Monday, November 29, 2010

A Connecticut yankee's mindset....

Recently, my novel, Southern Man (published under my pen name, Connie Chastain) was featured with an "Honorable Mention" review at Red Adept's e-book review blog, where it generated a couple of interesting comments, one of them from a certain "A. Sparrow," who wrote:
I agree that this one is well-written, the dialogue in particular. Sometimes the phrasing gets a little fluffy with long Latinate words, but it’s quite competent overall.
To me, the entertainment value lies in its humor. It reads so much like parody, I can’t be 100% certain the humor isn’t unintentional. The sheer mass of stereotyping in the prologue alone, is astounding and hilarious.
It sort of reminds me of a spoof of Ayn Rand crossed with Southern superhero comics. I found it fascinating as a piece of anthropology, opening a window into a mindset that seems completely alien to me. I’ll certainly be reading on beyond the first 15%.
Fascinated by the thinly veiled snideness of the comments, I attempted to find out more about "A. Sparrow," to confirm, if possible, some tentative conclusions I was drawing. First, that A. Sparrow is a woman (unable to confirm) and that s/he was likely a self-published writer, since Red reviews a lot of books by self-published writers.

Sooo, I searched "A. Sparrow" at Amazon.com and found s/he had an author's page that featured nothing about the author, but did include a link to Xenolith, a self-published fantasy novel that appears to be about travel between dimensions. I discovered that s/he has several novels on an alternate site that sells e-books. And, from an author-promotion site, I found that s/he lives in Connecticut.

Ah, the motive for the snideness begins to reveal itself....

I'm not really flattered by her compliment on the quality of my dialog. I have known for years that I have a gift for writing dialog. It's about the only part of writing I do have a gift for.

But the long, Latinate words? What could s/he mean? Indomitable? Latin in origin, but not particularly long. Discombobulation? It's long, but not Latinate -- it's an Americanism originating in the early 1800s. Indigenous? Again, Latin in orgin, but not long. Alumnus is definitely Latinate -- but long? Makes the phrasing fluffy? You tell me:
Striving for nonchalance, Brooke said, "He's a Bama fan."
"Oh, he's more than a fan," Dugan replied. "He's an alumnus and that's an understatement. In the early Seventies, he was the Crimson Tide's star halfback...."
I dunno. Maybe they have a different concept of "long" and "fluffy" in Connecticut.

The thin veil over the snideness slips a little with his/her comments about humor. Yes, the stereotypes of the "progressives" in the prologue are intentional. That doesn't make them untrue. Stereotyping has developed negative associations in our culture, but in fact, it is not the process of stereotyping but the stereotype itself that is negative (for example, the ignorant, violent Southern redneck). They can also be positive (the educated, caring yankee liberal). And they can largely untrue, as both of these are.
Yes, the humor is intentional:
At fifty-six, Ruth [Adamsky] was a handsome woman who fancied that she bore a physical resemblance to the indomitable Bella Abzug. She fostered the resemblance with her demeanor and wardrobe, complete with widebrimmed hats and reading glasses halfway down her nose.
Five of her guests were women and the two males might as well have been.
...a pudgy, middle-aged woman with improbably black hair reported the start up of a small weekly newspaper for the area’s progressive community...
[Ruth said,] “This town is awash in testosterone. White Christian men rule here, as they have ruled the West for nearly two thousand years. They’re the authors of everything that’s wrong with western civilization.”
It apparently doesn't set well with A. Sparrow to have the commonly accepted negative/positive stereotypes turned on their heads...

Moving on, I was particularly struck by her reference to a cross between a spoof of Ayn Rand, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayn_Rand) (Rand herself, i.e., her philosophy, or her novels?) and Southern superhero comics. Since I haven't read Rand (though I've read about her, and her novels), and didn't know there was such a thing as Southern superhero comics, I did a little googling.

Perhaps A. Sparrow sees a spoofy connection between Adamsky's "The Conspiracy" and Rand's "The Collective" -- quite a stretch, if that's her connection. Adamsky is not a philosopher. She's a liberal, feminist activist -- a community organizer, as it were....

As for the Southern superhero comics, I was suprised to learn there was such a series published back in the Eighties. (I haven't read comics since my Betty-and-Veronica days as a pre-teen.) The Southern Knights (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_Knights). No similarities there, except the term "hero" -- which, in my case simply means the lead male role in a novel.

Southern Man's protagonist, Troy Stevenson, is no superhero (except, perhaps to his wife). He's a decent, ordinary man with strengths, none of them superhuman, and flaws that are all too human.
Given this lack of actual connection between my novel and A. Sparrow's description, I can only conclude that it is totally wishful thinking on his/her part.

It's when we get to the next sentence that we get down to the nitty-gritty:
I found it fascinating as a piece of anthropology, opening a window into a mindset that seems completely alien to me.
I don't doubt it. There is an attitude in ... certain ... circles (yankees, as opposed to northerners, and neo-scalawags) that if you are a Southern novelist, you have an obligation to portray white Southerners as inbred, moronic, scum-sucking racist monsters. Perhaps if I had written a book that did so, A. Sparrow wouldn't have seen my mindset as completely alien.

