“South is South”: Writing About South Carolina Without Demonizing or Romanticizing Its Culture, Past, and People

The South of the Mind smells like honeysuckles; sometimes Charleston smells like sewage and dead fish. The sun is SC Welcomea warm friend in the South of the Mind, where snow is mere fantasy; last weekend, snow blanketed my hometown of Aiken, and a week before the sun was a bully breathing down the backs of our necks. Either genteel Southern belles or toothless rednecks populate the South of the Mind; South Carolina is populated by a growing diversity of people who do not easily conform to categories. Just like any other geographic region, the Southeastern United States suffers from an image problem, presumptions propagated by stereotypes about the places, people, and culture that overshadow the true nuanced portrait of the region. Perceptions of the South formed through fiction often affect people’s opinions about the South itself. In writing The Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County, I grappled with representing the small-town South in a way that felt authentic. On one hand, I wished not to construct the South as an overwhelmingly horrible and backwards place and therefore gloss over its positive attributes. On the other hand, I couldn’t ignore its faults. While southern culture and politics does not escape unscathed in my stories, I intend to present a balanced representation—the beautiful, the ugly, and the damned.rural-SC-commerce-competition

Although all novelists writing in English must confront the hegemonic power of the language and the violence committed by its speakers both in the physical and intellectual realm, writers in the South wrestle with a particular trailer-parkcomplex past. Because our past brims with violence, exploitation, and continued inequality—trends that today perpetuate new forms of oppression—we cannot paint the South in its antebellum grace. Too often we portray the South as blood-less cotton fields and pristine plantations, southerners sipping sweet tea while seated in rocking chairs as the breeze tickles the backs of their necks. Conversely, we also tend to focus only the brutality of our past without taking into consideration the hardships of southerners. In order to truly have a conversation about how to write about the South, I think we should confront a few topics. Over the next few weeks, I will pen short essays on the intersection of fiction and other topics, how these topics pervade our culture and therefore our stories. Though I may choose to write more essays than I currently intend, the topics include race, development, politics, religion, and family.

While engaging these topics, I hope to challenge myself to think more critically about how I construct my own “South gty_Beaufort_south_carolina_thg_130510_wmainof the Mind” in my novels and short stories. The Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County is only the first book I intend to write about the South, which tackles all of the above mentioned topics, but as I write about different cities in South Carolina and beyond (I am now writing about North Carolina, gasp!), I hope to show how nuanced each region truly can be. The “South” is merely an idea—a construct formed by unconscious popular consensus—in much the same way “Africa” is merely an idea for many Americans based not in any actual knowledge or experience (See Chinua Achebe’s “Image of Africa” for confirmation of this). If you have any comments throughout the series on what ways portrayals of the South are fair or unfair, please share them. Likewise, I must contend that I speak primarily for South Carolina being born and raised in the state. Let us write with our minds and hearts open. See you next time for a frank talk about the South and its history of racial oppression.


“Cobblepot Speaks”

images (22)

My name never meant anything,

couldn’t stride or glide on leathery wings,

only waddled—the awkward bird at the dance.

Never knew anything gilded before this, not like him,

because I know this man under the mask.

How he pretends that a cowl and cape make him

one of us, then spits in my face like my family name

is waning into history, the last heir a bachelor.

My family never cared that I could inherit anything.

But I didn’t grow up pretty boy.

Never knew the gold of the sky before taking the treasure myself.

Penguins live their entire wings and never learn to fly.

Forgive me for watching other dark and flying things

and becoming envious.

Forgive me for reaching in this cruel city

for something more, for something I wasn’t born to claim.

Maybe I wasn’t fit for umbrellas and top hat. Maybe I wasn’t meant for the throne.

But do not all Gotham boys dream of growing up

to become Emperor?

How to Create Your Own Book Universe: Reoccurring Characters

Source: http://fremontlibraries.wordpress.com/2008/09/02/i-dont-know-what-i-want-to-read/

At age eleven, I began writing my first ever novel and somewhere in the back of my mind, I wondered whether I’d ever get it published. I worked nearly two years on the first draft and seemed this 300,000 word monstrosity “The next Harry Potter.” Not only to friends, teachers, and pedestrians who would listen, but to literary agents too. Yes, at age thirteen, I confidently typed “How to write a query letter” into Google and began to look for representation for this fantasy book which I intended, which the smugness only a preteen intellectual can have, that the agent would sing me a multi-book deal that would earn me millions.

