The South: Full of People Since 1665

In my real life day job, I actually go to work sober. And by that I mean I’m sober when I get there. Luckily, I’m a full-time author and editor, so there’s nobody to answer to if I decide to have a few margaritas at lunch (hell, the martini lunch is practically a publishing industry cliche, only they did it with other people around and they stopped after the first couple).

But damn if my job isn’t driving me to drink.

The first OSHA-related drinking problem I developed was when I was writing one of my novels (shamelessly plugged HERE, you should totally buy it if you think Catcher in the Rye was stupid). I figured out I just couldn’t nail the main character’s voice without a few glasses of merlot. Shortly after finishing the book, I discovered that I really like merlot, so my next several books just kept that theme going.

But this time, I’m completely innocent of my latest drinking problem. People, I swear it’s your fault.

I edit and review books. People like to write books. People like to write books about the South. People who write books about the South often have NEVER BEEN THERE. And it’s destroying my liver because I can’t do this without drinking.

Let’s clear up something: I live in the South. I DO NOT HAVE AN ACCENT. I do not have a black housekeeper. I do not have a “charge card” at the local family-owned department store. I do shop at a family-owned grocery store, but the owner IS FROM INDIA. Note, not Indiana the state. India the country.

But I’ll be damned if every single newly published book I read that is set in the South, regardless of time period (including the future), doesn’t portray every single character from Mayberry.

Yes, we have a sheriff and many, many deputies. They all have college degrees, mostly in criminal justice.

Yes, it it possible to walk into a store, bank, or other place of business and NOT KNOW ANYONE. Please stop depicting scenes in which everybody knows everybody else the second they walk into the store, or they see someone stopped at a stop light and automatically know who that is.

Yes, I’m certain you can get your hair done in one of the three salons in our mall (yes, we have a mall) and STILL NOT KNOW ANYONE WITH HER HEAD UNDER ONE OF THE DRYERS.Please stop writing THIS scene in particular, because it’s just stupid.

Yes, we still have a main street running through town with lovely locally-owned businesses on either side. But wedged in between those businesses is a freakin’ Merill Lynch, a Starbucks, and a Mellow Mushroom pizza.

This is a real town, filled with real people, and real up-to-date amenities. Have I made myself clear?

I live in a town in the Deep South, and our town’s population hovers just over 18,000 people. We do not haul water from ANYWHERE. We do not have black housekeepers because they’re all a little busy running the school system or operating on their patients. We have an oddly inordinate number of Baptist churches, but guess what? We’ve got a lot of atheists, too. And while our churches do have church picnics from time to time, guess who else has a picnic? THE MOSQUE. They’ve got incredible egg salad at their annual fundraiser.

Authors, STOP it. Stop writing about the South as some throwback to Harper Lee’s day. VISIT, if that’s what it will take. Go to Atlanta and see it for yourself, if you can handle the traffic. Just stop trying to recreate The Help every time you sit down to write, because sadly, moonshine stills are also a thing of a bygone era (except in a couple of places, according to rumors) and I don’t have enough alcohol on hand to read your ridiculous depictions of my hometown.

 

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16 thoughts on “The South: Full of People Since 1665

  1. LMAO! I’ve spent mucho time in the South. Great food, great people, great fun and sometimes super scary, as in Dueling Banjos scary. I promise I will never write a book about the South. Wait… I think I put Austin, Texas in one book. But I’ve lived there so…

  2. Yes! The South expands way beyond Mayberry, although there are still a few pockets where you can’t find a Starbucks for forty miles–I’m headed to one of those this weekend. But for every Southerner who lives in an isolated small town, you have five or more who live in actual (gasp!) cities.

    My pet peeve in this regard is as a reader–if you’re going to set your book in the South, please dear God understand the dialect. There’s actually a pattern and logic to those colorful phrases and you can’t just toss them about and let them land randomly. The best example is a book I read recently where the author constantly misused “ya’ll.” I’m one of those Southerners who usually avoids that word because when I moved up North for a bit, I’d get annoying people who constantly wanted me to “speak Southern” when I was waiting tables at Denny’s or whatever. But I know for a fact that “ya’ll” is plural, not intended to refer to a single individual. “Ya’ll ain’t that stupid, are you?” is reserved for when you’re talking to a *group* of potentially stupid people. Every single time the word was misused in the dialogue, it pulled me out of an otherwise pretty good YA novel. Write what you know may be a cliche, but it’s really something authors should pay close attention to when setting a novel. Because if they don’t, the dialogue is going to sound totally unbelievable to many readers.

    • Thank you! And yes, I can name names when it comes to people I know who have horribly thick, Hollywood-esque Southern accents, but there just aren’t that many. Think of it this way: our babies watch the same TV shows that your kids do! They learn to talk like Elmo, not Gomer Pyle! (Wait, talking like Elmo might not be that awesome, either…)

  3. I’m from Texas. And see similar drivel. Only sometimes it’s true, depending on which area of the state is involved. Rattlesnakes are still plentiful and accents dreadful in the western area, for example. Thanks for the rant.

    • Funny, but a phone conversation this morning let me know that it’s really a rampant problem. I’m sure every region on the planet has its natives who roll their eyes when authors try to envision this kind of drivel. Go ahead, writers, drivel away…just don’t pretend it’s the reality NOW!

  4. You mean to tell me that BLACK people play major roles in all walks of life in Atlanta??? Atlanta, Georgia? No cotton pickin’ either? Well, slap me down and call me “Shorty”!

    Dear Yankees: Please note this from above: “People who write books about the South often have NEVER BEEN THERE.” (No offense intended).

    Old times there are not forgotten…..

  5. As a Southern gal , applause and thanks! Welcome Yankees, we have brie, merlot and truffles. …and shoes….and my personal fav. INSIDE PLUMBING

    • (Psst…let’s be careful mentioning the truffles, those things are dug up by pigs…pig farmers…squealing like a pig…it’s a slippery slope back to stereotype-land!)

      🙂

  6. Love a good rant! Fortunately I’ve not read any fiction set in Australia by authors who haven’t been here, or I think I’d be drinking as much as you – I know the attitudes just from talking to some people. No, there are no kangaroos in my street. No, they don’t deliver the mail. No, I do not wrestle crocodiles. Yes, we have ATMS (???). Yes we have running water. No we are not all criminals, or descended from criminals, and it’s actually insulting to say otherwise. I live in Sydney. It’s a large, modern city by any standard! I feel your pain.

    • Preach it! Although I will say that I’m very guilty of fostering one aussie stereotype, based purely on my own observations…the men a damn good looking. I’m sure you have your share of toothless hobo-wannabes just like we do, I’ve just not met any.

  7. OF COURSE I have something to say: only an ? would write a story about somewhere without at least having been there, and not in someone else’s movie.

    I think too many people have seen Steel Magnolias. I am as ignorant of the South as it is possible to be – I think I went through the Atlanta airport once on a business trip. As soon as I get down there and spend some time, I’ll think about adding ‘the South’ (generic?) to my list of places, but don’t count on it.

    My inspiration is Flannery O’Connor – for her life, not her writing. I think I managed one of her stories (A good man is hard to find?) – which is still lodged somewhere in my brain as completely indigestible, because I don’t get Southern Gothic. I liked Huckleberry Finn when I read it in the original – I was 9 and the year was 1959. I tried it again recently – didn’t manage to get very far.

    There – enough inane comments to satisfy? You are hard to refuse.

    Alicia

    • Love it! What I really don’t get is the authors who try to write about somewhere they’ve never been…hellooooo? It’s a tax deductible business expense as research! EVERY ONE OF MY BOOKS next year will now be set in the Bahamas!

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