Rethinking my Blog Strategy

For the past few weeks I have toyed with the idea of changing my blog up a little for two important reasons, both of which affect the survival of this blog. Reason number one: I believe maintaining this venture should be fun. Don’t get me wrong, I love writing about characters of the south. Let’s face it, they’re fascinating. However, like everyone else on the planet, I have a list of things to do which cuts into my reading time. Long story short, it takes me longer to read a novel than it once did and it’s hard to choose one particular character from said novel to write about. This is especially true since southern fiction is loaded with gritty characters—so many choices. Choosing the right one can be daunting.

But, other things I allow to cut into my reading time are things I love to do. I garden and I make compost because compost and gardens go together like molasses and biscuits. I’m also a huge advocate of pollinators and other bugs that do so much to improve the natural cycle of life. It stands to reason I spend much of my spring, summer and fall outside designing and planting pollinator gardens. Because, well, they’re critters y’all and they have a purpose.

Ranking up there as a top contender for my time is writing. I write fiction, and have recently had a book, Deep Water, published through Kellan Publishing. As you can imagine, the story takes place in the south because that’s what I know and I’m familiar with a few gritty critters myself. So why not share!

Reason number two for revamping this blog: Perhaps not everyone is as bat shit crazy about gritty southerners as I am.

 

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But, to be sure providing for the bees and butterflies will interest more than a handful and those readers might enjoy reading something about grit as opposed to gritty. Besides, now is the perfect time to let the slow changes in the seasons reflect in the changes of this blog because my daffodils are beginning to poke out of the ground just as Cormac McCarthy’s Lester Ballard periscopes from under the dirt in Child of God.

See what I did there?

Anywho, don’t hesitate to comment and tell me what you think about the changes. I’ll still pop out a piece that focuses on a certain character I’ve stumbled upon and have taken a liking to, but only every so often when the rest of the things I love doing allow me time to closely examine more characters.

A Rash of Grit

A southern writer I stumbled upon a few years back is Ron Rash. His debut novel, “One Foot in Eden,” published in 2002 stands as a perfect example of southern grit. Its characters possess an amount of hardihood that propels the story into a ‘let the chips fall’ kind of way and exposes perfect imperfections of human nature.

“One Foot in Eden” takes place in the 1950’s in Jocassee, a mountainous region of South Carolina not too far from the North Carolina border, and begins with a missing person, Holland Winchester. Holland’s mama is sure that a neighbor, Billy Holcombe, has killed her son and it’s up to the sheriff to find out what happened to Holland. Well, that’s the way a majority of stories would work out, but Rash lets each character fill in the gaps. Enlightening the reader like a jigsaw puzzle, one piece at a time until the whole story is complete.

The pieces of Rash’s puzzle consist of the High Sheriff, the wife, the husband, the son and the deputy. All five have a biting edge that adds to the atmosphere of the story. But as I pondered how best to mull over “One Foot in Eden” and still keep this short enough to be digested in a single setting, it occurred to me that I needed to choose one point of view to showcase how this work more than qualifies as southern-fried grit. As I re-read the husband’s section, I picked up on a line of dialogue spoken by Amy, the wife, and I had to pause. There was my answer.

Amy and Billy are married and trying to have a baby but find out that Billy is sterile. Amy wants to have a baby more than anything, so she goes to see Widow Glendower, an old woman who the locals believe to be a witch. After following the old woman’s advice and having Billy drink a tea made from roots Amy gets from the widow, the couple still doesn’t conceive. Finally, Widow Glendower informs Amy, “…the man who can give you that baby ain’t no farther from you than the next farm” (Rash 77). Despite being put off by Glendower’s suggestion, Amy realizes the old woman is right. With that suggestive nugget in her head, Amy sets out to make a baby with someone other than Billy. Bear in mind, she does not do this with malice; to prove this, I would suggest the reader notice that Amy never invites Holland into her home and the two never have sex in hers and Billy’s bed. At one point while she watches her husband sleep, she tells him, “Whatever I do is for the both of us, Billy” (Rash 81). Not once, in this whole novel does Rash ever let the reader believe that Amy doesn’t love her husband. But her want of a child overrides reason. At one point after having sex in the yard, Holland tells her he has forgotten her name. She informs him he doesn’t need to know her name. Now, that’s a blatant display of grit right there. She all but tells him she’s not interested in anything more from him.

Amy Holcombe is a tough character, but the line in the book that made me choose her as my pick for southern-fried grit came in her husband’s section of the book. Billy asks his wife if Holland knows she’s pregnant and she responds by admitting she doesn’t believe her state is any of Holland’s business. But then, mustering all the proud defiance of a true southern woman, she asks, “[s]o what you going to do, Billy?” (Rash 119). While reading this section, one can feel the tension of the scene, yet, there exists a calm silence even as the dialogue continues we hold our breath while reading each response.

Ron Rash does one hell of a job building layers in this novel. His characters are believable to the point of familiarity. I would like to add one more thought about this book that points out the complexities of Rash’s characters; in the beginning of “One Foot in Eden” Holland gets into a barroom brawl because he’s hurting; he starts a fight as a means to get rid of the pain. However, no other character in the novel sees Holland as worth anything. Let alone go looking for him when he turns up missing. And nearing the end of the book, this little tidbit of insight might be forgotten, but Holland has feelings.

Rash, Ron. One Foot in Eden. Picador, New York. 2002.

Southern-Fried Grit

Hello and welcome to my very first Southern-Fried Grit post. I don’t want it to be confused with the grits we eat here in the south or the acronym for girls raised in the south. While they’re both great and capable of getting you through the winter, the grit I want to focus on is the determination and strength of characters represented in southern fiction. Yeah, that kind of grit. Think, the Kid in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.

Once upon a time I compared southern literature to wine because not all grapes are perfect; they’re bruised and damaged, some probably have bugs, but it’s okay because those blemishes make that wine taste sweet. The same is true for a work of fiction that puts on display the southern character forged out of hard-packed clay, pinesap and the belief in mythological creatures that came over with our ancestors. We truly are a conflated group here in the south and we got stories to prove it.

Feel free to comment and share some wisdom. If you’ve read a book or story that exposes some southern grit, let me know.