Thursday, February 14, 2013

Southern Gothic or Whatever

People ask me what kind of books I write or what my books are about, and I stammer and stumble and don't know what to say. My wife says I should figure out a brief answer to have at the ready. All of the advice columns for writers say you should be able to write a one- or two-sentence description — something I’ve never been able to do well.
One reviewer compared The Backside of Nowhere with Pat Conroy, and I have been compared with Eudora Welty and Carl Hiaasen (who are nothing alike, and, by-the-way, I’m flattered but can’t see the similarities). One person called my books a new kind of Southern Gothic. I like that but I'm not sure how accurate it is.
Here’s how Wikipedia defines Southern Gothic:
“Southern Gothic is a subgenre of Gothic fiction unique to American literature that takes place exclusively in the American South. Common themes in Southern Gothic literature include deeply flawed, disturbing or disorienting characters, decayed or derelict settings, grotesque situations, and other sinister events relating to or coming from poverty, alienation, racism, crime, and violence. It is unlike its parent genre in that it uses these tools not solely for the sake of suspense, but to explore social issues and reveal the cultural character of the American South, with the Gothic elements taking place in a magic realist context rather than a strictly fantastical one.”
Other writers who have been identified as Southern Gothic are: William Faulkner, Flannery O’Conner, Erskine Caldwell, Tennessee Williams, Harper Lee and Barry Hannah. I hardly consider myself in the same league as any of them.
I guess my novels do have flawed, disturbing or disorienting characters, and they do sometimes deal with issues of poverty, alienation, and racism, and they sometimes explore social issues and reveal the cultural character of the American South — but they do not dwell on the grotesque, and they’re far from magic realist. Plus, I think I write with a much lighter touch than those writers listed above, and the settings are not always Southern (Reunion at the Wetside was wholly set in the Pacific Northwest). 
I’m glad that my books are not so easy to categorize, but my wife is right when she says I need to know how to answer that question. When people ask me about my books and I stammer like a fool, I probably lose potential book sales. So when I pose this question here and on other public sites I’m seriously asking my readers for suggestions about how to characterize my books. Please do comment.

1 comment:

Carv said...

Honestly, I'd just call it mainstream fiction set in coastal Mississippi. It's not weird enough to be Southern Gothic.