Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Cloverdale Charms Readers and Tourists

Daphne Simpkins holds up her novel Cloverdale
in front of Capitol Book & News, which is
in the real neighborhood of Cloverdale.
Excerpt From: Cloverdale by Daphne Simpkins
Tourism Attraction: Old Cloverdale historic district
Location: Montgomery, Alabama
Photos: Click to enlarge!

When it comes to neighborhood charm, Old Cloverdale in Montgomery, Alabama is hard to compete against. One of the historic neighborhood’s many unique charms is its independent bookstore, Capitol Book & News, where I recently met with Daphne Simpkins, the author of a new novel titled Cloverdale. The novel features the escapades of Miss Mildred Budge, a retired school teacher who finds that retirement can be as hectic and rewarding as her full time job ever was—not to mention more dangerous.

The best parts of this novel, set in the real Cloverdale, are the constant moments of subtle beauty from everyday life, like the image of a mother’s hand when giving directions. Moments like these separate this novel from a mere tour guide description and propel the reader into the spirit of the real place. Learn how to visit the real Cloverdale in the Tourism Guide and Links after these short excerpts provided from the publisher to SELTI:

From Cloverdale . . .

“I know you are new to the neighborhood. It is actually referred to as Cloverdale — to some, Old Cloverdale,” the retired school teacher explained patiently. When Kenny blinked as if he didn’t speak English, she explained, “Cloverdale is considered to be the heart of historic Montgomery.”
Kenny blinked some more, as if he didn’t recognize the name of the city where they lived. Miss Budge smiled encouragingly, and continued politely.

“I wonder if you have visited the Fitzgerald museum yet? It is to your left, about two miles that way,” Miss Budge directed, pointing, and one more time, saw her mother’s hand. She did not mind the vision of her mother’s hand extending from her arm at all. Though no one expected a woman of Miss Budge’s age to miss a parent, Mildred Budge still did miss her mother and was glad for the company of even the image of her mother’s hand.
Students read from Fitzgerald's classic works outside
the F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum in Cloverdale

Kenny eyed the older woman as if she were speaking a foreign language. His eyes morphed to a weak shade of green. Miss Budge wondered if Kenneth was weak or just young. She had taught many young people and had learned that looking into their eyes and making assessments about intelligence or character based on an expression or shade of eye color had very little to do with who they really were—no more than how people once used to feel the bumps on a person’s cranium to determine intelligence.

Knowing that (and it had taken her a surprisingly long time to learn it) Miss Budge often fought the impulse anyway to a know person’s head shape with her fingertips, like a blind person might. Kenny had a rectangular-shaped head. Her fingers began to strum the air gently. If she could know the contours of his head with her hands, what would the arcs and bumps tell her about what was going on inside?

She clasped her hands determinedly in her lap and held them there while surreptitiously checking the closure of her robe. Her mother would have liked this robe, too, she thought—and smiled.

“The museum is the old house of a famous Montgomery family. F. Scott Fitzgerald is a famous author. He married a Montgomery girl,” she explained patiently. “You may recall from your high school days that Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby.”
Cloverdale home. Photo by Old Cloverdale Association

Kenny stared at Miss Budge blankly, and the color of his eyes deepened to the color of an ocean just before it rained. Troubled, Kenny tried to figure out what to say next. When he didn’t immediately speak, Miss Budge continued.

“His wife Zelda Sayre was not only a famous southern belle here but a talented writer as well.” Kenny’s fingertips scratched the tops of his thighs as if he were getting ready to explain the purpose of his visit. Miss Budge nodded encouragingly, but Kenny did not respond to her cue. “Or, there’s Martin Luther King, Jr.’s church downtown or The First White House of the Confederacy,” she added, sounding like one of those volunteer tour guides that some senior citizens become to fill their days after they retired. Though she was retired—prematurely, according to some—she was still too busy to volunteer in that capacity.

(Later in the story . . .)

A tour bus stops in one of several scenic parks in Cloverdale
Before more conversation could ensue, Mildred waved good-bye, and headed off down the homey street in her neighborhood. She was glad to walk off by herself. Glad of the evening. Glad of the hum of activity at the houses along the way where people were milling around the flowerbeds close to their homes or sitting on their porches watching people like Mildred walk by and waving.

She was glad of the memories that rose up in her. Glad of the fragrance of new grass and cool mint and tea olive. Glad that the day had grown warmer and that the next day promised to be warmer still. Soon, there would be honeysuckle and gardenias, and better, the smell of tomatoes growing luxuriously on vines in the yards. People plucked them like apples and sometimes ate them the same way. Juicy. Dripping. Tasting like sunshine.

“God be praised,” Mildred moaned in gratitude for the hope of tomatoes and the presence of the unexpected gift of solitude.
Lampost. Photo by Old Cloverdale Association

The solar street lights began to pulse toward beaming, lighting her path through Cloverdale, and she felt as if some part of her interior self was waking up in the same way. Each step seemed to give rise to a refreshed wakefulness. The neighborhood houses, built in a time when people wanted big yards, were mostly set back deeply on wide lots where old gardens and ancient trees had taken over.

There was an occasional cottage that had previously been a carriage house—a place where once, long ago, in a different South the servants had lived. These smaller homes were like her own bungalow, intimate and warm and inviting with their well tended coziness. Mildred loved the variety of houses and old southern yards in Cloverdale as much as she recoiled from the cookie-cutter designs of planned communities that had been developed by real estate people around the heart of the city. On the periphery of Cloverdale were other neighborhoods with assigned names meant to establish atmosphere but did not achieve the other purpose of creating the character of the neighborhood.
Cloverdale hedges. Photo by Old Cloverdale Association

Miss Budge preferred unsculptured bushes and casually kept hedges to mark loose boundaries. They fit the landscape of her mind better.

---Excerpted with permission from CLOVERDALE, Copyright © 2011 by Diane Simpkins.

Cloverdale is a special place that I’ve covered many times on SELTI. For starters, the campus of Huntingdon College and the Fitzgerald House were settings in my novel Blind Fate. The Fitzgerald House and the El Rey Restaurant, along with the neighborhood itself, were settings in Kirk Curnutt’s tourism novel Dixie Noir. We did a fun photo shoot for Dixie Noir at the Fitzgerald House with one of the El Rey’s waitresses as the model.
Photo by Old Cloverdale Association

Blind Fate and Dixie Noir were recently featured in USA Today for their innovation of interactive tourism guides inside the Kindle novels. The USA Today feature article included one of our photos from inside the Fitzgerald Museum. I first discovered author Bart Barton and his novel The Cross Garden while reading an article about his book signing at Capitol Book & News. I met with Bart at the real El Rey to prepare for his tourism profile. Finally, the Fitzgerald House was the setting for the SELTI article What Would Fitzgerald Think of the Kindle? So naturally, when a novel titled Cloverdale came out, I had to connect with the author.

