I came to this mountain-top community to give a talk to a book club that lacks a name but not dedicated readers. One of those is Leslie Boyd, shown in the photo holding A Southern Girl.
Leslie reminded me why I write, in the same way Crystal Mountain reminds me of the beauty so unlike that of the South Carolina Lowcountry where I live. Trying to compare the majesty of mountains to the glory of tidal marshes at sunset is a fool’s errand. As with all beauty, the eye of the beholder rules. But crowning a winner in the topography beauty contest came easier this week because Hurricane Matthew is buzz sawing its way up the Florida coast, raising tides and the usual hell that hurricanes inflict. Coastal South Carolina is in its path. My house may float away by Sunday, but it makes no sense to return to Beaufort as everyone there evacuates so I will wait it out here in this residential enclave, the house guest of my old and dear friends, Phyllis and Bob Edwards. They returned to Charlotte three days ago, telling me to stay as long as I want and to cut the hot water off when I leave.
At the meeting of the nameless book club, some wine and a covered dish supper gave me time to chat with those who came. Leslie showed particular interest for reasons she related. She had history in Charleston, attended the College of Charleston, dated Citadel cadets, was a veteran of the Carolina Cup, and had even collected some Toad The Wet Sprocket albums, so the tee-shirt mentioned in the book on page 284 resonated. With so many historical touchstones, her identity with the book’s settings was inevitable.
But an email from her days after the event gave me greater insight. She lost her father to an accident when she was twelve. The loss fell especially hard because of the man and father he was; in her words, “He was everything. The whole package.” When she met Coleman Carter in the book, she identified him with her dad, which enabled her to envision what her teen years and the years after might have been had he lived. Allie’s and Coleman’s relationship evoked for Leslie a closeness that might have been hers had fate been more merciful.
Fiction proves its worth when readers like Leslie find within it visions that comfort, challenge, engage and transport. Writers prove their worth when they produce such fiction. Her embrace of my book will stay with and encourage me, a little gold nugget of satisfaction mined up on Crystal Mountain.