PORT ST. JOE — Award-winning Southern author and fifth generation Floridian Michael Morris will bring his “Man in the Blue Moon” tour to Port St. Joe on Saturday, before appearing at local schools Feb. 1 and as a Books Alive featured author Feb. 2 at FSU-Panama City.
It’s a fitting stopover for the tour, as the novel is set along the so-called “Forgotten Coast” in and around Apalachicola, Port St. Joe and St. George Island. The novel takes place during 1918 and is based on oral history from Morris’ grandfather, who was a native of Wewahitchka.
Morris, who grew up in Perry, said the whole premise of “Man in the Blue Moon” came from his grandfather’s recollection of a strange day from his youth, when he opened a shipping crate on a dock in Apalach and a long-lost relative came climbing out.
“This cousin had been falsely accused of murder and escaped frontier justice by essentially mailing himself to family,” Morris said. “You can’t make this stuff up. And fortunately, if you’re from the South, you don’t have to.”
“Man in the Blue Moon” is a vivid portrait of a woman’s hard-fought survival during the first World War. Ella Wallace, abandoned by her husband and saddled with debt, is struggling to raise three sons while desperately fighting to save the family land from an unscrupulous banker. A mysterious man arrives oddly at Ella’s door inside a shipping crate and convinces her that he can help. When the battle for her land intensifies, the man’s troubled past comes to haunt Ella’s future.
“Storytelling has always been my way of trying to make sense of human frailty and suffering, and to celebrate the ability of ordinary people to overcome both,” Morris said. “For me, stories come to life most readily in the South. Writing about the people here is my passion; it’s just something I think I’m meant to do.”
A mutual friend, and fellow author, Olivia Cooley of Panama City contacted Morris after reading the novel.
“She was blown away because her great-grandfather was the captain of the Crescent City steamboat,” Morris said. “There is a scene later in the book where (a character) takes passage on the steamboat and has a dialogue with the captain. We did the math, and in real life, the (captain) would have been Olivia’s great-grandfather! What are the odds? He is in my novel and all the while, a chunk of it was being written at Olivia’s condo in PC.”
Morris lives in Alabama with his wife, artist Melanie Morris, but frequently returns to Apalachicola and St. George Island to write. Morris said he sees his novel as a way to honor his grandfather and his own Florida heritage. Writing it, he said, has made him a champion for the South’s oral history tradition in an era of instant messages.
“I’m not sure whether social media is undermining oral history or evolving into a new form of it,” Morris said. “Maybe we’re moving to a time when we’ll share all of our personal stories online, but I guess I’m a little old-school. I think there’s no substitute for talking to each other, across generations and in person, so that you see those expressions and hear those voices — and spend real time together.”
Want To Go?
- A celebration of the novel’s release and the Forgotten Coast’s inspiration for the book will be at 5:30 p.m. (EST) Jan. 26 at the Port Inn in Port St. Joe.The event is sponsored in part by the Gulf County Tourism and Economic Development Council.
- Michael Morris is one of 18 featured authors at this annual event for readers and writers, Feb. 2 at Florida State University-Panama City. Admission is free. Details: BooksAlive.net.