There are so many connections to this neighborhood now that I am officially establishing Cloverdale as the epicenter of the new wave of national tourism fiction. There is something very special about this area. Aside from the beautiful homes and parks, there are many wonderful shops and restaurants that invite the tourist to stay a while and experience a quality of life not found anywhere else in the city. Browse the links below to learn more about this area and the surrounding tourism attractions of Montgomery. If you enjoy Cloverdale, you might also want to read the anthology of short stories that introduce the main character, Miss Budge in Love, available in paperback and also on Kindle for 99¢.


Click on links above in the text to visit the websites of the real places. In addition, click on the links below related to the novel and the surrounding area.

Daphne Simpkins' website/ order the book
Old Cloverdale Association: wonderful tourist guide to Old Cloverdale
Capitol Book & News
Comfort Publishing: publisher of Cloverdale
El Rey Lounge: great place to eat!
F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum

Montgomery attractions outside of Cloverdale
Hank Williams Museum
City of Montgomery tourism website
Alabama Tourism Department
Rosa Parks Museum
First White House of the Confederacy
Alabama Shakespeare Festival
Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts

If you enjoy Cloverdale, then you will enjoy the previous December SELTI features from 2010 and 2009.

The short story "Ohme," featuring a grandmother in a real South Carolina town on Christmas day.

Pendleton, SC, the setting of "Ohme"

Murder in Dollywood Country!
Read an excerpt from Fifty-Seven Traveling, a novel about a grandmother sleuth
on vacation in Pigeon Forge, TN

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Moundville named as setting for Inaugural SELTI Writing Contest

Interior of Moundville Museum
Moundville, Ala. has been named the target promotional site for the Inaugural SELTI Writing Contest. The contest is co-sponsored by the Southeastern Literary Tourism Initiative (SELTI) and the University of Alabama Museums. Contestants will compete to write the short story that best promotes tourism to the historic Native American archaeological site. Moundville includes impressive mounds that served as the center of one of the largest Native American cities in North America 800 years ago. The site is also now home to a museum and park that recently completed a $5 million renovation, including an expansion of the indoor museum.

“I look forward to the increased exposure that the tourism fiction contest will bring to the Moundville site,” said Bill Bomar, Director of Moundville Archaeological Park. “Moundville is one of the nation’s premier archaeological sites, yet many outside of Alabama have never heard of it. This is such a creative way to make people aware of such an important part of our heritage.”

The winning short story will be published online at the Southeastern Literary Tourism Initiative and will include photos of Moundville and a link to the museum’s website. The winner will likely get national publicity since this will be the first tourism fiction contest ever conducted. The global economic downturn has put increasing pressure on tourism attractions and cultural parks everywhere, many of which rely on shrinking government funding and private donations to stay afloat. Although Moundville has done well over the past few years, the tourism fiction contest could be a model for how many other cultural parks could gain exposure and extra funding.

“Tourism fiction is an innovative tool that can be used by any city or attraction in the world to engage potential tourists in an entirely new way,” said SELTI founder Patrick Miller, who also published the first interactive tourism novel on Kindle, “Blind Fate.”

Miller’s novel was set in real tourism attractions of Montgomery, Alabama, such as the Rosa Parks Museum. The groundbreaking novel includes a tourism guide at the end where readers can click on links from inside the book and instantly browse the many related tourism websites. By downloading a Kindle app, readers can also purchase Kindle novels on a variety of other e-reading devices such as iPads, smart phones, tablet computers, and regular desktop and laptop computers. The new Kindle Fire will also allow readers to browse the tourism websites from the novel with touchscreen color.

The Inaugural SELTI Writing Contest is meant to showcase how public institutions can partner with private writers and publishers for mutual benefit, Miller said. The SELTI project was first introduced to the University of Alabama Museums through a statewide e-newsletter from the Alabama Tourism Department. The newsletter detailed a  USA Today feature story on Miller’s work with interactive tourism novels.

Interested contestants can view the official rules of the contest below.

Contestants can also start researching for a visit to Moundville by clicking on their website here.

Inaugural SELTI Writing Contest

The first national short story contest designed to promote tourism

Sponsored by the Southeastern Literary Tourism Initiative
Co-sponsored by the University of Alabama Museums

Official Rules

The famous carved stone Duck Bowl found at Moundville.
Could the maker of this legendary artifact come alive in a short story?
• story must be set in Moundville, Alabama
• story must use creative angle to encourage readers to visit Moundville
• maximum word count: 3,500
• no entry fee
• entry deadline: April 15, 2012
• projected announcement of winner: May 30, 2012
• Five finalists will be judged by a panel including:
three English professors from the University of Alabama
three Marketing professors from the University of Alabama
editor of the Southeastern Literary Tourism Initiative
• Winning story will be published online at SELTI and include photos and a link to the Moundville museum. Museum will provide the photos
• Winner will receive international publicity from SELTI publication but no cash prize. This contest is meant to showcase how writers and government institutions can work together for mutual publicity
• All entries must be emailed to and include the title of the story followed by “Tourism Fiction Contest” in the subject line. Also email any questions about the contest to this email address.
• Stories should be pasted into entry email. No emails with attachments or other unrequested content will be opened
• Include your name, phone number, physical mailing address, and email address at the top of the story
• After winner is selected, a short bio and profile photo will be requested for online publication with the short story on SELTI
• Writers are encouraged to visit Moundville for inspiration and research, but understand that the museum staff will not participate in the judging process

The winged serpent played a pivotal role in Moundville mythology and art.
Could it reappear in a short story?
Tips for entrants

• Do your research. Browse the many novel and book excerpts on SELTI using the Stories By Month archive in the top left. These offer excellent free examples of published tourism fiction focused on a variety of unique attractions from all over the South. These examples are written in different genre styles from young adult to adult suspense/mystery to creative nonfiction.
• There are several tourism short stories on SELTI in the archives:
The Last Confession” June 2009 (scary twist on real archaeological state park)
Moccasin Gap” November 2009 (funny twists and turns on a kayaking trip)
Ohme” December 2009 (sentimental twist with a Christmas theme)
• The above examples are just for learning purposes and research. Write in your own style.
• Around 1350 A.D., Native Americans started to abandon the city of Moundville. No one knows why.
• As with any writing competition, many good submissions will not ultimately win. Keep in mind that no matter which story wins, all the entrants will have gained applied early experience in a writing field that is about to explode on the international scene.

(check back for weekly updates)
Winner selected! Click this link to read the winning story of the Inaugural SELTI Writing Contest, Kathryn Lang's "Digging Up Bones"

Deadline Update: A request from the University of Alabama Museums to extend the contest deadline has extended the deadline to April 15, 2012.

Update: April 16, 2012: Final entries are in! Judging is underway. Thanks so much to all who entered. Writers found many different creative angles to promote Moundville through short fiction. An email will be sent to all entrants when a winner is selected, but please be patient.

