This is a frequent and flattering comment I get on my website guestbook pages, in my email inbox and at signing events. Interestingly, the majority of these requests are for The Beach House and its sequel, Swimming Lessons. People are curious to learn more about the lives of Lovie, Cara and Brett, Toy, Little Lovie and Ethan at the quaint, charming little beach house on the Isle of Palms.
It’s been ten years since I introduced you to Olivia “Lovie” Rutledge in my first NY Times hit, The Beach House. Lovie Rutledge is the island’s turtle lady, a widow trying to make amends for mistakes made long ago before the sun sets on her final summer.
Lovie stood alone gazing toward the west. The day’s light extinguished and the night grew dark and silent save for the clicking of the swaying sea oats and the gentle lapping of waves along the shore. As ghosts of the past rose up to swirl in the hallucinatory colors of twilight, she sighed deeply, clasping her hands tight in front of her as one in prayers. She was nearly seventy years old. There was no time left for regret or misgivings, no time for dreams of what might have been. There were plants to be made. The beach house—and all the secrets it held—had to be place in secure hands. Too much had been sacrificed for too many years to let the secrets slip out now. (Prologue, THE BEACH HOUSE)There’s an old saying” You must know where you came from to know where you are going. This is what motivated me to write the prequel, BEACH HOUSE MEMORIES. After reading The Beach House, my married daughter remarked that she couldn’t understand how Lovie could have stayed in a marriage with an abusive husband. I realized that she—like so many young women today—had no comprehension of the rigid social structure for women as recently as the 1970s. I explored the parallel of change occurring in women’s lives in Charleston at the onset of feminism and the destruction of the last vestige of wildness, a maritime forest, on Isle of Palms.
How far would you go, how much would you risk for love? Is the price of love worth your reputation, your marriage, your family? Now imagine answering those questions in the south in 1974. The repercussions of any woman seeking a divorce in the seventies, but especially one from ‘South of Broad’, were staggering. Divorce was scandalous. Adultery was unforgivable. “You made your bed, now lie in it,” was an often repeated phrase. The fight for women’s equal rights raged in the north, but no bras were burned in Charleston! The role and expectations of a southern lady held firm—to be subservient to her husband and to know her role as a homemaker and mother. She had no where to go if she was in trouble. As a supporter of women’s shelters, I knew I had to tell this story.
So all summer, I’ve been writing Lovie’s story. The year is 1974. Cara is nine years old and Palmer is teenager. It is a life-altering summer of secrets. Peeling back the layers of these characters’ past reveals complicated and thought provoking lives and decisions. I hope the prequel will answer questions that lingered in the pages of The Beach House-- and I have new surprises, too.
I’m curious—what questions do you have? Who is your favorite character?
The prequel, BEACH HOUSE MEMORIES, will be released in hardcover in May 2012. I hope you’ll enjoy this look back into a tumultuous, important time in Charleston’s history as well as that of the Isle of Palms, seen through the eyes of one of my most beloved characters.