Thursday, April 17, 2008
Interview with Dorothea Benton Frank
Dorothea Benton Frank's new book, Bulls Island, was just released. She was kind enough to take time to answer a few questions about South Carolina, her writing, and her life.
Lesa - Dorothea, thank you so much for taking the time to do the interview. Let's start with a question about a place you love. As in previous books, you return to South Carolina for your latest novel, Bulls Island. What is it about South Carolina that makes it so important in all of your novels?
Dorothea - South Carolina is the land of my American ancestors, who fought in every war in our nation's history. It is also one of the very important cradles of American civilization. It is rich with stories of bravery and hard won freedom, of gentility and love of family and even its climate is dreamy and sultry with such intense heat, salted breezes and the riots of hurricanes. So beyond the fact that my family has been in South Carolina, the Lowcountry in particular, for over three hundred years, my stories are frequently placed in the south because I love it. But, in The Land of Mango Sunsets, Full of Grace, Shem Creek and Bulls Island, one third or more of the action takes place in the New York area where I have kept a residence for almost thirty years. You should write what you know, I think.
Lesa - Would you give us a summary of the book, Bulls Island?
Dorothea - It's hard to say in a few sentences what Bulls Island is all about because it covers a lot of emotional as well as geographical territory and is almost four hundred pages long. That said, I would say it begs the question of how far would you go to protect someone or some place that you loved? What do you do when you have told a lie so horrible that everyone who loves you would be justified in hating you if you are discovered? And is there such a thing as a love that lasts forever? How important is money? How much does professional success mean to you? It's a busy book with a lot going on. And it's probably more of a romantic thriller than anything I have written, if that's a genre. I don't know because the protagonists don't scare you, but they worry you until all is revealed. I hated to put the pen down on this one because I wanted to stay longer with the characters.
Lesa - When I read the book, I found the island itself fascinating. Would you describe Bulls Island for blog readers?
Dorothea - Bulls Island is a barrier island off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina. It is home to over two hundred species of birds and a healthy population of snakes and alligators, including the infamous Gatorzilla, the largest American Bull Nose alligator on record. It looks a little like Jurassic Park and its ecology is in perfect balance, earning it a Class 1 Protected status from the federal government. You can visit it with Coastal Expeditions, and the contact information is in the back of my book. Take bug spray.
Lesa - Dorothea, I know very little about your background. What led you to writing?
Dorothea - I did not begin my writing career until I was in my early forties, and it was launched as I tried to deal with the grief of losing my mother and our home on Sullivans Island. Before that, I raised money and awareness for the arts and education in New York and New Jersey as a volunteer fundraiser serving on various boards, including the NJ State Council on the Arts, and The Montclair Art Museum. The apparel business led me to New York, and pregnancy led me to New Jersey, where I raised our two children.
Lesa - I understand you split your time between South Carolina and New Jersey. How does your life differ when you're in each place?
Dorothea - This is the easiest question ever! I'm happier in Charleston! My children are in college here, my sister and brother live here, and I have a million old friends here.
Lesa - So many authors say the book they are currently writing is their favorite one. Other than that, do you have a favorite book, and why?
Dorothea - Sullivans Island will always be my favorite book because it brought me back home. Well, at least for part of the time.
Lesa - What can you tell us about your next book?
Dorothea - It's a sequel to Sullivans Island.
Lesa - One last question that I always ask. I'm a public librarian. Do you have any special memories or comments about libraries?
Dorothea - I was born in the pre-B&N/BAM/Borders world where if you liked to read, you developed a healthy relationship with the library. Sullivans Island didn't have street lights, but we had a library. Ask anyone; I basically lived there. Libraries are far more important than the average person thinks on any given day, because they put the world and anything you want to know about it at the fingertips of the average person just like me. It is no exaggeration to say my library and all the possibilities for life I found in its shelves, well, it changed my life in a thousand good ways.
Lesa - Thank you so much, Dorothea, from taking time from your touring schedule, and your life, to answer questions for readers.
Bulls Island by Dorothea Benton Frank. William Morrow, ©2008. ISBN 978-0-06-143843-1 (hardcover), 352p.