King’s latest novel has Atlanta connections


“Moonrise” By Cassandra King

Maiden Lane Press, 390 pages, $26.95

King will appear at four metro locations this month: 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 9 at Decatur Library, 215 Sycamore St., Decatur; 6:30 p.m. Sept. 26 at Northeast Spruill Oaks Library, 9560 Spruill Road, John’s Creek (reservations required, 770-360-8820); 6:30 p.m. Sept. 27 at FoxTale Book Shoppe, 105 E. Main St., Woodstock; 2 p.m. Sept. 28, Barnes and Noble, 120 Perimeter Center, Atlanta.

The South, says author Cassandra King, “is about as gothic as it gets.”

That’s why it works well as the setting for “Moonrise,” her new novel. The story involves a mansion perched high above the water, ghostly figures in turret windows and a new bride wrestling with the memory of her husband’s departed wife.

Fans of “Rebecca,” Daphne du Maurier’s 75-year-old novel and the classic movie by the same name, may find those elements familiar. But King’s story strays from du Maurier’s.

In King’s version, the setting is Highlands, N.C., a longtime summer escape for wealthy Atlantans. Moonrise, named for its once-magnificent nocturnal gardens, is the estate overlooking Looking Glass Lake; Rosalyn was the beautiful wife who died mysteriously. The widower is Emmet Justice, a prominent television journalist. His new wife is Helen Honeycutt, one of three characters who alternatively narrate.

We interviewed King (“The Sunday Wife,” “The Same Sweet Girls”), from the home she shares in Beaufort, S.C., with her husband of 15 years, author Pat Conroy (“Prince of Tides,” “The Great Santini”).

Q: Has the idea to loosely base a novel on “Rebecca” been rolling around in your head for a while?

A: I had no intention of writing a modern version of "Rebecca." Instead, it came about in a serendipitous way, as those things often do. A few years ago, I spent a summer in a wonderful old house in the Highlands-Cashiers area.

One day, I was exploring the property, which was surrounded by beautiful gardens, when I made an interesting discovery. I stumbled upon the final resting place of the previous owner’s wife … (and) found myself drawn to it again and again, making daily pilgrimages as I wondered about the woman who had walked those garden paths and now rested in a secluded spot. I’ll confess – my imagination took over. I began to wonder if her spirit wandered the grounds, floated along dark hallways of the house.

Q: How do you prefer to explain the connection between “Rebecca” and “Moonrise” ?

A: Though "Moonrise" was inspired by "Rebecca," it is in no way a retelling. Instead, I hoped to recreate some of the tense atmosphere, the suggestion of the supernatural and the baffling motivation of the characters. I was especially interested in the way we compare ourselves to others and come up short, as well as the experience of being an outsider and trying to find acceptance.

Q: Does your own life have parallels to your “Moonrise” story?

A: I, too, had a midlife marriage to a well-known man who had led a much more sophisticated and exciting life than I had. Of course I also longed to be accepted by his family and friends. I was intimidated, uncertain of my role, and had to find my own identity apart from his.

Q: Why does Highlands work well for a story inspired by “Rebecca”?

A: For me, Highlands was the perfect setting for "Moonrise," with the majestic, mysterious mountains, the hidden driveways and beautiful homes, the stunning foliage and gardens, the generations of people who had "summered" there and formed their own little cliques and the many stories that resulted. In addition, the South lends itself to gothic settings and themes and always has.

Q: “Moonrise” is filled with Atlanta references and connections. You even have one narrator named Tansy Dunwoody. Do you think any Atlantans will recognize themselves in “Moonrise”?

A: My characters are almost always inspired by real people. All I can say is, if certain people in Atlanta or Highlands don't recognize themselves in "Moonrise," they're not paying attention.