I’ve always loved vacationing at the beach. Growing up, we went on hiking and camping trips. We laughed and had fun, but I dreamed of the coast. It only seemed natural to make the setting for my books a beach. A few years ago, my husband’s job brought us to Pawleys Island, South Carolina, and so I adapted my setting to the Low Country.
Between the mainland and the ocean is the marsh. Some call the marsh the creek. People can fish, kayak, and parents can teach their children to swim in the calm marsh waters. The salinity of the marsh water is about the same as the ocean. The water level of the marsh is determined by high and low tide. A type of mud accumulates which holds cordgrass (also known as marsh grass or tidal grass) in place. There’s a rhythm to living on the coast that you don’t find in land-locked areas of the world.
The special mud is called pluff mud, pronounced like fluff. It’s slippery, shiny, brownish, and it will pull you down. The first time I got ensnared by this gooey slime, I wasn’t sure I’d make it back onto the beach. The pluff mud has a distinct scent from dying grass and decomposing fish. It’s a sweet sulfur smell. This scent welcomes locals home and visitors back to the marsh areas along the coast of South Carolina. There’s nothing more beautiful than a South Carolina beach. The sand and waves provide an emotional tug, and along with the beauty there can be a violence in the roar of the waves crashing onto the land. I enjoy incorporating the environment and weather with the emotions my characters feel.
Because readers don’t want me to tell them about the setting, I show it to them with my characters. Andi Grace Scott is a dog walker who often takes dogs for walks on the beach. She always has water on hand and never takes the dogs out during the hottest part of the day.
Picking a real physical setting sets an author up to make mistakes. Readers will notice. Creating a fictional town prevents these slipups. I chose to create Heyward Beach, South Carolina and took the best parts of some of my favorite beaches in the Carolinas. The Low Country is also known for rice plantations, and I created Kennady Plantation for my setting as well.
I featured some careers in Bite the Dust that would be unique to the area. There’s a shop where you can rent boats, bikes, and surf boards. One of the main characters builds and repairs boats on his property that borders the river. Throughout the series, the plantation home will be converted to a business. There is also the Richard Rice Plantation which has a board of directors who play a part in my story.
Besides writing cozy mysteries, I’m a pharmacist. This is a career without flexibility once you show up for work. By law the pharmacy can’t run without a pharmacist. For example, my son is also a pharmacist. His wife went into labor with their second child, and it was his weekend to work. There was no way he was going to hang around for the next ten hours filling prescriptions while his wife delivered their baby. He called the owner who agreed to work the rest of the day for Bill. Then my son got everybody out of the store, customers and employees, locked up, and left for the hospital.
Realistically, a pharmacist wouldn’t be a good amateur sleuth because of the lack of freedom. Before I started writing these books, A Low Country Dog Walker Mystery series, I needed to pick a career with freedom. That’s how Andi Grace became a dog walker. She runs around town from one dog appointment to the next. She’s in and out of people’s homes and can be flexible with her schedule. She actually finds a dead body when she goes to walk a friend’s puppy. She wants justice for her friend, and the past has taught her the bad guys don’t always get caught. So, Andi Grace decides to try to find the killer and begins her journey as an amateur sleuth.
Her favorite hangout is Daily Java, the local coffee shop and bakery. She gathers lots of gossip and even clues. The beach is where she goes to find hope. No matter what storms come, the sun eventually rises, and life goes on.
I hope readers will enjoy the Heyward Beach setting so much they’ll wish they could visit the fictional town. Since that’s impossible, maybe they’ll want to buy the second book.
Jackie has lived her whole life in the South. Kentucky then Georgia, back to Kentucky and now South Carolina. She’s a quick golf cart ride from the nearest beach and loving life on the coast.
As a child, Jackie loved to read, play with her dolls and play Barbies. In high school, she dreamed of stories she’d write, but she didn’t pursue the dream until her youngest son was in high school. One day she thought she’d better start learning or it was never going to happen.
Years ago, Jackie became a sports fan in order to carry on conversations with her husband and two sons. This girly girl learned to understand baseball, football, basketball, soccer and tennis and spent years cheering for her boys.
Jackie enjoys exploring the Low Country of South Carolina where she set her fictional town of Heyward Beach. She spends her time working as a pharmacist, volunteering with a children’s afterschool program, getting involved at her new church, and, of course, writing cozy mysteries.