The South Carolina Storyteller: Dorothea Benton Frank

Every once in a while, if you are lucky, you might happen across an author who just grabs you with their storytelling skills.  There are several wonderful authors I've stumbled across in my lifetime.  From childhood on, I've "discovered" gifted writers on my own (without the help of friends’ recommendations or more recently the internet).  Back in 2000 I "discovered" Dorothea Benton Frank.  And in the 19 subsequent years I've had the pleasure of savoring a Dot Frank book every year.  My summer would not be complete without one of her tales.  I looked forward to them every year and saved them until the "right" time.  You didn't just read a Dot Frank novel; you devoured it with a gleeful pleasure.  I purposely would hold off until that "right time" and then there was no stopping me.

Dorothea Benton Frank died on Monday after a brief battle with myelodysplastic syndrome, an insidious cancer that stole her from "us", her dedicated readers  and fans.  The news devastated me and selfishly left me wondering, what will I do next summer without her?

Sullivan's Island was the story that launched her.  It immediately captivated me and made me a lifelong fan.  I know I am not the only one.

I don't remember exactly WHEN in 2000 I purchased Sullivan's Island, but I do know where:  The Montclair Book Center.  Montclair is the next town over from me and was also where Ms. Frank resided, when she wasn't in her beloved South Carolina.  Sullivan's Island was THE book.  I wanted to share it with friends (again this was before there was Facebook and Goodreads) I purchased copies and sent them to good friends.  I even gave a copy of it (with a note) to my son's birth mother.  That's how strongly I feel about it. (So yes, if you haven't read it yet; go get a copy NOW!)

If Sullivan's Island is my favorite Dot Frank novel (as well as one of my favorite novels EVER:, then her 2nd, Plantation is my LEAST favorite.  The reasoning has NOTHING to do with the author OR the novel, but with the circumstances around it.  As I previously stated, Dot Frank books are to be savored.  I saved Plantation along with Diane Mott Davidson's Tough Cookie for my summer vacation.  My husband and I were celebrating our anniversary a little early and spending over a week at WDW. (Which we did quite frequently.)  This vacation did not go as planned.  It was September 2001 and in order to get home we had to take a train from Florida to Newark, NJ.  It was a horrific train ride that took over 24 hours during that nightmare period in our history.  So my memories of both books are tied to that terrible period.

But there were so many other wonderful books:  Land Of the Mango Sunsets  (the title alone should make you run out and read it), The Christmas Pearl (if you haven't read it yet, do so this December) and Porch Lights  (which ranks as #2 on my favorite Dot Frank books).  I finished her latest, Queen Bee, in early August while sitting in a rocking chair on the South Porch at Skytop Lodge while the cool mountain breezes filled my lungs. I could ramble on about each and every wonderful story, but I'm no Dot Frank.

I was lucky enough to meet Dotty (as it seems everyone called her) several times.   She did annual book tours and I went to several of her book signings, which were so much more than that.  The last time I saw her was just about a year ago at Watchung Booksellers, also in Montclair. ( It was a small gathering and most of those in the audience were personal friends.  However, she made it seem like we were ALL her close friends.  She would stand up there and just talk and you couldn't help but be totally captivated.  She had a "way" which I cannot describe or do justice to.  She was always so gracious and entertaining.  You could sit back and just listen to her for hours; it didn't matter what she was talking about it.  Everything that came from her lips was a story unto itself.  And it was always a GOOD story.

The highest praise I can give Dorothea Benton Frank is that she was a good storyteller.  It didn't matter who you were or where you were in life; she could draw you in and capture you.  The world may have plenty of authors, but it has very few true storytellers.  Dotty Frank was one of them.  She was a gem in a world of dirt and grim.  She shined brightly.  She shined too briefly.

Next summer will not be the same.  While there could possibly be another book (I have no idea where she was in the process), there will be no Dorothea Benton Frank.  The world was a better place because of summer will be a sadder one without her wit and stories.

Thank you Dorothea Benton Frank, from bringing light and laughter into my life and the lives of so many others.


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