Author Melissa Scholes Young is from Hannibal, Missouri, the city where writer Mark Twain lived as a child. The town is rooted in the mythology of Twain, and for Scholes Young it was the perfect place to set her first novel.
In “Flood” (Hachette/ 2017) Scholes Young considers what it means to escape and return home again. She also explores the stories people tell themselves about where they are from and whether or not they fit the culture of their hometown.
Host Frank Stasio speaks with Scholes Young about crafting parallels between Twain’s stories and her own narrative fiction. They also discuss her research into the Mississippi River’s unpredictable flow patterns.
On honoring Twain's friendships:
It started as a short story between Laura and Rose. I wanted to write a female Tom and Huck story. I wanted to explore that friendship that I had grown up knowing so well, roaming the streets of Hannibal, but explore it through a female lens.
On the ever-present mythology of Mark Twain in Hannibal, Missouri:
It is all around us. We walk the same streets where his boyhood home is, see the exact same fence that shows up in Tom Sawyer, and more importantly the Mississippi River is ever-present. It is what you see out of every window. It's what you watch all the time waiting to see what floods are gonna bring. The stories are around you all the time.
On the flow of the Mississippi as a metaphor for coming home:
It was very surprising to find that the mythology that I had grown up with was actually true. That in 1812 because of a series of earthquakes on the New Madrid fault line, it actually caused the Mississippi to run backwards for a few hours. And it was terrifying. But what happened, of course, as with every flood, is the river re-calibrates. So I was very interested in the story of Laura Brooks re-calibrating – of going in the wrong direction in order to be able to start over again.
On the dichotomy between those who stay or leave their hometowns:
What [Laura Brooks] learns through the story is that the people who choose to stay – it's not that they don't have other opportunities. It’'s that they choose to invest in their community, and they really choose to spend their futures there. And that it's not quite the choices of 'should I stay or should I go' [that] are a bit stark.