Southern Book Tour 2012
Tim Westover, Georgia author of the upcoming (July 2012 release) Auraria has come by with a little insight into Southern stereotypes, the class structures, and the Mountain South. Check out the book synopsis and giveaway at the end of the post! I am currently reading Auraria and am very intrigued by the story. Watch the blog for my review, coming soon!
Picture a story about the South, especially a historical one, and you’re likely to start seeing a haze of clichés. The romance of the plantation and its cotton cotillions. The cruel fraternity of the Civil War. Humid nights of moonshine and wisteria. These stereotypes were made by literature, furthered by literature. They do no real harm, so long as we realize they’re often as fictional as any fantasy realm.
But the stereotypes that are hung on “mountain folk” -- the residents of the Appalachians -- are some of the most perfidious and persistent. Mountain folk, in literature and in popular culture, are not only poor, but woefully benighted, too. Shoeless urchins are clad in burlap sacks. Toothless crones cackle from porches, perhaps dreaming of some old folk magic. Idle men pick the banjo when they aren’t making moonshine or dreaming of brutality aimed at strangers. Incomprehensible drawl immediately marks these people as the Other.
Just one personal example: I play the banjo, and hardly ever do I mention this fact without being answered by the ominous opening notes of “Dueling Banjos,” the only banjo tune most people can name, and accompanying off-color remarks.
While there were (and are) poor people in the South, the Appalachians were much more cosmopolitan than “Deliverance” wants you to believe, even in the frontier days. A community was made not only of tenant farmers, slaves, and migrant workers, but landowners, shopkeepers, railroad men, and professionals like doctors and lawyers. Even in the darkest hollows, there were mine owners and sawmill supervisors, engineers and dynamiters, school teachers, clergy, newspaper editors, and government officials. There’s a richer potential for story here, in the mingling of these varied people, than in wallowing in overplayed stereotypes.
Even the rawest frontier towns could have a middle class. Auraria, a Georgia town that appeared on the Cherokee frontier to exploit the gold found in the Southern Appalachians, had at least twelve law offices to hash out questions of land claims, deeds, and sales. Teachers and clergy came later, as the first generation of prospectors settled into homesteaders.
The rich also found their way into the mountains, alongside the farmer and miner and lawyer. Because of the healthful mountain air and cooler temperatures, the mountain south became the site of many resorts and spas throughout the 19th century. The trend of tourists to flock to the mountains didn’t begin in the current generation; it’s as old as the railroads that eventually served towns like Tallulah Falls, Lake Toxaway, and even the famed Biltmore, a private playground for the ultra-rich Vanderbilt family.
Writing a historical (if fantastical) novel set in the mountain South, I wanted to explore this diversity of cultural and economic backgrounds. It connects to a host of issues that are still relevant today: class tensions, land preservation versus economic exploitation, the ongoing struggle between native and newcomer. My Auraria, while host to moon maidens and singing trees, is more perplexed by the arrival of developers who want to build an artificial lake and a first-class resort. Dam building, whether for economic or recreational purposes, was somewhat of a mania at the end of the 19th century, and dam breaks were responsible both for great tragedies, like the Johnstown flood, and ironic inconveniences, like the break at Lake Toxaway. These grand projects, and the disasters they sometimes brought about, were a crucible of interactions between the rich and the poor, the changing and the traditional.
The story of the mountain South isn’t the just the story of the poor, the ignorant, and the isolated. A place as rich and complicated as the Appalachians can’t be captured with stereotypes. There’s much more fertile ground to explore, both for writers and readers, in a mountain South that’s appreciated for the diversity and complexity that it contains, both in the 19th century and in the 21st.
About the author:
Tim Westover writes magical realism and folklore fiction in both English and Esperanto. He plays clawhammer banjo and enjoys exploring the north Georgia mountains. His first English-language novel, Auraria, will be released by QW Publishers in July 2012.
About the book
Coming July 10, 2012
Water spirits, moon maidens, haunted pianos, headless revenants, and an invincible terrapin that lives under the mountains. None of these distract James Holtzclaw from his employer’s mission: to turn the fading gold-rush town of Auraria, GA, into a first-class resort and drown its fortunes below a man-made lake. But when Auraria’s peculiar people and problematic ghosts collide with his own rival ambitions, Holtzclaw must decide what he will save and what will be washed away.
Taking its inspiration from a real Georgia ghost town, Auraria is steeped in the folklore of the Southern Appalachians, where the tensions of natural, supernatural and artificial are still alive.
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