Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Though I’ve lived most of my life in landlocked states—the exception being the years I lived in Southern California—I have always been a beach girl. My perfect day begins with a pre-dawn walk on the beach, hands wrapped around my coffee mug, my eyes on the frothy swirl and retreat of the tide as I look for whelks, angels’ wings and other gifts from the sea. Then the awe-inspiring first seam of fiery light on the horizon as the sun comes up, sending a shimmer of pink and gold light across the water. 

It’s a little slice of heaven right here on earth and one that I’ve recreated in my new novel, Carolina Gold.  Set in and around Georgetown, South Carolina and on Pawleys Island, Carolina Gold is inspired by the life of Elizabeth Allston Pringle. After the Civil War, Mrs. Pringle returned to Chicora Wood, her family’s sprawling rice plantation on the Pee Dee River to resume cultivating the superior strain of rice called Carolina Gold. In the two books she wrote about her life and work, she describes in detail the necessary annual move from Chicora Wood to the family’s beach cottage on Pawleys Island to avoid yellow fever, which the planters called the “country fever.”

Yellow fever was the scourge of the South in the 19th century; every summer, port cities such as Charleston, Savannah, Mobile, Memphis, and New Orleans braced for the onslaught. In some years the death toll soared into the thousands. Families who could afford to get out of town for the summer did so, either to the beach, to Europe, or to the resorts of Saratoga, New York.  

Each year, sometime in May or June, the rice planters on the Pee Dee and Waccamaw rivers loaded their household furnishings, livestock, and personal belongings onto flatboats and made the journey to Pawleys Island.  There they remained until the first “black frost”—a hard killing frost that got rid of the mosquitoes and made it safe to return inland.  As one of the Allstons wrote:  “To remain in the country during the summer would be suicide.”

The distance from Chicora Wood to the family’s home on Pawleys Island was only four miles as the crow flies, but to get there required a seven mile trip by boat and another four miles by land. 

For Elizabeth, called Bessie, the trip was worth all the planning and time it required.

“I was born at the seaside,” she wrote, “and from that time until I was eighteen, the move from the plantation to the sea beach at the end of May, and the return home to the plantation the first week in November were great events and a perfect joy...To me, it has always been intoxicating; that first view each year of the waves rolling, rolling, and the smell of the sea, and the brilliant blue expanse: but then I was born there and it is like a renewal of birth.”

Bessie’s words served as the perfect metaphor for the life journey of my fictional character Charlotte Fraser in Carolina Gold.  Like the real-life Bessie, my Charlotte returns to her family’s plantation after the war, virtually penniless but determined to keep the promise made to her father: to restore the plantation to its former glory and resume growing rice. But the house is in ruins thanks to the Yankees, the slaves are free, and everything of value has been stolen, right down to the bed linens. When summer comes, Charlotte makes the journey to her family’s cottage on Pawleys Island.  It is there that she experiences a renewal of her own and regains her perspective on the events that have altered her world forever, and it is there that she finds love with Dr. Nicholas Betancourt, who is harboring deep wounds of his own. 

I look forward to my annual trip to the South Carolina sea islands. They are indeed intoxicating. I loved writing about the haunting beauty of the Lowcountry, its convoluted and tortured past, the endless mysteries of the sea and the simple pleasures it affords. I hope readers enjoy their virtual “beach time” in the pages of Carolina Gold. 

Dorothy Love is the award-winning author of numerous
books for adults, preteens and young adults. Her popular Hickory Ridge series, set in her native Tennessee marked her return to her writing roots in historical fiction and introduced readers to her trademark blend of history, mystery and romance. Love’s latest release, out this month, is Carolina Gold. Her next book, a romantic mystery set in antebellum Savannah, will be published in 2014. She lives in Texas with her husband and their golden retriever and welcomes readers at www.DorothyLovebooks.com and at www.facebook.com/dorothylovebooks.  

Come back Friday for a chance to win a copy of Dorothy's newest release, Carolina Gold!


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