of a crazy side. We all do, though, so that’s okay! Her character very much begged me to let her spiral, and I had to do several rewrites just to calm her down. She also has this deceptive air of retiring fragility, coupled with a very powerful mind, and you’re like: Who are you? I finally realized that she was just that: a very feminine, very intelligent woman, who had been taught (and rather liked) to appear weak, while also being strong-willed. That made her very elusive as a character. A lot of readers actually don’t like Shannon, and some sort of state it as a criticism. The thing is, you aren’t necessarily supposed to like Shannon at first. She’s very self-centered and very flawed. The series is partially her journey of setting aside the things of the past, of childhood, and emerging into adulthood and peace. But that doesn’t mean you’ll always like her. And that’s hard for me, too. I like characters who always make responsible decisions!
Q: We left Shannon on the ship, asking John Thomas to take her back. Should we expect to see him do so with open arms?
A: I struggled with determining how he would react to her leaving. My sister (plot doctor extraordinaire) said, “The one thing I do not want you to do is have him beg her to come back.” I agreed. It was a tricky situation all around. I don’t want to give too much away, but basically, there is nothing simple about their reunion!
Q: What would you say this series is “about?”
A: Probably most prominently, women—their trials, internal and external, and how they overcome them.
Specifically, too, women in the Civil War. There is a tendency in war novels and history to make it appear as if little of the burden fell upon women, as if they had minimal roles in the play at all. No one can deny the huge burden that did fall upon men—something to the tune of 750,000 deaths… But at least 50,000 civilians died violent deaths during the war, many of them women. And that’s setting aside deaths that women had always faced from childbearing, etc. They were actively engaged, actively facing the consequences of political decisions, and living in a country at war. Women faced hardship from every possible front during the war.
Shannon loses three people dear to her. I specifically wanted them all to be women. Two died from illnesses related to womanhood and one, Phoebe, from violence. I wanted to portray that this was a woman’s war, too, and also that women of this time had been at war, so to speak, before the battles ever began.
Q: I have noticed that your blog is non-political, but there is a lot of discussion of political parties in the historical part of the series, particularly Charleston Tides. Should we expect any correlation to modern parties?
A: The short answer is no.
The long answer: it would be really tough to write about the Civil War without exploring the political parties of that day. If you watch the year of 1860, the split was very much a political one, and if you read primary sources, people considered loyalties during the war to be wrapped up in party loyalties. In the memoirs of John O. Casler, who lived in divided Northern Virginia, he relates that he didn’t know if he could trust a neighbor when he was home on leave. His terminology was: “I didn’t know what his politics were,” meaning that he didn’t know which country or government his neighbor supported during the war.
Do I think there is any correlation to the political parties of today? Not really. For the first time during the Civil War we did have our two-party system finally boil down essentially to “Democrats” and “Republicans.” I have heard some historians say that the Democratic party started with Jefferson, continued with Jackson, the Democrats of the Civil War era, and right up to today, and that the Republican party started with Lincoln and continued until today. On the other hand, I have heard historians say that the Democratic and Republican parties switched platforms in the early twentieth century.
I don’t totally buy into either theory. Trying to match parties and people up across roughly 250 years just doesn’t work. We tried it in one of my political science classes. The conventional wisdom through scholarship which traces party history was that Republicans of today should align with Alexander Hamilton and Democrats of today should align with Thomas Jefferson. Yet, when we read their ideologies aloud, the reaction was overwhelmingly just the opposite.
Political platforms are, to a large extent, based on current issues and events. I think that people make parties what they need them to be in their own time, based on the world as they find it in their era. You can trace certain roots of party heirship and ideology to the past but not in any way that deeply affects platforms of today, or that is particularly traceable in a two-dimensional, two-party way.
So when I’m talking about “Democrats” or “Republicans” in the series, I am talking about the parties just as they were in the 1860s, nothing more. I do not find anachronistic historical fiction that projects modern politics over historical events to be particularly compelling.
Q: Was there anything that really surprised you over the course of your research about the Civil War?
A: I originally shied away from the Civil War because it was such a terrible conflict. The more I know about it, the more terrible I find it to be! The sheer number of deaths, the battles, the diseases, the violence, the hardships, the starvation, the fear… I think much of this is true for most people involved, North and South, enslaved and free. It’s hard for us to imagine that a war of this magnitude happened during the Victorian Era. I keep thinking there will be a way to make sense of it all, but it just gets more horrific the more I read about it.
On a more optimistic note… There is some really fascinating history about the newly freed men and women of Charleston in the year after the Civil War. My sister, who is in grad school for Public History at the College of Charleston, helped me with this research. 1865-1866 was a huge moment of empowerment for formerly enslaved communities in Charleston. This was something I was not expecting. If I had been writing without the research, I would have portrayed it very differently. I think you’re going to enjoy reading about this history in Charleston Tides!
Q: Has there been any reader feedback which surprised you?
A: One thing that has been kind of funny is a generation split about Adeline’s situation. My younger readers think she’s totally on the right track: she needs to be cautious, take her time, not trust too easily… But my older readers get so frustrated with her: Why can’t she see Adrian’s a good boy? Why can’t she just make the leap already? I love these sorts of conversations! They’re things you would never think about as you’re writing.
Q: Does being lawyer impact you as a writer, or vice-versa?
A: Well, just from a thousand-foot level, being a lawyer takes up most of my time. My clients come first, so writing has to happen once everything is finished at work.
But as far as the two jobs sort of feeding each other… At first, being a writer made legal writing a little tough. In creative writing, you get to be flowy and wordy, whereas in legal writing you have to be concise and to-the-point with short sentences and paragraphs. But when you think about line edits and trying to convey clarity to your readers, my legal training is something that is helpful to fall back on.
My writing is also the thing I do that keeps my life balanced. The legal profession is notoriously stressful from day one in law school until retirement. But with writing, I have this sort of creative or imaginative outlet that gives me a release and keeps everything in perspective.
Q: Is there anyone who has been especially helpful to you in the course of publishing the Torn Asunder Series?
A: My hometown and my friends and family have been a huge encouragement. I don’t know if it’s just because they’re incredibly kind people or if the themes really resonated because we’re from the same place, but they have been so loving and have said all of the things that any writer really needs to hear. So, to the people closest to me… Thank you, from the bottom of my heart!
Q: Where do you plan to take us next—a new series, a stand-alone, modern, historical?
A: I am definitely taking you somewhere—that’s about all I can tell you! I have several completed manuscripts, and it’s a matter of choosing which one to run with next. I am going to take a few months just to regroup, start the editing process, and make sure that I get you the best finished product I can! I will post updates periodically on my blog, so stay tuned!