Tuesday, April 27, 2010 2:14 AM EDT
By Ben Beagle
BROCKPORT – When author Howard Frank Mosher left Vermont last month for his latest cross-country book tour, his little green Nissan Sentra had 50,000 miles on it.
The odometer is reading a few thousand more, Mosher joked before a talk and book signing Monday evening at Lift Bridge Books, 45 Main St. About 18 people attended the program, including his best childhood friend from Cato-Meridian High School where Mosher grew up.
Mosher, the 2004 “A Tale for Three Counties” author, is on the road promoting his latest big, “Walking to Gatlinburg,” the story of Vermont teen-ager Morgan Kinneson who embarks on a nightmare journey south during the Civil War to find his brother who has gone missing.
The miles on his car will grow more today as Mosher makes an appearance at 7 p.m. at Hallwall’s Contemporary Arts Center, 341 Delaware Ave., Buffalo, before returning home to Irasburg, Vt., for a week of rest before a series of talks and signings in New England.
Many stops, including Brockport, features a new slide show with images from Vermont and other locations that factor in Morgan’s journey and revealed the inspiration for settings and characters in the novel, including a talking turtle.
The turtle in “Walking to Gatlinburg” was inspired by an encounter with a snapping turtle during a research visit to Gettysburg. While on a route through the battlefield Mosher encountered a line of six to eight stopped cars near Devil‘s Den. He discovered they were stopped for a turtle.
“Those of us who grew up in the country know what you do when you see a turtle, pick it up and move it. These must have all been city folk because no one would get out of the car,” said Mosher, who promptly got out of his car and — despite cries from a woman in an SUV to unhand the turtle or she would call animal welfare — relocated the turtle (twice!).
Mosher also recalled a visit from his muse while staring out at Fort McKinley on Lake Champlain. His muse — who Mosher later described as a long-haired country music songwriter he encountered during a visit to a Nashville bar — told Mosher that Morgan would meet a gypsy at the Fort and that the gypsy would give him something.
“Give him what?” Mosher recalled asking.
“An elephant!” the muse spoke to him.
Mosher’s novels — he’s written 10 of them, and one non-fiction work — have prompted some reviewers to be critical of some otherworldly and over-the-top tales.
Mosher defers to his editor, he said.
“If my editor flags it and says look again, then I need to look at it,” he said. “Because if it’s tripping up the editor, then it’ll probably happen to the reader.”
The elephant and turtle made the cut, though Mosher later noted that some other elements of his book — some of it quite graphic, he said — did not make the final version of “Walking to Gatlinburg.”
Other locations Mosher visited included an old canal lock near Utica, Elmira, where nearly 3,000 Confederate prisoners died in captivity; a Amish blacksmith and gunsmith in Lancaster County, Pa.; Monticello and the Blue Ridge Mountains, where Mosher had a breakthrough moment.
“As I looked off into the distance I thought that by the time Morgan made it here, he had a home for the elephant, but he was alone a lot,” Mosher said.
Remembering a big cave in Virginia, Mosher decided to use that location as the location where Morgan encounters a seductive slave girl. And not having any experience with seductive slave girls, Mosher said he decided to base the character on his wife.
“I like to start with a real person in mind for a personality trait or two,” he said.
Mosher also didn’t look far to find the main villain of “Walking to Gatlinburg.” It was inspired by his great-great grandfather, Levi Gleason. While looking for a bad guy, Mosher’s 96-year-old mother trotted out an old lithograph and “she said I’ve got your villain, but be careful how you use it.”
The lithograph showed a wood house with many clapboards knocked off and other parts of the home sagging and ripped apart.
“At about 67 he went right around the bend and tried to murder his family,” Mosher said, stressing — as he did several times — that he wasn’t lying or embellishing this story. “He made a bomb and wrapped it up as a gift basket and showed it to all his cronies.”
But when Gleason went to set up the bomb it went of prematurely. He died, but the 12 people in the home survived
Mosher then ended with a series of paradoxical slides of contemporary locations, such as an adult entertainment club from which a notable part of the Gettysburg battlefield is visible or amusement rides in Gatlinburg.
“When Morgan got to Gatlinburg it was six log cabins,” Mosher said. “Now it’s a theme park that goes for miles and miles.”
Mosher’s tour has taken him to about 75 cities and through the South where he was worried about reaction to the novel.
“But I had no trouble,” he said after the program.
The tour has also taken him to Denver, down to Phoenix — a really long drive, Mosher said — up the California coast and across the Midwest before arriving in Western New York.
Mosher, who in recent months has begun blogging, tweeting on Twitter and maintaining a Web site, said the tour helps boost sales of his books.
“I think it probably doubles sales,” Mosher said. “It’s not that I have a lot to begin with, but it’s probably the difference between keeping me going with a decent publisher and something else.
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Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation