Where the Creek Runs by Mary Abraham is a story of love and politics set in the South at the turn of the century. It’s Abraham’s debut novel, but her natural storytelling prowess and attention to detail, along with her background as a lifelong Southerner, give the book an authentic tone that lets the reader become immersed in the story.

At the heart of Where the Creek Runs, which Kirkus Reviews calls “an impressive tale of a fractured Southern family with richly drawn characters,” is young Hannah McMollison. She bucks her powerful father’s wishes when she gets involved with Thomas Stokes, son of her father’s political rival. The story is sort of a mashup of classics—think Gone With the Wind meets Romeo and Juliet, with a dash of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil thrown in for good measure. 

What’s especially impressive, particularly for a first-time novelist, is how Abraham is able to allow readers to see things from Hannah’s point of view and how the details she gives create a better appreciation of the beauty and mystery of rural Mississippi. 

Here, Hannah describes the creek of the book’s title:

While [her dog] Lost roamed, Hannah was spending a short respite on the bank of the creek that ran through the woods behind her house. For as long as she could remember, the creek and surrounding woods had been her place of refuge. The water eased her mind by taking with it the anxiety that sometimes lingered in her consciousness, and the trees, like guardians, provided a haven completely hidden by the dense forest.

Abraham, 74, says she worked on Creek on and off for 10 years, adding a few chapters here and there in between raising her kids and her job as a nurse in Hattiesburg. “Writing was something that I never prepared for, but I always had this nagging desire that I wanted to give it a try,” she says. “I was always the one that was tapped to write things for clubs or church functions—small articles or whatever—but [I] had not done any real writing until this story came along.”

The story is part local folklore and part mystery and came to Abraham via a family friend who spilled the tea on some real-life people both of them knew. “I said to him, ‘This would make a great book,’ and he said, ‘Well, why don’t you write it?’ ” she says. A few weeks later, she decided to give it a try. “I said to myself, ‘I’m just going to see if I can do it.’ I didn’t tell anybody…because I wasn’t really sure what I was doing,” she adds with a chuckle.

Abraham grew up in Leakesville, a rural town in southern Mississippi, and has spent her entire life in that part of the country, settling with her husband in Hattiesburg. She studied nursing at the University of Mississippi School of Nursing, which became the beginning of a 20-year career. She and her husband of 51 years, Ralph, who’s a retired surgeon, have two children, three grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.

Her favorite contemporary writers are Ann Patchett (Bel Canto) and Kristen Hannah (The Nightingale), in part because she appreciates the level of research and detail each author uses in her stories. “That’s something that impresses me about both of them, also that they can write so fast!”

With the story set in the early 1900s, Abraham says she had to do a fair amount of research to make sure her details were historically accurate. The scene in which Hannah and Thomas have their first “date” describes things in the genuine voice of a young Southern belle: 

Hannah’s heart quickened. Thomas stopped walking—as did she—since his hand was holding hers. He pulled their clasped hands from the pocket, took her hand in his, and gently removed her glove. His warm hand clasped hers with no barrier between, just his skin touching hers. As he softly whispered, “I’ll keep you warm,” he gently leaned into her and bent his head just enough that his lips, so tenderly, met hers. His lips did not linger but quickly pulled away, and with a squeeze of her hand, he said, “Let’s walk a little more.”

“I really enjoyed it; I went back and read obituaries to get a feel for the writing of the time period,” Abraham says of the historical research she conducted. She was writing a scene where she mentioned bubble gum and had to make sure the kind of gum she wrote about was actually available in the South at the time. “It was a lot of fun, going back and figuring all that out.”

Abraham says she doesn’t anticipate writing a sequel to Where the Creek Runs because she thinks the story is complete, and at 74, she doesn’t want to take another decade to finish writing a book like she did with her debut. Plus, she adds, she’s enjoying her retirement. But that’s not to say she wouldn’t consider getting back into writing if inspiration struck. “I don’t know if I have another book in me,” she says. “But if I came across another story that I felt really needed to be told, I might have to give it a try.”

Kim Lyons is a Western Pennsylvania–based writer and editor with a soft spot for a great story.