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Whose Side Are You On?

“At Loggerheads” pits developers against environmentalists around a murder on a barrier island.

You write what you know. In the case of “At Loggerheads,” author Kristen Ness weaves in the life path she could have taken with the things she cares deeply about in a lush thriller about, believe it or not, sea turtles. 

Kristen Ness is exuberant about her love of the Carolina coastline. An English major at Duke University, she toyed seriously with the idea of a career in marine biology but eventually followed in her father’s footsteps and got a law degree. Even then, she wasn’t convinced she would practice, dabbling in environmental law which led her to international environmental law and a summer in Syndney, Australia. It was at Parker Poe where she came across her calling in immigration law. When the idea for her book began to stick, she decided to open her own law practice so she could balance her love of writing with her career.

“At Loggerheads” is filled with rich natural descriptions that make you long for wind-swept beach walks. Kristen presents her case for conservation through the eyes of a young professional woman, returning home, much like a sea turtle who often travels thousands of miles back to nest in the place she was born.

The Beach

Kristen says her love affair with the beach started when she was a kid. “I grew up in Columbia, but we used to come to Charleston all the time to go to the beach. I was that kid on the beach with a cast net in the tide pools. I collected shells and looked them up in books. I was Brooke.”

Where is Anders Isle?

“When I close my eyes I see the very north end of IOP as far as you can go. My visuals are actually based on how IOP looked before Wild Dunes existed.” 

Who is Brooke?

The line definitely blurs between the author and the main character, Dr. Brooke Edens. “Brooke’s love of marine biology was purposeful. I made her have my alternative dream job!” 

The ‘Write’ Process

“Short stories, free writes, you name it, I always found a little time to write.” Kristen audited a creative writing class at Queen’s College in Charlotte, NC. “I would sneak out of my office to go watch an IMAX movie about dolphins. Someday, I wanted to get back to my love of marine biology and writing.” She started working on “At Loggerheads” around the time she started a family. Sometimes, all she could manage was 15 minutes to flesh out characters or a scene, or jot down some dialogue. “My days were crazy, but when I had the time to come back to the story, it was always there waiting for me.” 

The Idea

“In 2005, I was on the beach with my mom at Sullivan’s Island. It was the first time I had ever seen actual sea turtle tracks on the beach. I got this seed of an idea: what might be happening on this island if you saw tracks of a mother turtle coming out of the ocean to nest, but never found a nest, the turtle, or the return tracks to the water? From that, I started working on an outline.”

Turtle Team

“I was halfway into my first draft when we moved to Charleston. The first thing I did was join the turtle team on Isle of Palms. That was a huge piece of living research. I didn’t tell anyone I was writing a book until the full draft was completed. All the women were amazing and one of them, best-selling author Mary Alice Monroe, was a great mentor and sounding board on next steps.”

“You Had Me at Turtle.”

It might have taken her over a decade to complete the book, but Kristen landed herself an agent in less than 15 minutes. “I checked the acknowledgments in “Where the Crawdads Sing” and decided to query that agent. I received an immediate reply and yes, he actually wrote: ‘You had me at turtle.’ He is a huge component of conservation. Ironically, my publisher used to be on Turtle Patrol in Pawleys Island. Sea turtles really helped me sell my book!”

That Title

To be ‘at loggerheads’ is to be in conflict with someone or something. “Here, it addresses the ongoing conflict between development and environmentalism and begs the question: can you be in the worlds of capitalism and conservation at the same time? Can a healthy economy encourage a healthy environment, and vice versa?”

Blue Sustainability and a Sea Creature Wave in Literature

“Water makes up 70 percent of our planet. I don’t think people really consider the connection we have with the ocean: we came from it, and we will cease to exist if it is not healthy. There are several authors who are now writing fiction about sea creatures, everything from whales to the giant Pacific octopus. I sincerely hope people will read these stories and care more about what is going on in the ocean.” 

So what’s next?

“My goal is to highlight a sea creature in some way in each of my books to illustrate why it’s beneficial to protect that species. My next book will draw from my own experiences again, but this time, the main character will be an immigration lawyer.  It’s a suspense thriller with a murder, and let’s just say the pufferfish and its toxin will be featured largely in the story.”

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