Tag Archives: literary travel

Finding “Gone Girl” in Cape Girardeau, Missouri

The bar, the courthouse, the house on the Mississippi river where “I could step right in the sucker, an easy three-foot drop, and be on my way to Tennessee.”  For authors such as Gillian Flynn in her huge fiction bestseller Gone Girl, the setting of a novel plays as crucial a role as the characters themselves.  It creates atmosphere, foreshadows what is to come, and sets the pace.  But when director David Fincher and his location scouts set out to make a movie based on the novel, it was a challenge to find real world places to match those of Flynn’s imagination. They found them in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

The movie, released today, has received some pretty great reviews. So, between the book and the movie, I’m betting that plenty of Gone Girl fans will be looking for her in Cape Girardeau, a lovely river town in southeast Missouri, where the movie was filmed.

In case you’ve missed it all, in Gone Girl, Amy Dunne (played by imgresRosamund Pike) disappears from the North Carthage, Missouri, home she shares with her philandering husband Nick (Ben Affleck) on their fifth anniversary, leading him to be investigated for her (maybe) murder. “If there are married couples here, maybe you should change seats” rather than sit together, said Ann Tenenbaum, the chairman of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, when the film premiered in New York. “Abraham Lincoln said, ‘Marriage is neither heaven nor hell, it is simply purgatory.’ David Fincher will personally escort us there.” As the story progresses, we learn that this is one crazy couple and we find that the narrator isn’t necessarily giving us the straight story. (To see a fun discussion among readers of the book, see Book Journey‘s spoiler page.) The realistic setting adds to the tension.

"Gone Girl" director David Fincher said that the view from the Common Pleas Courthouse stairs overlooking the river is what sold him on Cape Girardeau, Missouri, as North Carthage in his movie.
“Gone Girl” director David Fincher said that the view from the Common Pleas Courthouse stairs overlooking the river is what sold him on Cape Girardeau, Missouri, as North Carthage in his movie.

Stacy Dohogne Lane of the Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitors Bureau told me, “North Carthage doesn’t actually exist, though there is a Carthage, Missouri.  The Mississippi River plays such a big part in the book that they wanted to capture a true Missouri river town. Steve Mapel, the film’s location scout, came to Cape Girardeau in the Spring of 2013 and spent quite a bit of time here doing a very intensive search for specific locations.  We had such a good time sitting around our conference table with Steve…he’d say ‘I’m looking for a place that has x, y and z’ and we’d all brainstorm a variety of places that fit within those parameters.”  David Fincher has said that the view from the Common Pleas Courthouse stairs overlooking the river is what sold him on Cape Girardeau as North Carthage.  Gillian Flynn later told Fincher that Cape Girardeau was the place she had in mind while she was writing the book, and he joked in an article that he wish she’d told him that sooner and saved him some time.

Alas, Gone Girl fans probably won’t find Ben Affleck or Rosmund Pike on the streets of Cape Girardeau but the river town makes a great weekend getaway (about two hours from St. Louis). The town offers a terrific map of Gone Girl sites that you can download for a driving tour.  It’s a lovely way to see the area even if you don’t care about Nick and Amy. Beyond Cape Girardeau’s movie role as North Carthage, you’ll find intriguing historic and outdoor sites, antiques and shopping, and it makes a great spot for a girls getaway weekend with wineries, spas and more.

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“The Widow of the South” and Carnton Plantation, Franklin, Tennessee

Carnton Plantation in Franklin, Tennessee, is the setting of Robert Hicks's novel, The Widow of the South.
Carnton Plantation in Franklin, Tennessee, is the setting of Robert Hicks’s novel, The Widow of the South.

One hundred and fifty years ago Carrie and John McGavock’s plantation, Carnton, served as a field hospital for hundreds of Confederate soldiers during one of the most epic battles of the Civil War, The Battle of Franklin, near Nashville, Tennessee. Today, you can tour their the Greek Revival house with its porches that bring to mind the O’Hara plantation, Tara, in Gone With the Wind. But this house and it’s role in the Battle of Franklin are anything but fictional.  Here, the blood stains remain on the floor.

