My new book, Porch Lights shows the importance of porches in southern living and reminds us that a porch light is a sign of welcome. Picture this. It’s July deep in the Lowcountry of South Carolina on Sullivans Island. It’s blistering hot, it’s so humid you can swim from room to room and you wouldn’t dream of leaving the house without sunglasses. Forget the city. Forget work. The beach is the only place you want to be and if there’s even a snippet of a breeze, the only place to be is on a porch with a cool drink.
My characters – Jackie and young Charlie McMullen, Annie Britt, Miss Deb, Buster and the doc next door, Steve Plofker – tell their stories, unburden their hearts and consume many adult beverages on the front porch of Annie Britt’s funky old cottage, The Salty Dog that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. They watch the tides rise and fall, the sun worshippers come and go, the dog people arrive to play with their pets and scurry away by curfew. By days end, they gather there again to chat for a while before supper is begun. When it gets dark, the porch lights are turned on, especially if they are expecting someone or if they are merely amenable to visitors who drop by. Y’all come on in! What can I get you? We’re all outside on the porch, just listening to the ocean. Come in! Come in! Join us!
As the story unfolds, we see the grandmother Annie working as hard as she can to pull her grandson, Charlie out of his depression by immersing him in the history of South Carolina. What would fascinate a boy of ten years old? Stories of bravery and passion from the American Revolution? Battles that took place right where they walk? And what about someone like Edgar Allan Poe who actually lived on the island? Everyone gets involved to help Charlie but Charlie has a few ideas of his own.
In preparation to write Porch Lights, I reread much of Poe’s work, scholarly opinions about Poe’s work and about the man himself. I began to draw some opinions of my own. First, Edgar Allan Poe was not the drunken reprobate, opium addict of myth but that is not to say that he was not a deeply weird and dark thinking little man. If you go back to his childhood, the patterns and reoccurring themes in his work make perfect sense – in fact, I would say he was so emotionally battered by loss, it would be stranger still if he did not write about death and cheating death and about the lines between life and death.
As a writer, I gathered up all this information and used it in my story with an eyedropper. If my reader wants to read Poe there are plenty of volumes to be found. My job is to tell an original story that will entertain you, one where you can relate to the characters and give you enough information about a topic that has some take away value. Hopefully I have done that with Porch Lights.
I’d like to add a few more thoughts. It’s amusing to me that in 2012, everywhere that Poe lived hails his legacy because when he was alive he was not well liked. Boston, Philadelphia, West Point, Baltimore, and New York all claim him. I certainly intend to do my part by reminding the world that his creative juices flowed in the center of the universe, which is of course, Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina. And, maybe if Poe had access to a porch, it might have saved him. But then, Poe wouldn’t be Poe, or would he?