Southern Enough
Written by
She Writes
April 2020
Written by
She Writes
April 2020

This guest post is courtesy of author Kristy Woodson Harvey whose latest book, Feels Like Falling, is available April 28, 2020.

One of the funniest emails I have ever gotten from a reader informed me that, while she enjoyed my books, they just weren’t quite Southern enough. I’m pretty sure it was meant as an insult, and, well, there are rules about these types of things. As in, do not engage. But, really, rules are made to be broken. Who could help herself? I had to respond to ask her to please elucidate this grave issue further. The reader—born and bred in Michigan, mind you—was, in essence, expecting Steel Magnolias. And, while I love Shelby and M’Lynn and Truvy as much as the next girl, it is not 1989, and I do not write about Louisiana.

Would I like to write a book about Louisiana in 1989? Oh, yes. Yes, please. But, as of now, I write about North Carolina and Georgia in the present day. My characters are, much like I am, lifelong Southerners in a region that is constantly changing. (I will admit, we did live half the time in Manhattan when I was very young, but, so far, I have been allowed to keep my Southerner card.)

To be honest, I didn’t set out to write Southern fiction. To be even more honest, I didn’t know I was writing Southern fiction until I got my first book deal and was categorized as such which, quite frankly, I adore. The American South is unique, it’s special, it’s quirky and it’s a playing field rife with scandal, secret and small-town lore. There are more writers per capita in North Carolina than any other state and, trust me, there’s a reason for that.

After my first novel, Dear Carolina, and my second, Lies and Other Acts of Love—both set in my home state—I truly believed I would always write about North Carolina. I was mostly raised in Salisbury—the setting of Lies and Other Acts of Love—a small town in the Piedmont with a charming downtown and tons of history, which is also home to Cheerwine, Food Lion and the lesser-known, but no less worthy, Hap’s Grill. I spent years in Kinston, my husband’s hometown. It’s pastoral beauty and rich farmland became the ideal backdrop for Dear Carolina and was full of bright, industrious and willing women who taught me everything I needed to know about farm life, vegetables, growing seasons and how to preserve absolutely anything.

Now, I live in Beaufort, a historic town on the North Carolina Coast. Every week, it seems, some magazine or another is heralding it as the coolest small town, or the best small town, or the most romantic town. Something like that. And, probably once a week, someone on Instagram reminds me that I live inside a Hallmark movie. I wouldn’t have it any other way. When I got my first series deal, I knew I wanted to set it in Beaufort, but the powers that be had other plans. They wanted a series about Georgia. (I would have written about Mars if they had asked.) And Peachtree Bluff was born.

When I pitched the idea for the Peachtree Bluff Series to my editor, I told her I didn’t care if people remembered the plot. They didn’t need to remember the characters. But ten years from now, I wanted them to remember Peachtree Bluff.

In the best books, I believe, the setting really becomes a character. A reader can start to predict how the water will look at a certain time of day, what the breeze feels and smells like, what a change of seasons will bring. And the characters are always acting accordingly. Dressing, relaxing, moving, being active in accordance with the place, just like we do in real life.

But setting, to me, has always been about more than what a place looks like, what it feels like. Setting is nothing without the people, the engaging cast of characters that are on the sidelines of the story but who make up the fabric, the feeling, the heart of a town, and, so much more important, of a home. Because that is always, always where I want my readers to feel like they are. Geography is something, sure. But it is next to nothing compared to the lively members, the breathing souls, that make a place come to life, that make it a place magazine reporters step foot in and know they must write about.

I get notes every day from readers asking me to please take them back to Peachtree Bluff. I get it. I do. Peachtree Bluff captured my heart, too. Peachtree Bluff changed my career. It changed my life. While my next book, Feels Like Falling, won’t take anyone back to Peachtree Bluff, I think Peachtree Bluff fans will find themselves right at home in Cape Carolina. It is this idyllic coastal setting that allows my protagonists, Gray and Diana, to find their place in the world, to make difficult decisions, to step into relationships and friendships that they never would have expected. And, well, no, it isn’t Louisiana in 1989. But, if you ask me, even still, it’s just Southern enough.

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  • Alonna Shaw Writing

    Hi Kristy, setting is my creative driving force, too. I loved this "But ten years from now, I wanted them to remember Peachtree Bluff."