Alabama Tourism Department announces Moundville contest. in newsletter.
Tuscaloosa Convention and Visitors Bureau announces Moundville contest.
National Novel Writing Month announces Moundville contest.
Auburn University at Montgomery announces University of Alabama Museum contest.

Moundville contest goes international! announces Moundville contest. is the biggest international
literary tourism site out there.  One of the many fun features
of their site: highlighting fan photos of favorite independent bookstores. announces Moundville contest. Have you ever wondered where to find the nearest independent bookstore when traveling somewhere new? is the place to go for great directories and reviews of everything involving literary tourism, from literary landmarks to the best bookstores and literary festivals. This is the most comprehensive site for literary tourism that I've found.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Scenic Getaway in The Cross Garden

The Tombigbee River at sunset, one of the real locations in The Cross Garden.
Called the Tennahpush River in the novel. Photo by Rhonda Goff Barton.
Excerpt from: The Cross Garden by Marlin Barton, published by Frederic C. Beil Publisher, Inc.
Attractions: Demopolis and Rice Cross Garden
Locations: Demopolis/Prattville Alabama
Photos: Click to enlarge!

There were three elements of style that reminded me of Faulkner in Marlin Barton's novel The Cross Garden, set in the scenic river town town of Demopolis, Alabama. The first was the incredible tension between the charatcers, something Faulkner wrote so well. The second was an accuracy of rendering the dialogue and mannerisms of the local characters almost to a point of devotion. Faulkner could do this whether he was writing from the point of view of a mentally handicapped character or Harvard undergraduate.

Finally, Barton writes in an unhurried pace that allows the reader to savour his literary style even in scenes about intense physical conflict such as a fist fight. Having said that, Barton does not delve into complicated sentences and structures that take a doctorate in English to comprehend, much less appreciate. The average reader can enjoy his work as well as the sophisticated professor. This is a standard that Fitzgerald spoke about as the the goal of every great writer.

The feel of Barton is very Faulkner, including the richly rural settings. However, these are not fictional places that only exist in Barton's imagination; they are the lush and humid river world of western Alabama. Click on the websites in the Tourism Links at the end to learn how to visit these settings in real life for a scenic getaway.


Nathan stood still for a moment, as if he were waiting on something to drive him on.

“Can I ask you a question?” James said.

“You’ll find out when we get there,” said Nathan.

“No, not that. Why do you think he didn’t go ahead and kill Arthur, shoot him in the head or something?”

“I don’t know. Maybe he thought he was dead. Or maybe he was scared to shoot him again, afraid of how it might look. It might be that he just plain got scared. Killing someone is a complicated thing to do, especially if you’ve had time to think about it for a while before you do it.”
The novel at the real Cross Garden in Alabama.

James studied him intently, the same way he’d seen him studying the river’s surface at times.

“Sounds like you’ve thought on it some.”

“I only wondered the same thing you did,” Nathan said. He walked to his dock and motioned for James to follow and didn’t look back or wait. The nylon rope was soaked through and it took him a minute to untie the boat. Once he did, he pulled it close to the dock. “You ride up front,” he said.

James stepped into the boat and sat down. Nathan took his seat in back. He was afraid James might start asking questions again, and he didn’t want it that way. He wasn’t sure how he would tell it, or even how much he would tell. He had too many questions himself still to be able to answer the boy’s. He wanted to wait until they got there and let the words come as they would.
Black Warrior River, called the Black Fork in the novel. Photo by Rhonda Goff Barton

After three pulls the engine caught, and the sound of it drowned any chance for more talk. He steered in the middle of the Black Fork, and the sight of the bridges loomed over them like monuments. The trestle was drawn and the ironwork above it and that of the bridge beyond made two great arches so large that the boat they sat in seemed dangerously small in comparison. He’d navigated the river beneath them many times, but at this moment the bridges seemed more grand in their proportions, as if they marked some unknown passage.

They picked up speed as he turned the throttle and passed under. A light spray of river water pelted their faces and the smell of it reminded him of being out with his father all those years ago. He couldn’t hold that memory, though, the way he wanted. It seemed to slip past with the boat’s forward motion, but that same motion only carried him into another memory—the night on the river with Walter and Puckett.

The water had felt so warm as he’d pushed Walter’s head beneath its dark surface, the same way the spray felt warm now. The river had always seemed to wind through his life, and he felt once again as though the water itself was his past and his memory made tangible, and that he had fought against those two currents for too long.

He breathed in the rush of air coming toward him. He let it fill him and opened the throttle as far as it would go without turning the boat over. The wind against his face felt clean, but the warm spray came harder.

They rounded the first bend, then the second. James hadn’t looked back, but as he edged toward the bank, the boy turned and looked at him as if to say, Where can you be taking me?

Nathan slowed, cut the engine, and let the boat drift to the bank.

A statue in the historic square of Demopolis, Alabama.
Photo provided by city of Demopolis

“Tie us,” he said.

“You got some kind of camphouse here or something?”

“No,” he said.

James stepped off the boat. Nathan followed and then walked ahead. He wondered what James would think when they made their way up the bank and he first caught sight of the crosses. Maybe he’d understand immediately that this was the place he had always sought, if not on a conscious level then on some deeper one, perhaps in the very pull of his blood.

Nathan made the climb to the top and turned to watch James. He could see the river below, its surface marked again by rain. James took his last steps up. Then he saw the cross garden spread out among the trunks of the trees, the crosses white and perfect in their random design. Some animal ran through the leaves just out of their sight.
Author Marlin Barton stands with a copy of his novel
in the real Rice Cross Garden in Prattville, Alabama.

“Is this some kind of old graveyard?” James said. His voice was raised just above a whisper, as if a burial were taking place and the preacher was in mid-prayer.

“I suppose it is, but it’s not all that old,” he said. He walked into the center of the crosses. James started to follow but stopped outside their circumference.

“You’re right,” he said. “It’s all just crosses. There aren’t any headstones. And wooden crosses don’t last. Besides, they all look new, mostly.” He paused as if trying to understand what he saw before him, as though he divined that the garden held some meaning. “Did you put them here?” he asked.

Nathan nodded his head.

“I made them, then planted them.”

“What for?”

Can’t you figure it out? he wanted to say. Don’t you know? But he didn’t. He would simply have to tell it now. He reached down and took a small handful of dirt from beneath the leaves. He tightened his fingers and felt the wet grains press into his skin and mold themselves into the hard shape of his fist.

“There’s only one grave here,” he said. “I can’t remember where it is exactly.”

James’ face paled with a sudden understanding.

