Saturday, July 23, 2011

Humidity as Thick as Cheese Grits (I Must Be in Opelika)

As I write this, I’m sitting on the veranda of the clubhouse at the Robert Trent Jones Grand National Golf Course in Opelika, Alabama. It’s 95 degrees and the humidity is as thick as the cheese grits I ate for breakfast. Still, I’m enjoying my view of the 18th green. You see, it’s where a funeral service will be held for Ned Pinckney, a murder victim in my next book.

I’m spending a couple of days here in Opelika to soak in the unique atmosphere (kind of like all the grease my body is soaking up because I insist on eating fried food at every meal). I wanted authenticity and it’s authenticity I’m getting!

Everyone asks why I chose Opelika and I always say, “I didn’t choose Opelika. It chose me!”

Almost 18 months ago, I spent a lovely weekend in Alabama with my friend Jane, her mother Annelle and our mutual friend Wendi. All these ladies are ‘suhthuhn’ through and through. The hospitality they showed me still wraps around me like a soft worn blanket. I should call them up from time to time just to hear that accent. (“What accent?” they’d probably say. “We talk raht. It’s everyone else who doesn’t.”)

Anyhoo…during my visit, I learned of the town of Opelika. That darn word stayed in my head. “Opelika! Opelika! Opelika!” my subconscious shouted to me each day. The melodic and unforgettable word (which means Large Swamp) demanded its place in my book. Hell, it demanded to be in the TITLE of the book!

So, I had a title long before I started writing The Opelika Ladies Murder Society. And guess what? I named the main character Annelle… one, because she has such a cherished space in my memories and, two, it’s the kind of name – like Opelika – that takes a hold and won’t let go.

More atmosphere (and humidity) awaits me on my travels. Can’t wait to start injecting tidbits of Opelika life into the manuscript.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Is the Grass Really Greener in Paris?

On July 4th, my nephew and I saw a movie while the rest of the family golfed. I chose “Midnight in Paris,” Woody Allen’s new movie, because it was at the local theatre with the best popcorn. While a bit sentimental, the film still held a lot of charm in the way it demonstrated the age-old illusion people have that a life different than theirs would somehow be better.

The movie’s main character, a writer, “time travels” each midnight to his idea of the golden age: 1920s Paris. He rubs shoulders with F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Picasso, Hemingway, Dali, Gertrude Stein and others. These excursions are his escape from a wholly unsatisfying life as a Hollywood screenwriter to a romantic, creative era more conducive to the arts and writing.

He meets an alluring woman during one of these late night adventures. She finds 1920s Paris boring and is looking for her own golden age, which turns out to be the 1880s in Paris, the age of Gauguin, Rousseau, Degas and Monet.

In the end, he realizes he’s the architect of his present; he can make it whatever he wants it to be. He breaks up with his fiancĂ© and stays on in Paris to write his novel.

It’s only human to want something better for ourselves. And I don’t think that’s wrong. What gets us in trouble is thinking that the “something better” exists elsewhere. It’s always within reach because the something better is in us, right there for the taking.

Yes, writing my novel at a little cafe in Paris sounds idyllic, but it’s also expensive. I kind of like that I can find inspiration right here in little Durango at one of the many little coffee houses.