A friend currently reading a draft of my book The Savagery of Sebastian Martin mentioned that only once did I place the story in my home state. A single chapter takes place as Sebastian travels through South Carolina to escape being imprisoned. I don’t miss the opportunity to poke fun as Salley’s annual Chitlin Strut. While this was fun to write, I don’t think that portion accurately portrays the state in which I grew up.
So, instead, I want to bring forth a much more appalling work of satire. A mostly true one about a fictional town. After finishing the first draft of my second novel (tentatively titled Lickskillet), I realized I had missed out on something. While the plot and characters were fine, I failed to give a lot of character to the town which holds the town name. Why, the town itself is very much a character. In one way, Lickskillet is very unique and mind-boggling, though at the same time it is very familiar. We have met these people, been to these places, and lived in this town.
Lickskillet is the strange paragon of Southeast small towns. Quirky, qausi-historical, and to its residents, home.
Region plays a big part into a writer’s work, I believe. Traveling around Europe two years ago helped me solidify the setting of The Savagery. I could better evoke some of the cities I had previously never seen. My second novel, however, will be set much closer to home. In a town torn by crisis, but united by… simply being a town. I have spliced aspects of several southern towns (and huge chunks from my own) to form what I think represents a type of town not to big, but with personality.
When living in Paris, Ernest Hemingway wrote about Paris. Most of the stories by Mark Twain and Flannery O’Connor take place in the South. Because they lived in the South. They knew the South. I set some scenes in New York in The Savagery, but I might as well have called it Big City, because the story did not revolve around New York. It talked about a single hotel in New York and rarely expanded beyond that limited perspective.
In her short stories and novels, O’Connor shows ever facet of the South. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Because only someone from here can clearly say “what’s wrong with it.” Otherwise, you’re just reaching for clichés. We write about these places because we want to prove everyone else who writes about them wrong. We feel a need to tell “our story.” We have to defend what is attacked while also showing the true chinks in the armor. We simply want to represent our own towns the way we see them.
I am completely starting over with the writing of Lickskillet, to better include how the town functions not just as a setting, but a character. I want to be painstakingly realistic. Even in satire, even while writing humor, you want to tell the truth. Even if it’s about a fictional town, it can tell some sort of truth. Something that will make every person, no matter from where they hail, realize that they have known and lived in this little Southern town all their lives.
What we write about, these places are where we’ve grown up. Of course region affects a writer’s style and storytelling habits. We latch on to the unique rhythms of our own origins. We tend to mimic the sound of cicadas, chirp like crickets, and whistle like a nightingale. This translates to writing and the writing into a story that encompasses a place. Such as the ones we call home.