---Excerpted with permission from The Cross Garden, Copyright © 2011 by Marlin Barton. All rights reserved.
Demopolis Banner, provided by city of Demopolis


Like many settings in novels, the landscapes of Marlin Barton’s novel The Cross Garden have their real counterparts in the physical world. The Black Fork River named in the excerpt is the Black Warrior River in historic Demopolis, Alabama (a town called Demarville in the novel). The railroad trestle is quite real; in fact, Marlin used to dive off of it as a teenager for the incredible rush of adrenaline. The rivers and lakes of the Demopolis area offer wonderful outdoor recreation for families and literary enthusiasts looking for a scenic getaway from the stresses of city life.

The cross garden also has a real inspiration in Rice’s Cross Garden near Prattville, Alabama. Unlike the fictional garden in the novel, Rice’s Cross Garden is easily accessible from the road and even offers parking for the casual tourist seeking a very unique attraction. Just click on the text in the Tourism Links below to learn more.
Historic Demopolis Square, a setting in the novel.
Photo provided by city of Demopolis. 

Demopolis and Rice’s Cross Garden are two hours drive away from each other, but both have something to offer the literary tourist. Just for an idea of Demopolis’ charm, consider the fact that its town square was laid out in 1819, making it one of the oldest town squares in Alabama. The best time to visit Demopolis is during one of its many public festivals, such as Sax in the City. Visit the websites in the Tourism Links below to learn more about visiting both Demopolis and Rice’s Cross Garden in Prattville.

When I first opened up my media review copy of The Cross Garden, I immediately noticed the book's quality of physical production. That is not something I usually notice (I've never mentioned it before). Bart (Marlin Barton) later told me on the photoshoot that Frederic C. Beil, his publisher, is one of the few small presses that still use the old methods of producing high-quality books. That is quite a shock for someone like me so engrossed in the digital publishing revolution.

Then I discovered that Beil is located in Savannah, Georgia, a southern city well-known both for its charming hospitality and complete disregard for changing its ways to keep up with the modern world. Savannah’s culture became famous after John Berendt’s non-fiction book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil became an international bestseller. Tourism skyrocketed after that, and the city continues to embrace the book with related tours even after a decade. A Hollywood movie version set in Savannah didn’t hurt tourism either.
Lyon Hall in Demopolis, Alabama. Photo provided
by the city of Demopolis.

One only wonders why city and state tourism departments didn’t attempt to attract novelists to repeat the performance through publicity incentives rather than just waiting for a novelist to become randomly inspired enough to write about their city's attractions. Maybe this project, the Southeastern Literary Tourism Initiative, will help inspire some ideas for that in the near future. After the USA Today article on the nation's first two tourism novels with interactive guides, things are likely to move fast in that direction.

Nowadays, the new Kindle Fire and iPad tablet computers can take readers straight to a tourism website from inside a Kindle novel, if the writer adds an interactive tourism guide at the end.

Blind Fate, the first Kindle tourism
novel with an interactive travel guide.
So far, the only two American Kindle tourism novels with travel guides are Blind Fate and Dixie Noir. However, I have to wonder if Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil might include one in its Kindle edition. That way, today’s readers could instantly see some of the great book-related tours available in Savannah without having to do Google searches. They could just click on links from inside the Kindle book and jump right to the color tourism websites.


The Cross Garden on Amazon

Recent titles from Frederic C. Beil Publisher, Inc.

Visit the city of Demopolis

William C. Rice's Cross Garden

Marlin Barton also teaches creative writing for the Writing Our Stories Program run by the Alabama Writers Forum.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Game-changer: Will the Kindle Fire Ignite Tourism?

Blind Fate is the first Kindle tourism novel
with an interactive travel guide inside the book.
As Amazon's first color touch-screen model, the $199 Kindle Fire is sure to shake up the publishing world—but many have not discovered its most important feature: as a gateway to tourism through e-novels.

Imagine Kindle novels that are set in real tourism attractions. Then imagine readers clicking on links from inside the novel and instantly browsing the color websites of the real places in the story. Only ereaders like the Kindle Fire can let readers do that. The concept is called tourism fiction: fiction that is written to directly promote tourism to specific attractions.

Haven’t heard of it? That’s because there are only a few novels in the world that are taking advantage of the technology. Right now there is only one novel on the American Kindle market that has a tourism guide inside the book: Blind Fate by Patrick Miller.

Read an excerpt of Blind Fate by clicking here.

In the past, Kindles only offered web browsing in black and white, so the tourism guide in Blind Fate could only show the websites in black and white. The Kindle Fire will change all that in a month, making the tourism appeal of Kindle tourism novels much stronger.
A tourism link from inside the novel Dixie Noir.

What will happen when tourism novels hit the market in large numbers? They will turn the entire national economy around by getting millions of new tourists traveling the country to new places. Imagine how much fun it will be for readers to visit the places they just read about in their favorite stories. Aren’t they the perfect potential tourists to market to? A tourism novel captures potential tourists' full attention for two hours and lets them engage emotionally with the characters—and the places.

What will be the economic impact of millions of new tourists spending their consumer dollars in places all over the nation? You guessed it: finally, a light at the end of this dark economic tunnel that the nation has been driving down for too long. Tourism fiction is the game-changer that will let our nation turn the economic corner at last.

The tourism fiction market won't take long to heat up in America; I have already teamed up with southern writer Kirk Curnutt to produce an online tourism guide for his steamy novel Dixie Noir. The Kindle edition of Dixie Noir also has a live link to Curnutt's website, which has links to the websites of settings in his novel. Curnutt has already said he will include a full tourism guide inside his next Kindle novel.

One more thing: the iPad and iPhone already have a Kindle app, meaning you can experience the nation’s first Kindle tourism novel in color right now on an Apple device. There is even a Kindle for PC app and for just about any smart phone out there. So try out the future by ordering a copy of Blind Fate here. The tourism guide for Blind Fate is at the end of the novel, so jump to the end to see how it works. Then, jump back to the beginning and enjoy a fast-paced suspense story from the “unique” perspective of a blind violinist.

What is USA Today saying about Kindle tourism novels? Find out by clickng here.
Check out all the SELTI novels on Facebook

Monday, September 26, 2011

Netflix Now Streaming Alabama Moon Tourism Movie

Netflix is now streaming the movie Alabama Moon, based on the popular young adult novel by Alabama author Watt Key. The only online tourism guide to the book and movie can be found here on SELTI: Today's Tom Sawyer: Camping Under an Alabama Moon. I saw Alabama Moon in the theaters, but now any fan of the novel can watch the movie about the Talladega National Forest on their TV or computer through their Netflix account. Unlike many movies that screw up the original story, this one was well-adapted to the novel. No surprise there, since Watt co-wrote the screenplay.

What are some movies that turned out to be better or worse than the novels they were based on? I thought The Count of Monte Cristo movie was far superior as a whole story to the novel, even though Alexandre Dumas is an incredible scene writer. I'm currently reading The Last of the Mohicans on my Kindle to compare it to the film. One of the great things about Kindle is all the free classsic literature available for download in seconds.

