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Lowcountry lowdown
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All Dottie Frank wanted was her family’s home on Sullivan’s Island in the South Carolina Lowcountry.

After her mother’s death, Frank asked her husband to buy the house, which had been in her family for 100 years. He wouldn’t budge. ”I was really angry with my husband,” she says.

That started Frank thinking about ways she could earn enough money to buy the house. She needed to find something that would allow her to stay at home with her two children, so she decided to write a book.

”When I was young, I didn’t know anything about writing,” Frank says. ”It never occurred to me that you could make a living doing it.”

What happened after Frank wrote her first novel, Sullivan’s Island, is mind-boggling. It became a bestseller. So did her second book, Plantation, and her third, Isle of Palms.

”I’ve had incredible luck,” Frank admits. ”Sullivan’s Island went on the bestseller list within four days of its release.”

That was a first for Frank’s publisher, The Berkley Publishing Group. Writing under her full name, Dorothea Benton Frank, she quickly became a publishing phenomenon.

Writers such as Pat Conroy and Anne Rivers Siddons have given Frank’s work lavish praise. She has established quite a track record for an ”overnight sensation.”

Now Frank is back with her fourth book, Shem Creek. As with her previous novels, it is billed as A Lowcountry Tale.

Frank wouldn’t consider setting her novels any place else. ”This is the place I really love,” she says. ”I think the Lowcountry is magical. It is an incredible little pocket. People come here and love it, but they are not sure why they love it.

”I have friends from Europe who I’ve brought here,” Frank says. ”I have seen them in Paris or New York and they always say their best vacation was the one they spent on Sullivan’s Island.”

Much of the Lowcountry’s uniqueness is due to its beautiful scenery and teeming wildlife, Frank says. ”A lot is due to the Gullah culture,” she says.

Frank, who has relatives living in Savannah (and numerous ancestors buried here), attributes her success to her subject matter. ”I think it’s because I write about things that happen to everyday people,” she says.

”These are issues we all deal with,” Frank says. ”There are so many things that happen that are regular things, but are extraordinary in your life.”

Having a good sense of humor helps, the irrepressible Frank says. ”I can handle anything as long as I have my sense of humor,” she says.

Readers who are already fans of Frank’s books will be pleased with her latest novel. ”Shem Creek is my best book, or so people tell me,” she says.

Frank refuses to choose a favorite. ”I like them all for different reasons,” she says.

But in the beginning, Frank chose a different career than writing. After graduating from fashion school, she headed to New York City, where she worked in the garment industry.

”I thought I would live there a year or two and come home to marry,” Frank says. ”I met a Yankee, instead. I love New York, but my heart is in the Lowcountry.”

Frank’s success has allowed her not only to buy a beach house on Sullivan’s Island, but to return to the Lowcountry once a month. Well, actually, her husband bought the house.

”The pay-out schedule in publishing is incredibly slow,” Frank explains. ”My husband saw how important it was to me and bought me the house.”

Today, Frank’s children are teenagers, which makes working at home challenging. ”I’m always on call, which is fine,” she says. ”I write when they are in school. When I’m on deadline, I close the door and they know not to bother me.”

Frank treats writing as an eight-hour-a-day job. ”Sometimes I sit down to write and nothing comes,” she says. ”But I always try to put something on paper, even if it’s terrible.”

When she’s not writing, Frank loves to cook -- Southern-style. ”I’m getting ready to make red rice and ham right now,” she says. ”I make a wicked peach cobbler.”

Shem Creek is about a restaurant and includes an account of a wedding. A short cookbook comes with the book.

”In the cookbook are recipes from the restaurant’s menu,” Frank says. ”I include all the recipes that are served at the wedding. The biscuit and pound-cake recipes belong to my sister. My sister is like the Biscuit Queen.”

Frank already is busy writing her fifth novel. ”Everything you write is a part of you,” she says. ”I figure out what story I want to tell first. Then I figure out how I’m going to tell the story and where the story is going to start. I develop characters who can best tell the story.”

To make sure she’s on the right track, Frank tells the story to her husband or a friend. When she sees them take the hook, she knows she’s on the right track.

Whenever she can, Frank visits Savannah. ”My daddy was from Savannah,” she says. ”There have been Bentons in Savannah since the Revolution.”