Carolina Slade is a by-the-book county manager for the Department of Agriculture-a civil servant who coordinates federal loans for farmers in the coastal lowcountry of South Carolina. When one of her clients, a hog farmer named Jessie Rawlings, offers her a bribe, Slade reports Jessie to her superiors. The next thing she knows, she's besieged by Resident Agent-In-Charge Wayne Largo from the Feds' IG Office in Atlanta. He and his partner have come to investigate Slade's accusations, and if possible catch Jessie in the act of handing over money.
However, the IG isn't telling Slade everything. The agents are also investigating the disappearance of Slade's boss the year before in connection to possible land fraud. And when the sting on Jessie goes bad, the case is put on hold and Wayne is called back to Atlanta, leaving Slade to fear not only for her life and job, but for her childrens' safety.
Feds and farms and frauds, oh my! Everybody say hi to Hope:
Hope has graciously granted me an interview--a Bluestocking Ball first! Read on to get to know Hope and Carolina Slade, and then enter the giveaway for a chance to win an autographed copy of Lowcountry Bribe.
Elizabeth Boyce: Your main character, Carolina Slade, works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. I understand you also have employment history with this agency. Can you tell me about that? Was your work similar to Slade's?
C. Hope Clark: I have a long history with USDA, starting from straight out of college as a loan specialist with my agronomy degree from Clemson University. I made loans to rural homeowners when many lenders would not invest in country real estate because of their iffy appraised values and low resale. I moved up into farm lending, which can get quite complicated, and ran one of the largest farming counties in South Carolina - Orangeburg. Became the highest ranking farm loan specialist in the state for a short while, before others climbed the ladder behind me. Then I moved up into management, where I became more involved in the politics, the nonprofit relationships, the business and small town lending and grant programs, then ultimately I assumed the role of Special Projects Representative much like Carolina Slade. I had oversight over personnel and budget and even investigations. The title changed to Administrative Director over time, but I liked the Special Projects title for Slade - sounded more intimidating.
|You do NOT want to lie to this woman|
about your peanut crop.
Nobody thinks of agriculture having much crime, but in actuality, it has cases, situations, and investigations like any other part of the government. I experienced clients (and employees) who stole, embezzled, committed suicide, committed identity fraud, got wrapped up in porn, disposed of stolen collateral, lied to get funds, couriered drugs, and so on. Those experiences helped me mold Carolina Slade's character and escapades. On top of that, my husband was a USDA OIG Special Agent, much like Wayne Largo in Lowcountry Bribe. He's experienced more cases than I, and at a higher level with more complexity. Between us, we enjoy creating dilemmas for Slade.
EB: Slade is a mother, with two young children. The protagonists of most mystery novels aren't parents. Can you tell me a little bit about why Slade is a mother? Was this a trait you consciously chose to incorporate into her character? And do the kids play an important role in the plot?
CHC: I was hell bent on infusing kids into this mystery series. Female sleuths, most sleuths, actually, are written without the baggage of children. The trouble is, many female sleuths in real life have children. Police, detectives, and agents marry and procreate, and their IQ's don't drop because they used their womb. For some reason, in this genre, women are dumbed down into cozies once the author inserts children in the mix. I wanted Slade to be a sleuth, edgy yet compromised, while also bearing the burden of caring for kids. In the long run, the kids turned out to be a great addition. They become involved in Lowcountry Bribe, endangered, and as a result, Slade has to step outside her comfort zone and perform at a new level. But Zack and Ivy give Carolina Slade a separate dimension. Family as a whole gives her a degree of savvy that can only improve the depth of these stories.I think women will appreciate a sleuth with children - a sleuth that isn't a forensic scientist, crusty single detective, or some babe cop the other cops discriminate against. I wanted nothing to do with stereotypes. I once worked cases with children in school, worrying about who cared for them when I went out of town. Slade can as well.
