I’m so excited to share today’s blog post because I’m one proud daughter… my dad wrote a book! Honestly, there are few things that sound more challenging to me than writing a book. My dad worked so hard on his book, Blood in the Low Country, and was so inspired by the project. I might be biased but I think it really shows! As I’ve learned from watching my dad, being a first time author is a huge undertaking and has its fair share of challenges. My dad met each challenge head on and now he can call himself an author. Pretty special!
I sat down with my dad last week and asked him a few questions about the process of writing a book, the story behind his novel, what it was like to get a book published, and more. If you’re looking for a new book to pick up this fall or if you’re at all curious about the process of writing and publishing a book, then I know you’ll enjoy this interview!
P.S. My dad’s book, Blood in the Low Country, is available on Amazon as of this week! Give it a read!
My Dad Wrote A Book!
Before I dive into my interview with my dad, I wanted to set the stage by sharing a brief synopsis of the novel. It’s 1973 in Charleston, South Carolina. The protagonist of the book, Monty Atkins, has built a great life for himself with his wife, Rose, and his two boys, Eli and Walker. In one night, Monty’s world is turned upside down with a heartbreaking murder and devastating betrayal that leave him, his family, and the city of Charleston reeling. Monty must uncover a conspiracy of lies and decide what he will do to protect his family, which includes protecting the secret past of his wife, Rose… a past she has been striving for years to outrun and bury. Can Monty save his family, his business, and potentially his own life? Well friends, there is only one way to find out… read Blood in the Low Country!
P.S. Below are my amazing parents! My author dad and my cute mom reading my dad’s Charleston-based novel here in Charleston.
Can you tell me about the book?
I find this to be one of the hardest questions to answer – and I wrote the book!
To start, Blood in the Low Country is set in Charleston in the 1970s. The story is about the Atkins family. Monty, the father, has a growing legal practice and his wife, Rose, is socially active. Monty and Rose have two boys. The youngest, Walker, is their child and the oldest, Eli, is Rose’s son from her first marriage. All appears well on the home front until there is a horrific murder in the community. The murder takes place off scene so there is no need to worry, this isn’t a gruesome book. The hunt for the killer turns the world of the Atkins family upside down. Monty comes to doubt everything that he had formally believed in – God, the love of his family, and the value of hard work. Throughout the book, we see the major characters change as they deal with the tragedy that has struck.
What inspired you to write a book?
I took it as a challenge. I also found myself with the time in my life to take on a project. As an avid reader, I found that sometimes I’d finish a book and think “that was a phenomenal book” and sometimes I’d finish a book and think “eh, I could do that.” Your mom was tired of hearing me say the latter and she suggested I try writing a book.
I had no idea what a challenge it was going to end up being. I didn’t think it was going to be easy. But I didn’t know it was going to be as hard as it was! I now have respect for anyone who has written a book regardless of whether I happen to like the book or not.
Was this the book you set out to write?
No, this not the book I set out to write. Frankly, when I sat down to write the book, I had no idea how the story would play out. I had some general ideas. About 1/3 of the way through writing the book, I changed who the primary character would be. So, I wrote 50 or so pages that got shelved and may appear in a later book.
This is your first novel. How did you go about figuring out how to do it?
Research and reading! I read a fair number of books on how to write a book. And I read a lot of blogs. I did on a lot of googling on topics like perspective, how to write a scene, dialogue, etc.
Secondly, I began reading different types of books, books that I wouldn’t normally pick up. Specifically, I read more family dramas and more southern writers as I knew I wanted my book to be set in Charleston. I read books by Elin Hilderbrand, Pat Conroy, William Faulkner, and Karen White to name a few.
Did your prior business experience either help or hurt the process?
Let’s get how it hurt out of the way first. In business, I was used to having a task, generally knowing how long the task would take, and completing said task before moving on to the next item of business. With writing, I was quite literally staring at a blank page. I found it frustrating that I could not predict how long something would take and regularly check off tasks.
How did it help? Well, in the book there are some bad actors in the business world. I was a real estate lender for a while and I witnessed fraud, attempted and actual. I was able to draw on what I witnessed when I wrote a sub plot for the book.