And outside, the cemetery that Carrie created and tended for the rest of her life contains the graves of 1,481young soldiers who died in the battle. It serves as a staggering reminder of the loss and of the remarkable woman who wouldn’t let them be forgotten.

I would never have heard of the Battle of Franklin if it weren’t for Robert Hicks‘s fictional account of Carrie’s story in his Unknownbestseller, The Widow of the South.  Hicks served on the board of Carnton Plantation and became fascinated with its story. He says in the book’s author’s note,”Carrie McGavock became a ‘living martyr and curiosity.’  She became famous without ever leaving her farm, renowned for her daily wandering in the cemetery, for her mourning clothes, for her letters to the families of the bereaved, and most of all, for her constancy.  From the day the last of the dead was buried in her back yard, she never really left her post in the cemetery, continuously checking her book of the dead.” Find out more in this CBS interview with Hicks.

Hicks reconstructed this tale from letters and diaries, adding to the factual mix a number of fictional characters, including Zachariah Cashwell, a young soldier from Arkansas whom Carrie nurses back to life– and she falls in love with him. Though Civil War purists chuckle about the book’s accuracy, it has nonetheless informed a lot of people about the battle, about Carrie, and prompted them to visit the key sites of the Battle of Franklin, the biggest Civil War battle that most people have never heard of.  He says in the book, “I submit my sincerest apologies, to those who require it, for meandering from the history in the interest of telling a story.  Other than Carrie and her immediate family and slave, most of the other characters are either composited of historical figures from Franklin’s past or were born in my imagination.” So, I submit that quality historical fiction serves an important role in creating interest in historical events and sites, even though it may not be 100 percent accurate.  What do you think?

TheCemetery that Carrie McGavock created after the Civil War.
The cemetery that Carrie McGavock created on her plantation after the Civil War.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Zig-Zag — The Angles of Frank Lloyd Wright

 

The super-angular patio of the Frank Lloyd Wright House in Ebsworth Park, Kirkwood, MO
The super-angular patio of the Frank Lloyd Wright House in Ebsworth Park, Kirkwood, MO

The subject of this photo challenge is to share a photo that for “foregoes the straightforward.” No one did that better than Frank Lloyd Wright, as you can see from these pictures of a Wright-designed house in Ebsworth Park, Kirkwood, MO, near St. Louis.  It was completed in 1955 for Russell and Ruth Krause.  I couldn’t photograph the interior of the home, but the house is famous for its Wright-designed furnishings, which are odd and uncomfortable-looking,  as full of zig-zags as the exterior.  But, I think creativity was Wright’s goal, not comfort.

The exterior of the home is a continuous series of zig-zags.
The exterior of the home is a continuous series of zig-zags.

Wright’s life was even more fascinating than his architectural ideas and it’s been the subject of a number of books that I highly recommend, especially if you’re going to visit any of his famous Unknown-6buildings. Be sure to read the non-fiction book Many Masks: A Life of Frank Lloyd Wright by Brendan Gill, and the fiction works Loving Frank by Nancy Horan, and T.C. Boyle’s The WomenUnknown-8

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The House of Seven Gables and Other Things to Do in Salem, MA

 

The mysterious House of Seven Gables in Salem, Massachusetts
The mysterious House of Seven Gables in Salem, Massachusetts

Salem, Massachusetts, makes a nice day trip from Boston and if you’re there, a stop at the House of Seven Gables is a natural for lit 9780451527912_p0_v1_s260x420lovers or anyone who likes the occasional glimpse of really old colonial homes.  Author Nathaniel Hawthorne’s cousin, Susanna Ingersoll (and other ancestors who played a part in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692), lived in the house and he visited there frequently. He stated that his book, The House of Seven Gables, was a complete work of fiction, based on no particular house.  Nonetheless, as you tour the tiny, dark rooms typical of the era in which it was built (the late 1600s), it’s easy to see how such a house could set the author’s imagination rolling.  The site also offers a chance to tour the house in which Hawthorne was born (which was moved to this site) along with several other buildings of that period.

