Queen of beach reads: Alumna Kristy Woodson Harvey talks latest novel

Author Kristy Woodson Harvey graduated from ECU with her master’s in multicultural and transnational literature. Her latest novel is out now. (Contributed photo)

East Carolina University alumna Kristy Woodson Harvey ’10 regularly finds herself on lists like Southern Living’s Most Anticipated Beach Reads, Huffington Post’s Summer Reading and the News & Observer‘s Best Reads of Summer.

Harvey fully embraces the “beach read” label and has written seven novels that evoke the joys of sand, sun and saltwater. Her latest, “Under the Southern Sky,” explores the unconventional ways people find love and family and is set in the fictional North Carolina town of Cape Carolina.

From her home in Beaufort, Harvey talked about getting her master’s degree from ECU, her first book, and the components of a great beach read.

How did you end up at ECU?

I’m from Salisbury and went to journalism school at UNC Chapel Hill. I decided I wanted to do something a little different after J-school and ECU had a really cool program in multicultural and transnational literature. I loved it. I read so much and learned a ton.

What did you enjoy most about the graduate program?

It helped me realize how special the American South is. In a lot of ways, it really was something that made me want to write about the South. There is such a sense of tradition of heirlooms and customs being passed down from one generation to another. I love the manners and sense of decorum that still surrounds certain things. There is a subtlety to the way things are handled. And all of that makes for great book fodder!

Who are some of your favorite Southern writers?

There are so many Southern writers I admire: Mary Kay Andrews, Mary Alice Monroe, Wiley Cash and, of course, Pat Conroy, just to name a few.

When and how did you write your first book?

After I left college, I ended up finding a job in finance. I did that for a few years and it was an important experience for me because there’s a lot of rejection in that world, which is helpful when you set out to write a book because you have to be thick-skinned. I missed writing, so I sat down and wrote a manuscript, not thinking I’d ever get published. In 2014 I won a writing contest and one of the judges was from Penguin Random House. That’s how I got my first book deal. It was insanely fortuitous. But that’s life! Part hard work, part being in the right place at the right time.

What do you think makes a good beach read?

I think a beach read is a catchall phrase for books that come out in the summer. Anything can be a beach read. For me, all of my books have a heavier topic that they deal with. It’s about having something you can sit down with and get swept away. I don’t always have a happy ending, but I’m a huge fan of it. Especially now, we need a happy ending, or at least a satisfying one.

Where did the idea for your latest book come from?

The spark for the idea came five or six years ago. I was at a party talking to a friend who had just had twins via IVF. They had leftover frozen embryos and were trying to figure out what to do with them. The book evolved out of that. It’s about how we create our families and how that doesn’t have to look one way. I do write a lot about family and friendship and how we’re always working to further our journeys.

What’s next for you?

It’s going to be a crazy year coming off a slow year. In 2019, I did 89 in-person speaking engagements. In 2020, I did zero. My life was traveling and speaking, so to have that cut off was bizarre. I’m not touring that much this summer — I’m home with my son and finishing up a line edits for my 2022 novel (“Christmas in Peachtree Bluff”). Then I have a big tour in October and November.