The latest issue of Mystery Readers Journal focuses on “Mystery in the American South,” and I’m pleased to have an essay in the issue. “Look Away, Look Away” reflects on how being a native Southerner has influenced my own fiction—even stories that aren’t grounded explicitly in a Southern setting.
Here’s an excerpt from my essay:
Even if I don’t wrangle with some of the big, big themes of Southern lit, my stories inevitably concern themselves with family and relationships and community, elements central to so much of Southern tradition and Southern storytelling. Manners and morals go hand in hand with those traditions, and my own fiction obsesses over questions of morality, where the lines are, what happens when you cross one. And as for violence… well, the violence in my fiction isn’t the over-the-top kind you might find in those country/rural/redneck noir tales but instead the violence hiding too often beneath a calm surface, like I remember from Welty’s “A Curtain of Green,” with its indelible image of old woman in her garden, hefting her hoe, pondering whether to strike. My story “Parallel Play” from Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning draws on the responsibilities and the restrictions of family, for example, and poses several questions about morality, including whether a person would lay down her life for her child or would even kill for her child. (But in this case, it’s a pitchfork rather than a hoe that the main character lifts high at the end—and that’s only partly a spoiler, I should add.)
The issue also features a wide range of friends, among them Ellen Byron, John Billheimer, Elizabeth S. Craig, Ellen Crosby, Krista Davis, J.T. Ellison, Barb Goffman, Carolyn Hart, Kay Kendall, Molly MacRae, Sandra Parshall, and Tina Whittle. Find the full table of contents here, and don’t miss Donna Andrews’ essay “Making Peace with the ‘Southern Writer’ Label,” available online here. Because of the great response to this subject, Mystery Readers Journal will continue this theme in a second issue as well.