Where did you write the book?
Two places – in my home office in Phoenix, AZ but most of the book was written at the Charleston Library Society on King Street. It is housed in a beautiful old building; I enjoyed writing there very much.
Did you have a process or routine for writing the book?
Sort of. I tried to do most of my writing early in the day. I would wake up, read, drink coffee, exercise, and be at my desk by 8 in the morning. And I tried to write 1500 words a day. That was the goal.
However, there were times when my days took on a different shape… I’d write down notes and ideas, cross them out, get nowhere, leave to go do something else, and come back at 3 in the afternoon to find myself writing like a bandit.
What was the best piece of advice you received either in conversation or in your research?
Just write! Don’t try to write the story from beginning to end. Just write and you can knit together scenes and texts later. So, whenever I got stuck, I would try to come back to that advice and ‘just write’.
My book was a combination of planning and seat-of-the-pants ideas. I went back and forth between writing loose outlines and writing seat-of-the-pants concepts. Just writing typically loosened up my imagination. Whenever I sat down and thought I had to write and nail it the first time, I was paralyzed. When I realized I could sit down and just write, willing to go back and throw it away later or heavily edit it later, the words came more easily.
What was the worst piece of advice you received?
Early on in my research, I was reading a book about how to write a book and the author said to never have flashbacks in a story. I found that to be impossible. In my book, I don’t know if I do flashbacks per se but I certainly step back in time.
Forgetting the main character in the book, who was your favorite character to write?
Mrs. Babcock. She is the 80-year-old secretary to the police chief. I just laughed when I got to write her character.
How did you select the setting for the book?
That was an easy decision! Charleston is the perfect setting if you want to write a book. The city is beautiful, the history runs deep, and the people who live here are rich in character and varied. I also grew up in the south, so it was easy for me to retell growing up in the south in the 70s.
Has writing a book impacted how you read books now?
Yes. I’m more aware of aspects of book publishing such as cover design and selecting a book title. I’m also more aware of aspects of writing like the use of particular devices to advance a story, whether characters are reacting to a plot twist in character or out of character, etc.
One of the tips I learned in my research that really helped me is that characters should react to the events in the story, plot twists and turns, for instance, within their character’s personality. Otherwise, the story doesn’t ring true. I’d say I’m more aware now of when the plot arch and the character arc align or don’t align.
While writing Blood in the Low Country, I set out to write a book in which character arch and the plot’s development advanced in step with the other. So, I would ask myself ‘what would the character do next?’ as opposed to ‘what should happen in the plot next?’. It helped me develop the two – plot and character – so each would progress in a rational way.
Once you finished the book, then what? How did you publish the book?
Again, I did a lot of research on how to publish a book. I initially approached agents to see if they would take my book to a publisher. I then approached smaller publishers that would accept books without an agent. From there, as I learned the difficulties as a first-time author, I decided to self-publish. I was fortunate to find great editors, a consultant, and a cover designer who helped immensely. As a team, we published the book.
Was there anything about the process of getting the book published that surprised you?
Yes! I was completely surprised by how hard it was to come up with a title and a book cover. You have all of 15-20 seconds to get someone to pick up your book and read the description, and then maybe another 20 seconds for them to decide to they want to read your book. I hope I’ve done that.
How did the title end up coming to you?
I wanted the title to accomplish a few things. Firstly, I wanted it to emphasize geography. I also wanted the title to be somewhat foreboding. Lastly, I was hoping that the word “blood” would connotate both family lines as well as fear.
So, do you call yourself a writer now?
Yes, I call myself an author. I like the sound of that better than saying I’m retired!
Do you have plans for a second book? Can you tell us about it?
Yes, I am working on a second book, but I can’t tell you about it because I might feel compelled to take the story in a different direction!
OK. Just a few more questions.
Beach or Mountains? Mountains
Bucket List item: Become an accomplished sailor
Favorite hobby: Golf
Most hated hobby: Golf
Dad, thanks for sitting down with me.
If anyone reading this is working on a book or thinking about writing a book, would you be available to answer questions?
Absolutely! Anyone can email me at [email protected]
I love you Dad! xx Jillian