If you’re interested in such past projects of which there have been several, feel free to read a post I wrote more than a year ago about my writing history.


Part 1

Part 2

I spent nearly a year revising the draft (which was obviously already perfect) while simultaneously querying every single agent out there, regardless of what genres they preferred. Five years later, I’m not at all embarrassed by these attempts, but actually a tad impressed with my ambition. At least through this long process of writing “soon-to-be bestsellers” and querying them, I learned a lot about the publishing process. I have even been able to publish a few short stories and poems.

I began writing poetry at age 16 as a means of making fast cash through contests; though I think my strength lies in storytelling, I found

Source: http://www.spokesrider.com/2007/07/20/1-july-2007-treaty-line-corner-to-end-of-randolph-co/

quicker success in the world of poetry. I began juggling a lot of different projects, some of them to do with writing, some with history, some with photography. I am a multi-tasker stretched to his limits.

But as I finish writing the second draft of my newest novel-in-progress In Lickskillet, I feel that familiar pride and unwarranted smugness. I feel that this is by far my proudest, best work, which is how I feel about every single project I can complete. With only a few thousand words to go before completion, I feel satisfied that this will be not only a good story that deserves telling, but also a marketable, publish-able book.

So, the question arises: I plan to publish this as my first novel, now that I have nonfiction articles and short story creds under my belt. But once that ends, what’s next? That’s when my mind goes into serious overdrive.

Obviously, I have plenty ideas for future stories. Maybe one day I will blog about all the crazy ideas I’ve had for novels which I think would actually work (like a retired boxer who tries to time travel to escape a Mexican cartel) (or maybe that idea about a political conspiracy theory set in the inside of a single plant cell.) But most of all, I am wondering whether I will continue the stories of the characters in this particular novel In Lickskillet.

Having written about them for over a year, I have formed an attachment with them; they are teenagers, so when the story ends, their stories do not. Not really. They will grow to become adults and maybe have families and jobs. Each heads in a different direction, markedly changed from who they were at the beginning of the story, but of course, they are still only high school graduates. They will grow up further and do other things beyond what I write.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloud_Atlas_(novel)

If you have ever read the works of either William Faulkner or David Mitchell, they both employ this idea of all of their novels existing within the same universe. Characters who appear minor-ly in one work may re-appear as major characters in another. Sometimes, even characters only mentioned or simple waiters will come back with their own books, their characters fully-fledged. I would like to perhaps do this, showing glimpses of characters from past (already published) or future (planned) books I intend to write.

It lends a certain dramatic irony for those who have already read your work and for those who have not, they don’t miss out on anything. Instead, the inclusion acts as a nod to more fervid fans. For example, while reading Cloud Atlas (about which a new movie is coming out starring Tom Hanks and which I’m still unsure about) when a certain character finds himself trying to escape a nursing home by calling his brother, any reader of David Mitchell who has previously read Ghostwritten knows that the character’s rich brother has died and cannot help him at all.

Of course this sort of thing exists within a series, like George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire when different, previously inconsequential characters take center stage. But these books will be more self-contained and will not in any way act as a series. The idea exists quite commonly within comic book canons as well.

So maybe that is overly ambitious, to create a network of stories which in fact interact. But I think this is a grand idea, though implementing the idea might take years and would require me to first publish my novel. If you’d like to check it out, you can read about In Lickskillet here or here!

How do you feel about world-building between non-series books?

Review: “Man of Steel” Trailer

Source: http://www.dccomics.com/superman

Dressed as Superman at the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises, I was obviously standing out among a sea of black clothes and batman insignia. I kept trying to explain to people that Batman and Superman were actually friends who just occasionally fought….. well, no one understood.

I was duly excited for The Man of Steel trailer which preceded the movie. I watched it and, well, at first I thought….. fishing? Hitchhiking? Right.

But I have thought a little more deeply about the upcoming film, and I feel that it deserves a lot of hype. I will definitely be going, I assure you (dressed as The Flash).

First off… watch the trailer if you haven’t already.

