At the heart of it, most of my writing would definitely fall into the traditional category, but perhaps with a touch of the modern thrown in to enhance conflict. I’m a southern writer, even though I now live in Wisconsin. I grew up in small towns in the south, and lived most of my adult life in places like Texas, North Carolina, and Virginia. My favorite writers from my youth include Mark Twain and Harper Lee. As an adult, I’ve been most drawn to writers such as Flannery O’Connor, Pat Conroy and Cormac McCarthy, among many others. Add in a few years living in Asia (and reading Haruki Murakami), and perhaps my traditional southern stories have added a bit of modernity and globalization – just like today’s modern south.
My stories tend to be set in the small towns of the rural south, but in the modern world, highlighting the juxtaposition between old and new, the clash of changing culture, and the misunderstandings and tensions between different American subcultures. My characters are modern, 21st century folks who still live in a world with a strong focus on family, faith and community, who have a strong sense of place and roots, display an independence and a bit of pioneer spirit, and a strong ‘Don’t Tread On Me’ libertarian streak.
I’ve never given it a lot of intentional thought, but my characters and stories tend to follow these southern literary themes, although set in today’s more globalized world.
Hannah’s Voice is set in a small, blue-collar North Carolina town. The conflicts in the story pit the genuinely faithful against religious extremists against televangelist charlatans, family against government institutions, small community values against metropolitan and pop culture, the power of the federal government against one teenage girl who just wants to reunite with her mother.
Carry Me Away is set in a variety of locations around the world, but from the perspective of a biracial, bisexual girl growing up in a traditional, conservative military family with a father from the deep south, moving from one military assignment to the next. Carrie travels the world, connecting with her Japanese roots and going to university in Europe. But she always comes home to her Cajun grandmother in rural east Texas, whose deep faith keeps Carrie grounded in the midst of her crisis of mortality.
My short stories often, but not always, carry these same themes in one way or another. Sometimes, such as in “Magnolia Nights,” the setting is in the rural south, but sometimes not. In “Uncle Keith’s Farm,” the character is an international corporate executive who has to travel back to the poor family farm for the funeral of a beloved aunt. “The Missionary’s Position” has a young man spending his life savings to travel back to the Philippines, where he had lived as the child of a military chaplain, and where his heart’s only desire is to save the young girls from their lives of prostitution. In “Evolution of Love,” a young woman and man meet at a speed-dating event. She is a devout Christian who works as a pediatric nurse in a children’s cancer center, and he is an adamant non-believer, a scientist who works tirelessly to find a cure. They, of course, fall in love.
My writing – the prose – is probably even more traditionally grounded than my stories and characters. My influences (and I’m not by any stretch comparing myself to these writers) include Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Twain, John Irving, Cormac McCarthy. These are the writers I try to emulate, not imitate, in the sense that the writing counts as much as the story and the characters. The writing IS the story and the characters. Every sentence, every single word, every punctuation mark is crucial. It is through the writing that the imagery, the voice and tone, the emotions, thoughts and internal conflicts of the characters are transmitted from the writer’s imagination to the reader’s mind.
While the settings and characters may be southern, I hope the characters and the stories transcend regions. People are people, and while we may talk differently, we’re not that different on the inside.
I hope y’all enjoyed reading, bless your hearts.