Grebey Island and Saxon County serve as the backdrop for most of Harvest of Thorns. They're home to Levi Manning. His son Earl was born there and dreams of returning. His grandson Chan experienced the area's ugly side and wants nothing to do with the place.
But, is it real? Does Grebey Island actually exist?
No . . . Yes . . . Well, sort of.
Years ago, James Michener wrote a book about the area where I grew up. He did a wonderful job in Chesapeake of capturing the feel of the region, and more than a few readers thought they recognized characters. However, people, places, everything was made up. That was my aim with Harvest of Thorns: portray the people and places of the area as close to reality as I could, without making them real.
So, Grebey Island isn’t real. Sorry about that. What is real is a place called Kaskaskia Island. Like Grebey Island, Kaskaskia is an island in the Mississippi River. Most of my friends from Southeast Missouri know it. It’s actually in Illinois, but you can only get there from Missouri. You drive to the little community of St. Mary on Highway 61 and cross a short bridge over the Kaskaskia River. Years ago, when I was still teaching in Perryville, I occasionally visited Kaskaskia Island. Like Grebey Island, there’s not much left. A few homes, an old school, and a church. Flooding has decimated the island over the years. It’s a very pretty place, rich bottomland that is verdant in the summer, with crops stretching from one side of the island to the other. Kaskaskia Island was on my mind when I wrote Harvest of Thorns.
But don’t get confused. Kaskaskia Island is not Grebey Island. The things that happen in Harvest of Thorns never, as far as I know, happened on Kaskaskia. There is one point where I even refer to Kaskaskia as being somewhere to the north.
And Saxon County? Nope, not real either. In my head its tucked in between Perry and Ste. Genevieve Counties, and as you’ll read, folks from Saxon County spend time in both places. Chan plays baseball in Ste. Genevieve. Levi gets a knife appraised in Perryville. They’re both real and I love both places.
A couple years ago, Robin and I made a return trip to the area. I wanted some pictures from Kaskaskia Island to spur my writing. We stayed the night in a bed and breakfast in Ste. Gen. (That’s what locals call Sainte Genevieve), spent the morning at Kaskaskia, and went on to Perryville for doughnuts from Hoeckele’s Bakery. The island was as pretty as I remembered, and Hoeckele’s doughnuts are still ‘da bomb.
I hope you'll read Harvest of Thorns when it debuts in November, then if you are passing through Southeast Missouri, make a side trip to Kaskaskia Island. It’s what Grebey Island might look like if Grebey Island were real.