Message From The Author
To celebrate the release of THE PHOTOGRAPH and
SUMMER AT MOSSY CREEK, author Virginia Ellis explains
the art of the Southern yarn.
Storytelling in Southernese is more than a few y'alls sprinkled in here or there. It's a mind-set that hovers between insanity and rumors of incest, walks the line between suicide and brilliance, keeps company with billionaire bad boys and one-armed junk dealers who die in gunfights over
a used Frigidaire.
True "Southern" voices are born and raised below the 37th latitude, germinated in a soupy mix of aging myth, then stunted by awe-inspiring tragedy. After all, Southerners have had to fight for their homes—sometimes against their own relatives. The "War of Northern Aggression" not withstanding.
Not all of the South is the same—and this makes for some story
variations. In the old South, most people lived closer to the land and to their extended family. They followed long-standing traditions of religion, politics, rebellion and storytelling. They knew how to survive a drought, snakebite or a fifth-generation grudge. If they happened to shoot one of their own "kin" they usually had a perfectly logical reason, and that reason generally had something to do with a piece of land, a woman or a champion hunting dog. And, you can bet the farm that before the smoke cleared, a new chapter of Southern myth, lies and plea bargains had been created.
In the new South, the people sell the trees off the land to put their
kids through college, then sell the land to a developer for a 2,000-
unit subdivision, then get divorced, split the money and move to the coast. If they feel the need to shoot someone, they hire a stranger on the Internet to do it. (Some of them even become President or Vice President of the whole US of A.) But no matter how far they run, they'll always be Southern. And the rest of the world will never let them forget it.
For writers, the South is overrun with what we politely call "characters." Set up housekeeping in any small Southern town, like Mossy Creek (BelleBooks), and you're just as likely to live next door to a Granny with a real skeleton in her closet—or probably the attic, since the closet is full of cousin May's boy's "things" he left before going to fight in World War II—or, the Mayor's 40-year-old nephew, who's never been quite "right," and insists on pouring a bottle of good Kentucky bourbon over his daddy's grave once a month 'cause Daddy didn't cotton to the "dry" county ordinance. Or you'll run across personal ads in the local paper like: "Whoever owns the dog on Church Street that barked all night long on Saturday, it wasn't me who called the cops."
You'll find that most Southerners are friendly and the ones who aren't warn you off right away. Whatever you do, don't laughingly call a man Bubba and expect him to think it's funny. If his momma doesn't call him to dinner by that name, you're likely to be invited to view his gun collection—from the wrong end of the barrel.
If there's one thing all Southerners—and their fiction—do have in common, it's God. I read somewhere recently that Southern fiction stands out because it always has God in it. What I think that means is that there is something greater involved than the characters themselves—fate, if you will. The characters can fight the battle, but God is in charge of the outcome.
So, forget the y'alls and the plantations. If you're not Southern,
hunt down someone who is and mine their family for stories. Or read SUMMER
IN MOSSY CREEK (BelleBooks' third Mossy Creek release) and see how the other half lives.
Award-winning author Virginia Ellis' second hardcover from Ballantine, THE PHOTOGRAPH, will be released from Bantam Books. E-mail her at veauthor @aol.com or www.bellebooks.com.
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