Sunday, September 25, 2022

Commuting Daily from South Florida to North Mississippi, Or Why I Love Social Media

 
My first novel, Wolf’s Run, was published in 2010.
In interviews, at book signings and in cocktail party chatter, I’m often asked, “How long did it take you to write it?”
My standard reply is “30 years.”
The most frequent response is widened eyes and a polite but incredulous, “Really?”
“Yes, really.”
I was a young reporter for The Bolivar Commercial in Cleveland, Ms. Bored and hot, and probably hung over, I slumped in my chair in the Rosedale courthouse while half listening to the board of supervisors drone on about … something. Former Ole Miss quarterback and then Bolivar County administrator Jimmy Heidel looked over at me and rolled his eyes.
I started daydreaming. Then I started scribbling in my reporter’s notebook. That was around 1979. Soon I had a box full of reporter’s notebooks for a novel about a small town named DeLong in a county called Cattahatchie. The fictional locale combined elements of the stiff-necked Tippah County hill country in which I had grown up and the lavish, impoverished, decadent Delta that I had come to love.
When I moved on to cover Louisiana politics during the Edwin Edwards era (and later the less violent New Orleans Saints), I was one of the first people I knew to have a desktop computer at home. An old Radio Shack that had the floppy disks when they really were floppy. I filled boxes of printer paper with the holes in both sides. But that’s where my characters stayed. In the box.
When in 1987 I wore out my welcome with New Orleans authorities – no small feat – I moved to the Miami Vice mecca of South Florida and established myself in what my girlfriend, and later wife, would call “The Deco Ghetto.” From my apartment in a 1930s-era Miami Beach building on Biscayne Bay I had a better view of the beautiful, exotic skyline of America’s Casablanca, as Newsweek called it, than many had from million dollar condos. Of course, I had to stand in my bathtub to see it.
All the while, in my spare and sober time – though there was precious little of either — I continued to push out enough text for a four-volume edition of Wolf’s Run. My characters racing down the dirt roads just south of the Tennessee line, chased by tornados with great rooster tails of orange dust and verbiage in the wake of their ‘68 Caddy.
My wife, Joyce, and I married in 1989 and moved to Wellington, Florida – land of polo matches, hunter-jumpers and copious amounts of money and horse manure (two things that frequently go hand in hand). It was here in Palm Beach County that I got some much needed stability in my life – thanks mostly to my wife’s good influences – and stopped using Wolf’s Run as an escapist time capsule and got down to the serious and often hard work of crafting a saleable version.
There were stops and starts and the busyness of life frequently got in the way, so it wasn’t until just before Christmas 2010 that I actually held the hardback in my hands.
If I am honest with myself, however – and I try to be from time to time if only to enjoy the novelty of the experience – throughout the long, 31-year process (1979-2010) it was not the hope of a bestseller, the presumed riches of a movie deal or the dream of a Pulitzer that kept me coming back to the keyboard; it was that each time I did so, I got to go home , back to the near magical Mississippi  of both memory and imagination and to grow younger with every word. Home to the hills of North Mississippi, exploding into springs so green they define the color and the season.  To the warm summer lakes and the cold, vividly metallic taste of water hand-scooped from an artesian well after a day working pastures of cut hay. To the autumn football fields, the grass dying grass golden in the long, long late afternoon light. To the mud and rain, frost and snow and sometimes sheet ice of winter.  A time of shouldered shotguns and basketballs thumping  within the weather-worn, clapboard walls of bandbox gyms in places such as Blue Mountain, Falkner, Wheeler and Potts Camp.
“Keep your eyes on the ballRoll onRoll on … “
Back in the real world, time and technology move on. Today, I run external web services and social media marketing for a private, Christian university and I am wrapping up my second novel, Hard News – a newsroom thriller set in present day Miami. It’s due out in May from Desire Street Press.
Now it is social media – Facebook – that mostly allows me to travel back daily to my roots near the Tippah and the Tallahatchie. Within 30 minutes of joining Facebook about five years ago, I received a wonderful message from a close friend of my youth in Ripley and at Ole Miss whom I had not spoken to since I put Twin Towers and Animal, errrr, DKE house in my rearview mirror.
At present, I have more than 2,100 “friends” on my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/lhpark) from all over the world as I have learned to use FB to successfully market my writing. Still, the posts I treasure are those that lead me north on I-55, up old 15 or cause me to revisit Highway 61. I thrill to learn of the weddings of my friends’ children and the birth of grandbabies; I am honored to be able to pray for those home folk who are sick; and I am soberly thankful to be able to join in mourning with sad and increasing frequency for mentors and even classmates.
Today, when doing an interview, or book signing or in cocktail chatter someone asks, “Louis, where do get these fantastical ideas for your books? How do you possibly conceive such wonderful and enigmatic characters?”

I reply simply, “Why, I’m from Miss’ssippi.”
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