Eva Marie Everson is an award-winning speaker and author. Her works include both fiction and nonfiction titles, among them: This Fine Life (Baker/Revell, 2010), Things Left Unspoken (Baker/Revell, 2009), The Potluck Club and The Potluck Catering Club novels (Baker/Revell 2005-2011), Reflections of God’s Holy Land (Thomas Nelson, 2009) and Sex, Lies, and the Media (Cook, 2005). She is a featured writer for Crosswalk.com and CBN.com. In 2002, Eva Marie was one of six Christian journalists sent to Israel. She recently worked with Israel Ministry of Tourism to take five writers back with her for a tour designed for them. Eva Marie is a graduate of Andersonville Theological Seminary. She is a Christian Writers Guild mentor. She speaks nationally and internationally for women’s groups, churches, and at writers’ conferences & workshops. She has been chosen as a writer in residence at Taylor University for 2011. Visit her at http://www.evamarieeverson.com/
The Country-Fried Truth on Writing Southern Fiction
A few years ago I decided to make the transition from writing primarily women’s fiction to writing Southern fiction. Of course, the first question I asked was “What makes Southern fiction … Southern?” Is it grits and greens? Is it cicadas singing so loud on a warm summer’s night you can’t hear yourself think? Is it dinner on the grounds after a long Sunday sermon, where Miss Betsy’s fried chicken is the first thing eaten and a war is raged over Grandma Nettie’s pecan pie? Is it deviled eggs taken to the home of the bereaved wearing the black dress every Southern woman must own, whether for attending the funeral or for making her man a little crazy at the juke joint on a Saturday night?
All of the above. And so much more.
Being Southern is a state of mind, although location and setting play a large part. The South has its unique culture, language, landscape, and people.
There is, of course, that lingering issue of the War of Northern Aggression. We don’t know why we take losing that scuffle so personally. Most of us don’t agree with the issues it was fought over and we have, by golly, been reconstructed.
But still …
In the South, going to church is a social outing, and screaming at a football game is part of a religion. Not to say that Southerners are not serious about faith. They are. And for heaven’s sake, please don’t think every Southerner handles snakes while daring the Devil to strike. We do have a pretty strict set of rules about what you do and don’t wear, and about which pew to sit in. We take Sunday school and church seriously, and Wednesday night prayer meetings, though dwindling in attendance, are a big part of our week.
The South has lovely debutantes who debut sometime around their sixteenth birthdays. Young ladies, dressed in impressive white gowns and satin gloves, are escorted and introduced to polite society by handsome young men. Most of these boys and girls come from “old money” and are rarely, anymore, the majority.
Apart from our debutantes, who are reared in expansive four-columned houses, we also have our double-wide society. And then somewhere in between are the common people, average men and women who work hard, play harder, and find faith and family to be the most important things in life.
Glory to the one who can comprehend them all.
But what makes a work of fiction Southern?
A little of all of the above. The complication comes in trying to make it fit within a storyline those living outside of the South can understand, and to write it without falling into the myths and fabrications some people believe about Southerners. Trust me, we don’t all “talk like that.” We can and do read. We have college degrees and are successful in business and trade. And we’ve been able to pass along some nice inventions.
To write Southern fiction is to understand the languages, landscapes, and maybe even how to fry a chicken so that you really do want to slap your mama. It’s knowing the culture, the history, and what it takes to drive a Southern woman to a hissy fit. It’s drawing in the rich heritage and traditions, the smells and sounds.
It’s authentic. It’s original. It’s sweet iced tea drunk all year long, and it’s peanuts poured into a Coke bottle.
Never a can.
And when readers find themselves drawn into the magical world of the South, and has read “The End,” they know exactly what genre they just read. True Southern fiction cannot be imitated. And even as fiction, it cannot be entirely made up.
Southern fiction authors write out of experience. Maybe their own and, then again, maybe not. These stories come from a little ditty heard at a family reunion. Or snagged out of a picture
album found at Great-Aunt Bertha’s house or between the pages of her Bible. I can almost promise you that when you read Southern fiction, the author has lived at least a portion of the novel’s storyline or knows the one who did.
For me, it’s exciting to be a part of this new adventure in Christian publishing. I feel as though I’m bringing “home” to my church family. I’m sharing out of the blessings of my life … and from the abundance in my heart.
Now for the dirt.
My first work of Southern fiction for Baker/Revell came about after I’d dwelled on a family matter for a good number of years. When my great-grandparents died, they left the large Victorian home where they’d lived, loved, and reared eight children to their youngest child. She and her husband never had children, but they thought of my mother as one of their own. After they’d passed away, the home was in bad need of repairs. A contractor had come to the near-dying town with a vision of buying it little-by-little and restoring it all to its former glory. Mother sold the house, but it went from in-need to dilapidated. Every time I’d pass the road to the house, I’d think, “What if …”
What if it had been restored? What if, during the restoration, family secrets were discovered?
During the course of writing, I delved back a century and moved forward, forcing me to deal with some Southern nastiness. After Things Left Unspoken was released, I received e-mail, mostly positive with a sprinkling of negative, about my decision not to sweep it under the rug. “I was hoping you’d not bring all that mess up,” someone wrote, while another penned, “Thank you for not pretending it didn’t happen.” (Which is a double-negative, but I understood.)
This Fine Life, my second in the Southern fiction lineup, only vaguely mentioned racial unrest, even though it takes place during the latter part of 1959 and early ’60s. I chose not to make it a focal point because it’s not what the book is about. This Fine Life focuses on the day-to-day life of a young married couple and how the innocence of it is shattered by a decision the husband makes. It’s when they move to a crossroads town that true Southern hospitality—and sometimes a hilarious lack thereof— comes into play.
When I’m writing my Southern yarns, I’m at my happiest and, I believe, at my best. These are the people I know. This is the landscape of which I’m most familiar. The life I was born into …
So, welcome to the South. Y’all pull up a chair and sit awhile.