Under the rainy skies of Decatur recently, bestselling author Frances Mayes was in town to discuss one of her latest books, "Every Day in Tuscany: Seasons of an Italian life."
A native Georgian, Mayes has family in the local area and she will be speaking at Decatur First Baptist Church on Tuesday, March 15, at 7 p.m., at an event hosted by the Georgia Center for the Book.
Mayes is also the author of "Under the Tuscan Sun," which was made into a movie, and "Bella Tuscany," among her works of non-fiction. She is also a poet and fiction writer, including of "Swan," set in Georgia.
The Decatur-Avondale Estates Patch interviewed the author just prior to the book event Tuesday.
Where are you from in Georgia? Do you have any connections to Decatur?
I'm from Fitzgerald, Ga. I have a cousin, David Smith, who is from Vidalia, is an attorney in the area, and lives in Decatur.
You made Cortona, Italy famous -- how much time do you spend there now?
I live in Durham, N.C., half the year and Tuscany the other half.
What brought you back to the south?
I lived in San Francisco but came down to the south a lot for work. I still have a furniture line with Drexel Heritage.
How did you get into furniture?
The furniture line came about through my books and the movie. I've really enjoyed it. It's a great outlet for my house obsession. It's a furniture line called "At Home in Tuscany."
Tell me more ...
My daughter decided to move to the area. I have a grown daughter Ashley who is a forensic psychologist and is married and lives on a farm in Hillsborough, N.C. I also have a and a nine-year-old grandson, Willy. So my husband and I quit our teaching jobs and decided to make a big move and we moved back to the south where I grew up. We've been in Durham the past five years. We've loved it. We're so happy we made the move and it's also closer to Italy.
What else are you writing at the moment?
Right now I'm finishing a Tuscan cookbook that will be out this time next year. It has been a whole different experience. I never knew it was such a scientific project. It’s hard to get all the processes down so somebody who’s never walked into a kitchen can make the recipe. The cooking and planning recipes and serving it to friends is the fun part.
How do you stay connected to the south and to Italy, two very different landscapes and lifestyles? And how are they similar and different?
In "Under the Tuscan Sun," I had a whole chapter on the relics of summer. I was startled to see how in some fundamental ways that the way I grew up in the south and experiencing life in Italy were so similar. I kept having flashes of similarity. Primarily, the warmth and hospitality of the people was very similar to the way I grew up in Georgia, where the doors were open and never locked and people dropped in spontaneously. There seemed to be a more of a spontaneity of the day because people were not locked into schedules so much.
The second thing is the life within the town. Small towns are similar all over the world but there was an intense sense of community in Cortona that I had not experienced since I left the south. When I got to Italy and discovered the Piazza life -- and that you see people every day and you leave a shop, and they say, "see you tomorrow," -- it was that kind of comfort and that sense of community was similar. That and the really hot summer in Cortona which I had not experienced living in San Francisco. It felt like home in a fundamental way, connecting me to the south.
Coming and going is kind of a culture shock. Both places operate on such different time scales. Here it seems I’m always making appointments to see people. It’s very structured here. In Italy, it’s not. It’s relaxing to be in that world. But there in Italy, I do miss my literary friends quite a bit ... and my grandson Willy.
Talk to me about your different forms of writing -- fiction, non-fiction and poetry -- and how it works as a writer? Do you get confused?
I’ve written one novel, "Swan," which takes places in Georgia. That was a hard form for me. I’d like to try it again. I would be attracted to writing a children’s book. But I’m set on the memoir form and I like the voice it affords, the open structure and the way it will admit what you have in mind. If I wanted to transfer what I learned about poetry and transfer it into prose, it lets me do that. I like non-fiction, but maybe someday I’ll go back to poetry.
What kind of poetry do you write?
I used to teach a class on the craft of poetry. I was chair of the creative writing department at San Francisco State University. I taught there for 23 years. The poetry I wrote was based on personal experience. It's image based poetry. But I haven't written any since I began writing prose. My husband is a poet and we read a lot of poetry but I haven't written it in 15 years. I published six books and a college text called "The Discovery of Poetry: A Field Guide to Reading and Writing Poems."
You also just came out with “The Passionate Traveler Journal," tell me about that project.
It has just come out and it's a very attractive journal to keep while you travel. Scattered through the book it has quotes from my books. It has 25 quote. Other than that, it’s a blank book.