T. I. Lowe is an ordinary country girl who loves to tell extraordinary stories. She is the author of nearly twenty published novels, including her recent bestselling and critically acclaimed novel Under the Magnolias and her debut breakout, Lulu’s Café.
In this interview, she talks with us about her latest book, Indigo Isle.
FF: Indigo Isle has been described as Prodigal Daughter meets Beauty and the Beast. Why did you choose to write a story with similarities to these two stories?
Both intrigue me. I can definitely identify with both, but who can’t, right? I’m damaged like the beast. I recently lost my sister unexpectedly and then several valleys followed. I know the hurt and wanting to just erect walls and hide, but I also know that’s not healthy. I am also a ‘Prodigal Daughter,’ most days actually. Seriously, I’m an absolute disaster, but I’m so relieved to know I can make a U-turn and my Savior is there waiting to celebrate my return.
FF: What was your inspiration for the setting of the story?
Honey, the South is so full of folklore and romance. Why not set it in my home state?
FF: One of the main characters in the story, Hudson Renfrow, is an indigo farmer. Why did you choose to talk about indigo farming in this story?
Indigo is an important part of South Carolina history in the Lowcountry. I like the idea of learning through my stories and this part of my state’s history allowed me to do just that.
FF: You actually visited an indigo farm while writing this story. Can you talk about that experience? What was your favorite part?
Oh, wow…Truly, one of the best experiences I’ve been blessed to partake in. I loved it from start to finish. My friend Vicki and I started the day collecting indigo leaves, placing them in a mason jar with water, and then, while the jars steeped in boiling pots to extract the dye, we were educated on the plant and its history in our state. Hands-on education at its finest. Then we spent the afternoon learning the art of shibori, folding silk scarves and dying them with the dark-blue dye we extracted from the leaves. I’m in awe over that experience!
FF: Sonny Bates, the female lead in the story, is a Hollywood location scout. Why did you make this Sonny’s occupation?
Lots of times I’ve read where the “prodigal” character is famous. I like that but wanted Sonny to be more relatable. Because we all cannot be famous, but we can all be prodigals. Also, what happens to Sonny can happen to anyone. I want readers to know this and that it’s not right.
FF: Given the occupations of the main characters in the story, you had to do a lot of research. Can you tell us what your research process was like?
It looked like hours upon hours on YouTube! I crack the joke often that I attend the University of YouTube, but I seriously do! Research is the most rewarding part of my writing “job.” I put quotations marks here because this has never felt like a job but an outright blessing.
FF: You say that you allow the story to tell itself as you write. What do you mean by that?
I don’t really outline. Never do I want to put restrictions on the story that needs to be told. Who knows what direction the story will lead me from day to day. I like the freedom of letting it tell me and me not strong-arming it into a fictional formula. There ain’t no fun in that. Not for me anyway.
FF: What is your favorite characteristic of Hudson Renfrow, the Monster of Indigo Isle? What frustrates you about Hudson?
I’m not gonna lie—I had a blast with Hudson. He is not your typical hero. So many times the “grumpy” turns soft too easily in stories. Not my Hudson. That dang man was stubborn to a fault! I liked that he didn’t give in to Sonny right away. He frustrated me much like I frustrate myself. I feel unworthy, unlovable, unredeemable every day. I’m my own worst enemy. Hudson Renfrow is too.
FF: What is your favorite characteristic of Sonny Bates? What frustrates you about Sonny?
Oh, Sonny. That chick marched to the beat of her own drum. If I don’t accomplish anything else in this writing journey, I truly hope I accomplish showing readers it’s perfectly okay to do this. Sonny is flawed, but she genuinely has a good heart. Don’t let the world beat you down to the point you can’t see that in yourself. I fear most of us don’t get this. Sonny frustrated me in the same sense. She didn’t believe God could clean up her tarnished heart.
FF: In typical T. I. Lowe fashion, there’s a host of supporting characters in this story with plenty of humorous qualities. Who was your favorite supporting character to develop and why?
Now we all know that’s like asking me which is my favorite child! My daughter, Lydia, wins today, but my son, Nathan, may snag that position tomorrow! To me, it’s not about favorites, but what my favorite parts are in those supporting characters, because, just like life, we all have our significant roles to play. Lyrica looks like a hot mess from the get-go, but there’s a lot to that sparkly spoiled socialite. Her development throughout the story was as rewarding to me as Hudson and Sonny’s journey. On the other hand, don’t we all need a Vee and Erlene? The wild one and the wise one, both great ones in their own way!
