As a follow up to my article on “The Mainstream Genre” another popular subgenre is ”Southern Literature.” I’ve seen many agents and publishers request written works of the Deep South. As a Mississippian, I get asked when I’m going to write a story with a Mississippi setting. Hmm…I think.
To clear the humid Deep Southern air early, when I mention the Deep South, the interest and history is hardly exclusive to this region; to me all parts of the world have something to contribute to a story.
Mississippi has a collection of renowned writers, but if I did an actual tally, I doubt my home state would be disproportionate to others. But we have William Faulkner, Beth Henley, Eudora Welty, amongst others, and last, but not least, John Grisham.
Why the Deep South? Is it our accents? I doubt it for reading. Our food? Yea, my favorite. Not. I meet people on the way for home cookin’ restaurants: peas, cornbread, and turnip greens! After I’m scolded for snobbery after rejecting an invite, I give a gentle reminder that I lived off peas, cornbread, and turnip greens. So no, Southern food doesn’t inspire me to write (totally excluding New Orleans food…my favorite!). For those that like that food, chow down!
What about the social settings of the Deep South? It’s easy to imagine antebellum mansions and lean-tos. Many remaining mansions are in Natchez, Mississippi, with others scattered about. As for lean-tos, I’ve seen more in densely populated cities in other states. Mississippi does have a middle class consisting of all people, and I did only not have a Mammy, I lived in a house with no electricity, limited food, and limited plumbing for six months. I need no lecturing about poverty in the Deep South. People today tell me to my face they believe I grew up in a house like Tara in “Gone With the Wind.” Sigh.
Of course, the Deep South holds a lot of history, and a lot of it is controversial, and makes for creative backdrops for stories. Ania Ahlborn took the ball and ran with it with her horror-hit “Seed” using Southern living the way it really is and omitting the near-ubiquitous clichés. Like any other historic setting, the Deep South history can be used to spin a story to surprise the reader by taking a bend off of a known cliché. Or, as I’ve written before, clichés can be used to strengthen the story, depending on how they are used.
Writers, if you are a Deep South expert, and Southern writing is your thing, go for it. I do enjoy Southern Literature, as long as I don’t have to eat turnip greens. Will I ever write a story with a Southern setting? We’ll see.