USA Today bestselling Christian Romance author Nancy Naigle whips up small-town love stories with a whole lot of heart. She began her popular contemporary romance Adams Grove Series while juggling a successful career in finance and life on a seventy-six-acre farm. Over twenty-five novels later, Nancy is a Romance Writers of America and ACFW Honor Roll author. Her books have been translated into multiple languages and received favorable reviews from major trade journals.
In 2018, Crown Media brought two of Nancy’s novels, Christmas Joy and Hope at Christmas to life. She also novelized two Hallmark original movies set in the town of Evergreen, and the third is a work in progress, bringing the whole story and bonus epilogues to Hallmark fans. In this interview, Nancy discusses her latest novel, The Shell Collector.
FF: What is the inspiration behind The Shell Collector?
My cousin once shared a story from a family friend who found special shells along the beach in Kitty Hawk, NC, where she lived. Each one included a scripture written inside. She found more than half a dozen of those shells over the years. Each of the shells came to her when she needed it most. No one else ever mentioned finding one, which left her wondering how they came to her, and why. She treasured them, considering them gifts from her angels by the sea.
I loved the idea of those shells, and thought of it often; but never more than in 2014, when I lost my husband and my cousin within just weeks of each other. I could have used a boatload of those shells that year.
Instead of finding shells, the story of The Shell Collector took hold in my heart, and over the years it grew into a story not just about shells, but the people whose lives they touched and the friendships and love that grew because of them. A story of kindness, friendship, survival, and hope.
FF: Even though The Shell Collector is an uplifting story, it incorporates some deeper themes, such as experiencing and learning to heal from personal loss. Why were these important for you to include?
I believe that every step in our journey has value, even the bad times. Losing my husband was hard, and sad, and I couldn’t have done it without the wonderful friends that were there for me. I wanted to find a way to share comfort and hope with other women through my journey. I hope this story touches a heart, tickles a memory, and offers a hope-filled smile to someone who needs it.
FF: Are any of the characters based on real people?
Only one character in The Shell Collector was based on a real person, and that was a last minute addition actually. I remarried last year and one of the men that worked for my husband’s landscape and grading business was always begging me to put him in a book. The funny thing was he didn’t want me to put his name in the book, but wanted me to name the character Chase, because he’d always thought that was such a cool name. He died in a car accident during the editing of this book. I added a character named Chase to the story just for him. Not much of it made the final version, but I hope he’s smiling at the small mention.
Maeve wasn’t based on one real person, but I do think everyone should have a ‘Maeve’ in their life, and good friends they can count on. My ‘Maeve’ wasn’t an elderly woman or a widow, but she is a wonderful lady and little bits of her show up in lots of my favorite characters.
FF: Who was your favorite character to write? Which character did you resonate with the most?
I fell in love with the whole cast of characters in this book. Even Tug, who started out as a teensy character in the first draft. He came to life, and I just couldn’t get enough of him, which is why I gave him a fun pet. The Wife was quite fun to write. I grew up in Virginia Beach, so writing Hailey and Jesse and their new experiences on the beach brought back so many childhood memories—building sand castles, chasing critters, searching for shells, and getting sunburned. Mom’s a redhead and my brother and I were both little blondies. There was always the scent of Coppertone in the air.
FF: How did you choose which messages to include in the shells? Is there one “shell message” that means more to you personally than the others?
There were so many on my list that never made it into the book. I wanted to choose messages that would appeal to many people. I also wanted to keep them short so that it seemed realistic to the reader that it could fit on a shell. For example, one of the scriptures from the true-life experience had Jeremiah 29:11 – For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Gives you tingles, right? But I wondered how I could get all that written in a shell, so I decided to keep it simple and as realistic as possible.
My favorite shell quote from the book is the simplest one to read, and often the hardest to do. “Interrupt worry with gratitude.”
You can download quote blocks with the shell quotes from the book on my website at www.NancyNaigle.com/theshellcollector.
FF: One of the traits that makes this novel so delightful is the beach town setting of Whelk’s Island. Are there specific places you’ve traveled to that helped inspire the location?
I grew up in Virginia Beach, and even back then in the sixties, it seemed crowded. My great aunt had a beach house on the bay, so we spent our days more often on bay where the water was calm, although also teeming with jellyfish certain times of the year, and the dune over to the beach seemed like a mountain. I remember each of us carrying our towels to toss down and cool our feet before picking it up and skip-hopping forward. As a teen and adult I spent my time on the beaches of the Outer Banks which were far less populated at the time. I’ve been up and down the east coast over the years, and been blessed with experiencing the white sands of the islands too. Each is different right down to the feel of the sand, but just as special in their own ways.
FF: What made you decide to feature the military so prominently in this story—both with Amanda’s life as a marine wife and the rehabilitation center for military dogs?
It takes a special woman to be a military spouse. They are often the unsung heroes, keeping the families going while their significant other is deployed, and grappling with the underlying risk these soldiers take in fighting for our freedom. It makes Amanda a hero, too.
