“I cut my teeth in the magazine world,” said hugely popular, bestselling author Colleen Oakley, now promoting her third book, You Were There, Too. I asked Colleen why she left the journalism for full time writing and the answer was simple and touching. “I fell in love and got engaged,” she said with a laugh. “My then fiancé, now husband, lived in Atlanta. I wanted to be with him, so I left New York, and moved back to the south.” Even though her journalism career was successful, including tenure as senior editor of Marie Claire, Colleen always loved writing more than editing. Atlanta was very much a homecoming for Colleen, who grew up in Greenville, South Carolina. “I think the South Carolina coast has the most beautiful beaches,” she said when I asked if she had any connections with our area. As a child, we rented homes in Isle of Palms, and I visited Myrtle Beach several times with my church youth group and loved it.” I’m always fascinated by regional influences on writing, and was excited to learn a little about Colleen’s unique perspective. In spite of her roots, she does not define herself as a strictly southern writer. “My entire family is from the northeast, and my parents moved us to Greenville for my dad’s work. I grew up taking vacations in New Jersey and Pennsylvania – they made fun of my southern accent,” she told me laughing. “In my writing it helps – I can set my books anywhere on the east coast and be familiar with the area. It’s also useful to understand different ‘southernisms’ that people who don’t grow up here are not familiar with – my copy editors in New York will circle them and ask me if this is what I meant!” If Colleen’s successful writing career is not enough to impress you, think about this: She does it all with FOUR small children and two of them are twins. I asked her how motherhood influences her writing and all of us with children can relate to her tongue-in-cheek answer. “When the kids are in school, I get to make up stories and write. It’s my private time. People ask why I don’t write more about kids, but I’m trying to get away from them. It’s my escape.” After we laughed about this, Colleen continued, this time more seriously, “I have become more emotional since becoming a mother. I never used to be that way, but it’s given more depth to my writing.” When I open a book by Colleen, I forget I’m reading a novel – her characters and plots lines pull me in and keep me interested. There are magical elements, but this writer says her style is a little different than magical realism. “The thing I try to do with each book is to take outlandish concepts – an allergy to other humans, or a dying wife finding her husband someone to take her place, and make them so believable and so real that readers will question whether or not this is actually true.” You Were There, Too follows two strangers who dream about each and eventually meet. “People dreaming about each other is an actual, documented phenomenon,” Colleen said when I asked how she came up with this absorbing plot. “Of course, typically it’s husband and wife, or best friends, but for fiction it’s more interesting for the dreamers to be strangers.” As we came to the end of our chat, I had to ask the one question all writers get asked: What do you read? A voracious reader, Colleen reads everything. “I like historical fiction, mysteries, dramas, women’s fiction…I love Stephen King, Ann Patchett, Micheal Crichton and psychological thrillers like Gone Girl. I also like non-fiction and memoirs about topics that interest me.” “I have a great life. I live my life in gratitude, optimistically and hopefully. I know how quickly things can change,” said Colleen. “I am so fortunate to be able to do what I do.”
Meet Colleen at the Moveable Feast on January 10th at Inlet Affairs in Murrells Inlet, or on February 6, at the North Myrtle Beach Library. See the Sasee calendar for details. Buy You Were There Too, from your favorite bookseller and watch for her next book, The Invisible Husband of Frick Island, due out in spring of 2021.