Traveling by ferry to Fort Morgan during COVID-19. The seagull traveled free — in more ways than one.
A Literary Traveler’s Guide
When the pandemic began, I started writing my latest book, a literary traveler’s guide. Crazy idea? Write a travel guide when no one is traveling –when parks, campsites, museums, galleries, libraries are closed? COVID has halted almost all my first-hand travel experiences, but it’s stimulated serious road-trip research from the confines of my home.
I have escaped quarantine three times in the past year, twice for literary day trips. Each time I sneaked out was an exciting, genuine getaway – mostly from the confines of my car. It was as if I had fresh eyes and every sight was marvelous, memorable and masked. I gained a deep appreciation of things nearby.
Now that I’ve had both doses of the Moderna vaccine, I’m a card-carrying traveler and plan to visit every location in my book. My first draft for the manuscript, The Literary Traveler’s Guide to the Gulf South: From Bay St. Louis to Apalachicola, is complete, sans index and photos. My mission is to provide the reader glimpses into the quaint downtowns where authors walked, see the historic oaks where writers penned a page or two, and walk the beaches that inspired lines of romance, poetry and mystery. From Tennessee Williams to William Faulkner to contemporary best-selling authors, this book takes you – and me – to places I never knew were so interesting.
The yearlong writing adventure has introduced me to new writers, reacquainted me with old favorites, and surprised me with interesting facts. I knew yellow fever converged upon the area in the late 1800s and early 1900s. But I never thought about interstate travel and quarantines. But sure enough, history has repeated itself with a slight twist. In the early days of coronavirus, Florida placed troopers at the Florida state line stopping incoming vehicles from Mississippi and states with higher virus rates. In fellow fever times, Mississippians along the Coast, fearing a New Orleans yellow fever outbreak might spread “announced a quarantine against interstate travel – enforceable by bayonet.” (Hidden History of the Mississippi Sound, p. 81) A quick search on newspaper.com reveals scores of regional articles about yellow fever quarantines, including shotgun and musket enforcement. The hardships families faced were similar to what we face today – but they did it without air conditioning, television, internet, streaming services, Grub Hub or Zoom.
My Literary Traveler’s Guide to the Gulf South spans 335 miles from Bay. St. Louis, Mississippi, to Apalachicola, Florida. Interstate 10 is the northern limit, while the waters of the Gulf are as far South as it goes with a few barrier islands included. This blog will travel along with my research. The Gumbo Diaries will post fewer gumbo recipes, review more seafood restaurants (if they’re open) and focus on the Gulf Coast as a literary destination. It will become more of a “literary” gumbo diary. Most of all, I hope to share some lively literary travel stories and encourage readers to discover their own backyards via day trips.
My manuscript includes at least a hundred writers, more than thirty-five towns plus four islands. Most of the authors write popular fiction, poetry, plays or screen plays. Many of the characters and authors are household names, like Forrest Gump or Jimmy Buffett. Few scholarly works are included since this book is for travelers not necessarily scholars – but I do acknowledge environmental works since my book’s setting is “the Coast.”
If you know of a writer inspired by this area, born or raised in the area, or have a favorite book set along this stretch, please leave a comment or email me. I particularly like to include places where writers have visited, like John Grisham’s favorite restaurant in Biloxi or Dawn Lee McKenna’s favorite coffee shop in Apalachicola. Of course, I respect the writers’ privacy, but readers and literary travelers are a respectful lot and driving by where a writer used to live rarely causes a traffic jam. Please send me your ideas and writing and author trivia — from Bay St. Louis to Apalachicola.