Growing up in the Virginia Beach-Norfolk area, I was well aware of how military life involves not just the soldier, but the whole family unit.
I’m fascinated by the amount of work that it takes to bring back our military working dogs home, and the decisioning on how to retire them and who ultimately will give them a forever home is huge, too. At first I had Paul rescuing those big box ghost stores all over the nation. It makes me crazy how many perfectly good buildings sit there empty like eyesores when there are so many homeless folks and other good causes that could put them to use. But as I got to work, Paul’s story grew and I felt he needed to do something to continue to support fellow Marines and the working dogs he’d left behind. The idea came to me out of the blue one night, and it worked.
FF: Have you ever been to Denali National Park or to Charleston, South Carolina, to see the Spanish moss? What made you choose to include those beautiful places in particular?
I have been to Denali National Park. One of my books, Life After Perfect, was a Princess Cruises Book Club Pick one summer, and I got to sign books on the Pacific Princess on a cruise to Alaska. I traveled with three couples and we made it a two-week trip going to Denali and on up to Fairbanks, where unfortunately I had to stay a few days extra because I’d caught pneumonia on the trip. I absolutely fell in love with Alaska. I was there in July and early August. The weather was mild, and the landscape jaw-dropping gorgeous. I also included Alaska in another novel, Until Tomorrow, featuring a glass-blower inspired by an excursion in Skagway. I love sharing my experiences through my stories.
Using Denali in this story started with coming up with an interesting name for the dog. From there it came to life.
Charleston, SC, is such a romantic town steeped in history and, for me, the feeling of stepping back into time with the gorgeous homes. Like Maeve, as a little girl I was so intrigued by the Spanish moss, which by the way is not a moss or Spanish.
Small town stories don’t mean you can’t meander and witness other parts of this nation, too. I enjoy the chance to share places I love with little cameos in my novels, and giving those who don’t have the chance to physically meander a chance to experience them.
FF: What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
If the reader has lived through this type of loss, I hope they find comfort and hope. If they haven’t, then I hope it encourages them to step up and be the ‘Maeve’ for someone else. Should they ever go through this type of grief and sorrow, I hope some of the comforting words in this story will give them strength and assurance to proceed with grace. Those feelings of loss never go away, but they do change. They lose the sharp edges and the weight. Unfortunately, there’s no recipe to make it through faster or easier. Everyone is different. Life is rarely predictable, if we’re doing it right.
FF: You write small town stories; did you grow up in a small town?
Not really. The part of Virginia Beach I grew up in was somewhat rural at that time, but I never thought of it as a small town. It wasn’t until I began traveling as an adult that I fell in love with small towns. The people, home-cooking, traditions, and inside secrets all nestled into a community that is as tightly woven as a comfy pair of old jeans. I pull together little bits and parts of different places I’ve visited over the years, and I never miss a chance to stop in new small towns on my travels.
FF: When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?
I didn’t grow up with the desire to become a writer. I was a senior vice president with Bank of America, and I loved my career. I worked incredibly long hours, and the stress was high, but I thrived in that environment. The year I turned 40 I found myself wanting to do something that was more meaningful. Part of my job that year had been shipping technical positions off to India, and that was really hard for me even though I knew it was the right business decision at the time. I thought if I could write one book, to help one busy gal, through one bad day…that would be a positive was to give back. I started right then to try to write a book. It was a lot harder than it sounded lol! It took a long time to get that first book written and published, but it was worth the journey. My writing journey started eighteen years ago, and I’ve now been published for eleven years, and have over 30 books.
FF: What is your favorite line from one of your books?
From The Shell Collector, when Maeve speaks of the friendship between her and Amanda: “We might be an unlikely pair to anyone looking at us, but we’ve kind of rescued each other.”
I love this line, because neither was acting for themselves. Theirs were selfless acts. They were only offering kindness, yet they both benefitted so greatly from the friendship. Kindness is powerful.
FF: What are you working on now, or what is your next writing project?
Edits are underway on The Wedding Ranch for St. Martin’s Press, and I’m writing What Remains True for WaterBrook Press. Both are set in small towns with delightful characters that I’m really enjoying spending my days with. Keep an eye out for both of them in 2022.
Two years after her husband’s death, Amanda Whittier has two children to raise alone, an abandoned dream of starting a business, and a fixer-upper cottage by the sea. She has no room in her life for anything else and little interest in moving on after losing the man she loved.
Paul Grant is a relative newcomer to the area, and his work with former military dogs needing rehabilitation has been good for the town. Though he loved once before, he’s convinced he’s not suited for romance and is determined to find meaning—alone—through his work and role in the community.
Widowed Maeve Lindsay was born and raised on Whelk’s Island. Spirited, kind, and a little mischievous, she pours her life into the town. But she carries a secret that shapes her every move.
Together, these three souls find encouragement in the most mysterious places and discover a love that’s bigger than their pain, healing their wounded hearts in ways none of them could have hoped for or expected.
The Shell Collector
Release Date: May 11, 2021
ISBN-10 : 0593193598
ISBN-13 : 978-0593193594
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