A beta copy reader of my new novella “This’n Apocalypse Or Not?” recently asked me (mostly paraphrased):
‘Is this set in Appalachia? Because some of them talk like hicks? It’s in the title too…’ and “It’s off-putting to me, but that’s because deep inside I’m an elitist bigot.”
Well, first: No, this reader whom I know personally very well, is not an “elitist bigot.” Not even close.
To the question: Yep. Technically anyone familiar with Appalachia could read it that way. I hint at certain recognizable things: mining, hardwoods, Hanning being small, Leading being bigger, Hanning has a Founding family, a family of wealthy libs move to Hanning to give their kids a “better life” but live “safely” outside town, a few characters plan to use “State U” to “get the hell outta Hanning” ASAP, but ultimately the specific place in the real world utterly does not matter.
Mostly the place, in nearly all my stories, is only important because it exists in that story. Although, I’ll admit “Hanning” and “Leading” in this particular story were selected from several options based on my own personal meta-narrative smartassness. So, ya know, fiction is never about what it’s really about.
That brings to mind a few extensions. One thing I’ve learned living all over the place, frequenting rural/mountains: people in small-mountain-town, CA use the core same accent and linguistic curbing as people in WV, as people in Northeastern PA, as people in Northern NH. Redneck is redneck and every region has their minority of leftnecks (HT to the late Joe Bageant, leftneck sage and author of Deer Hunting with Jesus). Anthropologically and linguistically it should not be the case. I don’t know why, it’s just how it is.
Here’s the thing: I straddle two worlds; I grew up Appalachian mountain-rural, I went to college, twice, I’m over-read—every writer is. When I use profanity in a story, there’s a damned good reason for it. It is also true sometimes I feel like I use profanity and the f-bomb in my stories to the level that I’m scared it’ll be “off-putting” (not my master plan). When I use it, I like it. I intentionally use profanity, especially the f-bomb because it has a purpose: it is raw and it is rude and it is blunt and percussive and, damn-it-all, American purity culture needs a bit of vulgarity shoved in their smug mugs once in a moon, if only for their own good.
Being “off-put” has a real healthy function; it is a road sign in the same way “bad,” uncomfortable emotions like pride, fear, and anger are necessary. Discomfort tells us we need: to get some humility and walk-a-mile, to be alert to threats, and to change what needs changing. Accepting this fact requires the ability to engage in self-critique; I know I’m not the first creative type to notice “introspection” is a skill sorely lacking in American culture.
I’ve heard all the objections to being put-off. The most common one goes: “You can be introspective and a good listener without all the swearing and putting others off.” I agree that’s true… sorta. If toning down emotion and “raw” speech in public is such an effective way of doing things, why then is positive, inclusive and compassionate change in the USA more often than not utterly glacial while trampling others is practically a reflex?
Public meeting and group facilitators say more often than not “civility” in public is a tactic employed by the powerful to silence others, to resist change, to retain their control. I’ve experienced and witnessed that far too often over four decades. Seems to me, the times we’re in require less bitchin’ ’bout how something’s expressed and more focus on what needs to be said so it can be fixed. Just a thought.
Another reader pointed out that most of my stories’ characters are usually red/leftnecks and the marginalized—thankfully, they liked that. All I know is I enjoy writing ‘necks and culture. I feel comfortable with the accent, I like the affect and effect, how it looks and feels on the page and in my ears, in my mouth, and even when the very cool computer-lady-voice reads the text back to me during revisions and edits. I identify with them and their language it because I grew up around it—even though I was not considered “from ’round here.”
It’s a thing. While I appreciate and even enjoy reading and writing the clean, privileged life and their stories, I prefer the dirty, the grime, the marginalized as heroines and heroes. They are the really interesting people no one ever talks to, or about, in stories, outside the stereotyped tropes created by upper class storiers. I love the voiceless and the powerless and the crazy and the marginalized when they are speaking out, emotionally loud and speakin’ all vulgar-as-hell, becoming the voice of reason and sanity among the unreasonably arrogant and ignorant, finding a place of power in a new fictional reality where the privileged have been deposed.
Still, I worry every time I sit down to upload work to Amazon or submit to a publisher that this kind of tale is completely unmarketable and won’t sell and most importantly won’t be read. It’s a real risk. But, I just can’t stop writing those characters.
Most of all, my real bottom line, I just want readers to like what I put on the page even if it’s off-putting at first. That is why I’m doing it, it’s why I give such a damn that the lowers, the downtrodden and batshit crazy get a say, a voice in a book-world dominated by wealthy heroines and heroes. At this point in US history we are actually the 99% and we are legion. It’s time we accept we’re in this shitstorm-mostly-not-of-our-own-making and learn to love each other and build a broader cultural capital together. Without a village, we’re not worth a damn, so… There’t sets.