The main character in Beach Town, Greer Hennessey, is a movie location scout. What made you choose to write about Hollywood and the movie business?
I’m the nerd still sitting in a darkened theatre waiting for the location credits to roll at the end of every movie. I’ve always been a big movie buff—and I’m always as intrigued by the real settings of films as I am with the film itself. Also, my daughter Katie issues filming permits for some of the dozens and dozens of film, television and advertising shoots that take place every year in our town.
What research did you do into the movie business and the various roles on a movie set when writing Beach Town?
I actually went out to L.A. to research the places where Greer lived and worked. I took the Paramount Studio tour, visited a movie costume house, and shadowed a film location scout during a shoot in Atlanta. I interviewed three location managers and the hair and make-up artist who became the inspiration for CeeJay in the book.
Is Cypress Key a real place? If not, is it based on any place particular?
Cypress Key is based on the real, charming Florida town of Cedar Key. I fictionalized the town heavily in the book which is why I didn’t call it Cedar Key.
How did you settle on the FL Gulf Coast as the setting for Beach Town?
I wanted a sleepy, virtually untouched town for the setting of the book—which the fictional movie producer Bryce Levy describes as “a cross between the town in Jaws and Body Heat. Most of the East Coast is so heavily developed, I thought the Florida Gulf Coast was virtually the last frontier. Just as Greer does in Beach Town I started looking for my setting in the Panhandle, in Panama City Beach, and then worked my way down the coast until I discovered Cedar Key.
Did you run away from home again when writing this novel? Where did you go this time?
I actually ran away to Cedar Key, FL! The first time I stayed in a tiny tourist motel somewhat like a mini version of the fictional Silver Sands Motel in the book. The second time when I came back I rented a tiny cottage overlooking the Gulf. I find “embedding” myself in the inspiration setting helps put me in the world of the book when I’m writing. But the largest portion of the book got written at our Tybee Island vacation home, Ebbtide, which is named after a beach house in an earlier novel, Summer Rental.
In Beach Town, Eb Thibadeaux is the mayor, town engineer, and owner of the grocery store, motel, and boat yard. What or who inspired this small-town Jack-of-all-trades? Have you known folks like Eb?
I’ve lived in a couple small towns where it seems that a small number of people take responsibility for making things run. In my own town in the Atlanta area, years ago the city manager was also the chief of police. Eb is purely a product of my imagination, but I wanted Eb to be the kind of person who sees what needs to be done, then rolls up his sleeves and makes it happen. He’s an entrepreneur as well as a do-gooder.
There is a dachshund in Beach Town. How did you select this breed? Tell us about your own pets.
I liked the idea of having an outdoorsman like Eb having a small rescue dog—because Eb is a rescuer. And dachshunds just strike me as funny. Golden retrievers are the Heidi Klums of the dog world—and dachshunds are the Amy Poehlers. Our own dogs are English Setters—bird dogs, although the only thing they hunt these days are hand-outs around the supper table.
What qualities make up the ideal beach town for you?
I love an old-school feeling. No high-rise condo towers, no fast-food joints. Just a couple of narrow, sandy roads where families meander down to the beach or ride bikes to the ice cream shop, rows of beat-up wooden cottages, a couple of good hang-out type restaurants with ice-cold beer and good seafood, and of course the beach—preferably wide with sugar white sand.
What is your all-time favorite beach town and why?
I suppose the beach town I grew up near—Pass-A-Grille, in St. Pete Beach, FL is my all-time favorite. It’s where my siblings and I learned to jump into the waves from my father’s broad, sunburnt shoulders, where my teenaged girlfriends and I hung out summers, slathered in baby oil and iodine, and where I went “parking” with my very first boyfriend, necking in the front seat of his mother’s Dodge Valiant. It’s also where I got very drunk on under-aged purchased beer the weekend of high-school graduation—with my now-husband.
What can you tell us about your next book?
It’s set on an imaginary barrier island off the coast of North Carolina, and I’m actually considering throwing a murder into the plot, just to keep things interesting.