The River Runs South

Audrey Ingram

(Alcove Press)

Interview by Diane Slocum

Camilles life as a Washington, DC lawyer with a loving husband and strong-willed young daughter is hectic but satisfying. Until her husband dies suddenly. She finds she can no longer cope and heads back to her parents and her childhood home in Alabama. There she tries to make sense of who she is in her new reality. While introducing her daughter to the charm of her small town soothes her, all is not right in Fairhope. She must rekindle her legal skills to save her parents future which pits her against a local activist whose ideals are aligned with hers.

AUTHORLINK: What was your first idea for this story? Where did you go from there?

I wanted to write a story about a woman finding her second chance...”

INGRAM: I wanted to write a story about a woman finding her second chance, in life and in love.  As adults, the idea of starting over can seem overwhelming.  During the pandemic, I paused my legal career to stay at home with our three young children.  I ended up writing the book that I wanted to read.  A hopeful, heartfelt story about navigating change and finding new beginnings in a time when they are desperately needed.  

Much of this book was written in the early morning hours before my children woke or in between naptimes that were always too short.  It took about a year to write and polish the book before I was ready to query agents, which seemed like an eternity for someone used to the fast pace of legal deadlines.  I’m still adjusting to the slower pace of publishing, understanding that it can take years to get a story in readers’ hands, but it’s been a welcome change.  

AUTHORLINK: How did you organize your writing? Did you plan most of it ahead, or did it develop as you wrote?

When I was revising, I made high level chapter outlines…”

INGRAM: The River Runs South was the first novel I ever wrote.  I started with a sense of the main character and the story evolved from there. I definitely didn’t do enough plotting, which is why the first draft of this book is almost unrecognizable from the final draft.  When I was revising, I made high level chapter outlines, which helped immensely both in terms of story structure and efficiency.  

I’m now in the process of writing my third book and thankfully I’m much more organized.  I like to start writing the hook, then expand into a more detailed synopsis, and then break down plot points by chapter.  Things shift over the course of drafts, but I prefer this process over unplanned first drafts.  Hitting the delete button on full chapters was too painful for me.    

AUTHORLINK: What did you use from your own career as a lawyer? What did you research?

INGRAM: In my career as a lawyer, I noticed a surge of burnout among working mothers.  Camille’s exhaustion and her doubts about juggling career and motherhood were very much inspired by my own life.  

The environmental lawsuit involving Camille’s father was the result of extensive research.  I wanted to make sure I accurately portrayed both the threats to Alabama’s coast and the possibilities for environmental litigation that could result from this harm.  As a lawyer, I loved research so it was fun to really dig into these topics.  

AUTHORLINK: Talk about setting your story in Alabama. Why is that special?

INGRAM: I grew up in Alabama but for the last twenty years, I’ve lived in and around Washington, DC.  During the pandemic, I missed my family and that’s when this story of returning home came together.  I spent months daydreaming about Fairhope, a small town on Alabama’s coast, and wrote about the place I yearned to be.  

I have the best memories of childhood summers spent in Fairhope, swimming in the bay, riding bikes under ancient oak trees, and eating so much delicious southern food. I wanted the reader to feel transported to this place and hopefully see Alabama in a different light.  It’s not widely known, but Alabama’s coast is the most ecologically diverse region in the United States.  Even though it seemed like an impossible task, I tried to capture a sliver of Fairhope’s magic so that hopefully more people can fall in love with this place and protect its future.  

AUTHORLINK: How did you get your title?

“The title came late in the process…”

INGRAM: The title came late in the process, as a collaboration with the publishing team.  We had several ideas, but The River Runs South best reflected the coastal southern setting, the ecological lawsuit, and Camille’s journey.   Just as the harm in our rivers flows south into the bay, Camille’s grief forces her back home, to her southern roots, where she finally confronts her loss and discovers her path forward.  I liked how the title linked the river to Camille’s emotional journey.  

AUTHORLINK: What was your biggest challenge in writing this story? Your greatest joy?

INGRAM: Like most writers, time was the biggest challenge.  I squeezed in writing sessions during early mornings and toddler naptimes.  But escaping into a world with these characters was a joy, even on those days where every sentence felt clunky.  

AUTHORLINK: Aside from enjoying the story, what do you hope a reader can learn from your novel?

This book explores the idea of slowing down in order to focus…”

INGRAM: I started writing this book during the thick of the pandemic.  In a scary, uncertain time, this book was a refuge.  I saw parallels between Camille’s struggle and the threat to our environment.  Our time, our energy, and our surroundings are precious resources that are constantly depleted.  For Camille, coming home is a stripping away of everything unnecessary about her adult life, forcing her to start over.  We often assume things will last, but after Camille loses her husband, she knows that time is precious.  Similarly, she sees the damage the rivers have endured and the harm they continue to suffer.  This book explores the idea of slowing down in order to focus on taking care of the things that are most important in our life before they are gone.  

AUTHORLINK: What are you working on next?

INGRAM: My next book is called The Group Trip, coming summer 2024.  It’s about six friends, once inseparable but lately estranged, who meet for an unforgettable week at a luxury Florida beach house, reminiscing about their bumpy road into adulthood, wondering whether it’s possible to grow up without growing apart.

About the Author: Audrey Ingram was born and raised in Alabama. She has degrees from Middlebury College and Georgetown University Law Center. She practiced law in Washington, DC for fifteen years and now lives and writes in Virginia where she shares her home with her husband and three children. She loves to garden and hike the Blue Ridge Mountains