EB: I write historical fiction, so I'm always looking for the historical angle in novels. Lowcountry Bribe is contemporary fiction, but is set in South Carolina, a state overflowing with history. To what extent does history influence your novel?
|Note to non-Southerners: The tea back there is sweet.|
CHC: I'm a believer that history is key to any story. We are products of history whether it's our great aunt's or grandfather's teachings, or because we live in a town filled with monuments, a place instrumental in the Civil War. Lowcountry Bribe is set in Charleston, only not the city - the county. But families out on the islands of Charleston County can often trace heritage back to the Civil War era. I grew up in that area of South Carolina, so I know that the food, celebrations, architecture, art, and even the agriculture have history embedded in them. I traced my genealogy back to pre-Civil War and learned I had five distant uncles and a distant grandfather who fought for the Mississippi Infantry. Slade is actually the last name of that branch of the family tree on my mother's side, so I gave the name to my protagonist. And I made that history Slade's, a fact that comes out when she's doing title research in the Charleston courthouse. When you understand why something or someone is like it is, based upon history, you can write more freely, more factually, more realistically about them, and the reader appreciates it without exactly knowing why. He just enjoys the story. History will play a major role in all my stories. History is important and too often taken for granted when it's what helped shape us into who we are today.
EB: Along those lines, how much does the setting drive the story?
CHC: Setting is very important in my stories. I'm in awe of South Carolina, its history and its backbone. Having over two decades traveling its rural regions with USDA, I felt that readers would enjoy background other than the standard urban setting. I want people to realize that the country is full of life . . . and crime. Rural has a life of its own, and it can be colorful in ways that an urban-based story could never realize. The Carolina Slade Series will visit a different part of South Carolina in each book, and might even cross over into neighboring states, but it will be Southern. Lowcountry Bribe takes place in Charleston County, particularly the Edisto area. The second book is set in Beaufort, particularly St Helena Island. The third book takes readers to Pelion and rural Lexington County. The average person has never heard of, much less visited, these areas. So setting becomes as inviting as the characters or any plot ploy. It's important to me not to take setting for granted.
EB: Last question: I'm buying. Bourbon, beer, or wine?
CHC: I'm chuckling at that question. Personally? Bourbon. On the back porch overlooking the lake. But in presenting my manuscript to the editor for the first round of edits, she took issue with Slade favoring beer and the occasional bourbon. She wanted Slade to be more lady-like and enjoy her wine. OMG, that is not Carolina Slade. So . . . to accommodate all involved, I painted Slade like this (from Lowcountry Bribe) . . .
To this day I drank bourbon thanks to my daddy. The occasional taste for wine came from Mom. My mood dictated which I preferred, which often meant a can of beer just to be me.
|C. Hope Clark and E. Boyce. One of these days I'll get a decent camera.|
EB: Anything else you'd like to add?
CHC: I've enjoyed this ride with Carolina Slade immensely, and hope to continue this trek as long as I'm allowed. There's a magic to fulfilling a dream, which for me was publishing a mystery. To have it evolve into a series, with a traditional publisher as treasured as Bell Bridge Books, is more than I could have imagined. From the first time I laid pen to paper to the recent release date was 14 years, starting and stopping. The story's been discarded and written from scratch twice. It's been edited at least a dozen times via other eyes than mine. But I can say that each delay, every obstacle that made me return to the keyboard, was a back step worth taking. Amazingly, when I pulled out my very first full manuscript from eons ago, I cringed at the writing. But the title made my mouth drop open. It was called Lowcountry Bribery, and I'd forgotten that. A real wow moment that told me this was meant to be.
Readers are invited to visit the new website at www.chopeclark.com . I'm proud of it, and there they can learn a little more about Lowcountry Bribe, Carolina Slade, C. Hope Clark, and see where this magic carpet ride is taking us in 2012.
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THE GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED. THANKS FOR ENTERING!
If you would like to purchase Lowcountry Bribe, it's available from Bell Bridge Books, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. I understand e-book versions for Kindle and Nook are on the near horizon, so keep your eyes peeled for those.
Thanks for hanging out at the Ball, Hope. It was a pleasure to have you!