We will see a different Superman origin. It has been clear that when Clark Kent enters the green crystalline cave for the first time, he

Source: http://www.dccomics.com/superman

realizes his powers. He begins to fly and kick ass and generally be awesome. Right off the bat…

In this movie, we get to see Superman grow into his powers. Sure he is the most powerful being ever, but hey, at least he will get an actual character arc. Sure, the trailer looks a bit confusing with clotheslines, fishing boats, and all, but those are important– maybe. What really is important is that the trailer doesn’t show Superman in action. Not until those three seconds at the end. If we simply saw him fighting the villain and defending Earth– yawn, we’ve seen that.

In the new criteria of what makes good superhero films, we need characters to actually feel like characters, even perfect men like Superman.

Also, we get a pretty great actor Henry Cavill playing Superman who looks enough different than previous Supermen to feel fresh. Christopher Nolan is one of the producers, so think of him as assurance for quality control. If the script had gone wacky and terrible, he would have shot it down long ago. Zack Snyder is directing the film; honestly, I’ve seen 300 and Watchmen. I did not feel terribly good about the Watchmen movie (and I loved the comics). Maybe if he pulls this off, we can forgive him for that weirdly fetishistic movie Sucker Punch.

Regardless, he has a really cool style that is splashy and colorful like a comic book.

Basically, I support a Superman who is sometimes more man than super, who begins the “alienated” to alien, who still rises to save the day in the end despite his differences because that is who he is.

Source: http://www.shockya.com/news/2012/01/07/superman-man-of-steel-gets-a-new-fan-made-movie-poster/

Why I’m Pumped: The Dark Knight Rises

A week from now, I will be standing outside a theatre sporting a batman mask, awaiting the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises. Some of you naysayers may ask why get pumped up over this version of the Batman. Honestly, it’s all I ever wanted, and that this version came in film– I am stunned. It’s not that I don’t like Batman from the comics. I love every single type of Batman, down to the Adam West TV reincarnation. I really appreciate Frank Miller’s Batman trilogy and am currently reading some of the New 52 Batman comics (Batman, Batman: Detective Series, Batman and Robin!!!).

But honestly, I honestly appreciate Chris Nolan’s vision of Batman; it has not hindered but rather greatly bolstered Batman’s image in my mind. Why are Nolan’s films so awesome? Let’s review why so that when July 20th comes, we can storm the theatre as wildly as Bane’s cronies.

1.) Film Version

Besides I suppose animated films, we have never had a particularly great Batman film. Mostly because Joel Schmauer is an idiot. And yes, I really do enjoy Batman: The Movie from 1966. It had some fantastically funny actors in it, and the camp is unbelievably– well, it was done on purpose. Turn now to 1997’s Batman and Robin. There’s a huge difference.

Tim Burton’s Batman was pretty decent, but honestly, I haven’t watched it since I was ten. At ten, I thought everything I saw was cinematic gold, and I hated Titanic (except for that one scene, you know, because I was ten). Maybe I didn’t have the best judgement in film.

Nolan did away with camp altogether, focusing instead on the stories being told. This was a trend that has been going on in comic books since the 1970s but never truly translated to film until Batman Begins.

2.) New Bane

Now, I’ll be honest as I am still fairly new to comic books that I had no idea who Bane was. I expected perhaps The Riddler or The Penguin, but boy-howdy, am I glad this guy came along. He not only trumps Batman in brawn but maybe even in brain.

Like everyone else, I researched him and OMG!!!! I don’t want to ruin what might happen, but it could be potentially awesome. I am quite stoked for Tom Hardy too who I have grown to like.

Also, it is a huge improvement from the last cinematic version of Bane.

… Or this?

3.) The Story Ends

Now, this is my favorite point. Supposedly, if Chris Nolan isn’t a jerk liar, the story ends with this movie. Batman’s story ends. Now, that’s not to say we can’t still have a Justice League Movie (please let this happen and base it off of the New 52 comic series!), but as for this trilogy, Batman will come to an end. This interests me so greatly because seemingly, superhero franchises (or franchises in general) never seem to want to end.

These are highly successful films, and I am sure if they made eight of them, I would go see each one as they got progressively worse. Now, the Harry Potter series pulled off an eight-movie stint which still excited me, but we all knew what would happen. The books ended, so the movies ended. But the plethora of Batman stories that could be told would be endless.

