Things That Influence My Writing: Small Town Gene Puddles And Not Liking “Gone With The Wind”

Listen – you’re going to see a lot of posts involving inspiration from Reddit’s /r/Mapporn or similar subreddits. I love maps and I’m a very visual/spatial thinker. Sometimes these will make you laugh and sometimes these will make you scratch your head because I’m posting a map about the percentage of first-cousin marriages per population found in each region of Turkey (see below) and wonder “how does this relate to Southern Gothic?” Well, no one’s dared to make one of these maps for the United States as far as I can tell. Cowards.

I promise it will all make sense. Now take a deep breath and listen for the imaginary banjos playing “Turkey In The Straw.”

Gene Puddles And Regionalism

Source: https://www.reddit.com/r/MapPorn/comments/hiny8f/rate_of_marriage_with_first_cousins_per_turkish/?utm_source=share&utm_medium=ios_app&utm_name=iossmf

I grew up in mostly small town areas, save a few years in Northern Virginia. When living somewhere for generations with five other family names to choose from in terms of social circles, let alone dating, it’s not uncommon for people to accidentally date their cousin(s). Or date their cousin(s) on purpose – I don’t know the culture and I don’t want to judge. I’m from the American South (yes, a weird edge-case part of it). I’ve seen a lot of weird things happen at family reunions.

I knew people in high school that accidentally ran into the person they were dating at their family reunions. Yes, that’s plural.

State Laws on Marriage to Cousins
Source: National Conference of State Legislatures | The Washington Post 25 April 2005
If you’re wondering why these marriages are illegal in some states and not others, you can primarily look to American religious communities and The American Eugenics Movement.

Isolation and deeply intertwined family histories breed family lore in the South and throughout the United States. Genealogy is a big deal because family lore stretches back for generations. I love this and I love my family – in our own genetic and paper trail based research, we have found some unique family scandals. This lore is where American Gothic stories find many of their metaphorical/literal skeletons and demons to unearth and/or summon to expose. It’s a safe way to discuss the atrocities committed by and done to our ancestors without shame or guilt – instead we can say, “This Is America” with honesty and fun colloquial phrases. The horrors of our past become ghost stories, biopic hero legends, hauntings, crazed outlaws and precautionary tales of devil encounters that act as reflections of reality.

Deeply Flawed Close-Knit Families

The isolated small town communities across the United States provide the most incredible inspiration for American Gothic writing. Growing up in the South I tend to focus on Southern Gothic, but American Gothic includes New England Gothic, Midwestern Gothic, Pacific Northwest Gothic, Southwestern Gothic (aka Western Gothic). When I write American Gothic and Southern Gothic short stories I think about these close knit family ties between characters. The story a reader sees will only show a small portion of the full cast of characters.

In my short story, “The Disappearance of Lula Mae Darling” I choose to introduce readers to the characters of Lula Mae Darling, Uncle Rod, Becca Lynn, and Henry “Hank” Bryan. But I mention other characters and the types of relationships all of the characters have with each other around this family business, the gas station off I-95 near a South Of The Border billboard.

I waffled on how to include Lula Mae’s mother and absent father in the story. I knew their presences (or lack thereof) were essential for communicating the concept of “Southern Escapism,” and the social and economic disparities that lead to the development of this pattern of behavior.

That is not to say that the Darling family does not demonstrate unconditional love toward one another, even with their extreme differing and, in the case of Uncle Rod, bigoted opinions. In these small town communities you’re all each other has, even with these deep, painful disagreements.

In another short story I am currently submitting, I discuss a family that dies out over the course of several years after they elect to discontinue their own family trade and traditions in favor of gaining additional status and power to join the elite upper class.

I try not be heavy handed in my discussions and criticisms of cultural nuances. No reader enjoys being beaten over the head with the author’s opinions as far as I’m aware. This is why I focus on writing stories in the way I like to read them: nuanced with the ability to take from it as much or as little as I want with each read.

What Is And Is Not American Gothic?

One of the problems that constantly needs to be addressed in all American Gothic genres, particularly Southern Gothic, is glorification. An unfortunate problem with these genres is that many readers and authors have become confused by the inclusion of antebellum or “Good Ol’ Days” glorification narratives. Glorification is not the point of these genres, nor should literature focusing on glorification be included in these genres. I do like the phrasing of themes used in the opening introduction of the Southern Gothic Wikipedia page. “Common themes in Southern Gothic literature include deeply flawed, disturbing or eccentric characters who may be involved in hoodoo,[1] decayed or derelict settings,[2] grotesque situations, and other sinister events relating to or stemming from poverty, alienation, crime, or violence.” I extend this to include several other factors as well. One such being the deep stratification of society that remains as a result of failure to reconstruct the Southern economy and deconstruct social, economic, and legal power structures after the Civil War.

