Bookshelf: Victoria Benton Frank follows in mother’s footsteps

Queen of beach read’s progeny continues Lowcountry tradition.
Victoria Benton Frank is the author of "My Magnolia Summer."
Courtesy of William Morrow

Credit: William Morrow

Credit: William Morrow

Victoria Benton Frank is the author of "My Magnolia Summer." Courtesy of William Morrow

When Dorothea Benton Frank died of cancer in 2019, she left a gaping hole in many a heart, and she left a major gap in her fans’ summer reading lists. For 20 years, the South Carolina author produced a bestselling beach read every summer that entertained legions of readers with happily-ever-after tales of family dynamics, female friendships and love set in the Lowcountry.

This summer a new author steps into that void, and she’s the only person with the pedigree to do it: Frank’s daughter, Victoria Benton Frank.

Her literary debut, “My Magnolia Summer” (William Morrow, $30), publishes June 6, and it picks up where her mother’s books left off, telling stories about plucky women and complicated families stirring up trouble on the South Carolina coast.

Maggie (short for Magnolia) is an aspiring sous-chef in a New York City restaurant who returns home to Sullivan’s Island when she learns her beloved grandmother is in a coma following an automobile accident that also involved Maggie’s mother, Lily.

Upon her arrival, Maggie discovers her sister Violet is going through a messy breakup, and the family-owned restaurant is rapidly failing because it’s traded the grandmother’s homestyle recipes for canned sauces and a touristy pirate theme. The one bright spot is the attractive farmer Maggie meets when she collides with him in a minor car wreck. While Maggie struggles with the family’s dramas, she ponders whether she should return to New York or remain down South.

In addition to sharing settings and themes with her mother’s books, Frank’s debut also shares the same literary team — agent Suzanne Gluck, editor Carrie Feron and publisher Harper Collins.

Like her mother, Frank, 37, came to writing later in life.

“I always knew on some level I would be a storyteller, I just didn’t know what medium that would come out in,” she said.

She was a dancer in her youth, studied theater at the College of Charleston, then attended the French Culinary Institute in New York (now the International Culinary Center) and became a chef, working in the kitchens of Marea and Bar Boulud at Lincoln Center.

In 2012, Frank and her then-boyfriend (now husband) moved to Charleston, a place Frank had never lived but visited every summer, having grown up in New Jersey. They eventually married and had two children, Teddy, 6, and Thea (short for Dorothea), 3 ½ but “going on 16,” said Frank.

In the middle of all that, Frank began writing. Her biggest cheerleader was her mother.

“She got to read about the first 150 pages,” said Frank. “She burst out into tears. She was so proud.” Later Frank quipped, “I think she was relieved I wasn’t completely awful.”

Frank is adamant that her mother didn’t teach her to write. “Writing is self-taught,” she said. “Nobody can teach you to write a book.” But her mother did give her plenty of advice.

“She taught me to write from your heart and go really deep down in your gut and tell the story from an authentic place, or nobody’s going to believe it,” she said. “She taught me to be truthful and write what I know and write a story I’d want to read myself.”

On a practical level, she taught Frank how to prep for writing a novel — by creating an overview, an outline, a timeline and character descriptions.

Frank said she wasn’t intimidated to follow in her mother’s footsteps because she didn’t think her writing would really go anywhere, but she was wrong.

“You never think you’re going to grow up and be like your parents. You kind of fight that but you can’t help it. You look in the mirror one day, and you’re like, Oh my god, I’m my mother. I’m literally 2.0!”

Appropriately enough, another thing mother and daughter share is the love of a happy ending.

“Both my mother and I, we don’t believe in reading stories that mess you up,” said Frank. “Stephen King can do that for you. For us, we don’t want to be scared. We want a happy ending. We want everything tied up, we want you to be happy. My book and hers are escapes. You go to the beach, read a book and you feel good. That’s what I want to do.”

FoxTale Book Shoppe celebrates the launch of Frank’s book with an author luncheon at 11:30 a.m. June 14 at Mad Life Stage and Studios in Woodstock. Tickets $60, including book. Later that same day, Frank appears at Books-a-Million in Peachtree City at 6 p.m. Tickets $30, including book.

Suzanne Van Atten is a book critic and contributing editor to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. You can contact her at