Sunset Beach Writer Jacqueline DeGroot Finds Her Audience
Jacqueline “Jack” DeGroot enrolled her daughter, Kimberly, at Cape Fear Academy in 1997 and drove from Sunset Beach twice each day. Within a few months that routine soured, so she dallied in Wilmington. Again, she reached an impasse.
“I wrote to kill time,” DeGroot says from her living room. Her blond hair is pulled back, fingertips shine with lilac-colored polish and her arms wave for emphasis. “I had an idea I had been plotting in my mind for 20 years.”
A used laptop plus Hardee’s and McDonald’s as her “satellite offices,” and within 13 months Climax was a reality. She identifies its genre as spicy. Others call it erotica.
Her queries to agents and editors met defeat, so DeGrott chose the self-publishing route and took the finished product to Pelican Bookstore in Sunset Beach.
Barbara Scott-Cannon from Matthews, NC was in the store at the time and heard DeGroot’s excitement. “I didn’t even give the title a thought,” Scott-Cannon writes in an email. “I wanted to help out a new author.”
DeGroot admits the book is risqué. “I was a bit awed at some of the subject matter, but my feeling is that if people have something they feel they need to say, they should find an avenue to express themselves.”
DeGroot carted Climax to festivals and other events. She sold 3,000 copies, making it a success for a self-published book. This endeavor encouraged DeGroot to continue writing, and she’s followed Climax with 20 more books in a variety of genres including history, mystery and crime, women’s fiction, historical romance and, most recently, The Cemetery Kids series, appropriate for children as well as adults.
The book she values most, though, is For the Love of Amanda, the story she published in 2004 about a little girl dying of cancer. With life imitating art, in 2007 Kimberly was diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer.
“My world came tumbling down,” DeGroot says. “Because of the research I had done [for Amanda], I found the doctor who helped ‘cure’ my daughter, although she’ll never be totally cured.”
The book that readers like most, she says, is The Secret of the Kindred Spirt, a murder mystery that includes the old swing bridge of Sunset Beach and the legendary Kindred Spirit mailbox. Why do people like it? “Because it’s local,” DeGroot says.
The Widows of Sea Trail trilogy, published from 2008-10 and selling more than 15,000 copies, was the turning point in DeGroot’s career. “I thought they were fun to write and they were accepted,” she says of the “spicy” romances. “I felt I was accepted. With a trilogy, you can tell if people are enjoying the books if they buy all three. That’s validation.”
Growing up in Laurel, MD, DeGroot didn’t have dreams of being a writer. Nursing was her career of choice, but chemistry proved a major challenge. So she chose sales at J. Koons Pontiac GMC in Tysons Corner and earned the No. 6 spot in Pontiac sales across the U.S. She left car sales when she and Bill, her husband of 25 years, moved to Sunset Beach in 1996. She then embarked on a new career: cake decorating with a specialty in wedding cakes. Making one in the shape of the Titanic is a highlight. Five years ago, DeGroot suggested Pelican Bookstore open on Sundays during the tourist season. She’s now behind the bookstore counter at least twice a week.
“She’s got a good happy personality,” says Pat Wilson, manager of the store. “She can talk with customers and find out what they like then she pairs them up with a book.”
People relax in her presence, and she feels comfortable stating champagne is her drink of choice, that she’ll be 63 on May 19, and “I love dead people. I love dead souls. I feel a kinship with them.”
Thus, her Cemetery Kids series.
“People always asked if I had ghost books,” DeGroot says and tells of the Stanaland-Frink family cemetery within 50 yards of her home. “I love walking there. All I have is positive feelings, so I invented a cemetery and some bumbling ghosts.” The third in the series is due soon.
“I don’t have time to write,” DeGroot says when a door to an adjacent room opens and Cohen, Kimberly’s 14-month-old son, waddles to the coffee table. DeGroot encourages Cohen to fit a piece into a wooden puzzle while Bill hovers over the child. She says they watch Cohen four days a week, an opportunity to bond with him while Kimberly and husband, Zak Duff, are at work.
But she won’t stop writing. “I want to satisfy the fans,” she says. “I always have a story to tell. I like getting into another world, building a world.”
To learn more about DeGroot, and to buy her books, visit her online at jacquelinedegroot.com.