Today I am happy to have author, Elaine Walsh, on Southern Creatives. Her debut novel, Atomic Summer, will be out this month!
Elaine was kind enough to write a guest post about a character in her novel, Atomic Summer, who is a “southern belle” – read on to find out more about Elaine, her new novel, and her southern belle character.
Ever since my mother took me to see the re-release of Gone With the Wind, I have been fascinated by the south. I fell in love with Clark Gable’s dashing Rhett Butler, admired the tenacity of Vivian Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara, delighted in the Hattie McDaniel’s perceptive Mammy, and treasured the faithfulness of Olivia de Havilland’s Melanie. A few years later, I borrowed my grandmother’s copy of the book. As I read Margaret Mitchell’s words, I could see and hear Rhett, Scarlett, Mammy, Melanie, not as the actors portrayed them, but as the characters she developed.
I was hooked on southern writers. I took a Faulkner class in college, devoured Pat Conroy’s books, and remain fascinated by the complexity of many southern authors’ characters. They have a way of perfectly capturing family dynamics and dysfunction.
When I was developing characters for my novel Atomic Summer, I wanted to do as most writers, create memorable characters. From my experience as a reader, nothing was more memorable than a southern character. So I set out to build one into my story line. It was an interesting exercise as a writer because I am not a southerner. I am a Yankee. My southern friends remind me of this fact, even though I have lived in the south over half my life. It is akin to marrying into a family versus being born into one. We are outsiders looking in.
And so it is for my character, Savannah Vaughn. She is not of the south but desperately wants to be from the south. But a northerner can never be a southerner. This makes Savannah’s portrayal of a southerner more of a caricature than authentic southerner. She has a one-dimensional view of the south revolving around honor, chivalry, and tradition. She attempts to carve out those parts and recreate her own history. We create myths when we take the past and bring it into the present without the full history, which includes the dark sides. This is what my faux southerner Savannah Vaughn does with her life.
Me being an outsider looking in was a critical ingredient in developing Savannah Vaughn, who named herself after Savannah, Georgia. Like the character, I visited the city, walked the streets, toured cemeteries, looked for ghosts, and indulged in the cuisine. Atomic Summer rests on a foundation of history. Like any infrastructure supporting something, history is part of the novel without always being visible. I could write about it from the perspective of being a history lover but never from the perspective of a southerner, unless I pretended to be one. That is what Savannah Vaughn is, a creation of her imagination. Just like me, the south was a place she visited
but could never claim as her own.
Savannah Vaughn is such a powerful and central character in Atomic Summer the reader is introduced to her on page one and her presence felt throughout. I accomplished what I set out to do, create a memorable character with southern flair. Excerpt below:
Faith – 1973
I dislike peaches. Cling, whole, half, frozen, or in pies. It doesn’t matter what kind or any way they’re served, they’re still peaches. Savannah Vaughn served peaches twelve months of the year. She was vain about her peaches. Truth be told, she was vain about everything. Her appearance. Her money. Her home. Even her Cadillac. I imagine she figured anything that touched her life others desired for their own. That extended right down to her peaches.
In the winter when a primer coat of snow dusted Port Pompeii, every living soul contemplated how many inches we’d be digging out of in a few hours; all the while hoping the electricity would hold up to the storm. Except Savannah Vaughn. She thought about peaches.
Many thanks to Elaine Walsh for being a guest on Southern Creatives.
Congratulations and good luck with your upcoming novel – Atomic Summer.
Want to connect with Elaine?
Find her on Twitter:
and on Facebook – ElaineDWalsh
Be sure to visit her website – ElaineDWalsh
And, as always, many thanks for reading! 🙂