Women's News & NarrativesFall 2004
Creating Southernesque Fiction for Children
Any woman who uses the contraction “y’all” in every other
sentence probably is familiar with the acronym GRITS: Girls Raised in the South.
There is a popular book on this subject by Deborah Ford, but the fundamental
traits of GRITS girls are hospitality, manners, and kindness. (Don’t let
all of this nice stuff fool you. If a Southern belle has told you off, you will
know it straight away.)
As a result of my Southern upbringing, I too consider myself a GRITS girl and
therefore qualified to write about the hilarity of being reared 100 percent
Dixie. I grew up in Lawrenceville, Georgia in the 1970s and 1980s. Back then
I rejected my heritage, including my easily detected Southern drawl. Like many
people, I looked down on “country” accents and did all I could to
lose mine, forcing my mouth and tongue to speak "plain" English. If
I concentrated, I could mask my Lynyrd Skynyrd-sounding twang.
I am happy to say that sometime during my mid-twenties, my natural voice resurfaced.
I am not sure what compelled me to embrace my roots, but I think it had something
to do with the expression "Bless her heart!" Tell me, what real Southern
lady could give up that phrase?
Truth be told, I learned that my past is a rich reservoir into which I can
dive for story ideas. For example, one of my middle-grade manuscripts has a
scene about a growling possum ferociously crunching Friskies cat food on the
back porch. That is a true story from my childhood.
Maybe it makes sense that I write stories for middle-graders (kids ages eight
to twelve). Perhaps I write for this age group because I distinctly remember
my own preteen angst. I had many dueling emotions during puberty: confusion,
silliness, nervousness (especially around grownups). I also dealt with my parents'
divorce during this period. Not all my scenes are happy ones, so I want young
readers to see that life can be humorous, even during hard times. That is certainly
the way it was when I was growing up.
I remember the time a rowdy neighbor-an adult man dressed head-to-toe in camouflage
and hunting gear-fired a .44 Magnum into the air as he rode down our street
hanging out of a Jeep Wrangler. Some young boys had just hurled a snow ball
at his face, and he wanted to teach them a lesson. You know, just scare 'em
And I will never forget the exciting weekly sprees to Peachtree Salvage with
my daddy. While feverishly sifting through bins of eye makeup and lip gloss,
piles of writing pads of every size, and other second-hand goodies, I discovered
the joy of digging through junk. The best part was finding something cool in
a heap of discarded riffraff and buying it on the cheap.
At the last writer's conference I attended, an audience of 160 children's writers
laughed at and listened to scenes from my middle-grade novel, The Old Coot and
My Jaunt to Georgia. The protagonist is twelve-year-old Caleb Mathers, a naïve
boy sent south to live with his never-before-seen Great Uncle Fritter in Coweta
County while his parents work on their rocky, mysterious marriage. Only problem
is, Uncle Fritter is an ornery backwoods loner living in a Silver Bullet trailer.
The following is an excerpt from tat novel:
I hadn’t met Great Uncle Fritter before my jaunt to Georgia,
but I had heard rants from Granny Perkins. She’d say, “It’s
a good thing Fritter isn’t socializing with the family. You know how he
stirs things up. He’s mean as a two-headed viper and that isn’t
an easy admission, being his only his sister and all.” But Mama had favored
Uncle Fritter for some time. He had given her a Percy Precious doll for her
tenth birthday, shocking the family at his generosity and giving Mama a reason
to keep a small place for him in her heart, forever and amen.
My childhood is chock-full of graceless memories, making it is easier to concoct
an amusing story. Kids can relate to hardships and awkward moments just like
adults, so I don't underestimate their intelligence or sell them short. Maybe
some of them are like me: I grew up around Elvis impersonators, eating Memaw's
biggie-sized homemade pickles, hanging out with good 'ol boys, buying sparklers
and bottle rockets at Black Cat fireworks stands, and ruining every outfit I
owned playing on the banks of the red, muddy Yellow River.
When someone asks me, "How did you come up with that scene?" half
the time I have to laugh and confess: "I've lived it, sure enough!”
Kim Campbell is the assistant to the Board of Trustees at Emory University and a student in Emory College.
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