You’ll Never Know, Dear is an addictive novel of psychological suspense from Hallie Ephron, bestselling author of Night Night, Sleep Tight, about three generations of women haunted by a little girl’s disappearance, and the porcelain doll that may hold the key to the truth. Find out more about You’ll Never Know, Dear here, available wherever books are sold.
Hallie Ephron on the Southern setting You’ll Never Know, Dear
I grew up in Hollywood, lived in New York City, and now I consider myself a New Englander. To me, the South is like a foreign country. So it was a challenge when I started writing You’ll Never Know, Dear and realized the elderly doll maker and the story I was spinning belonged in the South.
The character is known as Miss Sorrel, and the story opens with her and her daughter eating egg salad sandwiches and sipping sweet tea on their wisteria-draped front porch. Forty years earlier, Miss Sorrel’s young daughter Janey disappeared with the doll Miss Sorrel had made for her. Today, the doll comes back, and with it comes the glimmer of hope that they might find out what happened to Janey.
I decided to set it in Beaufort (BUE-fert), South Carolina, a picturesque, historic town within striking distance of Charleston and Savannah and nestled in the crook of the Beaufort River. I’d been there twice. I wrote half the book, coasting on memory and, as it would turn out, running on fumes. Finally, I realized I had to visit Beaufort again and absorb enough detail and local history so that my version of the town would ring true. I booked a plane ticket and a room for four nights at an inn in the center of the historic district where I imagined my characters lived.
Beaufort was just as gorgeous as I remembered. Live oaks dripping with Spanish moss line the main streets. It has a spectacular river-front park and esplanade. Shrimping boats like the one Officer Dan jumped off in Forrest Gump (filmed in Beaufort) chug up and down the river. Oysters are so plentiful that at low tide, clusters of them are visible at the edge of the river and on pilings. Anyone walking in the marsh’s thick gooey mud risks having their boots sucked right off their feet. The tide there rises and falls 9 feet, so if you get stuck in that mud, you're a goner.
This was the perfect setting for my suspense novel. Just the right balance of unique local color and menace. However, the more I talked to locals, including the town’s wonderful librarians, the more I appreciated the rich eccentricities of Beaufort’s past.
Just for example, John Berendt’s voodoo priestess “Minerva” in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is based on Valerie Fennel Aiken Boles who lived in Beaufort. The macho, larger-than-life fighter-pilot Bull Meechun in Beaufort’s native son, Pat Conroy’s The Great Santini is based on Conroy’s father. Beaufort named its McTeer Bridge for a famous sheriff who called himself a “white witch doctor.” And that was just scratching the surface.
I realized in short order that I couldn’t possibly learn enough of its history to do justice to Beaufort. So I did what writers do – search and replace.
Beaufort became Bonsecours. Like Beaufort, the fictional Bonsecours has a gorgeous historic old town, bridges, marinas, Sea Islands, live oaks and wisteria, magnolia and pecan trees. Its modern police station has a “fallen officers” memorial outside. Its historic center is home to a state university campus. Sports fishing and shrimping are local industries. This description, for instance, is based on notes I took, driving from the Savannah airport to Beaufort:
We’re not in Kansas any more Vanessa thought as she passed billboard after billboard on the Interstate hawking fireworks (“Buy One Get One FREE!” “Get the best BANG for your buck!”) You could get arrested in Rhode Island for just having a sparkler in the trunk of your car. She continued on, exiting the highway and continuing across the vast Port Royal Sound. She’d forgotten how much sky there was here, blue in all directions with turkey vultures teetering high overhead. Live oaks arching across from the sides of the road were the first hint that she was getting close. Their spreading branches dripped with pale gray Spanish moss which hung indiscriminately telephone wires and fences, too.
By calling it Bonsecours, I gave myself license to fudge the details while holding true to my inspiraton. Now I’m hoping my Bonsecours passes muster with my Beaufort friends.