Â by Jerri Corgiat
Write what you know. So I didâ€¦almost.
My stories take place in the Missouri Ozarks, specifically in a town I call Cordelia and on a lake I named Kesibwi. There are no such places. But they were culled from memories I gathered over some 40- odd summers largely spent in the Missouri Ozarks, in small-town central Missouri and on The Lake, which in our area didnâ€™t refer to any old lake, but the big one, Lake of the Ozarks.
Lake of the Ozarks has 54,000 acres of water, 1,150 miles of shoreline, 92 channel miles and is only 75 years old, constructed by the Union Electric Company, which started construction in 1929, at one time employing 4,600 people, building a dam, a rail line, a town, and roads where none had existed before.
The lake began filling in February of 1931 and welcomed its first visitors that May; it reached full reservoir the following spring. When my family discovered it, almost 30 years later, it was still young, its residents remembering that under that watery surface lay hills and hollers and the remnants of cemeteries and towns and Indian trails.
The lakeâ€™s dam, Bagnell, pioneered the first tourism in the area, â€œThe Stripâ€ a mecca of ski shows and carnival rides, Skee-Ball and bumper cars, mazes, taffy, and Lee Maceâ€™s original Ozark Opry, and the landings for the Tom Sawyer and Larry Don, a paddlewheel boat, which took visitors on guided tours.
Looping around the lake on either side of the dam were â€œhighwaysâ€ that careened around curves and up and down hills, interrupted by the occasional souvenir shop or Dairy Queen or gas station, drawing a lariat around the water and joined by a network of lake roads, some miles long, which jolted over gravel and potholes and, if you were in luck, even some asphalt to journeyâ€™s end at the back of a cove.
More woods than sea walls lined the shore. Burr oak and hickory, black walnut and sycamoreâ€”and, of course, Missouriâ€™s beautiful dogwoodsâ€”sheltered thick underbrush teeming with wildlife. Clearings in coves held family-run resorts filled with fishing cabins or trailer parks, along with a chorus of bullfrogs and places like Clearwater CafÃ©, which would clean and fry up your catch of catfish or bass. A few areasâ€”not manyâ€”held expansive and expensive lake homes, as well as the pair of jewels in the lakeâ€™s crown: Tan-Tar-A Resort and Lodge of the Four Seasons, which still welcome travelers today.
We spent lots of time in the waterâ€”skiing and canoeing and swimming and tubing, back when skis were wood and tubing meant tying a rope around thick rubber inner tubes from a semi truck or, in one memorable summer, a tractor; four of us could rock on that one.
We spent lots of time on the water. tooâ€”in wooden Chris Crafts and cabin cruisers, on pontoon boats and runabouts, aluminum fishing boats and canoes, rarely more than twenty-four feet long and usually less. Occasionallyâ€”very occasionally, lest we get caught by our parentsâ€”my girlfriends and I would skinny-dip in the thick velvet heat of a humid summer night, our only light the stars in the skies.Â
Over the forty-odd summers Iâ€™ve spent there, the lake tilted away from fishing cabins and small resorts to mega marinas and outlet malls, to gated communities and championship golf courses (13 in all) and estates with swimming pools and cabanas.
Instead of grabbing a meal at Gorilla Burgers, next to, of course, Gorilla Villa (so named simply because some entrepreneur had scavenged a moth-eaten, life-sized stuffed gorilla and set it in a corner) visitors can dine on Chicken Wellington and Poached Salmon at places like Bentleys and the Blue Heron. Instead of climbing through the Mystery House, a goofball of a place where the floors, half caved-in, meant balls rolled uphill and people leaned sideways, thereâ€™s Miner Mikeâ€™s 12,000 square feet of arcade and the Challenger Flumes at Big Surf Waterpark.
Itâ€™s harder to find places with those funky souvenirsâ€”who could forget the euphemistic Ozark toilet paper, a shucked ear of corn, har har?â€”like Markerâ€™s Souvenirs in Gravois Mills and Â Ozarkland in Camdenton, although Dogpatch (est 1947) still holds a spot on the Bagnell Strip. Instead, the shopping mecca is the Osage Beach Outlet Mall, with its 110 shops from Adidas to J. Crew, from Banana Republic to Brooks Brothers. No longer do tourists and locals flock to the drive-in theater off Lake Road 5-14, but attend the Laurie or Osage cinemas instead.
The lake is so packed on the weekends with watercraft so swift and large that waves are created that reach the size of the oceanâ€™s. Earning a ranking from the Coast Guard as one of the most dangerous lakes in America, the Lake of the Ozarks is no longer a safe haven for the small runabout, and sailboats are mostly a thing of the past. Now Royal Sport Yachts and Kachina Powerboats and Fountain Express Cruisers roar past, trailing waverunners and jet skis over their wakes, like so many colorful dragonflies. Water skis are engineered from fiberglass and water tubes from splashy nylon and PVC.