Kindle novels are also available on the iPad by downloading the Kindle for iPad app. A tourism novel with an interactive travel guide inside the book, like Blind Fate, allows readers to browse the related tourism websites in color. That presents some wonderful opportunities for tourism novels in the near future.    

Monday, August 15, 2011

Dixie Noir: An Interactive Tourism Novel

Red, a fictional character from Dixie Noir, reads the novel in one of the real settings of the book:
the Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum
Excerpt from: Dixie Noir by Kirk Curnutt
Tourism attractions: Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum, El Rey Lounge
Location: Montgomery, Alabama
Photos: Diane Prothro. Click to enlarge any photo.
Model: Audria Carr

One of the most fun aspects of working with tourism fiction is experiencing my favorite books coming to life—not just in my imagination but literally right before my eyes. So far, it’s just been the places and the unique spirit that surrounds each one. But profiling Kirk Curnutt’s novel Dixie Noir was the first time that a character from a novel has come to life.

The character’s name is "Red," a spunky fictional waitress from the real El Rey Burrito Lounge in Montgomery, Alabama. Red has an apartment in the real Fitzgerald Museum in Montgomery, which does have both private apartments and a museum dedicated to the famous couple. As part of the photo shoot for this profile, we had a real waitress from El Rey, Audria Carr, pose as Red inside the museum, one of the main settings in the novel.

As soon as she came through the door, it was like seeing Red walk right out from the pages of the novel and into the real world. Red was certainly one of the characters that made Dixie Noir a memorable read, so please enjoy this short excerpt that captures her spirit below.

Dixie Noir is the only other interactive tourism novel I've profiled on SELTI. The first was Blind Fate. Both novels have interactive tourism guides inside the Kindle editions. These embedded tourism links take readers directly to the websites of the real settings in the books--all with one click from inside the novel. After the excerpt, learn how to visit the real places in this novel through SELTI's companion online Tourism Guide. This guide will show you how to visit real places in the novel, including the El Rey Lounge and Fitzgerald Museum—and of course how order the book!

From Dixie Noir . . .

Red reads Dixie Noir from the lawn of the Fitzgerald House in Montgomery
I managed to keep it clean until my shift ended at eleven. It had been a twelve-hour workday, but there was no way I was going to be too tired to walk Red to the Fitzgerald house. As I clocked out, I took two shots of J├Ągermeister. Bubba agreed to deduct them from my paycheck since I was light on cash. Then I reminded Wookie to bring his scrapbooks the next day.

As Red and I walked up Boultier, I enjoyed the night smell of jasmine and crepe myrtle. Every few paces she brushed into me, and I would revel in a whiff of something even more powerful—her. I wanted like hell to put my arm around her and pull her close, but I was afraid to.

Twice while we worked I had caught her on her cell phone looking flustered. Even with the phone’s ringer turned off, Eric the ex wasn’t going away anytime soon. The first thing I noticed when we walked into her apartment was a sheet thrown over the mirror.

“I didn’t want you worrying about seeing your own kisser,” she said with a grin. “You’re not quite the Elephant Man, but I understand. Honestly, it’s kind of a relief. Eric couldn’t take two steps without stopping to admire his own reflection.”

Red reads from the roof of her apartment at the Fitzgerald House
On her roof she spread out a down comforter and we stretched across the shingles, a few inches of safety between us. The shingles were still hot, but I didn’t care. Especially not when Red cracked her copy of Save Me the Waltz open and started reading from another tipped-in half-sheet of stationary.

“Along the staircases of dark streets, men wandered in search of girls, searching with nothing to navigate them but tenuous wisps of jasmine that taunted them with their ephemeral tracings . . . The men peeked for them behind boxwoods and while tiptoeing through unbroken and untrammeled beds of corydalis and cowslip, never thinking that these sad, playful sprites of femininity know that a man’s craving is incommensurate with his nurturing and that therefore a woman’s best option is to remain a corona of his desire . . .

“So the men were doomed to shadow the future of their own failure, wanting but incapable of truly having because truly having is truly giving, never realizing that the susurrations that said to them ‘If you can only find you are free to take’ mocked them with the lure of appetence . . . .”

That did it for me. I rolled over onto Red and kissed her, hard. I don’t think she was expecting it. At first she wedged the book against my shoulder and started to push me away. Only it didn’t seem like she really wanted me to stop, so I didn’t.

Inside the Fitzgerald Museum, Dixie Noir author Kirk Curnutt meets
"Red,"a fictional character from his novel who steps into the real world.

Then a crazy thing happened. She tucked an arm around the back of my neck and instead of pushing she pulled my mouth to hers. I felt my tongue in her mouth and hers in mine. Then she did this wild thing with her teeth. She sunk them lightly into the thick part of my tongue, the back part, and slid them down the length of it. Over and over again. Her mouth closed tightly around my tongue, and she just kept going back and forth until I thought the electric tickle the move gave off would blow out my whole circuitry.

Goddamn she tasted good.

Just as suddenly she stopped. She put her hand over my mouth and whispered, her voice a feather in the heat.

“You understand I can’t go any farther than this tonight, don’t you? You understand why, too, right?”

Sure, I understood. Why wouldn’t I? I was an ex-con. She had an ex-boyfriend. One more X in the equation and this game of ours was over. I rolled onto my back, staring at the sequined stars.

“I just broke my cardinal rule,” I confessed. “I waited ten years to practice it: ‘Do No Bad.’ I’m sorry I pressured you, Red. St. Dominic needs to get on the case to make me a better choirboy.”

Red stands on the porch of the Fitzgerald House
She propped herself on her side, above me, so her hair hung down onto my throat.

“Don’t be too good of a choirboy, Hardboil. Just remember: you’ve got to sin to get saved.”

“You smell so damn good. You know what you smell like? You smell like freedom.”

“Dominic and that other saint of yours—Jude—they’re looking out for our best interests, aren’t they?”

“If they’re not, they’re out of a job. Bubba isn’t the only one who can fire someo—”

I didn’t finish because she had pressed the curve of her neck into my face just as she had at El Rey the day before. If I didn’t have a single more minute to live, I wouldn’t have cared. I would have died a happy bastard.

---Excerpted from DIXIE NOIR, Copyright © 2009 by Kirk Curnutt, All Rights Reserved

Tourism Guide
Pull up the menu of the real El Rey from inside
the Kindle tourism edition of Dixie Noir.

Dixie Noir is the first novel profiled on SELTI other than Blind Fate with an interactive tourism link in the Kindle edition. This means that readers can, from the Kindle edition, click on links from inside the novel and visit the websites of the real places. One could, for example, pull up the menu of the real El Rey Lounge from the Kindle book or find out hours of operation directly from the Fitzgerald Museum website. It’s much easier to get this information instantly from the novel than having to go do web searches later on.

Keep in mind that Kindle novels can be downloaded to regular laptop or desktop computers, smart phones, iPads, and other devices besides the Kindle reader itself. Just go to Amazon to download the necessary software and start reading in a couple of minutes.

