Friday, June 1, 2012

Why My Characters are Southerners

by Amanda Stevens

The South of my past is chock full of freaks, weirdos and nut jobs, and I say that with the utmost affection.  I love the absurd.
Put it this way--I'm much more entertained by the Southern characters in Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte than by those in Steel Magnolias.

I was born and raised in Bradford, Arkansas, population 720.  To the passing stranger, my hometown would probably appear as just another nondescript farming community along old Highway 67 (also known as Rock and Roll Highway).  To me, it's a sleepy hamlet nestled between the swampy hunting ground of the White River monster and the shadowy foothills of the Ozarks, an area steeped in legend and folklore.  I grew up listening to my dad's ghost stories so I come by my fascination for the paranormal honestly.  I'm drawn to the morbid and the macabre, and like a lot of Southerners I know, I'm a little obsessed with death. 

My characters also dwell in the South because setting should be more than just some dot on a map.  It should be a character in and of itself, a place you feel in your bones, deep down in your soul.  It should have history, presence, moods and voice.  And when it interacts with the human element, setting as character should shape, challenge and even occasionally defeat.

What are your favorite examples of setting as character?  Is there a place you return to time and again in your stories, a place you (and your characters) feel in your bones, deep down in your soul?

For a gritty, bleak, utterly compelling example of setting as character, check out Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell.


Jordan Dane said...

Great post, Amanda. Cracked me up too. I've lived in some small towns, but never 720 people. A friend who had that kind of experience told me that residents had secret (and not so secret) names for everyone in town. One guy was known as B. O. Plenty, for obvious reasons. That's all part of the local color.

As for great settings, I like big cities with dark creepy corners and dangerous places. Chicago is a favorite city for me. It's got a vibe of energy to it when I drive there. I also loved writing my debut thriller in my old hometown of San Antonio. Readers wrote that they knew I had an inside track on SA and they were right.

But a place that popped into my mind after reading your post was the vibe I got when I went to New Orleans for the first time. I went on a Plantation tour and loved it. I really hope to go back there. I could totally see why authors are so drawn to this city. It's amazing. I know you love it too from your fabulous books.

Great post.

Paula Millhouse said...

Hey Amanda and Jordan,

So, like I shared in a previous post, I'm from Savannah, Ga. Not small, but Lord, the Freaks and the Spirits that inhabit that town are setting unto itself!

I lived in Corinth, Vermont for a year and all the small towns up there are serious fodder for stories.

I got a chance to see New Orleans, too, Jordan - wow, rife with characters. Amazing! Remind me to tell you about Voo Doo guy in the restaurant where we ate crawfish sometime - perfect character for a short story!

Where we live and the places we visit are ripe for the picking if we just look around us, and pay attention.

Great post, Amanda!

Jordan Dane said...

Would love to hear your VooDoo guy story sometime, Paula. New Orleans has a soul of its own. Maybe that comes from the dead who came before, but it's palpable like the heat. It's a place that haunts you long after you've left it. Thanks for visiting us.

Amanda Stevens said...

New Orleans is a city like no other. I swear I lived there in a past life. At least, I like to think so. ;)

Unknown said...

Bradford is my hometown :)))