ride south until the sawgrass

James Chapins new book, “Ride South Until the Sawgrass, presents Florida as a wild and lawless frontier.

When one thinks of Florida, they might conjure up images of Walt Disney World and Universal Studios, white sand beaches, Art Deco on Miami Beach, sunbathing and orange juice.

James Chapin’s new book, “Ride South Until the Sawgrass,” however, presents Florida in a different way—as a wild and lawless frontier.

Chapin, a Florida native and masters forestry student at the University of Georgia, will be celebrating the launch of his new book Tuesday in an event with Avid Bookshop. Bradley Bazzle, another local author and UGA alumnus, will also be featured in the event to discuss his book “Fathers of Cambodian Time-Travel Science.” Tickets are available here.

The Red & Black spoke with Chapin to discuss his new book, his work, and the upcoming launch party.

The Red & Black: Could you give a brief overview of your book “Ride South Until the Sawgrass”?

James Chapin: Okay, yeah. “Ride South Until The Sawgrass”— now bear with me I'm not great at describing it—is a story about two families trying to survive on the very challenging, harsh but beautiful landscape of mid-1800s Florida. People don't know this but Florida was, for most of its history until very recently, a frontier. Basically, the people that lived there were cattle ranchers and Seminole Indians. And those two groups fought. The story I tell is about two families basically trying to stay true to themselves surviving on that landscape.

R&B: What were your inspirations for the book?

JC: The inspiration was just this side of the history of the South that a lot of people don't know about. This area of Florida was known as the Southern frontier, and people from all over, including Georgia, saw it as a place of refuge and a place where refugees and runaways would flock. It was just a violent, sparsely populated place. I tell the story of two families that struggle to survive and struggle to stay true to each other and love one another across several generations. Part of it takes place in Georgia as well. There's an excursion into Georgia, and it explores the wildness of that time in Georgia as well.

R&B: So I saw on your website that you’re currently working on your master’s in forestry. How do you balance that with your writing, and how do those two parts of your career influence one another?

JC: I do see them as deeply related. Part of why I write is to get to understand a place better. That's also what I'm doing with forestry and conservation, is seeking to understand a place better so as to value it better. People value a place more if they know its history, know its story. That's very intimately connected to what I do in my research and my work [at UGA]. I feel as though if you can help people to understand a place in terms of its past, they will also understand and value it in terms of the landscape today, and they will have a deeper connection to it. They'll be less likely to exploit it or misuse it. As someone who works in the stewardship of forests and natural lands, that’s really important to me. In terms of the nuts and bolts of how I make it work, it's been a ride. I didn't expect to have this happen, have this book published. I worked at a lands management job in Florida, and I had written this book several years previously. When I was coming up to UGA to further my experience with this stuff was when I found out that this book got picked up. I don't see [writing and forestry] as a one or the other thing for me, I think that both feed into one another. And luckily I've gotten a lot of support to try to launch this book while I'm doing my program.

R&B: You have an upcoming event with another local author, Bradley Bazzle, and Avid Bookshop next week. What are you looking forward to about the event?

JC: I don’t know what to expect. I am an Internet non-native, so launching a book over Zoom is just hilarious to me and such a weird thing to be doing. But, I’m trying to lean into it, trying to learn how to make this work. It’s gonna be trial by fire. But, we’re all doing trial by fire right now, so it’s all good.