Some of the most intriguing places to set a novel happen to be operated by nonprofits with very limited marketing budgets, so interactive tourism novels are a great way for writers to promote the places they love and want to share with their readers. Kirk is on the board of the real Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum and often frequents the real El Rey lounge.

The Fitzgerald Museum offers rare collections of books, letters, and paintings from the famous couple. For example, there is a letter from Fitzgerald to Hemingway, letters he wrote to his daughter Scottie, and letters from Zelda to Fitzgerald.

The following is from an article Kirk wrote and provided to me about Dixie Noir and its inspirations:

“The essence of Montgomery, Alabama—my home since 1993—is dialectical. Downtown, the house where Jefferson Davis oversaw Southern secession in February 1861 stands only paces from the church where Martin Luther King, Jr. directed the bus boycott ninety-five years later. The two attractions form the heart of our tourism, yet they exist in uneasy alliance, one preserving the very legacy of the Civil War that the Civil Rights Movement vowed to overcome. For every Rosa Parks we revere here, we’re urged to acknowledge (if not celebrate) Confederate valor, to appreciate states rights as intently as civic disobedience. The schism even cleaves our popular culture: Nat King Cole is our native son, Zelda Fitzgerald our wild child.”
Another hot interactive tourism novel
set in Montgomery: read an excerpt
of Blind Fate by clicking the link in
the Tourism Guide below.

Kirk and I both wrote novels inspired by modern Montgomery. My novel, Blind Fate, is told from the perspective of a blind person and covers many of the same settings as Dixie Noir, which made Kirk’s novel an especially intriguing read for me. A southern city is not a usual place for setting a noir novel, which caught my attention when first reading about Dixie Noir. Kirk did a wonderful job at every level, from places to characterization.

Kirk Curnutt and the real "Bubba"
from the El Rey Lounge at a
Dixie Noir booksigning.
A special thanks to Audria for bringing Red to life in the Fitzgerald Museum and to Diane, Kirk’s fiance, for her artistic and daring eye in taking the shots (some of which were on the roof!). Stay on the lookout for a sequel to Dixie Noir as the story switches over to Bubba’s storied life as a bartender and bouncer.

Tourism Links

Start reading the rest of Dixie Noir right now on your Kindle, iPad, iPhone, smart phone, or computer (also available in hardback):

Learn about all of Kirk Curnutt’s books at his official website:

Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum

Stop by for drinks and food at the real El Rey Burrito Lounge in Old Cloverdale, Montgomery’s boho district

Another interactive tourism novel about Montgomery, told from the voice of a young blind woman who turns out to be far more resourceful than her captor ever imagined: Blind Fate, a suspense/thriller mystery:

Learn about all that Montgomery has to offer:

Monday, June 6, 2011

Mentone: Musical Mountain Spring

Little River Canyon: All Photos Courtesy of Dekalb County Tourist Association. Click some photos to enlarge!
Excerpt from: Alabama Troubadour by Karren Pell
Tourism Attraction: Lookout Mountain
Location: Dekalb County, Alabama
Photos: Courtesy of Dekalb County Tourist Association

Writers always lend their unique perspective of the places they cover. Rarely have I appreciated a writer’s perspective more than Karren Pell’s in her book of essays, Alabama Troubadour. Her book covers eleven unique places to visit in Alabama. I had already visited over half of these places, but Karren’s particular perspective of them offered something new, beautiful, and deep (even the Coon Dog Cemetery!). I want to share a bit of her writing from the book below about one of my favorite places to visit: the mountains.

From Alabama Troubadour . . .

I have always loved the mountains. Up there my lungs fill with crisp air and my body breathes easy. My feet enjoy putting on hiking boots and tromping along trails—especially ones that lead to overlooks where my eyes follow hills that roll like a misty sea until they merge with the horizon. My shoulders feel like a load is lifted and my mind rests.

I like to stand on the edge of an overlook (but not too close to the edge) and pretend that I am the girl on the mountaintop in that famous Maxfield Parrish painting. You know the one: cobalt sky with alabaster pillow clouds that frame those azure peaks specked with tangerine—the girl’s hair and garments flow out from her body with ease and grace. She is healthy, free, and connected to the peace of nature.

So one morning, I left the “To Do” list on my desk, let two deadlines slip past, put a message on my answering machine that I was taking a break, and headed for the mountain village of Mentone . . .

The Desoto Falls and over five thousand interior acres of Lookout Mountain became Desoto State Park. The Civilian Conservation Corps developed the park and built a lodge. The creation of Desoto State Park, along with Little River Canyon National Park, has doubtless been a major factor in the preservation of the wild and beautiful land of Lookout Mountain, as well as the preservation of Mentone.
Desoto Falls

The view of Old Hotel Square is a romantic, rustic, and welcome sight in comparison to the strip malls and chain motels common in the modern era. One corner of the Square is occupied by The Hitching Post, a rustic, wooden building whose beginning dates from 1900. The Hitching Post was so named by its owners because in the forties an early breakfast was served for fox hunters staying at the hotel.

Today, it beckons visitors to browse among an eclectic collection of shops that offer crafts, antiques, and original pottery. Across the street and up a few wooden steps, a series of weathered buildings stands on higher ground and comprises the next corner of Old Hotel Square. The collection includes the Moonlight Bistro and another assortment of shops.

Up on the ridge, the renovated Mentone Springs Hotel remains the focal point of the Square. The inn’s Victorian architecture combined with modern accommodations is reminiscent of an earlier, elegant time and continues to attract guests. The grand, beautiful, and romantic Mentone Springs Hotel contrasts congenially with the homey arts and craft-style Mentone Inn across the street.
Mentone Springs Hotel

The Mentone Inn sits back from the road, framed by a low rock ledge. A wide, wraparound porch, complete with rocking chairs, sends an irresistible invitation to “set a spell.”

I followed the land that sloped gently and ended at the rock ledge. I looked out upon the sky that stretched beyond where human eyesight can peer; there was no need to look farther. The trees murmured as a mountain breeze whispered in their leaves; there was no need to hear more. Deadlines and due dates faded as my attention was drawn to a hawk circling overhead; there was nothing more important.

Below, the landscape was painted in seasonal colors, and one part blended and contributed to the whole. For—regardless of the reality I had left below—from that vantage point it became obvious there was peace in the valley.

---Excerpted with permission from ALABAMA TROUBADOUR by Karren Pell. ©2003 Karren Pell. All rights reserved.

Tourism Guide

Mentone and Lookout Mountain are definitely places geared towards a retreat, not just physical but spiritual. The lodgings range from rustic to elegant, depending on your choice. Rustic is always my favorite. The views are stunning, and the air is filled with the scent of peace. Mentone was once a high-end resort for those who sought healing from the mineral springs that made the area famous, but fortunately the tourism industry there never got overly-commercial. Follow the links below to learn more about visiting the area.

