Last year, we published Cathy Salustri’s Backroads of Paradise: A Journey to Rediscover Old Florida. The book received attention in national media, including the New York Times. After the paperback release of her book this October, we talked to Cathy about her experience promoting her book. Here’s what she had to say!
An Interview with Cathy Salustri, author of BACKROADS OF PARADISE
Image credit: Shelly Wilson
How has the reaction to your book been?
It’s been far better than I dreamed. I’ve had people reach out to me from across the country to share their special corners of Florida, and I’ve had people tell me they’ve started to plan road trips based off certain roads. The writing community, too, has been supportive and positive. Craig Pittman has been telling people about my book so often I suspect he thinks he’s getting a percentage, and it’s an honor to have such a well-respected Florida author tell people, “You have to read Backroads of Paradise!” But the best reaction by far has been the people who tell me how much they loved reading it and how much it made them recall their own memories of Florida.
What section from your book do people seem the most excited about?
The thing about Backroads is that people seem to get excited about places they visited. Because the book focuses less on big cities like Orlando, Tampa, Miami and Jacksonville, people who hail from smaller towns—or have spent time there—love to hear “their” town mentioned. When you’re from Tampa, well, everyone’s familiar with Tampa, but when you’re from Century and you see someone’s written about it, it’s exciting.
What was it like being interviewed for the New York Times?
About as you’d imagine: Amazing. It was funny, because I read the email, and he said, “I’m from the Times,” so I thought he meant the Tampa Bay Times, which would have been great, too. But then I reached the end of the email and saw the signature line and I actually yelped and shouted, “Holy shit! The New York Times wants to interview me!”
Have you gone on any exciting road trips since finishing the book?
We go to the Florida Keys every year, and that’s always an adventure. I’ve been fortunate to get asked to speak in many places across the state, so I’ve had plenty of chances for road trips. Florida road trips are always an adventure, because once you get off the interstate, every pocket of Florida has different stuff to see. I was prepared last month to do a less exciting road trip south of Lake Okeechobee—I was watching the path of Irma like a hawk because at one point it looked like it was going to take the same path as the Hurricane of 1928 that I wrote about in Backroads. Had those cities south of Okeechobee taken a hit, I was ready to go down and help, but fortunately, they were spared.
Have you returned to any of the locations you visited on your 5,000-mile trip? How have these places changed already from the time you last saw them?
In some ways, Florida is synonymous with change, because businesses can come and go, but the best thing about Florida is its persistence. Underneath the ever-changing restaurants and businesses, the state’s still pretty much the same as I imagine it was 500 years ago—surrounded by water and filled with sunshine and humidity. There’s an everlasting quality about Florida that feels like home, no matter where I am in the state.
What can readers who fall in love with the places you’ve described do to help ensure these Florida treasures are protected?
Pay attention to what’s happening on local, county, and state levels. And vote. Read Carl Hiaasen’s columns in the Miami Herald, and read Craig Pittman’s reporting in the Tampa Bay Times, because they are the two best watchdogs Florida has when it comes to the environment. Stop eating Florida sugar. There’s a lot of talk about “#theResistance” on a national level, but Florida needs its own resistance to ensure we don’t sell our greatest gift to the highest bidder. Support organizations like the Florida Wildlife Corridor, Riverkeeper, Audubon, and the Sierra Club. If anyone wants to contact me about how to help, I’m always happy to talk: firstname.lastname@example.org.