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Historian, author pens first fictional novel

If there were any questions whether author Ashley Oliphant lives vicariously through her books, her latest novel erases all doubt — the way a Key West sunset salves the soul.

Above, the book jacket for the recently released novel by Ashley Oliphant, an associate professor at Pfeiffer University.

A brief synopsis about her recently released Southern comedy “In Search of Jimmy Buffett: A Key West Revival” seems to describe Oliphant’s alter ego as much as the novel’s heroine Livie Green.

Consider the promotional review of the book:

“But when her career as a college professor becomes a drudgery of meetings and reports, she realizes that academia might not be for her, either.”

Whoa! Such musings might make the next university faculty meeting a bit uncomfortable.

Oliphant’s full-time gig is an associate professor of English at Pfeiffer University and where she is chairwoman of Humanities.

Then there’s: “In a leap of banana-colada fueled faith, she heads to Key West, Florida in search of Buffett and a carefree lifestyle. What she finds instead will reshape and revitalize her life and her heart.”

That’s right, Oliphant is a Parrothead and her “happy place” on earth is Key West. In fact, it’s where she birthed this novel, released in June just in time for those summer beach reads, and where she found the inspiration to take a chance at writing.

Believe it or not, her inspiration for writing came from a Rudyard Kipling quote on a cocktail napkin in Amigos Tortilla Bar in Key West. It read: “Once you ruin your reputation you can live quite freely.”

Ashley Oliphant

“Before that day, I had never even once considered writing a novel because I hadn’t done any creative writing aside from tinkering around with some mediocre poetry in high school,” she said. “I mean it literally when I say the story found me.”

It seems Oliphant is indeed living freely, but never more easy than life in Key West where Livie Green finds herself.

“There’s a lot of Livie in me,” Oliphant said. “In writing Livie Green’s character and charting her evolution, I was able to explore for myself some of those big life questions that are often so scary when you still feel like a kid, but you really should be adulting.”

A rural Carolina girl, like Oliphant, Livie abandons the comforts of academia and goes for broke in the name of creativity. Livie becomes a waitress in one of Jimmy Buffett’s saloon haunts amid a chance encounter so she can pitch him the perfect Buffett song. Along the way, Livie discovers self-awareness. Her journey is the premise of the book.

“Revival” marks a departure from her two previous novels, “Shark Tooth Hunting on the Carolina Coast” and “Hemingway and Bimini: The Birth of Sport Fishing at the End of the World.”

The first two were nonfiction and byproducts of extensive research and quality writing. Both were published by Pineapple Press.

“It’s like going back in time. I enjoy both aspects of it,” Oliphant said of the research and writing nonfiction.

She further describes nonfiction as more “deliberate” and fiction as “spontaneous.”

“Writing fiction is a different beast because it requires the author to imagine a whole new reality that has never really existed,” Oliphant said. “In some ways that shift is incredibly liberating, and in other ways it is completely terrifying. I truly felt like this novel found me.”

Picked up by Warren Publishing, “Revival” breaks from the research and taps into Oliphant’s creativity and flair for words. Perhaps, the first-time stab at fiction is a revival in her writing career or a risky escape of an otherwise comfort zone disguised as a reputation.

One thing Oliphant cannot depart from is her literary love affair with Ernest Hemingway. The famed writer is more than an inspiration for her second novel. He’s a constant catalyst for Oliphant’s writing career, if not a good luck charm.

Author Ashley Oliphant signs copies of her second book about Ernest Hemingway.

Hemingway is always around her. Even in “Revival,” there’s a scene inside Hemingway’s Key West home. By the way, Livie partakes in cheap cigars, early Jimmy Buffett albums and Hemingway novels.

Guess where Oliphant launched “Revival” with a book signing — Hemingway’s famed Key West home. It was also there, by the pool of all places, where she penned a portion of “Revival.”

Incidentally, Hemingway’s second wife was Pauline Pfeiffer, the daughter of Paul Pfeiffer. Paul and his brothers Henry and G.A. Pfeiffer were the principals of Pfeiffer Pharmaceutical. Henry and his wife Annie Merner Pfeiffer gave many gifts to the university. G.A.’s donations made possible the school’s transition to a 4-year college.

Hemingway and G.A. Pfeiffer were close friends. The author dedicated “A Farewell to Arms” to G.A. Hemingway’s house in Key West was a gift from G.A.

“I did not know the connection until I took the job (at Pfeiffer),” Oliphant said.

Her doctoral dissertation was titled “Hemingway’s Mixed Drinks: An Examination of the Varied Representation of Alcohol Across the Author’s Canon.” She is a longtime member of the Hemingway Society and a contributor to its conferences and The Hemingway Review.

According to biographical information, Oliphant’s life-long dreams are to own a signed first edition of Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” and to meet Jimmy Buffett.

“Revival” is available in paperback at Amazon for $12.87.

Next up, Oliphant returns to her research mode as she pens a novel on Jean Lafitte, a famous French pirate, who earned his bones in New Orleans during the 1800s.

Contact Ritchie Starnes at 704-754-5076 or ritchie.starnes@stanlynewspress.com.