Tourism Links

Visit Lookout Mountain: take a virtual tour and request a visitor’s guide
Discover Lookout Mountain

Mentone Springs Hotel
Order Alabama Troubadour
Learn more about Karren Pell
Lookout Mountain on Facebook: Lots of photos and videos

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Southern Literary Trail: A National Road to Recovery?

High school students read from Fitzgerald's classic
works outside the Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald
Museum in Montgomery, Alabama.
Photo by Patrick Miller
Tourism Attractions: multiple literary sites from classic authors
Locations: Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia
Photos: provided by the Southern Literary Trail, unless otherwise credited

“THE SOUTHERN LITERARY TRAIL connects southern places in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi that inspired great American writers to create classic fiction and plays. The inspiration continues. Every two years, the Trail's organizers host Trailfest, the only tri-state literary festival in the United States with free events, theatrical performances and heritage tours.”
---From the Southern Literary Trail website

The Southern Literary Trail uses a central website to connect all these places and events, providing a convenient gateway for readers to browse through all the tourism opportunities. The website includes links to individual museums and attractions along with updated schedules for events. The following is my dialogue with the Trail’s founder, William Gantt. Visit the Southern Literary Trail by clicking this link: Southern Literary Trail.

Interview with William Gantt, Founder of the Trail

Rowan Oak, the home of Faulkner
in Mississippi, one of the
attractions on the Southern Literary Trail.

Patrick Miller: One of the most interesting aspects of the Southern Literary Trail is its multi-state organization. Instead of each tourism attraction working independently to promote itself, all the attractions benefit from a central website. For example, I started looking at the trail when researching Monroeville’s tourism connection to Harper Lee, but suddenly I was clicking on links and reading about the Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum in Montgomery, Faulkner’s house in Mississippi, and other literary tourism attractions in Georgia. I wouldn’t have known about those other places without a central website connecting them all with easy links, for example this link to the Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum.

Did the partner attractions experience a marked increase in tourism after joining the Southern Literary Trail? If so, has that increase accelerated over time? For example, a Monroeville resident told me that the Monroe County Courthouse and Museum used to be visited by individual carloads of tourists, but now long lines of buses are arriving every year for the events.

William Gantt: Yes. Our partner sites have reported increases in both visitation numbers and general exposure by their participation in the Southern Literary Trail. For example, the Carson McCullers Center was contacted by a McCullers fan in Japan who discovered the Center on our website. This fan has attended two events in Columbus, Georgia, dedicated to Carson McCullers since her discovery of the Trail. Many of our sites report visits by guests who are using the Trail map as their guide for literary tourism through the three member states. Some of these visitors have been from Europe.

Miller: Whenever literary tourists visit attractions on the Southern Literary Trail like Monroeville or the Fitzgerald Museum, they are likely to be staying in local hotels, eating in local restaurants, and shopping in local stores during their visit. All of this economic activity is great in good times, but now that the economy is on the verge of collapse, are such tourism attractions becoming vital rather than just beneficial to local economies?

Food for thought: Literary tourists
also spend money in local restaurants!
For example, the Congress is currently debating raising the nation’s debt ceiling because the country can no longer afford to pay its debts due to lackluster economic activity. What would be the impact if the federal government launched a national literary trail based on your model? Would such a national trail help boost tax revenues and create jobs across the nation? Based on your experience with the operating costs of the Southern Literary Trail, would establishing a federal trail be cost prohibitive right now or a wise investment involving minimal taxpayer dollars with a much higher return in tax revenues?

Gantt: Trail attractions and programs definitely bring tourists into their towns. It goes without saying that tourists want lodging and good local food. I think any collaboration is beneficial, and it certainly maximizes the expenditures of public funds when multi-state partnerships are created for investments in collective promotion and mutual programs.

Miller: If the federal government did establish a national literary trail, how important would it be to use the Southern Literary Trail as a model? Are there any mistakes or pitfalls that you would warn them to avoid based on your experience? Would you want to merge into such a national trail, remain completely independent of it, or establish a regional autonomy within a national publicity platform (i.e., each national region would run its own trail, but all would be highlighted and publicized on the national trail).

Andalusia Farm in Georgia.

Gantt: I think our Trail serves as a model for anyone who seeks to cross state lines for creative or artistic purposes. You must realize that individual partners do not want to surrender or give up their own personalities in the process. So, you must avoid the mistake of seeking collaboration at the cost of individuality. Every literary museum takes on the personality of its particular writer. Naturally a house museum such as the Welty House, the Fitzgerald House Museum, Rowan Oak or Andalusia Farm will reflect the personality of its occupant. That’s what you want. Visitors go to Rowan Oak to see how Faulkner lived. Consequently, a partnership must seek to celebrate the differences and individuality of each partner. It is a common mistake for collaborative projects to seek “common ground.” The Trail merges some amazing and unique writers through the “common ground” of great 20th Century American fiction and a theme of place as influential on writing. Beyond those shared traits, we seek to celebrate the differences and diversity of our writers.

Miller: The Europeans have a well-organized, lucrative literary tourism industry, but America seems to lag far behind in this market, except for the Southern Literary Trail. Is there something unique about the South that produced our nation’s first multi-state organized literary trail? Why do you think the rest of the country hasn’t caught on to the idea yet?

Gantt: I am pleased to say the Southern Literary Trail is the nation’s only tri-state literary trail. In the South, we are storytellers, and we appreciate great stories. Perhaps Europeans have a similar storytelling culture. I hope that our success indicates the rest of the nation is ready for this concept that we have pioneered.

Update: Jan. 2012, F. Scott Fitzgerald's This Side of
Paradise: Interactive Tourism Edition
with links to the Southern Literary Trail (seen above)
inside the book. Available as exclusive Kindle edition. 

Miller: New technologies like the Kindle are creating vast yet largely untapped opportunities for promoting tourism. For example, Kindle novels can include live, clickable links inside the text that allow readers to jump instantly to related websites like the Southern Literary Trail. As more readers convert to reading books on Kindles and iPads (which also support Kindle novels), what are the possibilities of putting a direct link to the Southern Literary Trail in all of the trail’s books?

Would such links dramatically increase tourism to the trail’s attractions? For example, what if every Kindle edition of The Great Gatsby included a direct link to the Fitzgerald Museum’s page on the Southern Literary Trail in Montgomery? Or perhaps every Kindle edition of To Kill A Mockingbird included a Southern Literary Trail link to Monroeville? Millions of people will continue to read these classic novels for generations, but many don’t know about the literary tourism sites or events related to the books. Would you consider partnering with the publishers to advise them in producing Tourism Editions of these classic books?

Gantt: Of course. We are looking for any partnership that will promote reading of classic Southern fiction, which is also the best American writing in my opinion. I still buy books that consist of paper and bound covers, but we certainly have organizers and participants in the Trail who could assist in connecting and linking with newer technologies.

