Thursday, August 5, 2010

Oh, Readers, The Places You Will Go!

Place is important. Maybe I believe this because I grew up in a very special place called Alaska. 

But place is so important that I treat like a character in my books. Experience has taught me that places come with their own personalities, just like people. 

And this is why I adore The Southeastern Literary Tourism Initiative: SELTI gives place its rightful . . . place.

SELTI helps readers "step into the story," connecting with the Southern landscape described in literature. Book excerpts, links, photos, short tourism guides -- the next best thing to being there.

Recently, SELTI profiled  Richmond and The Clouds Roll Away. And I asked Patrick Miller, who created and writes this blog, to tell us about his beautiful brainchild. 

God bless this guy -- he "gets" the South!  

Our chat is below. If you're on Facebook, be sure to connect to SELTI. Not only will you visit new places and find new books, you'll meet some interesting subscribers -- the kind who enjoy traveling through Dixie, while holding a book in one hand. 

Patrick, are you someone with twin interests in literature and travel? Is that how SELTI got started?

I think everyone who loves to read also loves to travel, including myself. Readers have an insatiable curiosity about the world, making them ideal tourists. Traveling breaks up the everyday routine of life, and so does reading about other places. I decided, Why not combine the two?

And what's your personal connection to the South?

I was born and raised in Montgomery, Alabama. For a small city, Montgomery has been connected to the beginning of some major national events and movements. 

The first capital of the Confederacy was here (before it moved to Richmond). Jefferson Davis gave his first inaugural on the steps of our beautiful state capitol. Just down the street from the capitol, almost a hundred years later, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus. A local pastor by the name of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was inspired by her to organize the Montgomery Bus Boycott. That historic event launched his national career and had profound impacts on our entire nation that are still felt today. In the early 1900s the Wright Brothers established the first civilian flying school here, and that field became Maxwell AFB, which is now home to the Air Force's prestigious Air University. Military pilots from all over the world train at Maxwell.

Do you see something peculiar to the South that breeds literature?

The South is just peculiar in general!

So true -- and I mean that in love.

Yes, and that peculiar part leads to wonderfully unique characters. As a bonus, our relaxed way of life gives us the time to make the most of these characters. Other areas of the nation do have spectacular physical settings to inspire writers, but it's hard to beat the South in quirky, memorable characters. 

Southerners have also always been in love with their land. A good example would be Scarlet O'Hara's love affair with Tara--a relationship stronger to her than that with all of her husbands combined.

Good point about Scarlet.  What's been your favorite place to visit and write about?

Without a doubt, my favorite place to visit and write about is the mountains. I recently profiled Sallie Bissell's novels set in the western North Carolina mountains. The sensations felt there from the land are so powerful that they become spiritual, which is one of the themes in her suspense novels.

I'll check those books out -- see why I enjoy SELTI?  But I have a favor to ask. For every parent out there who wonders if travel with kids is worth the hassles, could you recount your visit to Williamsburg when you were 12 years old?

When I was twelve, my family visited Williamsburg and I picked up a copy of a novel called Nicholson Street. It was about an archaeologist excavating a lot in the historic district of Williamsburg. Some time travel event caused him to unexpectedly wake up one morning in the house that he was excavating--in the 1700s. He didn't know anyone in the time period, but he ended up apprenticing himself to a local tradesman. Eventually, he met George Washington and married a local girl. 

That book made the whole experience much more interesting to me. Here was this exciting plot that went right along with the actual town, and many of the 18th century buildings were still there. Of course, I was already in Williamsburg, so the book didn't cause my family to go there. But it sure added value to the visit. That was long before the Internet, but it was a very exciting reading experience.

What can readers expect from SELTI in the coming months?

We'll have an excerpt from Comfort by Joyce Moyer Hostetter. Set in beautiful Warm Springs, Georgia. It's a YA (young adult) novel about a girl with polio recovering at the FDR clinic there. Then next is Fifty-Seven Traveling by Lonnie Cruse, a mystery set in Pigeon Forge TN.

Great. And what about literary tourism in general, where is it headed?

Literary tourism is very much like a frontier that has yet to be fully explored, but offers vast opportunities for the future.

The next level for SELTI would be to get these types of short tourism articles, links, and photos directly into the end of upcoming books with a link to the website. Then, by "stepping into the story" themselves, readers can connect with their favorite novels on a whole new level. 

That would be great for the publishers, authors, agents, and tourism businesses. Most importantly, it will be incredible fun for the readers!