One From the Heart Featuring...

Kathryn Wall

Ah, love and romance-how fitting for February, the month of valentines, lovers, hearts and flowers. I am a true romantic at heart, and so is my darling husband. In fact, we celebrate Valentine's Day more than we celebrate our anniversary! Unique, huh? We do it because we were so broke on our first anniversary we could not afford to do anything except stay home by the fire. In memory of that, we always have a low-key anniversary but a BIG Valentine's Day. Love is like that-different for every couple.

My One From The Heart feature this month is like that too-very different. She fits all of the criteria: has a wonderful husband, beautiful "love story" marriage and performs tons of "One From The Heart" volunteer services. But she also has created one of the hottest romances on Hilton Head Island through her famous character, Bay Tanner.

I am speaking, of course, of the one and only, Kathryn Wall! Like many of us, she is a transplant attracted by the weather. She and her husband bought a condo here in 1984 and made the move in 1994. Speaking of the husband, this is such a great story.

After a "too young" marriage Kathryn decided to make a list of what she really wanted in a life partner and vowed to "get it right." She made a list of the top 10 qualities that any next man must have to be considered. She moved to a different town to start fresh, and on her first Sunday there, someone spread a towel down next to her on her chaise by the pool. "He asked if the baseball game on the radio would bother me. I mumbled something about loving baseball, and the rest is history. Nearly 37 years later, we are both sports fanatics and are still in love. By the way, Norman scored nine out of 10 on the list. He doesn't particularly like to dance," she said. She tells him he is so perfect, she could have ordered him from the Sears catalog.

The first book I read by a local author when we moved here was In For A Penny. I asked Kathryn how the book saga began and whatever led her to create a fabulous character like Bay.

"Writing has been my passion since I was a child; but no one ever encouraged me to pursue it as a career, so I became an accountant, like my dad," she said. "When we retired to the island, I finally had the time to see if I had what it takes to write novels. I took a couple of courses at TLC and began In For A Penny as part of that work. I chose mystery because it is what I like best to read. I made the decision to set the book here on the island because it is an exotic place to most people, and I thought others would enjoy reading about it. Besides, it made research really easy, and I was convinced that the tourists who visit every year would be drawn to books that described places they had visited."

The series, a total of eight books so far, featuring amateur detective Bay Tanner, has seen her go from a desolate widow whose husband was murdered to a confident woman who has found herself as a person but is still looking, in some ways, for love-or is she? Right after the death of her husband, the brother-in-law, Red Tanner, who is a Beaufort County Sheriff, comes into the picture. He is interested, and in fact, has been for quite a while. Bay is put off at first, but Red stays around.

In the second book, Alain Darnay is introduced. He is mysterious, to-die-for handsome, and very French. A relationship begins, flourishes, comes and goes, and creates more sexual tension than you can imagine. By the way, all of this is very much implied and skirted around-no detailed sex scenes. "I did not want to embarrass my elderly mother! Sexual tension is better hinted at than detailed, in my opinion," said Kathryn.

It sure is. Regular readers can't wait to see if Darnay comes back, Red makes his move, or someone new drops onto the scene. Romance is alive and well on Hilton Head Island.

Just a final word about the fictional Bay Tanner: Kathryn says, "Bay is younger, taller, skinnier, richer, smarter, and braver than I am. Otherwise, she is entirely autobiographical."

As you know, One From The Heart presents women who are more than just interesting in their own right-or fascinating as in the case of Kathryn Wall. What else does she do for her community and for others? Well, first, she is a founding member of the Island Writers Network. She has mentored for eight years in the Hilton Head area schools. Her main passion though, as you might guess, is for literacy. She is a member of Literacy Volunteers of the Lowcountry and a member of their Friends of Literacy group. She helped organize their first Cooks and Books fundraiser, which featured local chefs and local authors. (The next one will be held on May 18.) She also serves on their Board of Directors, which she says is a very natural fit for someone like her who loves books, words, and reading.

So, eight successful books and a very full life later, what lies in store for Kathryn and for her alter ego, Bay Tanner? According to Kathryn, she does not know what will come next, for herself or for Bay. I guess in life none of us really do, but up to now, what a life: service to community, a successful both first and second careers, a wonderful, genuinely rich love life and a made up one just waiting to happen. All I can say is: stay tuned!

Up Close

Q. What are you currently reading?
A. I am reading Ken Follet's World Without End now, and I also love to read mysteries, of course.

Q. As a long time local, where do you like to eat?
A. We like Jump and Phil's on a Monday night, and on Fridays we go to Market Street CafÈ. We also like Sunset Grille-Bay and Red eat there, you know.

Q. What does a famous author do on a Sunday afternoon?
A. We watch football during the season or sit on the front deck on really nice days. I also work the New York Times crossword puzzle, and I consider it a badge of honor if I can complete it without cheating-I mean by that looking something up in the dictionary or online. Really, it is our lazy day. We just hang out. (When I asked this question of Kathryn, her first response to the words "famous author" was that I should ask John Jakes!)

Q. When did you first become interested in writing?
A. My mom claims that I wrote my first story at the age of six. It was called Helen's Dream. I still have it, too.

Q. Do you have other writing goals?
A. I would like to try to write a historical novel. Really though, Bay is my first love. I will keep writing her stories as long as my publisher still wants to print them and the public still wants to read them.