My writing is anchored in a remote town in the southern United States, a utopian community formed in 1894 to demonstrate the efficacy of Henry George's theory of the Single Tax. I have, in some instances, referred to the town as South Haven, as it was formed by Midwesterners who brought their families with them to experience the economic and intellectual boom they felt sure their utopia would bring about.

The town exists, on the eastern bank of Mobile Bay, an anomaly today. Its actual name is Fairhope, a name chosen by the founders to indicate their belief that the experiment had a "fair hope" of success. Over the years the town itself has grown but only as the theory of the single tax receded in importance to it. By the late 1920s the town was incorporated outside its utopian colony roots, and the dreams of the founders for an economic utopia began to be undermined at every turn. They soldiered on, in denial, as time after time cases were brought before the state Supreme Court, until by now the single tax is seen as the least attractive facet of the town. It is still referred to as utopian, and sometimes as an artists' colony, but in reality it is simply a beautiful, clean little city with a lot of restaurants, expensive shops, and the enviable position of a well-situated, predominately white-populated settlement with sunset views of Mobile Bay.

It was not so when I was growing up. In the 1950s Fairhope attracted non-conformists and outliers, sometimes cantankerous and often amusing, but almost always harmless. There was an ease to Fairhope's intellectual pretexts, and a certain comfort in its eccentricities. When I moved back in 1988, it was on the verge of becoming the retirement haven and tourist attraction that it now is, and I started writing about the way I remembered it, hoping to show newcomers what I and my generation had seen as the essence of Fairhope. Naively I hoped this would show them how to appreciate the Fairhope I had known.

A Centennial celebration was planned for 1994, and I was put in touch with a writer who had lived in Fairhope when I was a teenager. His name was Robert E. Bell, and he had had a novel published in 1952--a novel set in the mythical town of Moss Bayou--his name for Fairhope--entitled The Butterfly Tree. In those days, Bob and I were among the last avid letter writers, and we began a vivid correspondence about our memories of people we had known in Fairhope in the 1950s. At one point, I wrote him, "I believe there's a book in this," and persuaded him to join me in publishing some of our letters in book form. Nobody much remembered Bob Bell at that point, but University of Alabama kept The Butterfly Tree in print, and our book was called Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree. His local celebrity grew, especially with the young writers flocking to Fairhope.

Bob died before MMATBT was published. I've since reworked that book, edited Bob's contribution out, and retitled it The Fair Hope of Heaven. No publisher, not even the University of Alabama Press, had any interest so I self-published it, but it has yet to sell more than 1,500 copies. I followed up with a historical novel set in Fairhope at its prime, 1921, called That Was Tomorrow, which I also self published.

I can't quite shake Fairhope out of my writing, or out of my heart, but I have a friend who says I'm using "old" Fairhope as a crutch. I should expand my horizons. I want to do that as I go forward, but I am what I am, and much of what I am is because I grew up in the odd little town that doesn't exist any more. But I'm still writing--always with the feeling that my best work lies ahead. And it might not be about Fairhope at all.

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Comment by Jerry DeNuccio on March 30, 2015 at 9:42am

I don’t see why, as your friend suggests, that your writerly relation to Fairhope has to be an either/or situation.  I think you are right in saying it can be both.  No matter how far or in what direction we expand our horizons, the who we are will surely contain the who we were.  We bring our past with us.  It’s part of the American Exceptionalism mythos to say the past is bunk or history is a bucket of ashes, that we are the new Adam and Eve, shriven of the past, but I doubt we can really be dissociated from our place in our own history as long as memory abides.

Comment by Mary Lois Adshead on March 30, 2015 at 10:03am

I certainly can't avoid it, but I may be obsessed. Then again, I may not.

Comment by Mimetalker on March 30, 2015 at 1:40pm

I think we write what we need to write. Doesn't seem to work to force it. At least that's the way it is for me. I want to write fiction, but sit down to write, it turns into memoir. I'm not fighting it anymore. Just trying to finish the book and then see what's next. could be another memoir. 

Comment by Mary Lois Adshead on March 30, 2015 at 3:19pm

It would have bolstered my confidence had my books been successful in Fairhope. I'm pleased with the work, but disappointed that it resonated with so few.

Comment by fred hallman on March 30, 2015 at 5:40pm

I think you have a Fairchance, you certainly write beautifully.  Maybe there's a title in there somewhere!

Comment by Mary Lois Adshead on March 30, 2015 at 5:55pm

Thanks all for your comments here. I realized as I wrote my response to Keiko above that I hadn't finished the blog post. So I'm adding the response to the end of the blog and will take it down as a comment if I can figure out how.

Comment by koshersalaami on March 30, 2015 at 9:11pm

No reason not to write about a place you love, value, and want to remember, plus you want to convey to your readers. Makes perfect sense. 

Comment by Mary Lois Adshead on March 31, 2015 at 4:57am

I'd write about it even if I didn't have readers,but I'd rather write something people wanted to read.

Comment by Gerald Andersen on March 31, 2015 at 4:47pm
We as writers are all anchored in our personal histories. My favorite Faulkner quote: "The past is never dead. It isn't even past."


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