The salt slap of the ocean, shells crushed to grit beneath the toes, and August lush with dark swaths of green along sea island paths: that’s the stuff that pulls you into the novels of Beth Webb Hart – her passion for coastal Carolina and the small brushstrokes, the detailing, that bring it to life on the page.

Once inside her stories, a pervading sense of purpose and religious faith begins to emerge in the words and actions of her characters. Vocations, hopes, and families may be knocked around like so many billiard balls, but somehow her people find a center to cling to, an abiding hope that there is more to this world than blind chance. For Beth Webb Hart, this spiritual depth is an essential aspect of fiction. “So much fiction is so dark and has so much nihilism in it,” she says. “In college, I had a spiritual awakening and began to search for fiction that contained an element of hope.”

It took the author herself many years of faith, after that time, to navigate the labyrinth that is publishing and find a home for her fiction. Along the way she earned a bachelor’s in English Literature from Hollins College in Virginia and an MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence. Today, she is writer-in-residence at Ashley Hall, passing her love of literature and the creative process on to students. “One thing I’m learning is how many other things a writer needs to do besides writing,” she says. “At Ashley Hall, they do a reading series that lasts through the year where they bring in different authors and poets. I’ll be the writer who kicks off this year’s series.”

Hart’s first novel, Grace at Low Tide, was one of three finalists for contemporary fiction at the 2006 Christy Awards and has been met with a starred review at Booklist and described as a promising debut by Publishers Weekly.

Her second novel, Adelaide Piper, hit the shelves in July, setting the stage for what she hopes will be a long career. “My third novel is about a group of Lowcountry women planning the weddings of their daughters who are marrying all the wrong people,” she says. Hart says it will be a light, funny novel that still digs deep into the important questions. Here’s a name to watch for many tales still to come of souls being stirred in the American South. –Jason A. Zwiker