Miller: Have you ever considered including contemporary authors on the Southern Literary Trail? I know that such an inclusion would require a high standard of literary merit, not just high sales numbers. However, how would one identify modern novels that will one day become literary classics?

For example, take Alabama author Watt Key’s debut novel Alabama Moon from 2006:
A classic novel for the 21st century?

• Sold over 100,000 copies
• Published by a major New York house
• Made into a movie starring John Goodman
• Translated into several languages
• Already being taught in schools
• Has a classic theme on the importance of human relationships
• Set in the real Talladega National Forest of Alabama
Today's Tom Sawyer: Camping Under An Alabama Moon

Gantt: The Trail’s bylaws require our honored writers to be authors of classic 20th Century fiction that can be readily identified with particular places. Contemporary writers are not candidates for the Trail in the foreseeable future. But, we do honor current writers in our programs and celebrations, notably current writers who are clearly influenced by a sense of place. The Trail structure does provide us with a great tentpole to celebrate contemporary fiction writers within these themes. Our bylaws do not include writers of non-fiction.
Can contemporary tourism novels use mystery,
suspense, and romance to boost
tourism across the nation? Blind Fate
is the first tourism novel to use links
inside the story to allow readers to
visit the websites of the real settings.

Miller: If the goal of a national literary tourism trail would be to spur economic activity and get this nation back to prosperity, would it be wise to include genre novels in separate categories such as romance, mystery, and suspense? I know that such novels would not (and should not) be included on the Southern Literary Trail. However, consider all of the women in the nation who are addicted to romance novels. Who has ever invited them all to visit one place, the real setting of a novel? These types of novels might not rise to the level of Fitzgerald in literary merit, but millions of readers do consume them with a voracious appetite. What would happen if those novels were geared towards tourism like the books on the Southern Literary Trail? Could the tourism organizational tools of the Southern Literary Trail be used as a model for non-classic but popular works of contemporary fiction? Could tourism fiction become a hot new genre?
Blind Fate: a modern tourism suspense novel.

Gantt: I think any collaborative effort to support the literary arts and literary tourism is a good idea! I do not foresee the Trail as a project that will ever attempt to create genre categories for the writing we celebrate.

The reading room in the Fitzgerald Museum offers
scholars, students, and literary tourists a wealth
of material to connect with the classic author
on a much deeper level.
Miller: Speaking of Fitzgerald and romance, how many modern readers do you think are aware of just how romantic he was? Is there some way of reintroducing him to modern readers as the ultimate standard in romance? What can modern authors learn from his concepts of romance, of those precious moments that bloom in the early part of a courtship? Do you think modern romance readers would not respond to his work or have they simply never been exposed to his elevated sense of love, where every motion and inflection of a beautiful woman can conquer a man’s heart?

Gantt: All a modern reader needs for an introduction to Fitzgerald’s complex views of romance and love is “The Ice Palace,” a short story about his romance with Zelda and inspired by Montgomery. The Alabama Readers Theatre just performed it in several of our Trailfest 2011 programs and it mesmerized our audiences. Any reader will get hooked on Fitzgerald and his notions of romance with “The Ice Palace.” Hopefully one story or novel leads to another after the initial introduction has been made.
The first classic novel in the world with an
interactive tourism guide, now available at Amazon. 

Editor's Note: For a great excerpt from an article written by Fitzgerald on the inspiration of “The Ice Palace,” visit this link: "The Ice Palace" Fitzgerald's southern inspiration.

Miller: In today’s society, most of us are extremely distracted by a variety of entertainments, from Facebook, to smart phone apps, to hundreds of satellite and cable channels. I enjoy reading classic works because they were written before such distractions seemed to take over our national attention span. Reading a classic novel is almost a relaxing step into a time that was more focused and meaningful. Is it more difficult to market something like the Southern Literary Trail in such a fragmented society or have you found that modern tools like the Internet help?

Gantt: The internet absolutely made the Trail possible. This project would not have existed without the internet. Most of our communications between Trail partners and organizers are conducted electronically or via social networks.

Miller: What are the plans for the Southern Literary Trail to expand into other Southern states? For example, there is Hemingway’s home in Key West:

Gantt: At the moment, we are building our project within the three original member states. Our Trail board voted not to add any more states for the next two years, at least.
Large crowds of tourists at the Monroe
County Courthouse and Museum in
Monroeville, AL, hometown and
inspiration for Harper Lee's classic
novel To Kill A Mockingbird.
Photo by Peggy Collins,
Alabama Department of Tourism 

Miller: The Southern Literary Trail is an emerging economic engine in the states hardest hit by the recent tornadoes and the after-effects of the Gulf Oil Spill. What role could the federal government play in helping to boost our tourism as a way of paving our road to recovery?

For example, what would be the impact if President Obama gave a national speech highlighting the Southern Literary Trail from the beautiful grounds of the Fitzgerald House (which served as the first meeting place of the Southern Literary Trail’s organizers)? Such a speech might include an invitation for other states and regions of the country to adopt the same model of literary tourism to be promoted on a national website. Alabama was already hard-pressed to meet its budgetary goals before these tragic events, but increased state tourism revenues can help the overall recovery effort in areas that need it the most right now. How critical are tourism revenues to the state budget and would such national publicity be worth even more (in potential tourism revenues and jobs) than FEMA grants?

Gantt: We would welcome a speech by the President or any national leader that highlights the Trail and encourages visitors to discover us! I must remind you that we are not just a tourism project. Many of our partner sites actually are dedicated to scholarship efforts, such as providing homes to writers and artists in residence. While we encourage literary tourism, I would hope that some national recognition might be paid our sites for their promotion of literary scholarship. For example, the Lillian Smith Center in Clayton, Georgia, has an artist in residence program every summer. It is not generally opened for tourism, but it still does very important work for the promotion of both classic and contemporary Southern Literature. The McCullers Center can be toured by appointment, but its daily mission is research and scholarship.

The interior of the Monroe County Courthouse
during a reenactment of the trial in
To Kill A Mockingbird. Photo by Peggy
Collins, Alabama Department of Tourism.

Miller: Generations of readers have not only been entertained but enriched as human beings by classic novels. Many of the travelers on the Southern Literary Trail have read the books long before, but what is their experience when stepping into the many attractions on the trail? How does visiting the physical places add to the experience of reading the book? For example, what is it like for fans of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird to step into the real courtroom that inspired her famous trial with Atticus Finch?

For pictures of Monroeville and the courthouse, click here: Hollywood Visits Monroeville.

Gantt: As I stated, the influence of place upon Southern fiction is one of the themes of the Trail. For a reader to step into the settings that influenced one of his or her favorite novels can be as life-affecting as reading the book itself. We make these experiences possible along our Trail. I am grateful to this blog and so many others for helping us to create and promote this journey for readers.