Bili Morrow Shelburne had visited and lived on Hilton Head Island for decades, but she never came across anyone quite like Mama Rae. So she had to invent her.
The voodoo witch doctor is a character in her new book, "Clemmie," which largely takes place on Hilton Head. The novel follows a young woman who wakes up in a Kentucky mental hospital and can't remember the past four years of her life.
Shelburne, who used to split her time between the island and Houston, explains why her characters are drawn to the Lowcountry.
Question. What are your connections to Hilton Head?
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Answer. My husband and I had a three-bedroomvilla (in Palmetto Dunes) for 22 years. I've seen lots of changes on the island. We sold our place in 2005. My husband retired, and we wanted to do more world traveling, which we do.
Q. Why did you pick Hilton Head?
A. Just because I love the island so much. A lot of the romantic parts of the book were inspired, partially, by incidents with my husband and myself. But we were married then. This is a young, unmarried woman.
I did interview a woman who has now passed. She told me a lot about the history of the island. We've also explored a lot in our time there. ... I had to invent some imaginary woods, though. Mama Rae is the old woman in the book who lives in the woods and practices voodoo.
Q. Did you ever meet someone like Mama Rae?
A. No, no. That's inspired from other characters from books and movies.
There's a lot of mention of a lot of real places that used to be. The Rod Laver Tennis Center, which is now Ivan Lendl. The little outdoor restaurant at the Hyatt was Possum Point. It has lots of things that were from back then. A lot of people who were around then would recognize them.
Q. How long have you written?
A. I have loved making up stories since the time I was a little girl. I'd make up stories and pictures to go with them. Even as a teacher we'd publish books. They were bound, and we would write and rewrite and have other students edit and illustrate. I tried to teach the writing process. I must say, though, that I did not follow the rules of the writing process. I cannot write with an outline.