Reunion Beach - Elin Hilderbrand
In the summer of 2018, a year prior to her death, Dorothea Benton Frank attended her fifty-year high school reunion in Charleston, South Carolina. The event brought back a lot of her memories of high school—rivalries and cliques, as well as long friendships—and Dottie (as I called her) decided her next book, scheduled for 2020, would center on a similar event. Dottie called the book Reunion Beach. The twist was that each of the various characters would resemble a South Carolina bird—most would be raptors, or birds of prey. She was smitten with the idea and could not wait to get started, although at the time she was still working on Queen Bee.
Dottie was simultaneously the most professional and most seat-of-the-pants author I ever edited. Though she always knew what she would write, and exactly which bookstores she would visit to meet her fans a year in advance, she never actually finished the manuscripts until late winter/early spring of the year of publication. I spent many February and March weeks in South Carolina, editing pages as she wrote them, and somehow the books came out in May. The fifteen years of editing her books was filled with fun: we would hole up in her house on Sullivan’s Island, eat a lot of great South Carolina food at local restaurants, walk the beach, and celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day on the main street. Often we would have our hair done for dinner and get manicures and pedicures. Dottie was always elegant. Plus there was usually an adventure at hand when Dottie was around. Did the golf cart once die on the only deserted street on the island? Yes. Did a nanny wreck her employer’s minivan by plowing into and totaling Dottie’s parked car while we were working on edits in the house? Yes. Did our boat once get stuck in the pluff mud? Of course. Did we once surprise a book club that was reading her book? Yes, indeed. Plus Dottie ended up helping make the appetizers. Did we make major changes to the manuscripts at the very last minute—we did. The year she wrote All Summer Long (spoiler alert), the husband originally died at the end of the novel, but I convinced her he was too fine a character to suffer that fate and the ending became a dream sequence. So I guess one year I even saved a Lowcountry life. Every book made its publication date. But most of all we had a lot of fun, and I fell in love with South Carolina.
Editors are usually the cheerleaders and first fans of a novel. But just as favorite books become “friends,” authors with whom editors work become friends as well. In the spring of 2019 Dottie went on book tour as always for Queen Bee, but was overwhelmed with exhaustion. I believe her favorite thing about writing her books was her May “perspiration tour” of the South and meeting fans, and even though tired she soldiered on. On July 4 she called me with her dire diagnosis, and on September 2, 2019, my friend was gone. Dottie’s husband, Peter, was generous enough to let me look through her office computer and memory stick as well as the papers on her desk, but there was no evidence that Reunion Beach was anything but a fabulous idea. There were no notes on the story line.
Luckily her creative writer friends were inspired by the title Reunion Beach and have joined together with stories, essays, poems, and memories in tribute to Dorothea Benton Frank’s love of the Lowcountry and for the books she never had the opportunity to write.
In closing, I will tell you that Dottie loved to give advice, so I thought I should include two of her greatest hits here:
If you are choosing between two pairs of shoes, pick the red ones.
Remember to sparkle.
Sparkle on, fans of Dorothea Benton Frank. Please enjoy Reunion Beach.
Peter’s Speech at the Celebration of Life for Dottie Frank
Thank you for coming to celebrate the fantastic life of Dottie Frank. She touched millions of people’s lives through her bestselling novels. Dottie was larger than life and a force of nature. As we all know, whatever she put her mind to, she made a great success.
From building a women’s sportswear company, sitting on educational and art boards, raising money for many causes—some of which many of you were involved in—working on the New Jersey State Council of the Arts, writing twenty New York Times bestselling novels to