Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Author carries family storytelling to new level

Michael at 2008 Books Alive.
PANAMA CITY — Some people are born to be storytellers. They may work in the fields or run a store or paint houses for a living, but when they speak, they spin tales.

Michael Morris is such a storyteller. Born and raised in Perry, where he claims he was a “C student at best,” he had the good fortune to be encouraged by a teacher to become a writer. (Some of us who thought we could be writers had teachers who encouraged us to seek treatment instead. But enough about me.)

Michael said he never took the idea seriously — writers didn’t come from places like Perry, he thought — so he pursued a career in public affairs, later working as a state senator’s aide and then a pharmaceutical salesman. But the stories wouldn’t go away until he found their shapes and described them in print. He says he “became a writer” at 31.

Michael now lives in Birmingham, Ala. He’s the author of the novels “A Place Called Wiregrass” and “Slow Way Home,” as well as an authorized novella based on the Grammy nominated song, “Live Like You Were Dying.” His short stories have appeared in the anthologies “Stories From The Blue Moon Cafe II” and “Not Safe, But Good II.” (Learn more at MichaelMorrisBooks.com.)

He has made the trip to Panama City for Books Alive and other workshops several times in the past few years, visiting local schools, speaking to writers’ groups and otherwise finding time to encourage fledgling writers.

We met in 2008 at a gathering of the Books Alive authors and volunteers. Barbara Clemons introduced us. She said he was someone I would want to know, and as usual, she was right.

“It’s always great to be with my friends in Panama City,” Michael said in a recent Facebook exchange when I asked him about this weekend’s visit for Books Alive, where he will once again be a featured presenter. “I feel like I probably have more friends in Panama City now than I have in Birmingham.”

Michael has a new novel due in September, “Man in the Blue Moon,” which he has been working on for a few years now. I first heard him discuss it during a National Novel Writing Month workshop at Florida State University Panama City in 2009.

“It’s set in Apalachicola during 1918, and Panama City has a cameo in the novel too,” he said this week. “The story is based on a story my grandfather (who was raised in Wewa) used to tell.”

When Michael’s grandfather was 10, he said, a man was shipped in a crate via steamboat down the Apalachicola River to his family’s store in Apalach. The man was allegedly on the run for killing his wife and her lover. The man claimed he was innocent and that his in-laws were hunting him down for vengeance.

“My grandfather was one of the greatest storytellers I’ve ever known,” Michael said. “Through the years, I had him retell the story many times, to sort out fact from fiction. The bare bones of the story never changed. He died last year at 101 — the same year I found a publisher for the novel. He died knowing that I had completed it.”

His story lives on through the storyteller, and really, that’s all any of us can hope for.

Peace.
(This is my Undercurrents column for Feb. 9, 2012.)
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