This week Auntie M will be in Florida, so it’s only fitting that our guest resides there. Please welcome Laura Smith telling readers about her novel Heart of Palm:
I once heard fiction writer and creative writing professor Lynne Barrett say that Florida is a great place for fiction because “Florida is complicated. It’s not a simple place. Problems arise.” And I have to agree. I’ve lived in Florida for more than thirty years, and I chose to set my novel HEART OF PALM here because I knew that Florida could deliver the eccentric characters and environmental tensions that would make for solid storytelling. It’s just a funky place.
The football player was tracked down. “Ain’t nobody dead,” he said. “Just give me back my leg.”
There’s no end of story ideas. Click the link for inspiration from The South Florida Sun Sentinel. Ah, Florida. Crime, conflict and crisis. You can’t make this stuff up.
But wacky stuff aside, one of the most serious conflicts I’ve witnessed here has been the clash of cultures between old ways of living and new development.
I live in the nation’s Oldest City, but at the same time, my home county is one of the fastest-growing in the state. Total population in St. Johns County grew 54.3% in the last 10 years.
People want to live here, and who can blame them? It’s warm and sunny. It’s comparatively inexpensive. It’s picturesque. But what happens when the newcomers want to change things, and the old guard does not? That’s the conflict I handed my fictional family, the Bravos, in HEART OF PALM.
The novel is told in the voices of six members of the hapless Bravo family—stalwart natives of the neglected and hard-worn town of Utina, a relic of palm harvesters and moonshiners in fast-developing Northeast Florida.
The primary voice belongs to Frank, the middle-aged son who is juggling management of the family restaurant, support of his eccentric mother and sister, and resentment toward his aloof older brother and his absent father. To complicate matters, Frank harbors a decades-old love for his brother’s wife.
We hear, too, from Frank’s mother Arla, a former ingénue who has been physically and emotionally scarred by the life and the marriage she impetuously chose. Also here are the narratives of Sofia, the fragile cynic; Carson, the volatile autocrat; Elizabeth, the voice of reason; and Dean, the heartbreaking but maddeningly affable alcoholic.
Behind each family member’s agenda lurks the memory of shared tragedy and shared blame. When a real estate offer presents a chance for change, Frank faces a hard choice: he can continue his self-imposed penance, or he can pursue his long-postponed desires.
The book is first and foremost about a family. But it’s greatly influenced by the environment in which it takes place. And when it comes to ratcheting up narrative tension, Florida can’t be beat. Take guilt, loneliness, lost love, financial ruin and grief, and then add 98-degree temperatures and suffocating humidity. And see what happens.
Laura Lee Smith’s first novel, HEART OF PALM will be released April 2 by Grove Press.
Her short fiction was selected by guest editor Amy Hempel for inclusion in New Stories from the South: The Year’s Best, 2010. Her work has also appeared in The Florida Review, Natural Bridge, Bayou and other journals. She works as an advertising copywriter and has taught creative writing at Flagler College.