If you haven’t read The House of Seven Gables, the novel follows a New England family and explores themes of guilt, retribution, and atonement, with overtones of the supernatural and witchcraft.  For me, the book doesn’t compare to Hawthorne’s classic, The Scarlet Letter.  However, it was an inspiration for the horror fiction writer H.P. Lovecraft who called it “New England’s greatest contribution to weird literature.” That seems a backhanded complement to me.

You can tour this tall ship at the Salem National Maritime Historic Site.
You can tour this tall ship at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site.

While you’re in Salem, I also recommend stopping at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, a short walk from the House of Seven Gables. The National Park Service operates it and you can wander through old wharf buildings, the Custom House where Hawthorne worked when he wasn’t penning famous novels, and other buildings of the colonial era.

Salem was, of course, the home of the famous Salem Witch Trials Unknown-3which were the focus of Arthur Miller’s classic play, The Crucible.  The National Park Service Visitor Center (2 Liberty Street) is a great place to get quality background on that incident.  It’s ironic that Salem has made a cottage industry out of the witch trials when our puritan ancestors were so thoroughly opposed to witches. Unless you’re a fan of super-tacky witch paraphernalia and occult museums, stick with the Park Service displays on the subject and skip the other witchy tourist traps.

Dreaming of Warmer Places and New Literary Travel Adventures

Dreaming of balmy weather and tropical sunsets in Miami Beach, Florida.
Dreaming of balmy weather and tropical sunsets in Miami Beach, Florida.

January. It’s the same routine every year. The relatives go home, the last toasts to the new year have been made, and I’m feel slightly blue–partly because my kids have left and partly because it’s been crazy cold here in Minnesota.  It didn’t get above -11 on Monday.  I’m talking Siberia cold.

Though it’s a bit of a letdown when the holiday frenzy is over, the quiet time of January provides a time to reflect on what I’ve done over the last year, new things I’d like to do this year, and after enough procrastination, to get fired up to do a few of those things.  Since it’s been too frosty to go out, I’ve had plenty of time to hunker down and “reflect” (okay that’s my word for not getting to work). I looked back at the first post I made on this blog, which was called “Book Club Traveler” then, and I’m glad I took the time to revisit it.  I always have giant lists this time of year of all the things I wish I had accomplished, a lot of “should-have-done this and why-didn’t-I-do-that,” things I need to do now. But looking back a couple of years at those first days of blogging, I’m feeling pretty good, optimistic even. My goal was to encourage readers to take their love of literature to the next level and actually travel to the places they read about. I concluded my first post with: “So, this blog will explore the places where literature and travel intersect, how to escape with a good book and understand the places we travel, with or without a book group, through the eyes of authors who have gone there before us. Let’s get out of the living room and hit the road.”

I got enough positive feedback on the concept and enough comments like, “I wish my BeatenPage_12book club would do that,” that I gradually I came to believe that the concept was worthy of a book. And, as a result, Off The Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs and Girls on Getaways (Chicago Review Press) came out last May, hence the new name of the blog. The book features 15 U.S. destinations with essays, an extensive reading list, and a detailed itinerary for each.  People always ask what was my favorite destination.  In January, my favorite getaway is South Beach/Miami, Florida.  I’ve written several posts about that trip like this and this.  It was just arduous doing research there as you can see from this video.  Notice that no one is wearing bulky sweaters or long johns.

