An Island Memory

by Fran McNabb

The Gulf Coast is my home. Its miles of beaches and line of barrier islands, and countless winding bayous and bays have been an influence on me, and now I find it’s an important influence on my books.

ON THE CREST OF A WAVE, my newest Avalon release, is set on the coast during the Civil War. Unlike Scarlett in GONE WITH THE WIND, my heroine didn’t live on a plantation. In fact, her simple life is that of the daughter of a fisherman. I can relate to that. I, too, am the daughter of a fisherman so I understand many of the feelings she had about her life. She finds herself helping a Union officer who is in charge of a prison camp on Ship Island just off the coast of Mississippi. The tiny strip of sand that housed thousands of soldiers, both Union and Confederate, has always been dear to my heart.

Because my mother’s family run the ferry boats to and from the island, I was able to spend one of my childhood summers there while my family worked. For six days a week I roamed the island, swam and played in the surf, and slept in the simple building that my grandfather built. On Saturday evening I took the ferry back to the mainland to attend church on Sunday morning. What a glorious way for any child to spend the summer!

One night during that unforgettable summer, we had to evacuate into Fort Massachusetts because of a high tide from a storm. I remember the night as if it happened yesterday, and when I used the fort in this new novel, I was able to pull from those impressions.

Granted, most authors don’t have the opportunity to personally experience all the places they write about, but getting to know those places and studying the lifestyles during those periods are important to form the types of characters we create.

Today, when my husband and I take our boat for a day or a weekend of fishing and swimming, we can see the fort from where we anchor. It’s hard to walk the island and not think about what happened there over a hundred years ago. For me, it’s easy to look beyond the fishermen and the sun bathers and see my hero and heroine. I was able to immerse myself in that time period when I wrote the story, and I think we need to do that with every story we write or read.

(As I watched the news this morning to see the oil spreading to the beaches of this island, my heart aches to think that even though the island has survived uncountable natural disasters, we could ruin its natural beauty with our man-made mistakes.)


Fran McNabb received both her BS and an ME from the University of Southern Mississippi. After spending two years in Germany with her husband, they returned to the Coast where she taught English and journalism until taking an early retirement. She now lives on a quiet bayou harbor with her husband and cat and spends her time writing, working for her RWA chapter, and presenting writing workshops.

Besides ON THE CREST OF A WAVE (Avalon, Feb 2010), her writing credits include two contemporary tender  romance novels and numerous articles in magazines and newsletters. Visit her at or at

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8 Responses to An Island Memory

  1. Lisa Leibow says:

    Thanks to Fran for visiting Fodder for Fiction. I’m thrilled so many of you joined in on the discussion. Come back soon!

    Lisa Lipkind Leibow

  2. Fran McNabb says:

    Thanks to all of you who commented and thanks to Lisa for having me on her Fodder for Fiction.

  3. Fran
    How timely to share your memories of our fabulous coastal islands when they are in danger. I really enjoy your writing and can’t wait to read On the Crest of a Wave!

  4. Casey Crow says:

    I enjoyed your post. It reminded me of growing up with a bass pond behind my house and “fishing for supper.” Good luck on the new book!
    Lisa – great guest posters you’ve got!
    Casey Crow

  5. Fran says:

    Thanks Sherry, Lois,and Carolyn. Yes, the island is wonderful and my prayers are that it will remain that way after this oil spill. And, yes, Lois, I remember the slot machines well. I used to use nickles out of Grandpa’s cash register to play them!

  6. You have such great memories of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. When I read your book I could picture the island and what it must have been like at the time of the Civil War. I hope you continue to write about the Gulf Coast–before the oil spill.

  7. Fran, you triggered so many wonderful childhood memories for me with this piece! When taking out of state family to Ship Island, we used the tour boats to extend the time on the water for them. Dad couldn’t understand why my brothers required so much change during one trip until he followed them–and discoverd the slot machines on the boat! (Yes, I’m screaming my age. That was long ago!)

    Can’t wait to read ON THE CREST OF A WAVE. And thank you for sharing our fantastic history, and doing it justice. Hubby and I love to take our boat out there to just anchor out and absorb the tranquility. Hope we can rocover it after this horrible oil spill.

  8. Sherry says:

    Fran- I’m glad you made such good use of your lovely memories. Can’t wait to read this one. I hope our Gulf Coast can one day recover from this tragedy. We live in paradise and I sure don’t want it to die. Love ya.

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