Skinny-dipping still goes on, although itâ€™s harder to find the privacy to do it. Of course, if you donâ€™t care about privacy, thereâ€™s Party Cove, a weekend anything-goes venue in Anderson Hollow Cove â€“ a mile long and 200 yards wide, populated on weekends by 3,000 boats ferrying around 8,000 people, many in various stages of undress. The NY Times called it â€œthe oldest established permanent floating bacchanal in the country.â€ That about says it.
The towns of central Missouri, and perhaps hidden in the shadows of my fictional Cordelia, deal with issues from meth labs to poor schools to lack of employment opportunities to alcoholism and with way too much poverty and way too few services to help. They also hold people who work hard, who fiercely believe in the bonds of family and community and independence, in romance and marriage, and in making do and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and in giving a hand to a neighbor, even if they do spend some time wagging tongues in diners like Peg Oâ€™ My Heart and salons like Up-in-the-Hair, where my characters work.
My books are entertainment; I address (with optimism) some of the former issues, inherent in any town in America these days, but I concentrate on the latterâ€”because those same values shaped my fictional family, the Oâ€™Malleys.Â
I spent summers in a pink trailer where my heroine, Alcea Oâ€™Malley, takes up residence in Follow Me Home. I walked on the docks where, in Home at Last, Mari Oâ€™Malley dives into a bass boat to save her nephew, Michael, when heâ€™s intent on doing himself harm during one of the massive thunderstorms that can roll up on the lake without warning. I rode on the very same houseboat where Lil Oâ€™Malley and Jon Van Castle first got an inkling in Sing Me Home that they might become more to each other than tolerant in-laws. I spent a week in Tan-Tar-A and now call it the Royal Sun, I hiked the hills around the long-gone Camp Niangua and call it Camp Sycamore, and I walked the streets of Versailles, Cole Camp, Stover and Gravois Mills, and named them Cordelia.
Every dogwood petal, lap of water, whip-poor-will call, breath of breeze, croak of a bullfrog, creak of a dockâ€¦every vista and sunrise and path through the woods and small town and starscapes above when you lay on a wooden dock still warm from summer sun is real.
I donâ€™t write what I know, I write what I knewâ€¦
â€¦calling on the memories of my youth to recreate a reflection of a beloved place that no longer exists in quite the same wayâ€”and make it live again.
Iâ€™d love to hear about your special place, whether it’s home in your backyard or in the back of beyond. Iâ€™d also love if youâ€™d friend me on Facebook so we can keep sharing!
ABOUT JERRI CORGIAT
Award-winning author, editor and former bookseller Jerri Corgiat lives in the Midwest with her husband, son, dog Rosieâ€”and the true queen of the house, their cat, Princess Piggy-Britches.Â Their home is located in rolling woodlands reminiscent of the Ozarks, where she spent her childhood summers and where the Love Finds a Home series took root in her imagination. She is currently working on her sixth book. Her website is: http://www.jerricorgiat.com
Read an interview with Jerri Corgiat at the Istoria Books blog:
ABOUT THE BOOKS
The Love Finds a Home series by Jerri Corgiat follows the extended O’Malley clan in Cordelia, Missouri as they confront both life and love challenges. Although the books are part of a series, they do not need to be read in order. Originally published by Penguin’s Signet imprint, they are now available in E-Book form through Istoria Books. Books in the series include:
- Sing Me Home— Lil O’Malley falls for the children of rehabilitated country star Jonathan Van Castle, leading her to accept his proposal for a marriage of convenience that ultimately allows him to win her heart. (See the Tim McGraw tune of the same name at the Istoria Love Finds a Home page.)
- Follow Me Home — When Alcea O’Malley Addams’s husband betrays her, luxury and self-worth go out the window…until an old flame comes into town, leading her to reevaluate her past, her value and her future.
- Home at Last — Marigold (Mari) O’Malley returns home to lick her wounds after a big-city career sinks under the weight of a relationship with her boss. Her broken heart begins to mend when she reconnects with a bad boy from her past who teaches her how to trust and take chances at the same time.
- Home by Starlight — Widow Patsy O’Malley remains fiercely independent until a broken ankleÂ and an itinerant musician (from Jonathan Van Castle’s band) both knock her off her feet.
- Take Me Home — Florida Jones thinks she has the perfect fiance and the perfect life planned until a car accident results in injuries that threaten her sight. An unlikely helpmate guides her to recovery, where she ultimately “sees” the love that is most important in her life.
- About the Author
- Posts in the Past
Istoria Books is an e-publisher dedicated to releasing “eBooks You Want to Read at Prices You Want to Pay.” We accept unagented submissions and handle only fiction. We’re interested in romance (but not erotica), historical, literary, mystery, young adult, sci-fi, fantasy and short stories. Check out our website for more information!