After spending the past two weeks in the throes of the lazy days of summer, floating in my new pool and reading summer fiction, I decided to dedicate this week’s blog to a few of my favorite Southern fiction writers and the books I have loved through the years.
When I think of contemporary Southern writers, one of the first ones who comes to mind is Pat Conroy. We share our love of my home state of South Carolina. Two of my favorites are The Prince of Tides and The Water is Wide, two very different books. His books can be a bit dark, but they delve into southern settings and southern relationships with a strong sense of realism. The Water is Wide is a book close to my heart, as it inspired me to write a research paper on the Gullah language when in college. Conroy’s book is a memoir of his teaching experience on Daufuskie Island, fictionalized in the book as Yamacraw Island, a place separated by time and location. Still separated by location, it is better known now for the resort named Haig Point, which is only accessed by ferry. Anyone interested in the Gullah language, which remained separate from English for years after the language had evolved on the mainland, and the culture of the island residents would love this book.
A book that grabbed my attention for its title and location, Bastard out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison, is set in my hometown of Greenville, South Carolina. As with Conroy, the work is dark, but a must read for either an author who wants to write strong settings, or a reader from the area who would like to take a walk down memory lane. Her characters are so realistic you feel you may know them.
While in college, my professor and mentor Dr. Karen Johnson of Indiana University – Purdue University in Indianapolis, introduced me to Gail Godwin who was raised in Asheville, North Carolina. I’ve read most of her books, but the one that stood out is A Southern Family, the story of a dysfunctional family much like my own. It takes place in the fictional town of Mountain City, South Carolina, which could easily be Walhalla, South Carolina, the hometown of my maternal grandmother and a place I have roots still. My great-great grandfather, who was the first minister of St. John’s Lutheran Church, is credited with building it. My parents and great grandparents are buried in the church’s cemetery. I also have fond memories of visiting my relatives in this quaint southern town. A Southern Family delves into the multiple layers of a fictional Southern family. And, yes, it could have been my family.
Last year, I was browsing in Barnes and Noble. Yes, I still prefer the brick and mortar bookstore where I can run my fingers along the bindings of books and thumb through them. I discovered a new author, Lisa Patton, who lives in Tennessee. The title of the third book in her Dixie Series, Southern as a Second Language, caught my eye. So, of course, I had to check out all three of the books in this series. The first book, Whistlin’ Dixie in a Noreaster, begins in Memphis, Tennessee, and relocates this Southern family to Vermont, where they buy an inn. I laughed and cried with the character of Leelee Satterfield. She took me back to Vermont, where I visited my son when he was living there. Patton fully captured the locals of Vermont and their wariness of outsiders, who they refer to as flat landers. The second book in the series, Yankee Doodle Dixie, takes Leelee back to her beloved Memphis where she deals with the recent changes in her social status. I’m looking forward to a road trip to Memphis after reading Patton’s books. I’ve never been there and I now live less than 200 miles away. This week, I’m settling in reading the third book, and the one which grabbed my attention first based on the title, Southern as a Second Language.
These are but a few of the Southern writers who have touched my heart over the years. I buy new releases from Mary Kay Andrews the day they come out because of her ability to write strong characters and settings. One of my favorite titles is the first book I ever read by her, Hissy Fit. In addition, I highly recommend Beach Town and her new release, The Weekenders. I loved Andrews’ s introduction to her main character in Beach Town. I had tears rolling down my cheeks I laughed so hard. A writer I recently discovered is Karen White. The titles of her books are not capitalized and I found that intriguing. I just finished the sound of glass and I’ve purchased flight patterns, which sits at the top of my To Be Read stack. White’s opening chapter in the sound of glass mystifies and intrigues. An author who provides my romance escapes with a Southern setting and entertaining characters is Kieran Kramer, who lives in Charleston, South Carolina, the place close to my heart where my maternal grandmother’s family immigrated from Germany in the 17th century.
You’ve probably figured out Southern settings are powerful motivators for my reading pleasure. In my own work, setting is as important to me as is character and plot. In my current manuscript, Second Chances, I will transport you to a fictional town of Greyson, Tennessee, as well as the very real city of Atlanta, Georgia. There are also side trips to Nashville and Chattanooga.
I hope I’ve interested you in some wonderful Southern writers. I would love to hear from you on the settings you enjoy in your reading material. What is most important to you: settings, character, or plot?