But Christopher Nolan promises us a satisfactory end to his unique Batman trilogy. He has worked hard to establish his story in the real world, and I definitely hope the ending stays true to this vision. But another possibility crosses my mind: Batman could die.

If Nolan wanted to, he could kill the Batman. I mean, it’s been done in the comics before. Dick Grayson or Jean-Paul Valley or even Alfred have acted as Batman before, so someone could certainly carry on the mantle for that Justice League movie which will be even far better than the Avengers movie which I loved, but still…

So, at the moment, though Nolan keeps faith with the canon, he also plays with it in all the right places. Honestly, I’m extremely excited.

What do you hope for when the final installment of The Dark Knight trilogy comes to theaters?

Nook Releases DC Titles!

I’m not sure if this just happened today, but it excited me so much I’m writing a short blog about it. Barnes and Nobles is now selling DC titles on the NOOK. Before, I could only read Marvel comics which are great. But I really wanted to get into the New 52, and I’ve come to prefer reading comics on the Nook rather than in paper form. So, today I checked out the available titles and did a little happy dance. I also bought “Batman: Year One” by Frank Miller to celebrate because I have wanted for a long time to read it, but have not had the opportunity to.

So now I can sit with my Nook and enjoy Frank Miller’s version of Batman. Well, life is grand, isn’t it?

I’m still fairly new to the comic books world but am an ecstatic new fan. I have been exposed to many more Marvel comics than DC comics. Confession time: I’ve only ever read Watchmen, and that’s it, by DC. So I guess it’s time in my comic book interest to expand my universe. Not that I’m only reading superhero comics, but…… I read primarily superhero comics.

What are your thoughts? Are you as exited as I am?

Life On Earth-616: Do the Time Warp

Neil Gaiman. Time Travel. The Marvel Canon. Mix these fine ingredients and you should get something amazing right?

Well, what you do get is Marvel 1602 which is fun, energetic, enjoyable, and creative. It does no quite blow you away like you keep expecting it to, like you might wish after reading the first issue, but nevertheless, it’s a breezy, adventurous comic book read.

More than anything, the limited comic series is an interesting premise on many levels. What happens when you transport all your favorite super heroes to Elizabethan times? The Spanish Inquisition seeks to burn and torture heretics and witches. Those with angel wings, who can control weather, who are cosmic magicians, who are beast-men– those people might just be tied to a stake and burned. At the same time, King James of Scotland is carefully watching the throne as Queen Elizabeth dies.

Our heroes, clad in olden clothes and olden times (Sir Nicholas Fury, Peter Parquagh, and the gang) must face a new corrupt monarchy, an evil, rich count (Count Von Doom!), a time traveling Captain/Native American impersonator, The Spanish Inquisition (lead by a man readers will recognize halfway through the book), and oh– the imminent destruction of not only Earth but every world ever.

Because of the time-altering, strange events in this continuity, the world becomes 313 rather than 616, a separate universe. Whenever Marvel wants to open up a new plot line with the same characters, they generally just unfold a new world/dimension. Because someone traveled back in time, they have to reverse events to their proper order. At the end, however, things continue in this world for some reason, because there’s a new dimension?? Or something?? Anyways, it allows for a sequel which I may or may not read. That will depend on the reviews I read.

I read this in a course of two days, both at night and by the pool. It’s that sort of comic book, not exactly the dark, gritty stuff of Watchmen, but the fun heroes-to-the-rescue bravado with a historical twist.

The most fun in this book is discovering who is who, which current character corresponds with other Marvel characters. Some are simple like Dr. Strange, but others you must endure the entire story before discovering their identity. If you’re looking for a quick, light read that gives a fresh feel to characters you already love, give this a try.

(I might just pick up the sequel after discovering Iron Man features in it. Hm…)

Just for the record, Gaiman did a killer job with Daredevil’s character. Loved both his swagger and interpretation. This, I think, may have been a call-out to Shakespeare’s Fieste in Twelfth Night just as Jane Gray’s cross-dressing also paid tribute to Shakespeare.

I know also I said at the beginning I wasn’t blown away by the book, but I did enjoy it immensely. Gaiman did a good job of balancing suspense with cameos and fanboy winks.