Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Living in a Magical Place

Photo by Susan Stein

I just saw a movie about life as it once was, as it was conceived by its Creator to be, and as it is. This is the profound The Tree of Life, which got me thinking about my own book.

The Tree of Life was set in a little Texas town in the 1950's; my book, That Was Tomorrow, was set in Fairhope in 1922. There is not really any similarity between the two works, but as an author perhaps I can be forgiven the indulgence of imagining my little novel being made into a little Indie movie one of these days. In my mind I've cast a few of the leading players, and I did that as I wrote. The hardest part of my movie project would be to recreate the Fairhope of 1922. I suspect it would have to be built from scratch on a Hollywood back lot.

The Fairhope of today really doesn't look anything like the one of 1922. In those days the population was under 500, and the houses were literally few and far between. The streets were not paved, there were few automobiles, and there were few shops. There were several guest homes, hotels, and hostelries, as Fairhope was a retreat for intellectual Northerners in the winter. There was a pier stretching out into Mobile Bay, where steamers docked after ferrying people from the city. There was a main street, Fairhope Avenue, and it was crossed by Section Street. At that corner were some of the businesses in town--a pharmacy, a harness shop, a general store, and next door a millinery and gift shop. As you walked down the hill--no sidewalks, just packed dirt--there was the office of the local weekly newspaper, The Courier, the doctor's office, and then, on Church Street was The Gables, a large wooden hotel run by Capt. and Mrs. Jack Cross. A few more guest houses, a cable car running down and up the hill to the bay, and the Colonial Inn on the corner of the street running parallel to the bay and Cliff Drive. Cliffs and gullies. Satsuma trees everywhere. Little kids climbing trees and playing in the gullies.

The Tree of Life was filmed in Smithville, TX. So was Hope Floats, and apparently many other movies with a nostalgic setting. For a moment during the film, when I saw a shred of Spanish moss on the trees, I thought it might make a nice backdrop for That Was Tomorrow. But really not. When they walked through town it was a typical, town-square-in-the-middle, layout from days past. In Fairhope there was Knoll Park, azaleas, wisteria, and all the beautiful beach parks. My characters have a number of cookouts on the beach.

Sonny Brewer, author of The Poet of Tolstoi Park, a novel set in roughly the same place and time as my book, said they considered Bayou La Batre, AL when it was under consideration for a movie. How they'd get the sun to go down in the East I don't know, but in Hollywood, all things are possible.

As a matter of fact, I'm still in dreamland myself. The book has been sent to three friends for evaluation of the first draft. If the reaction is good I still have a lot of work to do, depending on their suggestions. If the reaction is universally not good, the book project will be set aside indefinitely. Probably I'll become a more active blogger again.

In the meantime, if you can think of any location that's a little like Fairhope would have been in 1922, let me know.