Today, I would like to extend a warm welcome to Millie West, author of 'Catherine's Cross.' She shares with us some insights into her book, as well as to her interesting past. Please feel free to leave her comments and questions below.
What was the inspiration behind 'Catherine's Cross'?
While I was doing historical research for my first novel, The Cast Net, I read about the Federal invasion of Beaufort, Hilton Head, Port Royal and the surrounding Sea Islands during the American Civil War. In the fall of 1861, the Federal Navy commanded by General Thomas Sherman took control of this area of South Carolina and held the land throughout the war. I read that properties in the Low Country were looted by Union soldiers.
I have been a regular visitor to the Beaufort area for about twenty years and have visited antique stores where I saw artifacts retrieved by divers from the waterways. Beaufort was founded in 1711 and over the centuries, there were a number of taverns located along the rivers, especially the Beaufort and Morgan Rivers. Beer and wine bottles often ended up at the bottom of the waterways after consumption.
Which character spoke to you the most during the writing process?I started thinking—what if an artifact of extreme importance was recovered? Catherine’s Cross deals with the recovery of lost treasure and how the discovery affects those involved.
Which scene is your favorite?Seth spoke to me the most during the writing process. He was raised in an abusive household and has worked very hard to overcome the affects of the painful psychological trauma incurred by constant mistreatment. I am very close to someone who endured an abusive childhood. I recognize that recovery from maltreatment as a child is a lifelong process.
The bond between twins is unlike any other between two people. How do you think the story would have been different if Jenks and Gigi were not twins?My favorite scene is the closing scene in the last chapter. Seth and Jenks are visiting the town he grew up in in north Georgia. They visit the cave that Seth and his twin, Steel, discovered as children. Then they visit Steel’s grave. Snow is falling and Seth wipes away the snow on the marker that reveals Steel’s name. A small American flag has been placed by his grave honoring a fallen soldier. I feel a strong sense of peace in this scene and a good way to end the novel.
I read a National Geographic article in the January 2012 issue that dealt with identical twins. Part of the article mentioned a study that found that identical twins who did not grow up together still exhibited many of the same traits. One set of identical twins, Jim Springer and Jim Lewis were adopted separately as babies, but they had amazing similarities. They reconnected as adults. Both had a dog named Toy growing up. Both married women named Linda, divorced them, and then married women named Betty. The article lists a number of other similarities between the two men.
Another set of twins in the article took their first steps on the same day, but lived separately with adoptive families. In my novel, I was inspired by these remarkable similarities between identical twins and Jenks and Gigi shared traits. They both took their first steps as toddlers on the same day. They both twirled their hair while they were nervous. The study also mentioned one set of twins, Bob and Mike Bryan who have won more than seventy doubles tennis championships including Wimbledon. They are accused of being telepathic because they anticipate each other so well.
Jenks and Gigi are able to sense if the other twin is in trouble. At the beginning of Catherine’s Cross, Jenks’s has the crushing sensation that something is wrong with Gigi. She finds out around mid-night the reason for her fears.
I think if identical twins were not the subject of Catherine’s Cross, I could not have used the telepathic capabilities the two shared. Gigi was more independent than Jenks, but as the novel progresses, Jenks develops more of these characteristics. There is another set of identical twins in the story—Seth and Steel Mason. They also sensed when the other was in trouble.
Romance and mystery often make for a winning combination. What is it about the romantic mystery genre that compels writers to tell the stories and captures the devotion of readers?Both Jenks and Seth share a bond—they both know the tragic consequences of losing the person closest to them.
I am a fan of Alfred Hitchcock, and I especially enjoy the way he combined mystery / suspense, with a love story. My favorite Hitchcock film is North by Northwest. The film stars Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint. Hitchcock creates incredible suspense in the movie, especially when Grant is attacked by the crop dusting pilot in a mid-west cornfield. At the end of the film, Grant saves the life of Eva Marie Saint while she dangles on the side of Mt. Rushmore. The final scene shows Grant and Saint together on a train—newlyweds—and a happy ending. I think what makes the mystery / romance genre so enjoyable is that one minute we can be on the edge of our seats, and then the next, contented by a romantic conclusion.
Tell us about your other published work.In my writing, I hope to bring mystery and suspense to the story line while there is a main plot and subplots woven into the novel. I think many readers, like me, enjoy being gripped by a suspenseful tale.
What other projects are currently in progress?My first novel, The Cast Net was published in 2012. I had the idea for the story for many years, but did not have time to write. I worked as a real estate broker for sixteen years and when the market slowed, I began work on my novel. The Cast Net took three years to write. I have South Carolina history in the novel, and I read about twenty-five books to make sure I got the facts correct. Like Catherine’s Cross, the genre is mystery / suspense with a love story. Set in Edisto and Charleston, South Carolina, the story follows Mills Taylor who has accepted the job of running an educational foundation. However, she steps into an unfamiliar world of family secrets, betrayal, supernatural tales, southern traditions and money—lots of money. The Cast Net is a novel about roots, redemption, trust, and especially—love.
