Thursday, February 19, 2009

Confessions of a Southern Writer
By Peggy Webb

I love Delta blues, grits and fried green tomatoes, and sitting on my front porch swing sipping a big glass of iced sweet tea while mocking birds fight in my magnolia tree. I have a deep Southern drawl and love excess. I have a gazillion first cousins and hear every one of their secrets at funerals – the second best social event in the deep South after football. I am Scarlett O’Hara about my farm and would subsist on radishes before I’d sell an inch of it. I call perfect strangers hon, my neighbors by their first name and my enemies that heifer. And when summer comes and the fragrance of gardenia, jasmine and sweet olive fills my gardens, I am so overcome by joy I dance half-naked under the full moon. But only where that heifer can’t see me and gossip.

What does any of that have to do with being a Southern writer? Everything! Blues and sweet tea and jasmine are in my blood. Magnolias and funeral foods and secrets are in my bones. The land is my soul. When I write I’m doing more than telling a story: I’m slicing myself open and coloring every page with my blood, bones and soul. And I’m doing it without conscious effort.

When I decided to write my first mystery, Elvis and the Dearly Departed, (after twenty-five years of writing romance and women’s fiction) I tapped deep into my roots to come up with my zany family of amateur sleuths. Like most Southern families, the Valentines have secrets galore and cousins who spend so much time nosing around in each other’s business they barely have time to tend to their own.

As an old pro with sixty something books under my belt, I had no trouble coming up with funny, endearing characters I absolutely LOVE.

The same was true of setting. Guided by Eudora Welty’s example of writing with a strong sense of place, I put in all the places that are dear to me. My farm (you guessed that, right?), the convenience store on the corner that keeps a flea market going in the parking lot (with a name change, of course), Mooreville Seed and Feed Store where you can buy everything from rose food to horse collars, the four-way stop, and the neighborhood beauty shop where little old ladies sit under hooded dryers and gossip then leave to wrap their “do” in toilet paper - and lord help the man who tries to mess it up.

Mysteries are plot driven, and I knew my story would require careful structuring with no room for error. By the time I’d finished killing people off, strewing around red herrings and pointing the finger at several suspects while keeping my amateur sleuths hopping from frying pan to fire, I had plenty of bones on which I could hang the meat of the story.
But I still needed that little spark to propel my cozy to another level. It would make good copy if I could say I meditated in my lovely gardens while my muse sprinkled me with brilliant ideas. But the plain fact is that my 100-pound chocolate Labrador retriever, Jefferson, provided the spark. While he snoozed under my desk, I toyed with the idea of using Elvis as a ghost in my Southern Cousins Mystery Series. Then Jefferson stood up and did his little doggie dance. You know the one: “Take me outside now or I’ll pee on your shoes!” Suddenly I KNEW…Elvis was a dog. Not your ordinary droopy eared, sleeping on the front porch variety, but a sassy, sleuthing Basset Hound who thinks he’s the reincarnated King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Satisfied that I was all done with the plotting and could set to work the next day writing the chapters, I prepared for a good night’s sleep. But Elvis had other ideas. He started talking to me. Not only did he want to be a dog who was a world-wide icon in his other life as a fat man in a white jumpsuit, but he wanted to co-narrate the book. As any writer worth his salt knows, when a character is that insistent you sit down at the keyboard and type what he tells you.

Elvis told me plenty! And he’s still talking!

I’m having so much writing the Southern Cousins Mystery Series, I keep looking over my shoulder to see if the hard-work police are going to come and snatch my computer.
I love hearing what readers have to say, so talk to me - about Elvis (my dog), Southern fiction, gardens, farms, favorite summertime memories, chocolate, inspiration…anything at all.
And do watch for the second Southern Cousins Mystery, Elvis and the Grateful Dead, Sept. 28, 2009. Visit my website for details,

Peggy Webb is the award-winning author of 60 plus romance novels, 200 magazine humor columns and two screenplays. Her comedic Southern Cousins Mystery Series, launched in 2008 with Elvis and the Dearly Departed, features amateur sleuths Callie Jones, her cousin Lovie (who’s had more lovers than Elvis has fleas), and her Basset Hound who thinks he’s the reincarnated King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Peggy is former adjunct instructor at MS State University. Her website is


Debra Webb said...

Oh, my god! It's Peggy! Looking gorgeous as always. I happen to know first hand that your Elvis Mystery Series is the absolute best. The characters are amazing and the mystery is delicious!

Kate Austin said...

Hi, Peggy - love your blog, love your books, love Elvis. Can't beat that for a Friday morning.

You've made me pine for the south for sure - I haven't been in a few years (three or four, I guess) and you've really made me miss it. Maybe this year I'll make a trip.

Love ya

Vicki Lewis Thompson said...

Peggy, I wish we'd known each other back in the day, so we could have gone to Vegas and watched Elvis live in that white jump suit. We would have had such fun! Barring that, I'm lapping up your Elvis-as-Bassett Hound caper! I love knowing such a talented writer. Great blog!

Stevi Mittman said...

Oh, Miss Webb!
I do so love your southern style! Why you just make me long for a cool glass of sweet tea and a whiff of magnolia blossoms. Oh, to be settin' outside on a porch swing right about now. . .
'Course, I'd be freezin' my tail off here in the Northeast where the winds ablowin' and the snow is threatenin'.
Will have to settle for readin' about Elvis's exploits by a nice warm fire. Can't wait!

peggy webb said...

What fun to have three such fabulous writers saying good stuff about Elvis and me. Honest to goodness, I didn't pay Deb, Kate and Vicki a penny! Thanks!

Peggy Webb said...

And Stevi, too! Another fabulous female who can write funny, sophiticated, mysterious and any way she wants...even without the magnolia trees and the Southern drawl. Love 'ya, Stevi.

Carla Swafford said...

Hey, Miss Peggy! I love you, your books and especially that talented dog!

Peggy Webb said...

Thanks, Carla, for your high praise and for understanding that writers need a steady diet of affirmation, not only from family and friends, but from agents, editors and the legions of fans(she said with tongue in cheek) who read our books. I love you right back!

Theresa Shadrix said...

What great timing...I've been editing a few stories about GWTW for Longleaf Style and so, after reading this, I think I'm going to rent Gone with the Wind...or maybe Change of Habit, which was one of my favorite Elvis movies. Great blog! :)