Perhaps A. Sparrow can identify with the mindset that created the movie, Wrong Turn:
Six people find themselves trapped in the woods of West Virginia, hunted down by "cannibalistic mountain men grossly disfigured through generations of in-breeding." http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0295700/
Perhaps s/he would identify with the mindset that created the video game, Redneck Rampage:
The plot revolves around two brothers, Leonard and Bubba, fighting through the fictional town of Hickston, USA, to rescue their prized pig Bessie and thwart an alien invasion. ... Like most first-person-shooters, it offered a variety of ways for the character to regenerate health or hit points. These power-ups consisted of the allegedly redneck related moon pies, pork rinds, beer and liquor. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Redneck_Rampage
If these are a bit too crude for his/her Connecticut yankee sensibilities, maybe s/he could better relate to the mindset Joshilyn Jackson exhibits in her novels.
http://www.amazon.com/Joshilyn-Jackson/e/B001IGV47I/ref=sr_tc_img_2_0?qid=1291065063&sr=1-2-ent Jackson is a Southern writer (from the Florida panhandle, where I reside) who apparently takes very seriously her obligation to portray Southerner as negative stereotypes (and thus please New York editors):
Gods in Alabama:
Arlene Fleet, the refreshingly imperfect heroine of Jackson's frank, appealing debut, launches her story with a list of the title's deities: "high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits, and also Jesus." The first god, also a date rapist by the name of Jim Beverly, (of course, he's a date rapist -- he's a Southern white boy, isn't he? ~Connie) she left dead in her hometown of Possett, Ala., but the last she embraces wholeheartedly when high school graduation allows her to flee the South, the murder and her slutty reputation for a new life in Chicago. Upon leaving home, Arlene makes a bargain with God, promising to forgo sex, lies and a return home if he keeps Jim's body hidden. After nine years in Chicago as a truth-telling celibate, an unexpected visitor from home (in search of Jim Beverly) leads her to believe that God is slipping on his end of the deal. As Arlene heads for the Deep South with her African-American boyfriend, Burr, in tow, her secrets unfold in unsurprising but satisfying flashbacks. Jackson brings levity to familiar themes with a spirited take on the clich├ęs of redneck Southern living: the Wal-Mart culture, the subtle and overt racism and the indignant religion. (Of course. Can't portray Southern living realistically. Has to be "redneck." ~Connie) The novel concludes with a final, dramatic disclosure, though the payoff isn't the plot twist but rather Jackson's genuine affection for the people and places of Dixie. (Really. You coulda fooled me. ~Connie)

Backseat Saints:
"Rose is now living under the thumb of her abusive husband and his domineering father." (Everybody knows Southern men are abusive and domineering. ~Connie)


The Girl Who Stopped Swimming:
What makes this novel shine are its revelations about the dark side of Southern society... (Of course! Nobody's interested in the uplifting, hopeful side of Southern society and New York editors evidently don't believe there is one. ~Connie)


Between, Georgia:
Growing up at the center of a Crabtree-Frett feud begun by her birth, Nonny is caught between her biological family and her adopted one, between contempt for her philandering husband and the comfort of marriage... (Ah, yes, the Southern family feud and the requisite philandering husband... sooooo Southern, huh? ~Connie)
Of course, I feel no obligation to trash the people of my region, and that really annoys some folks, as two of the comments at Red's blog -- and countless other internet comments, blogs, books, magazine articles, movies and TV shows -- attest. How dare Southern writers portray their people positively? How dare Southerners show the unmitigated temerity to be comfortable with who they are? How dare they not totally define themselves by their faults, as yankees and neo-scalawags think they should?

A. Sparrow says s/he's going to read beyond the first 15% of Southern Man. That may or may not mean s/he's intending to read the whole thing. It will be interesting to see if s/he rips the veil from his/her remarks and posts a scathing review at Amazon.com....

4 comments :

  1. Geez, Connie! Go get 'em! I'm a Yankee by birth and the attitude of reviewers like this irritate me. I had a similar run-in with my SIL recently (a nurse in NY) - did you know that medicine in the South is backward and second rate? How funny that cancer patients flock to my silly little state of NC for the best treatment on the planet. Do they know it's all a farce? The longer I live in the South, the angrier I get at the arrogance and self-righteous attitude of the North. Wait! I just stereotyped them!

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  2. Val, you're a sweetheart, wherever you were born. Remember, there's a difference between northerner and yankee! Appreciate your support!

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  3. I wouldn't ever trash your novel on Amazon. How dare you think so! You're a good writer.

    And it's not that I expect you to depict Southerners as morons, its just that your "intentional" stereotypes of the "progressives" in the prologue are so over-the-top it's ridiculous.

    Sorry to have a offended. I'm a little loose with my tongue at times, and I actually regretted making that comment right after I posted it. Please forgive me.

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  4. Thank you for explaining. I can be pretty sharp-tongued myself. All's well.

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