You were one of the first pilots hired by United Parcel Service when they started their flight crew department. How did you get involved in that?I am currently working on a sequel to The Cast Net. At this point, I’m about 28,000 words into the novel, but I don’t want to say too much about the details. It could spoil the end of The Cast Net for those who haven’t read it yet.
While I was a student at the University of South Carolina, I started taking flying lessons. My instructor, Bob Tolhurst, had been a WWII fighter pilot, and I thoroughly enjoyed taking lessons from him. After I earned my private pilot’s license, I got hooked on flying, and I wanted to make it my career. Even as a small child, I had a desire to learn how to fly. My first real flying job was flying a Piper Saratoga and a Cessna 321 for a construction company. I then flew for a commuter airline, Sunbird, based in Charlotte, North Carolina. We flew Beech 99 airplanes, mostly on short hops to nearby towns in North and South Carolina.
You live in South Carolina and revel in the state's rich history. What are some of your favorite stories and recommended places to visit?After Sunbird, I was hired by Orion Air, a company that performed contract work for United Parcel Service. I was the flight engineer on a Boeing 727. When UPS opened its flight department, I was in the first class of pilots. I enjoyed working for UPS. When my daughter was born, I left the company.
I think my favorite South Carolina historical story concerns the disappearance of Theodosia Burr Alston. Daughter of Aaron Burr, who was Thomas Jefferson’s vice-president, Theodosia was married to the governor of South Carolina, Joseph Alston. Just before the new year of 1813, Theodosia set sail from Winyah Bay, Georgetown, South Carolina on a ship named the Patriot for New York. The ship and Theodosia would never be seen again.
In The Cast Net, I weave the story of Theodosia’s disappearance into my novel. Cooper Heath has a missing wife and after he tells the story of Theodosia’s plight to Mills, he says he thinks he understands how Joseph Alston felt. Mills asks him what he thinks happened to Theodosia and he comments that the Patriot may have sunk in a violent ocean storm. Cooper then confesses that he knows all too well about what can happen in a catastrophic ocean storm, but won’t elaborate. He has a tortuous secret.
What is something readers may be surprised to learn about you?My favorite places in South Carolina are in the Low Country. Charleston is my favorite city. I enjoy walking around the historical houses and viewing the gardens. My idea for the plantation ruins in The Cast Net came from touring the historical properties, churches and homes in Georgetown County. There are many significant properties that have been thoughtfully conserved. Lastly, I want to mention Beaufort, which is the setting for Catherine’s Cross. Beaufort County is an unspoiled gem.
Is there anything else you would like to add?I am a huge fan of piano jazz. I especially enjoy the music of Bill Evans, Ellis Marsalis, Oscar Petersen, and Gene Harris. Cooper Heath, in The Cast Net, is an extremely talented pianist. On the first evening that Mills is in South Carolina, Cooper entertains her on the piano. The first song he plays is the “Love Theme” from the movie, Spartacus. Bill Evans’s rendition of this hauntingly beautiful song is one of my favorites.
Thank you so much for your time!Thank you for the opportunity to post this blog. Millie West
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
A graduate of the University of South Carolina, Millie West has a background in aviation, as well as in real estate, and has owned and been the broker of her own company. A licensed pilot, Millie was one of the first pilots hired by United Parcel Service when they started their flight crew department.
An artist in her own right and a collection of regional art—especially from Charleston—Millie is a supporter of charitable organizations, higher education, and the preservation of South Carolina’s historical treasures. A South Carolina history buff, Millie has spent countless hours exploring the rich historical vestiges of her home state. She has viewed many treasures of the past by taking less-traveled paths into the countryside that was inhabited by Native Americans hundreds of years ago.
Her love of the fascinating, complex, and compelling history of the South is expressed in her
Millie resides with her family near Columbia, South Carolina, and is an active participant in her local writers’ group, the Chapin Chapter of the South Carolina Writers Workshop. To learn more about Millie West and her first novel, The Cast Net, and her latest release, Catherine’s Cross, visit www.milliewestauthor.com.
by Millie West
When Jenks Ellington experiences a sudden, alarming sense of panic about her identical twin sister Gigi, she has to wait until nearly midnight before learning the reason for her unease: Gigi has drowned while diving for artifacts in a Low Country river near Beaufort, South Carolina. Although Beaufort County detective Seth Mason is suspicious of Gigi’s diving partner, there is no evidence of foul play. But, when Gigi’s Port Royal home is broken into and ransacked, Jenks discovers two clues—one of which leads her to the home of a local Gullah medium.
In a painstaking search for answers, Jenks delves more deeply into her twin’s life. Along the way, her bond with Detective Mason reaches unexpected depths. And what secrets could medium Meta Jane be holding? Was Gigi’s death really an accident?
A sneak peek of the first chapter is available here:
Buy it on Amazon