PJ: Tell me a bit about your personal experiences with Naples.
AHH: My husband grew up in Naples. He is a 1968 graduate of Naples Senior High School. In fact, the character “Judd” in my novel is based loosely on my husband, Blair Hearth, when Blair was 12 years old. The lead character, Jackie, was inspired by my late mother-in-law. The family moved from Boston to Naples in 1962 when it was still a small Southern town. By the time I met Blair in 1983, his parents had moved to Atlanta, so there was no Naples “home” for my husband to return to. We visited Naples, anyway, so that my husband could show me the place he considered his hometown. I am still amazed at the disconnect between my husband’s stories about the Naples of the 1960s and the “new” Naples. Florida, of course, has changed enormously in the last fifty years but Naples, according to my husband, is almost unrecognizable. The changes seem more pronounced than in the Tampa Bay area, where my family has roots (and where ten members of my family live). I met Blair when I was a reporter at “The Daytona Beach News-Journal.” We were married in 1985 and around that time we visited Naples together for the first time. By then, it had changed so much already that Blair hardly knew his way around. One of his few points of reference was the Dairy Queen.
PJ: Is the fictional literary group based on a real one?
AHH: The literary group is invented, and the members are composites of many people I have encountered over the years. What WAS real is “Miss Dreamsville.” My mother-in-law really did start a radio show on WNOG by that name, and her identity was a secret, just as it is in the book.
PJ: Was this novel a project long in the planning?
AHH: It was very spontaneous and unplanned. I had decided to take a break from the intensity of publishing. I remember telling my mom, “I’m going to write just for fun for awhile.” So I cleared off my desk and started writing. In the back of my mind, I’d always been interested in my late mother-in-law as someone who was, shall we say, a character. She was a Boston beauty, very intelligent and rather restless, and I knew she’d had a very difficult time relocating to Collier County circa 1962. I’m fascinated by the tensions and misunderstandings between Northerners and Southerners. I had that experience myself as a child. My family moved from Schenectady, New York to Columbia, South Carolina in 1965, when I was six years old. Of course, since I was a child I was able to adapt very quickly. Within a week, I had a Southern accent and I was accepted. It’s a little harder for adults, especially people like my mother-in-law, who was opinionated and outspoken, which rubs Southerners the wrong way. I really wanted to explore that, and so I began working on what I thought was, perhaps, a short story. I fell in love with my characters, however, and just kept on writing. I never set out to write a novel. In fact, this is my first attempt at fiction writing.
PJ: What part of the preparation or writing process did/do you enjoy the most?
AHH: When I lived in Florida (1980-1985) I saw a culture that was vanishing. As editor of the University of Tampa student newspaper, “The Minaret,” and then as a reporter in Daytona Beach after my graduation, I interviewed many “old-time” Florida folks for many different types of stories. All of these people have died but I remember their stories, humor, and insight. I remember, also, the characters I encountered as a child in South Carolina during the 1960s. Writing my novel gave me an opportunity to re-live those years and experiences.
PJ: What did you have the most trouble with?
AHH: Making the transition from nonfiction to fiction is challenging. I had to give myself permission to stray from the facts. At first it was very difficult but eventually I found it quite liberating. Another challenge was that my husband is a primary source for my book. There were times when I felt it was a little unfair for me to keep asking him questions. I felt as if I stole large chunks of his childhood. He’s a good sport, however, and once he got used to the idea, he is my novel’s biggest fan.