FTC Disclosure: I received a free e-copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
It is my pleasure to welcome Karin Gillespie to the blog today.
WHY I WRITE SOUTHERN FICTION – by Karin Gillespie
Several years ago, I was a baby writer attending my very first conference. I ducked into a session called “What’s Hot; What’s Not” In the session, I learned that Southern lit was so hot New York editors were out on the streets, rattling their tin cups, begging for it. All you had to do was toss a few sweet iced tea and kudzu references into your novel, and you were practically guaranteed a six-figure deal. After that session I believe everybody and his mama went home to dash off a Southern novel, me included.
I had a couple of things working against me. First, I wasn’t born and raised in the South therefore lacked a rich vein of authentic Southern experiences to draw from. No memories of Aunt Catfish getting tipsy on scuppernong wine and substituting salt for sugar in her chess pie. No fond childhood recollections of slapping no-see-ums as I pulled on a green glass bottle of Co-Cola. Until recently, I didn’t know a no-see-um from a mosquito and I’d never tasted chess pie. Being from Minnesota, most of my memories include snow drifts, Viking games and tater-tot hot dishes.
But my Yankee background was not my greatest disadvantage. My greatest disadvantage was I’d read very little classic Southern Lit. For instance, I didn’t know that all of Flannery O’Conner’s stories are about finding grace, or that Carson McCullers writes novels about loneliness and isolation, and I’d never even heard of Eudora Welty. (Bless my poor, frostbitten Midwestern heart).
With two grievous strikes against me, you’d think my Southern novel would end up moldering away in a streamer trunk, ink fading, pages yellowing and decaying to dust, a sham and an affront to Southern novelists everywhere.
You’d think that… but you’d be wrong.
Call it beginner’s luck or some freakish twist of fate, but my little Southern novel didn’t desiccate like a dead beetle in an anonymous trunk. Instead it’s bought by Simon and Schuster in a three-book deal and ended up on the shelves of every bookstore in America. During my book tours throughout the Southeast, I’d typically be asked, “Who are your literary influences?”
Stephen King was not the answer they were waiting to hear.
Looking back, I realize it took a lot of nerve to think I could write a Southern novel without ever having read the Southern authors who came before me. One reviewer remarked of my books, “Karin Gillespie is no Katherine Anne Porter.” I may have been more insulted if I’d known who she was.
When I went back to school for my MFA and was asked to read several Flannery O’Connor stories, I wasn’t looking forward to the assignment. All I knew about her was that she wrote a depressing story about a serial-killer.
You can guess what happened. Once I got a nibble of O’Connor, I wanted to gobble up her whole luscious literary pie. Who couldn’t blame me with prose this?
“The trees were full of silver-white sunlight and the meanest of them sparkled.”
After I’d exhausted her work, I slaked my thirst on McCullers. How could I stop myself when confronted with passages like this?
“Her head was big and loose. The beer made her legs feel peculiar too, almost as if she had four legs to manage instead of two.”
Next I gorged on Kaye Gibbons, lapped up Lee Smith and feasted on Faulkner (I ended up spitting some of Faulkner out).
Now I can’t imagine what my life would be like without Flannery, Carson and the rest. I’d love to sleep every night with “A Member of the Wedding” or “Bastard Our of Carolina” under my pillow and dream that I could write prose half as transformative. Classic Southern Lit may not have informed my previous work but it will definitely influence my future novels. As for me not being a true Southerner, you know what we non-natives say, “I wasn’t born in the South but I got here as fast as I could.”
My latest Southern novel is Girl Meets Class, and it’s about a spoiled Southern belle who takes a job teaching high school and finally figures out what she’s made of.
Thanks Karin! It was fun to get some insight on how you developed your “Southern identity.” I’m glad you got to the South as fast as you could. Thanks to the author I have an e-copy of Girl Meets Class to give away to one commenter. Just comment on what you think is the most challenging aspect of being a teacher. You have until midnight on September 21st. A winner will be drawn on September 22nd.
My thoughts: I work in the world of education. I’m an elementary school librarian, so I see the other end of the spectrum from what Toni Lee sees in Girl Meets Class. The educational aspect was my motivation for signing up for this book tour. To be honest, once I started reading I thought I had made a mistake signing up for this tour. Horror of horrors! I didn’t like Toni Lee at all! I find it hard to read a book if I don’t like the main character. But as much as I wanted to grab Toni Lee by the shoulders and shake some sense into her, I found I couldn’t walk away from her story. And that is what makes Karin such an awesome writer. She has created a story that hooks the reader and doesn’t let go. I really liked Carl. He is Toni Lee’s saving grace. He makes her want to rise above herself and be a good person. Everyone needs a Carl in their life. While I may not have been Toni Lee’s biggest fan when I started the book, I did find myself rooting for her. I couldn’t put the book down until I knew how her story ended.
Despite the serious nature of the state of education for the underprivileged Girl Meets Class is a quick read that will keep the reader engaged until the end. This is the first book I’ve read by Karin Gillespie. I’m looking forward to reading other books by her.
Girl Meets Class
by Karin Gillespie
Girl Meets Class
Contemporary Women’s Fiction
Paperback: 266 pages
Publisher: Henery Press (September 8, 2015)
E-Book ASIN: B00ZD1VIXO
The unspooling of Toni Lee Wells’ Tiffany and Wild Turkey lifestyle begins with a trip to the Luckett County Jail drunk tank. An earlier wrist injury sidelined her pro tennis career, and now she’s trading her tennis whites for wild nights roaming the streets of Rose Hill, Georgia.
Her wealthy family finally gets fed up with her shenanigans. They cut off her monthly allowance but also make her a sweetheart deal: Get a job, keep it for a year, and you’ll receive an early inheritance. Act the fool or get fired, and you’ll lose it for good.
Toni Lee signs up for a fast-track Teacher Corps program. She hopes for an easy teaching gig, but what she gets is an assignment to Harriet Hall, a high school that churns out more thugs than scholars.
What’s a spoiled Southern belle to do when confronted with a bunch of street smart students who are determined to make her life as difficult as possible? Luckily, Carl, a handsome colleague, is willing to help her negotiate the rough teaching waters and keep her bed warm at night. But when Toni Lee gets involved with some dark dealings in the school system, she fears she might lose her new beau as well as her inheritance.
About The Author –
Karin Gillespie is national bestselling author of five novels and a humor columnist for Augusta Magazine. Her nonfiction writing had been in the New York Times, The Writer Magazine and Romantic Times. She maintains a website and blog at Karingillespie.net. Sign up for her newsletter on her website, follow her on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook.
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