However, if you’re dreaming of Florida right now, but not exactly getting there as soon asdotr you’d like, pick up any book by Carl Hiassen for a crazy look at south Florida, especially Miami; Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief; Peter Mathiessen’s Shadow Country about the Florida frontier; or Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! I’m snuggled in with new books to read and dreaming up potential new adventures for the year based on those books. One benefit of travel and reading is that even if I’m home in the deep freeze, I can conjure up previous tropical sojourns to warm my heart if not my fingers and toes.

Great Books to Great Boots in Nashville, Tennessee

If you think reading is a solitary pursuit, you need to go to a book festival. 

Southern Festival of Books on the Leglislative Plaza in Nashville, Tennessee
Southern Festival of Books on the Leglislative Plaza in Nashville, Tennessee

I moseyed down south to the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville a couple of weeks ago and found myself amidst about 30,000 kindred spirits. I strolled among rows of tents full of books and publishers–like an art fair for book lovers–set up on the capitol city’s Legislative Plaza.  Program in hand, I had the difficult task of choosing among the 212 sessions, three performance stages, and 325 authors speaking and signing their books during the three-day event.

Sessions (usually about an hour) took place in Nashville’s gorgeous public library,

So many books and authors, so little time.
So many books and authors, so little time.

Legislative Plaza rooms, and in War Memorial Auditorium. Authors talked about their books, like a book club discussion.  In fact, book clubs showed up to ask questions and share their enthusiasm for books their groups had read. I especially enjoyed hearing William Landay talk about his experiences as a prosecutor and the ideas that went into writing his bestseller, Defending Jacob.  Another of my favorites, Meg Wolitzer, read from her book The Interestings and talked about how her own background influenced the story.  But, the fest offers something for lovers of every literary genre, a look at regional writers who you may not know, as well as appearances from big name writers who this year included  Bill Bryson, former Vice President Al Gore, Rick Bragg, Roy Blount, Clyde Edgerton, Chuck Palahniuk and others. It was a little slice of heaven for book enthusiasts and the throngs there offered clear proof that, though the publishing industry is changing dramatically, readers are more passionate than ever about books and relish the opportunity to connect with authors and with their fellow readers.

Encouraging the Readers (and Writers) of the Future

I was also impressed with the Festival’s efforts to boost childrens’ interest in literature.  It offered sessions for teachers, parents, and young readers from toddlers to YA.  Take for example, panels such as “Building Kids Imaginations through Picture Books: Museums, Libraries, Engineers, Mice and More” or “Zombie Tales of the Undead for Teens and Tweens,” or singer Janis Ian reading her book, The Tiny Mouse. In fact, about 60 of the featured authors this year write for children and teens. The biggest event:  kids screamed for Rick Riordan (author of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series) like he was a rock star.  Read more about the Festival in Publishers Weekly.

A Great Lit Trip

A trip to a book festival makes a great trip for a book club, a group of friends, or mother/daughter combos, especially if the festival takes place in exciting destinations such as those next on the calendar of book fairs–the Miami Book Fair International in November, The Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival in March, and the Los Angeles Time Festival of Books, in April. With all of the fun things to do in these cities–fun food, night life and beaches, they make terrific destinations, book festivals aside. To plan a trip, check out my book Off The Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs, and Girls on Getaways. You’ll find essays, reading lists and itineraries for each of these cities. And, check out my other posts on book festivals.

Beyond the Books

Boots and music on Broadway, Nashville
Boots and music on Broadway, Nashville

If this sounds a little too book-obsessed, for a weekend in the Country Music Capitol, I want to assure you that we took advantage of the other great stuff to do in Nashville. Exhibit A, my new cowboy boots, perfect footwear to wander up and down Broadway, Nashville’s main music thoroughfare, where country tunes pour forth night and day.

You never know who you'll meet on the street in Nashville.
You never know who you’ll meet on the street in Nashville.

(For classic country music, be sure to make a stop at Roberts Western World and Tootsies Orchid Lounge.)  Right in the neighborhood, we found good eats at Merchants and The Southern Steak and Oyster.  For more Nashville ideas, take a look at this article on GoNomad.