August 20, 2015

Thinking of Elvis While Writing About The Delta

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine

Last week was Elvis celebration week in Memphis. It was a ten day event, attended by generations of Elvis fans from around the world. The last event is a candlelight vigil held at Graceland, Elvis's home. It always reminds me that a man who came from poverty roots in The Delta continues to impact the world 38 years after his death. 
An amazing photographer, Chris Barwick, inspired today's blog post. Thanks, Chris. This picture of an old sharecropper's shack in the middle of the Mississippi Delta, just south of Tunica made me crave the need for a road trip south to soak in some settings for my current work in progress. Elvis was born in Tupelo to sharecropper parents. 
The land of The Delta can be a hard land where blood, sweat and tears of generations, past and present, have been in constant odds with the elements of nature. It's ironic that the very floods from the Mississippi River over this land gives it renewal by leaving behind silt that enriches its soil and its people. 
I hopped in the car and drive south out of Memphis on Highway 61 one hot summer day in August. Blue suede flip flops on my feet and Marc Cohn's song, "Walking in Memphis," playing, set the tone of the trip. Once I hit the TN/MS state line, The Delta begins to emerge an icon for the South, good, bad and ugly. The Delta has produced amazing talent, perhaps from the hardship and rebirth of the land. The Delta Blues are world famous as is Elvis who came to be known as The King of Rock and Roll. 

Of course, since I'm a writer who lives in the South I feel an affinity to those Southern writers' past and present that have written about the region known as The Delta. Their words speak to my soul. Eudora Welty, Willie Morris, William Faulkner and those other Delta writers drive my desire to further capture the struggles of the modern day Delta. 

I continue my drive, soaking in settings to use in my book. When I stop to take in the abandon sharecropper shacks, commercialization of some of the areas down Highway 61, I record what I see with my camera and record my research on my iPhone app. I detour off Highway 61 and turn down a farm road so I can soak in the view of “King Cotton” growing in the field, and as I turn my car around, a farmer in an ancient pickup truck stops to ask if I need help, and we chat about his crop. He is very happy with his crop and says this year he might actually make up for the years before. I shared I was a writer, working on a book and needed to see a cotton field up close and personal. He asked if I wanted to inspect his crop. He showed me the cotton, and we talked about how cotton is graded. He broke off a stalk and ask me if I wanted it. I said I'd love to have it as my talisman. This interchange provided in-depth research for my book and reiterated the Southern hospitality found in The Delta. 

My day spent driving in the Mississippi Delta was invaluable research you can't get from searching on the Internet. Sometimes you just need to put on your blue suede flip flops, head to your "Delta" and soak up the setting of your book. Be sure to bring back a talisman to put by your writing area. 

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