Today’s post by Kim Wright | @Kim_Wright_W
I get asked this all the time at conferences and readings. If you’re described as a southern writer, like I so often am, people immediately come back with “But what does that really mean?” They expect a better answer than merely telling them you happened to be born south of the Mason-Dixon line.
And then there’s the question of “Why does it even matter anymore?” At one time this country may have had distinct regional sections but now, thanks to the Starbucksination of America, every town looks alike. We all have the same stores and restaurants. Not to mention, this is a society on the move with most people living lots of places in the course of their lifetimes. Is regional identity even a real thing anymore?
I’d have to say yeah, it still matters. Here’s why.
What makes a book southern has nothing to do with what it’s about. People say southerners write about family and faith and place and race, but all writers write about those things. The same themes have been pretty much circulating since novels came into being, no matter where or when they were written. But I think a book is “southern” not because of what it’s about, but more because of how it’s written.
True southerners have a rambling, conversational style that’s born out of an oral storytelling tradition. There’s a feeling of “Pull up your rocker and have some sweet tea, cause honey, I’ve got a whale of a story to tell you.” (Or, if it’s the new south, “Let’s sit down at the cafe table and order some wine. Maybe a bottle. This is good.”) There’s the sense that the author is right there with you, leaning over and practically whispering in your ear, that something is being confessed.
I love these kinds of stories. I grew up on them. My grandfather could take twenty minutes and rope in a cast of fifteen characters just to tell you about going to the grocery store. Southerners don’t mind gossip and they thrive on exaggeration. They use Biblical language, even if they’re not particularly religious. They understand the fine art of the spin.
So when people call me a southern writer, I wear the badge proudly. I take it to mean that my books sound like they’re being spoken more than they sound like they were written, and that’s a good thing. So let’s have one more glass of wine and you can tell me all about your day.
Lauded for her “astute and engrossing” (People) writing style imbued with “originality galore” (RT Book Reviews), Kim Wright channels the best of Jennifer Weiner and Sarah Pekkanen in this delightful novel of self-discovery on the open road as one woman sets out for Graceland hoping to answer the question: Is Elvis Presley her father?
Blues musician Cory Ainsworth is barely scraping by after her mother’s death when she discovers a priceless piece of rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia hidden away in a shed out back of the family’s coastal South Carolina home: Elvis Presley’s Stutz Blackhawk, its interior a time capsule of the singer’s last day on earth.
A backup singer for the King, Cory’s mother Honey was at Graceland the day Elvis died. She quickly returned home to Beaufort and married her high school sweetheart. Yearning to uncover the secrets of her mother’s past—and possibly her own identity—Cory decides to drive the car back to Memphis and turn it over to Elvis’s estate, retracing the exact route her mother took thirty-seven years earlier. As she winds her way through the sprawling deep south with its quaint towns and long stretches of open road, the burning question in Cory’s mind—who is my father?—takes a backseat to the truth she learns about her complicated mother, the minister’s daughter who spent a lifetime struggling to conceal the consequences of a single year of rebellion.