Monday, August 23, 2010
Teachers have no idea how influential they are in the lives of some students. It's thanks to a ninth grade civics teacher that I became a writer. One day when I was absent she assigned oral reports on careers.By the time I got back, other students had taken all my preferred careers. I got sent to a box of booklets, and the only three booklets left were "Farmer," Mortician," and "Writer." I've always been glad I chose writer. I'd have made a lousy farmer.
What a revelation to read that writers spend their lives on research, telling stories, writing/editing, and talking with people about books. Next to reading, those are my favorite things to do. My gut feeling as I finished that booklet was not, "I want to be a writer," but "I am a writer!" I have never looked back. I chose a college with a good writing department and worked a year afterward to save enough to go live in a small Scottish Highland village for the winter to see if I had the discipline to write. I was delighted to discover that was still what I wanted to do. I was more delighted to get a guinea (about $5 in those days) for my first poem.
However, although I grew up in the South and have deep southern roots, I am not fond of Faulkner, O'Connor or Welty. They didn't write about southerners I know, yet a class on southern literature at my New York college convinced me some Northerners truly think southerners are uniformly weird, degenerate, illiterate, and/or retarded, based on those books and other literary depictions of us.
Granted, we southerners tend to enjoy the bizarre in life. We have few inhibitions about repeating crazy things our friends and family have done. We even repeat crazy things we ourselves have done--like the night I found myself riding through Atlanta with two men I did not know, at 3 a.m., wearing my pajamas.
I love being a part of this collection of southern authors because in our various ways, we are educating the rest of the country about the rich variety of people who live down here. I've tried to do my part. In twenty southern mysteries and three southern novels, I've written about taxidermists, aristocratic old women, trailer trash, and blue grass musicians of international fame who live in a secluded mountain cove. My mysteries are set in Atlanta, Charleston, Jacksonville, Montgomery, and Middle Georgia, and I have tried to make each of those places and the people in them as real as I can to introduce my readers to folks they might like to know.
Recently I have put mysteries aside to write novels. Hold Up the Sky, this year's novel, is about four contemporary women who end up on a dairy farm in West Georgia one hot summer, and who have to learn the hard way that true strength for women comes not from independence but from interdependence. I think that's a lesson that applies to readers wherever they are. The book I just finished, Friday's Daughter, deals with a woman who has devoted her life to caring for her family only to discover at forty that the family never appreciated it. The story explores how one person's decisions about her own life can cause major changes in the lives of others. That, too, is not a uniquely southern theme, although the characters are Georgians.
I hope you'll visit me at my website, www.patriciasprinkle.com (it's temporarily out of order but should be up again within the week) and pick up some of my books. If you do, let me know what you think of them. I've written them for you.
And if you like, I'll tell you the story about that night when I rode through Atlanta in my pajamas . . .