Former Cary resident Michael Morris returns to the Triangle with his new novel, “Man In the Blue Moon” (Tyndale), inspired by a true story his great-grandfather told of a distant cousin being shipped in a crate.
The man had been exonerated for the murder of his wife by the courts but not by her relatives. For Morris’ purposes, it offered great ingredients for his latest story, set in Florida in 1918. Ella Wallace is trying to raise three sons when a ruthless banker tries to take her land away. She finds an ally when a man claiming to be a relative of her husband, who has abandoned her, arrives in a box. Answers have been edited.
Q: What can we learn from the Wallace family that is useful today?
Even though “Man in the Blue Moon” takes place nearly a hundred years ago, some of the societal implications are true today: financial struggle, fighting to keep the payments on a home and intolerance. Ella and her sons are on the verge of financial collapse and are fearful that they will lose their store and home to the bank. They don’t let their fears paralyze them. They keep going in hopes that tomorrow will get better.
Q: Is Ella based on any strong women in your life?
My mom and I fled an abusive household with my biological father and through the years I have watched her grow and become stronger. For me, Ella is a balance between strength and artistic sensitivity.
Q: What qualities did Harlan Wallace have which would make a smart woman like Ella choose him over a career and travel to Paris?
Ella struggles with fear, and I believe fear has held her back. When she confronts losing everything to the bank, she has to confront a lifetime of fear head on.
Also I think it’s important to recognize that this novel takes place at the turn of the century, and women did not even have the right to vote yet in this novel. Their choices were limited. I purposely set the novel in 1918 because there were so many dramatic elements brewing in our country: the end of World War I, the Spanish flu epidemic and the woman’s suffrage movement – which is growing just as Ella herself is growing and becoming more independent.
Q: Did living in North Carolina influence your writing in any way?
I didn’t start writing until I moved to North Carolina. I had been introduced to the work of some of the North Carolina writers, Lee Smith chief among them. I started writing my first novel, “A Place Called Wiregrass,” while taking an evening creative writing class with the late Tim McLaurin. Tim and Lee were early readers of the novel and gave me blurbs before I even had a publisher. The writers in North Carolina are so generous. I miss living there.