I read a fantastic blog post by Delilah S. Dawson by way of Chuck Wendig this morning, and it just wouldn’t leave my mind. It was all about what constitutes a Southern Gothic story, a genre I deeply love, and one I’ve accidentally written in. More on that later! I saw a few more references to it during the day, then I got into a great discussion about it this afternoon.
Do check out the blog! 25 Ingredients for a Kickass Southern Gothic
I got to thinking about the South, and another writer mentioned there are several different souths. That’s completely true in my experience. I was born and always returned to the mountains in far southwestern Virginia, and I’ve lived here for the last eleven years. The culture here in Wise County is definitely Southern, but a specific type influenced by the Scots-Irish, Welsh, and other settlers who came here partly to work in our coalfields. My Dad was from neighboring Russell County. That’s much more farm country, and the English and German settlers and farm lifestyle led to a different, but still Southern, culture. Our travels to Wales, England, and Germany showed us just how directly many traditions and customs came from those parts of the world. I also spent ten years in Atlanta, quite a different flavor of Southern. New Orleans has much more of a French and Acadian influence, and Spanish and other cultures are all over the South. All of them still share certain common elements that blend into our lovely, vibrant, endlessly fascinating Southeast!
Another topic that kept my writer mind occupied today as I worked on editing and page layout was the nature of a Southern Gothic. One big point about Hand Me Downs is it is NOT set in the American South. Well, they start out in Atlanta, though I’m not sure Hartsfield International Airport counts as anything but a sprawling version of hell. Most of the story takes place in Wales, and the second novel moves to Scotland for a bit. Many of the elements on the fabulous list are in my story, even though in true pantser style I had no clue about any of those things when I was writing it. I think my perspective on the world, the lens I see and experience life through, was shaped by my Southern heritage, upbringing, and many years of living here and in Georgia. It comes through whether on purpose or not. With the influence of where I’m from, it makes perfect sense that my subconscious writer mind set my own Gothic tale in Wales with Scottish characters.
All of this got my Inner Writer riled up to write an actual, true, traditional Southern Gothic, y’all. While I’ve been working away in InDesign, adjusting spacing, changing text, placing photos, my subconscious was doing her best work. That always seems to happen when I’m not really paying attention! That should tell me something, huh?
When she was finished cogitating, she delivered The Big Idea in her usual explosive manner. With no warning whatsoever, my hair was standing on end and I was light-headed, just about dizzy. A while back, I seriously considered re-locating Hand Me Downs from Wales to right here in the mountains. That was before I visited North Wales in 2012 and felt the story anchor itself all around me. But what on earth is stopping me from writing those traditional Southern Gothics, set here and in Georgia, in the same universe as HMD?
As usual, everything was right there in the text, waiting for me to catch on. Scottish and Welsh characters, all of whom have migrated to the US? A lot like what happened where I’m sitting right now? Check. The main characters relocating to Atlanta, as it turns out because people already there wanted that to happen? Check. Secrets, surprises, magical realism, more people than you would imagine in on all of the strange things? Check. Yes indeed. The Big Idea.
Think about it. I’ll be writing fan fiction in my own universe!
Thank you kindly C. Hope Clark and John Owens for throwing the spices into this big old vat of moonshine I have brewing here inside my head. I can’t wait to see how the first batch turns out!