An author acknowledges how a small town, its people and a storm freed her to create her first novel.
- story by Elizabeth Bartasius
Before I landed in Mississippi, I felt like debris whipped around in the emotional hurricanes of anxiety, “shoulds,” and expectations. When I moved to the Bay in 2003, my first marriage disintegrated; life was in chaos. Then Katrina (the literal hurricane) hit.
All seemed lost, yet all around me I discovered a different way to approach life. People cared for each other, despite differences. They laughed over meals served by volunteers in tents. The Coast’s collective rallying cry — we will rebuild; and it will be bigger and better! — bolstered me.
I learned that if I wanted something done, I was the one to step up and do it. Close-knit Bay Saint Louis offered each person the space and opportunity to share their unique gifts, to be heard, and, then to rise. In the Bay, I found an underlying current of support and a celebration of my own voice.
I also stopped being in such a hurry. The beat of small-town life became my metronome. I paced myself accordingly with morning strolls to the ‘Bird for a take-out cup of tea, then to the long stretch of white beach. At the town’s shoofly deck, I took a moment under the oak to admire the dripping Spanish moss.
In the slowness I began to appreciate the moment, to listen, to look, to observe all that was around me, all the while discovering who I was inside. Away from the frenzy of urban life, Bay Saint Louis gave me pause to think and the energetic space to write.
And, there is much to write about! With drama, grit, beauty, character, and color around every corner; Bay Saint Louis offers so much sugar for a writer looking for ideas. Rumbles of a train. Sticky hands after crawfish. Long, lazy porches for impromptu hellos. Morning dew and sweat falling from trees like the drizzle of rain. Crab Fest, Pirate Fest, Bridge Fest, Second Saturday. Heat rising from an August midnight. The yellow light of the 100 Men Hall on a foggy night. Candied bacon from the Sycamore House.
And, of course the whirring of an espresso maker as Laura or Whitney, still ten years later, greet you from behind the counter of the Mockingbird. (While not one single scene in "The Elegant Out" was set at this iconic establishment, many first drafts were written here.)
All the bits and pieces I picked up around town began to inform the novel, from the blue house on Carroll Avenue to the carpool line at North Bay Elementary to Hairworks, where vines choked the outside A/C unit and sparked an idea for the protagonist in "The Elegant Out."
Want I wanted to achieve didn’t seem so impossible wrapped in the down comforter of Bay Saint Louis. Over the years, our life in the Bay became a beautiful rut. I had resisted that dependable structure for so long; thinking I was only interesting, or likeable if I was moving and shaking. In the end, the laid-back, daily rhythm of this charming coastal town became my salvation and my transformation. When I stopped to acknowledge how much that rut stabilized and sourced me, the words unraveled; I rushed home to write them.
Please join Elizabeth Bartasius for a book signing and reading on Wednesday, May 15 at 5:30 pm:
Smith and Lens Gallery
106 South 2nd Street
Bay St. Louis