By Seija Rankin
September 13, 2018 at 11:00 AM EDT
Dawn Marie Tucker

Nobody loves the South more than Reese Witherspoon, so it’s no surprise that her latest Hello Sunshine book club pick comes with the most Southern of names and a story that takes place in the marshes of North Carolina. But Where the Crawdads Sing is no gingham-printed picnic — there are no cheeky tote bags, no loving pleasantries, and while there may be whiskey it certainly doesn’t come in a teacup.

Instead, Delia Owens’ story is of the more haunting variety: It follows a girl named Kya, who is abandoned by her family in the wilderness and left to raise herself. Think Captain Fantastic, but instead of Viggo Mortensen there’s a murder mystery. Make no mistake, though, this isn’t quite as dark as it sounds — there’s a romantic storyline and an ode to, yes, the South.

Ahead, the latest inductee into Witherspoon’s infamous book club answers EW’s burning questions about writing Where the Crawdads Sing.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What is the first thing — ever — that you remember writing?
DELIA OWENS: My first composition came the night before Mother’s Day when I was in the second or third grade. My father and older sister had everything arranged for the next morning, but, being so young, I had done nothing for my mother. I was so disappointed in myself, I actually felt sick. So, I folded a sheet of paper until it looked like a card. On the front, I drew a very bad picture of a mother and daughter, holding hands in a meadow, creek running by. On the inside, I wrote, “I am the luckiest girl to have the best Mother in the world.” I have no idea if the words were original or if I pinched them from something else, but they slanted awkwardly down the page, the last letters piling up at the bottom. My mother kept that card for many years. She is gone now, and so is the card. But the words were true: I was the luckiest girl.

What is the last book that made you cry?
I don’t cry easily and almost never while reading a book. I felt very emotional while reading Toni Morrison’s Beloved. Especially as I began to realize who Beloved was and how she came to be. I long for more such stories that send deep, pointed tendrils into your heart.

What is your favorite part of Where the Crawdads Sing?
The ending. The idea for the ending came to me suddenly, so I started there. Then I jumped back to the beginning and braided the two storylines together toward the end. Weaving together all the pieces — the characters, the clues, the feathers, and shells — was so much fun.

Which book is at the top of your current To-Read list?
A Gentleman in Moscow [by Amor Towles]. I know, I should have read it by now, but my stack is high and my time low.

Where do you write?
I write everywhere. I sleep with note paper in the bed so I can scribble thoughts during the night. I write a lot as I hike or ride my horse. My imagination works best in nature or the barn. But when I put all these bits and pieces together into a story, I sit at my computer in front of the fireplace. All under the Northern Rockies.

Which book made you a forever reader?
A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold. Nature writing invented. Second place: To Kill a Mocking Bird. One of my all-time favorites, the one who gave me permission to write the truths of the world through the eyes of a little girl.

Pick a GIF that you think, in this moment, best describes you and your book:

Really, all this picture shows is that deer like apples better than crawdads. But it also represents that my story, my life, my best friends, and characters will always be in nature.

What is a snack you couldn’t write without?
Peanut butter on crackers with a homemade latte. JIF extra crunchy. I live 20 miles of back roads from the closest coffee shop, so I have learned to make fairly decent lattes.

What was the hardest part to write in Where the Crawdads Sing?
The story alternates between two different time periods, which was not that difficult to write in the first few drafts. But during the editing process, when I decided to move some of the time shifts forward or backward in the story, a nightmare ensued. All of the little details of the main story — the ages of characters, the dates when two characters met, etc. — had to be aligned correctly within the new time order. It was like a giant 150,000-word puzzle.

If you could change one thing about any of your books, what would it be?
I would publish them much sooner so that I could have many more years to write. There was so much to say, and it took too long, and I don’t want to give out of writing-time because I have many other ideas swirling in my head.

If Where the Crawdads Sing had a movie poster tagline, it would be:
A nature-immersed mystery and love story with an ending that you’ll never guess, and never, ever forget.

Buy the book here.

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