Thursday, September 19, 2013

Lasting Impressions: Savannah, Georgia

One of the squares in the historic district in Savannah, GA
It seems like a long time ago when I wrote the first chapter of my first novel One Last Shot. I first introduced my readers to Levi Garvey, sipping coffee as he gazed out at the joggers and dog walkers from under the brim of his Panama hat on the porch of his townhouse on Pulaski Square in Savannah, Georgia as his lethargic German shepherd, Rosco, snored on the top step. I wrote that back in 2010, and over the last few years, Levi Garvey and I have gotten to know each other pretty well through the course of three novels. But a lot of my readers have asked over the years--why Savannah, Georgia?

Because there are few other places like it, and if I ever become a famous writer... well, that's where I'd go and live.
So much Savannah in the first novel. Why Savannah?
For somebody who loves history, there are few better places to visit--Savannah literally oozes history from the moss and live oaks. I'd visited the city a number of times as a young man back when I was in Army.  Back then I had little appreciation for the history or the historical significance of the grand old city--but in the 80s, the clubs there rocked! My memories of those weekends in Savannah at age 19 are somewhat blurry. A bunch of us would pool our money, and "rent a wreck" which I believe was literally the name of the business we rented cars from. We'd drive to Savannah, and hit club after club after club. We'd sleep in a park or in one of the historic squares, and then drive to the beach and shower the next morning. We'd usually spend the day on the beach and then do it all over again on Saturday night.

One of the stories from my book is based on a real adventure there during that time--Chief Ray Billings tells the story about taking a knife from a drunk guy who'd gone nuts outside on the sidewalk in front of one of the clubs on a Saturday night. Quick as a flash, he grabbed the man's wrist with one hand and punched him out cold with the other. That really happened. One of the most impressive things I'd seen up to that point. It stuck with me, and more than twenty-five years later, it just seems like something the character Ray Billings would do.
Todd Creason and John Albert in the belly of the H.L. Hunley (replica) circa 2004
It wasn't until years later that I truly came to appreciate the city. My long-time friend John Albert lived there, knew I loved history, and invited Valerie and I out to visit him for a few days back in 2004. Levi Garvey's group of high school friends were known as the "Zoo Crew." We didn't have a cool name, but that idea was based on a group of rowdy outcasts I ran around with back in high school--and John was one of them. To put it into perspective--that trip took place three years before I published my first book, and six years before Levi Garvey came into being in the first novel.

That few days turned into a week. We visited Fort Pulaski, Tybee Island, Bonaventure Cemetery, and took a day trip up to Charleston, South Carolina and amongst other things, saw the Civil War submarine the H. L. Hunley. We ate in a different restaurant for every meal at some fantastic restaurants--including Lady & Sons. I don't think we ate a single meal "in" that entire week. Just about every place Levi or Ray Billings mention in my novels are places I visited during that week in Savannah. In fact, I sat on the same bench Levi Garvey sat on when he decided to return home to Twin Rivers after more than twenty years--it marks Johnny Mercer's grave.
Johnny Mercer's grave at Bonaventure Cemetery
Savannah has stayed with me for a long, long time, and that trip to visit my friend John influenced that first novel a great deal, and played a role in creation of Levi Garvey as a character. That Panama hat and his dog--those ideas originated in Savannah. I remember even as we walked around Savannah back then thinking the city would make a fantastic backdrop for a novel, and thinking about that dusty novel moldering in my file cabinet at home--back then One Last Shot was a long abandoned novel called The River County War and it had little similarity to what it later became.  But that novel would have to wait.  That trip influenced my nonfiction writing first--I told the story of the Hunley submarine in Famous American Freemasons: Volume II. The captain of that submarine, George E. Dixon, was a Freemason.

People always wonder where writers get their ideas. I guess for me, it comes from a lot of places, but most often, it comes from people, from places, and from events that for whatever reason have left a last impression. Savannah is one of those magical places for me.  I'm looking forward to another trip there one day.

Todd E. Creason is an author and novelist whose work includes the award-winning non-fiction historical series Famous American Freemasons and the novels One Last Shot (2011) and A Shot After Midnight (2012). He's currently working on the third novel Shot to Hell which will be released in Spring 2014.

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