Birth of a Novel

(revised from the Bold Strokes Books authors’ blog)

My new title, “Call Me Softly” came out in April and I’m pleased that it already has generated a handful of emails from readers. Hey Mikey, they like it!

One email also contained a question. “…loved the story line. How’d that come to you?” That’s often asked of writers, and, as usual, there’s a story behind the story. My answer is: bits and pieces.

My trademark is that I write about the two big loves of my life—women and horses. My first book, “Bareback” revolved around Olympic Equestrian Eventing. My second, “Long Shot” visited the annual Chincoteague pony swim.

 “Call Me Softly” started with my long-standing notion that polo players look powerfully sexy in their uniforms, dashing about on their ponies. I’m also attracted to the fast pace of the game, sort of  like my infatuation with basketball. I began to research the game in the United States and was surprised to find that a hotbed of polo was Aiken,S.C., only thirty minutes from where I grew up in Augusta, Ga. I was familiar with Aiken’s reputation as a Thoroughbred wintering ground, but had no idea about the polo community there. I had my setting.

While I was brooding over what to write next, I reconnected with a cousin who owns a beautiful cabin in the North Georgia mountains. She offered it to me and my partner for a week of vacation, and we gladly accepted. She and her husband brought my uncle with them when they met us there to give us the keys to the place. I hadn’t seen them since childhood.

Uncle Willis is a crusty old retired county agent for the Agriculture Department and still lives in the rural peach-growing area of Georgia. As a child, I was a little scared of him because he was very tall and a bit gruff. As an adult, I discovered that he is an adept story-teller. He drawled out a delightful tale for us of how he and his cronies meet once a month at an old gas station, raise the grease rack and throw a sheet of plywood over it to make a dining table and fry fish for dinner. I knew that had to be a scene in one of my books.

 Uncle Willis is sadly widowed now and seeing him again brought to mind my Aunt Lila Claire. When I was a barefooted little tomboy, I thought she was exotically beautiful with the regal bearing of a queen. The reverence in which my uncle still spoke her name both warmed and broke my heart. From his reminiscing, the character of Lillie Wetherington was born. 

Having spent the week at the cabin, we drove to the North Carolina mountains for a night at the casino in Cherokee. On the way, I looked up to see a sign announcing that we were entering Swain County. That name rolled off my tongue like Southern molasses and  the dashing polo player Swain Butler clicked into place as Lillie’s date to the romance dance.

All that was left to decide were the dance moves that would bring the two characters together. While flipping through TV channels in our Cherokee hotel room, I hit on an old re-run of “Dallas” and started thinking about the episode where Ray showed up at the Ewing mansion and family matriarch Miss Ellie opened her arms to the bastard her late husband had sired. Hmm. Not a new theme in Southern literature, probably because it happens so often it’s sort of a Southern tradition.

And a novel was born. Two interesting characters, a rich Southern tradition and an unconventional romance.

“Call Me Softly” is like sitting down to fried chicken and sweet tea. So, grab a copy, mount up and let me know how you enjoy ride.

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