FF: What were your conversations with God like as you created this story? How did he lead you to tell this specific story and why?
My conversation with God is much like all the conversations when it comes to my storytelling. I beg, “God, please don’t let me get in the way of the message you want told.” I’m always terrified that my human self will do just that. Still amazed that God blesses me in spite of myself.
FF: Why is it important to write stories that have characters who deal with real issues? What are some of the real issues this story addresses?
I’ve heard it said before that authors write not to be understood but to understand. There’s a whole heckuva lot I don’t understand but want to. I want to understand why a woman would subject herself to sexual assault like Sonny did. I want to understand why she felt she deserved the mess she found herself stuck in. I want to understand why a man couldn’t forgive himself for not being able to fix a loved one’s addiction, like Hudson did, something I understand firsthand lately. I want to understand how we carry on when life crumbles around us.
FF: This book gives an inside look at sexual assault through a fictional story. Was this hard to write about? How do you hope it helps victims and survivors of sexual assault?
Any type of abuse is always hard to write about, but so many have been subjected to it. More stories need to be told so that real-life victims know they are not alone and for those who have not experienced such horrific abuses to perhaps have a better understanding, to find empathy for those who have.
FF: Was it hard to write a character who was the perpetrator of sexual assault? What was the hardest part?
This was a ginormous challenge. I had to not paint him as a villain from the get-go but had to ease into it, even though I already hated him. The hardest part was not killing him off!
What do you hope readers learn from Sonny, as it pertains to being a victim/survivor of sexual assault?
You deserve better, dang it. Sure, we all mess up and can find ourselves in some dark places, but that does not have to be the end of our story. My focal Scripture for this entire book is on an index card on my closet wall so I can read it each day: “I will search for my lost loved ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again” (Ezekiel 34:16). I need that reminder.
FF: Sonny Bates has a complicated relationship with her family of origin. Why did you choose to include this family dynamic in the story?
I’ve read so many father/son and father/daughter prodigal stories. Loved them but wanted to shine some light on the female dynamics of a family. I thought my readers, who are mostly female, could relate to this better. I know I did and it’s still talking to my tender soul since losing my mom and sister now.
FF: Why was it important to you for Sonny to reconcile with her family, in particular with her mom?
Sonny lost her chance with her dad, but she still had the opportunity with her mom. So many times we focus on the parts we cannot fix but should be focusing on the parts we are still given the opportunity to make right.
FF: Throughout the story, Sonny wrestles with her faith. What do you hope readers will learn about God through Sonny’s story?
It goes back to the focal Scripture for the book, Ezekiel 34:16. We may give up, but our God never does.
FF: What is something you learned about yourself while writing this book?
I should have paid attention in South Carolina history. All history classes, really. How are we not to repeat the bad parts of history if we do not learn from it?
FF: What is one thing you hope readers walk away with after having read Indigo Isle?
“Man, that ole country hick sure can tell a story!” LOL. Seriously, though, I hope readers realize their own stories are continuing until their last breath. Make it count!
Genres: Southern Fiction, Women’s Fiction
Release Date: June 6, 2023
“Storms show up and there ain’t a thing we can do to stop them.”
Sonny Bates left South Carolina fifteen years ago and never looked back. Now she’s a successful Hollywood location scout who travels the world, finding perfect places for movie shoots. Home is wherever she lands, and between her busy schedule and dealing with her boss’s demands, she has little time to think about the past . . . until her latest gig lands her a stone’s throw from everything she left behind.
Searching off the coast of Charleston for a secluded site to film a key scene, Sonny wanders onto a private barrier island and encounters its reclusive owner, known by locals as the Monster of Indigo Isle. What she finds is a man much more complex than the myth.
Once a successful New York attorney, Hudson Renfrow’s grief has exiled him to his island for several years. He spends his days alone, tending his fields of indigo, then making indigo dye—and he has no interest in serving the intrusive needs of a film company or yielding to Sonny’s determined curiosity. But when a hurricane makes landfall on the Carolina coast, stranding them together, an unlikely friendship forms between the two damaged souls. Soon the gruff exterior Hudson has long hidden behind crumbles—exposing the tender part of him that’s desperate for forgiveness and a second chance.
A story of hanging on and letting go, of redemption and reconciliation, and of a love that heals the deepest wounds.
Buy Indigo Isle from the FF Store HERE!
Buy Indigo Isle from Amazon HERE!