A chat with Millie West, author of 'Catherine's Cross'

jpaprocki@islandpacket.comMay 19, 2013 

Millie West, author of "Catherine's Cross"

Name: Arlene Westermeyer

Pen name: Millie West (She thought it was a bit catchier, not to mention easier to spell.)

Book: "Catherine's Cross"

Publisher: BQB Publishing in Atlanta

Residence: Chapin

Where to buy: Beaufort Bookstore, McIntosh Book Shoppe, online retailers. West will hold a book signing at 1 p.m. May 25 at McIntosh Book Shoppe, 917 Bay St.

Plot summary in 50 words or less: When Jenks Ellington finds out that her twin sister, Gigi, has died diving for artifacts in a Lowcountry river, she starts investigating to find out if it was truly an accident. He journey brings her to Charleston and Beaufort, encountering mystery and romance along the way.

First sentence: "Just before one in the afternoon, while Jenks was watering her ferns, she felt a strange sensation run through her body, like a chill that went to her bones."

Previous experience: "Catherine's Cross" is West's second novel. Her first, "The Cast Net," will be re-released in July

Early writing experience: West always wanted to write, but didn't start in earnest until recently. After graduating University of South Carolina, she became a pilot for UPS. Then she become a mother and practiced real estate for 16 years. When the market dipped she decided it was time to write again.

Story behind the title: "Catherine's Cross" is a reference to a fictional cross owned by Catherine the Great that was looted from a Southern plantation during the Civil War. The ship it was stowed on sank, making it a long lost treasure.

Connection to the Lowcountry: West and her family have been coming to Beaufort and Charleston for close to 20 years. They fish in the Chechessee and Broad rivers.

What prompted the novel: West researched the Lowcountry extensively while writing "The Cast Net," which is set outside Charleston. She decided to explore more of the culture and history of the area in another novel, which became "Catherine's Cross."

Writer's quirk: She's a heavy researcher. She places a high value on knowledge of a particular area before writing. "I find one of the best things is to know the history of the place, know the culture, the traditions, know where the people are coming from," she said.

She even consulted the Beaufort County Sheriff's Department about the police procedural side, getting good feedback. "All those years watching 'Law & Order' must have paid off," she said.

Favorite author: "To Kill A Mockingbird" author Harper Lee. "She only wrote the one book but it was so good. It was a blockbuster."

Why the Lowcountry setting: The novel is full of references to actual places, everything from Coffin Point to the Shrimp Shack. She found the majesty of the Lowcountry unique, the perfect place for a murder mystery with a little romance, too. "I could have set a book in Chapin, but you couldn't find treasure at the bottom of a river like you would in the Lowcountry. You're more likely to find an old automobile. Things like that just happen in the Lowcountry."


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