We are thrilled today to have Augusta Scattergood, author of the award-winning Glory Be and her new book, The Way to Stay in Destiny. I consider my new book, The Way Home Looks Now, to be a ‘book twins” with Augusta’s book, since both take place in the 70’s and include baseball-loving boys. To find out what else we have in common, read on!
WS: THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY is about young Theo, who moves to Destiny, Florida with his very surly uncle in the wake of the Vietnam War. There, Theo tries to make new friends, negotiate a new life and solve a mystery, using his love of baseball and talent for music. How did DESTINY first come to you?
AG: Believe it or not, I started this new book as part of a writing exercise from a workshop. Something about old sneakers and a belt and –Go! You know those things you scribble in notebooks and think you’ll never use again? That paragraph morphed into a memory of visiting Florida as a child and hearing about baseball players who’d lived there for spring training. Seven or so years after that sneakers and belt paragraph, it’s a book!
Are you a big baseball fan? You wove baseball seamlessly into a relatively serious story that often made me laugh out loud.
WS: Big baseball fan might be a bit of a stretch, but it was the only organized sport I played as a child, and I do enjoy the occasional Sunday afternoon at Nationals Park. I do love the old-fashioned pace of baseball in our ramped-up world, and as you saw in the book, the very unusual rules that have sprung out of the game.
In addition to playing a season of baseball, I also took several resistant years of piano, and I loved the scenes of Theo playing the piano – you really made me feel as though my own fingers were flying over the keys. I feel like writing about music is sort of like writing about food – it’s really difficult to convey those sensations on paper, but when it’s done right, it’s just completely marvelous. Did you rely on your own love or talent for music, or what did you do to write these scenes?
AG: I was the queen of Resistant Piano. So, talent? Not much. But I understand and love music. I admire pianists especially. I had a friend in his 80s who played beautifully by ear. I asked him many questions. A lot of what Theo thought and said came directly from talking to that gentleman. And for the first time while writing, I actually listened to music. Music from the 70s. Country music. Thelonious Monk. I made a playlist! Even though GLORY BE was filled with Elvis tunes and Beatles references, I’ve never made and listened to a playlist for a book before.
WS: Resistant piano players, unite! As for a playlist, I haven’t had that happen for me yet, though I love it when writers reach into other disciplines for inspiration.
Let’s go from music to geography. Both of your books take place in the South. GLORY BE takes place in Mississippi in 1964, and DESTINY takes place about ten years later in Florida. I love how you describe both places with such a lovely sense of atmosphere. When I read your books, I swear I can feel the hot air on my neck or the cooling breeze of a nearby beach. What do you think about when you write about place?
AS: Thanks, Wendy. Although I’ve lived mostly outside the South as an adult, truthfully, I don’t think I could set a story any other place. But never say never, right?
For THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY, I discovered two perfect Old Florida towns. Dunedin and Pass-a-Grille, not too far from where I live now. I spent a lot of time ambling, checking out the lizards, the Spanish moss, the brightly-colored flowers. And truly, growing up in a small southern town in the 50s and 60s, I have a lot of memories of heat!
WS: What is your connection to the South, and do you consider yourself a Southern writer? (And if yes, what do you think it means to be a Southern writer?)
AS: My entire family has always lived in the Deep South. When I went “north” to college (Chapel Hill, NC) my grandmother was sure I was leaving the country. My connections run deep.
I’m not sure if kids notice whether someone is a Southern writer or not. What they’re looking for is a good story. But I’m happy to fall into that category. I think it does have to do with setting and that sense of place. Everything plays into that. The characters’ names, the food, the weather—all can be signs of writing Southern.
I’m not crazy about using a lot of dialect in books for young readers, but there’s a certain rhythm to our words and to the way we speak that makes a book feel more Southern than others.
WS: I love your UNC story! I went even further “north” at the University of Virginia. Now let’s talk about time. Both of our books take place in the early 1970’s. What was your challenge about writing about the 1970’s? What kind of research did you conduct?
AS: Recently, I heard someone say that historical facts and details should not be mere “window dressing” for a story. Use them sparingly and carefully. Make sure they move or deepen your story. Uncle Raymond’s problems were an important part of this book. His involvement in the Vietnam conflict was crucial to his relationship with his family.
For that part of my research, I listened to my friends who’d been in the military, as well as oral history interviews with veterans. I wanted to get his voice just right.
I loved that about THE WAY HOME LOOKS NOW. For those of us who lived through the 70s, your tiny details were perfect. Those record and tape club letters, for example, I remember—they were endless!
And looking up an address in a phone book. Does anybody do that now?
WS: I do, but I’m not sure about the upcoming generation. I had a friend who had to teach her teenage son how to address an envelope! He’d never done it before. But I love how time changes little day-to-day details.
AS: I suspect even if I were writing a contemporary story, I’d be drawn to the research. Of course, the internet has made that part of writing easier, but I still love pouring over books and old newspapers in the quiet of a library. In fact, my most recent research has included telephone and city directories from the 1950s. Those phone books still come in handy, don’t they?
WS: Absolutely! Newspapers were essential for my research for HOME. While I started because I wanted to see how national events were covered, I was drawn in by the smaller, local articles. There was an article about how a married woman wanted to keep her maiden name on her driver’s license –and was denied; it really summed up the times for me.
When I first started writing, I came across a book that had similar elements as mine, and I was worried about being perceived as a copycat. Now I can see the beauty of having two stories that are similar in some ways, but can tell completely different stories. Thank you for coming on the Files, Augusta!
For your chance to win copies of both The Way to Stay in Destiny and The Way Home Looks Now, leave a comment with your most significant 70’s moment or object – from Watergate to pet rocks – just name it!