Where in the World Am I? by Augusta Scattergood
Last week I traveled back home. Never mind that I haven’t lived in that state since I left to go north to college in North Carolina, I’ll always think of home as Mississippi.
Visiting a school near Jackson, I spoke to a multi-purpose room full readers who’d done a literature study on my book GLORY BE. Near the end of the presentation, a fourth grader, notebook in her hand, pen at the ready, stood to ask a question. A question that could well have been asked by a professional interviewer.
“How did the other places you’ve lived make you want to set your book in Mississippi?”
Florida’s palm trees, the cities of Boston and Baltimore, brief stints in California and Rhode Island—did any of that influence my setting?
Well, of course.
Oh, and don’t forget those 25 years in New Jersey.
If you grew up in the South, I wager you can’t watch snow pile up without longing for home.
My middle-grade novel takes place in the Mississippi Delta. Although it’s all true to the history of 1964, some of the story is not true to my experiences. The setting, however, is.
My hometown, like Hanging Moss in my book, often flooded. During the spring of my junior year in high school, the front page of the local paper ran a picture of our English teacher being rescued from her house by the Civil Defense team piloting a flat-bottomed boat. While never life-threatening, for the grownups it was a nightmare of sandbags and stalled cars. For the kids, spring floods meant tromping all over Fireman’s Park in water up to our knees, missing school or skipping church.
A great scene for a kids’ book, no? I wrote it in, muddy water and all.
From the hot July days when my characters sit under a sprawling pecan tree and listen to the mockingbirds fuss, to getting the moon in the “right part of the sky” as Miss Eudora Welty warned writers—I’m always asking myself did I write it true?
And as importantly, did I write it so that young readers who’ll never plant a zinnia can imagine a row of them blooming along a white fence? Can they can feel a summer storm brewing, the sun baking the sidewalks, and the blacktop burning their feet?
That bright fourth grader in Brandon, Mississippi, was onto something. Yes, the places we live influence the stories we write. And although I’ve shoveled my share of snow, hauled groceries home on subways and buses, and even attempted ice skating on a pond in freezing weather, I doubt I’ll ever write about being a child any place other than the South. It’s the ceiling fans and the mosquitoes, the magnolia blossoms and the fireflies that remind me most of childhood.
I know how it felt to grow up in the South. I even verified the details. So I hope I got it right. I didn’t spend those too-many-to-count years as a librarian only to have my first book criticized as having the mimosa blossoms blooming in the wrong season.
Since Augusta Scattergood knew she wanted to be a librarian since fifth grade, she headed right to Simmons College School of Library Science after college. She learned that people in Boston talked funny and it snowed a lot, but she loves living in new places. She’s lived in Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, New Jersey, California—and Florida twice. Now she lives and writes mostly in St. Petersburg, Florida, but returns to New Jersey during the summers, because even for a true southerner, it seems very hot in Florida in the summer. While she has lived in many places, you can mostly find her online at http://www.ascattergood.com and http://www.ascattergood.blogspot.com/.