I set off five days ago from fair Tivoli to the land of cotton, in search of inspiration for my second novel, Red. My heroine, whom I’ve left stranded in Dallas on page 212, is about to head due east, across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, then up through North Carolina to Washington D.C. And so I'm making the same journey, though under considerably less desperate circumstances, as she's running for her life and I'm staying with friends and in cozy little B&Bs. My first stop was New Hope, PA, where I spent a night with my dear friend Lizzy Molsen, pictured below, whom I’ve known since we were 13 (a good 20 years or so). Thursday I had a long, rainy and wearying drive to Fincastle, VA, outside Roanoke, where I stayed at a B&B/winery with picturesque views and mouth-withering wine. Friday I drove another 6 long hours to Glen Falls, NC, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where my mom was vacationing with two teacher friends. The house was perched over a waterfall, and after polishing off a huge steak dinner followed by two slices of her famous peach chess pie, I fell asleep to the lovely sound of rushing water accompanied by the gurgling protests of my distended stomach.
Next, Huntsville, Alabama, 95 degrees in the shade, where I was hosted by the charming, vivacious, and utterly Southern Mrs. Evelyn Spearman, age 84, a 40+-year member of the Huntsville Literary Association and a true lover of literature, especially Southern literature. Evie (which rhymes with levy) pulled together, with a week and a half’s notice, a talk at the Episcopal Church of the Natitivity, publicized beforehand by a radio interview of me on the local gospel station, announcements in the newspaper and the church bulletin, and a plug by Evie herself, who knows everybody in Huntsville and seemingly the entire South, on the local PBS radio station. It was a marvelous event, attended by sixty some-odd people, and preceded by a singalong performance, led by Evie and a guitar-playing gentleman named Microwave Dave, of the song “Mississippi Mud.” Which begins like this:
“When the sun goes down, and the tide goes out, The people gather ’round, and they all begin to shout, ‘Hey, hey! Uncle Dud! It’s a treat to beat your feet on the Mississippi mud. It’s a treat to beat your feet on the Mississippi mud.’ What a dance they do! Lordy, how I’m tellin’ you... They don’t need no band... They keep time by clappin’ their hand’ Just as happy as a cow chewin’ on a cud, When the people beat their feet on the Mississippi mud.”
This was without a doubt one of the most enjoyable events I’ve done since Mudbound came out, and Miss Evie one of the most delightful characters I’ve met. At her insistence, I stayed at her house — “All the authors stay my house” — and met her son Alan (one of four children) and her granddaughter Vivian (one of nine grandchildren, all beautiful — “I don’t have any ugly grandchildren") and quite a few friends. The walls of every room of her house are covered with photos of her multitudinous family, mixed cheek by jowl with pictures and posters of Southern authors like Faulkner, Shelby Foote, and Walker Percy, who are clearly members of her extended family, because she so loves their writing. And now, I suppose, so am I. I feel positively anointed.
Today, I drove to Columbus, Mississippi and collapsed, after an early and very satisfying meal of fried catfish. Clearly I won’t be losing weight on this trip.