It is my pleasure to interview someone who was formative in my beginnings as a writer. Lee Tobin McClain has been an integral part of Seton Hill University’s MFA program in writing popular fiction. It is the only such program in North America. I found inspiration and composed a key scene of my novel in one of her workshops.

Furthermore, Lee, an USA Today bestselling author, pens “angsty-but-heartwarming romances” filled with faith and everyday people seeking and finding love and second chances. Lee has most recently launched a second novel in a series, Low Country Dreams. This book and the first book Low Country Hero are set in coastal South Carolina. Since setting plays a central role in A Thing of Beauty, I therefore felt it was appropriate to discuss the importance of setting in Lee’s Safe Haven series.

Hi Gale, thanks for being interested in my writing! As for your questions:

The power of setting

Lee, why does setting matter in storytelling?

In a novel, you’re inviting your reader to go somewhere with you. The “where” is important! It has to do with reader expectations. In my subgenre, sweet romance, readers like small, nostalgic towns and caring communities of friends and families. They want a nostalgic feel and a lot of warmth, and they prefer homespun settings in the south or Midwest. An urban fantasy reader would have a completely different preference and expectation.

Describe your personal journey with the Low Country setting.

I love the beach, and I wanted to write a story with a coastal setting. I toyed with Florida, a place I love, but I couldn’t get the right small-town, family-oriented feeling there. Since I’ve lived in North Carolina and vacationed all up and down the Carolina/Georgia coast, I started exploring that area. Took a couple of research trips, did a lot of reading, and came up with Safe Haven, South Carolina, a beachfront town modelled on Georgetown, South Carolina.

Characters in crisis

You gravitate to everyday characters living in crisis. What is your hope for your readers as they read these stories?

I want to sweep readers away to a wonderful, romantic world… but I also want to portray life in all its emotional richness and imperfection. I hope people who are struggling in some way can pick up one of my books, relate to the characters, and feel uplifted by the happy ending. My latest book, Low Country Dreams, features a hero with a chaotic childhood and a heroine whose brother struggles with mental illness. Despite their difficulties—or maybe because of them—they gain strength, compassion, and the ability to risk loving each other. The challenges make the happy ending sweeter!

The second novel in the Safe Haven series.

Thank you, Lee for sharing your insights. Readers who love heartfelt, redemptive stories will love this series and others written by her. For more information about Lee, visit her website at

Another kind of seaside treasure

Sea glass
Sea glass buffed and polished by the sea.

Lee Tobin McClain has found literary inspiration on the shores of South Carolina. However, I have found humble, but lovely treasures–sea glass farther north. For example, the green and white glass pieces above have been buffed and smoothed until some are jewelry grade sea glass.

Shells and sea glass
Shells and glass altered by the sea

One never knows what oddities the sea will cast on to the shore. Still-beautiful shells have been buffed into completely different shapes. The mysterious dark brown glass appears to have been melted and then polished.  Below we see a bit of pink depression glass and an old bottle neck. As a writer, I can only imagine the history they must carry with them. These were all discovered in Massachusetts, near my son’s home.

A bottle neck and pink depression glass
A bottle neck and a fragment of pink depression glass.

In addition, one day at low tide, I also found ceramic mosaic tiles by a sea wall in Salem. Immediately, my crafty impulses went into action. Using jeweler’s glue, I attached a finding to one tile and hung this pendant on the leather cord. It is a favorite piece and I enjoy wearing it.

Sea tile
Ceramic mosaic tiles found by a sea wall.

As beachcombers will tell you, it is not always about finding shells, or glass, or other beautiful things. Sometimes we walk a seashore in search of intangibles: peace, relaxation, and simply taking in the beauty before us. E.E. Cummings’s poem, “Maggie and Milly and Molly and May” reminds us:

“For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea.”

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