Throughout the South there is the omnipresent racism in language use while individuals will claim it does not influence their actions across these stratifications in modern day, but stepping backward in time reveals stronger influence in action. With these deep societal divides, some horrifying community-wide behaviors can be found in historically impoverished and non-slave holding, religious Southern communities such as something akin to the Tall Poppy Syndrome. This same or similar societal strata is often associated with the worst oppressive reinforcement of racial divides thanks to the influence of white elites. This still persists to this day and gives a lot for American Gothic authors to write about.

There’s an unfortunate part, particularly among class preservationists that would prefer to reinforce Tall Poppy Syndrome among the lower strata. They pretend none of these problems existed and instead glorify only specific details, pretending anything unsavory, shameful, or embarrassing never happened. This still happens today with modern issues and is a common problem throughout the South. I have no doubt that this is the origin of Jenny Lawson’s memoir title “Let’s Pretend This Never Happened.”

A great example of a book where this happened and was culturally amplified was “Gone With The Wind.”

Why I Dislike “Gone With The Wind”

At one point I mentioned not being a fan of “Gone With The Wind” by Margaret Mitchell and the movie related to this book. I have seen this book listed on “Top Ten” lists for Southern Gothic Literature. I do not believe this book belongs on those lists. I personally believe it was poorly written and its publication and success is more indicative of the politics of the United States in the mid-1930s than it is of the book’s quality or value to history beyond the significance at its time of publication. The book was poorly written compared to other books written by other female authors at the time to the extent that even the book’s editor, Harold Latham, almost refused the book due to its poor writing, but changed his mind after deciding the story was more important than the bad writing. He went so far as to tell Mitchell it was “the worst looking manuscript he’d ever seen.” What changed Harold Latham’s mind about the story? According to the telegraph Mitchell received regarding her manuscript, most likely, it was due to the “Advisers” at Macmillan Publishing.

Image may contain: text that says 'BY DIRECT WIRE FROM WESTERN SIGNS -DayLetter UNION (10) Deferreda NWOM QL202 TWS PAID 3=NEWYORK 220P MRS MARGARET MITCHELL MARSH= EAST SEVENTEENTH ST= MY ENTHUSIASM YOUR NOVEL SHARED BY OUR ADVISERS WE WOULD MAKE ITS PUBLICATION FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS ADVANCE HALF SIGNING BALANCE DELIVERY MANUSCRIPT ACCOUNT PERCENT ROYALTY FIRST TEN THOUSAND THEN FIFTEEN STOP MY RENEWED CONGRATULATIONS AND ASSURANCES UNDERTAKE PUBLICATION WITH TREMENDOUS ENTHUSIASM AND LARGE HOPES STOP DO WIRE APPROVAL COLLECT THAT MAY SEND CONTRACT IMMEDIATELY= S LATHAM.'
Source: Margaret Mitchell House Archives Retrieved from their Facebook page

Margaret Mitchell wrote the book based on her correspondences with exclusively white Southerners while writing for The Atlanta Journal. After the book’s publication and shortly before her death the majority of these correspondences were burned, leaving historians unable to confirm the contents. An additional interesting detail to note is that one article on Margaret Mitchell notes that she was even raised by her family to believe that the South had originally won the Civil War.

I am under the firm belief that the only reason “Gone With The Wind” became popularized to the extent it did was due to the campaign efforts of the Daughters of the Confederacy, the marketing efforts of New York’s Macmillan Publishing, and the planned success of its film adaptation. Margaret Mitchell was a member of the Daughters of the Confederacy and received an award from them for “Gone With The Wind”.

These marketing efforts extended to include multiple celebrity endorsements from former residents and veterans of the Confederacy, including Helen Keller. Although, the Daughters of the Confederacy did campaign against the casting of Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara in the film adaptation.

Margaret Mitchell receiving United Daughters of the Confederacy citation
Here’s Margaret Mitchell receiving her award from the Daughter’s of the Confederacy. Source: https://digitalcollections.library.gsu.edu/digital/collection/lane/id/14324

Given the timing of the publication of “Gone With The Wind” it comfortably fits in among the 1930s Era of the American Eugenics Movement and the rise to power of Southern Confederate “cultural preservation” groups. It advanced the antebellum narratives that they wished to push and helped to define the vision of the Old South that they claimed they wished to fight to preserve, while silencing Black voices during the early days of the Civil Rights movement. It is important to note that the majority of marketing efforts to use the book and film as pro-Confederacy propaganda did not take off until after Margaret Mitchell’s death, particularly during the 1960s in response to the Civil Rights movement.

TL;DR

  • American Small Towns = Gene Puddles = One Of The Sources Of Material For American Gothic Literature
  • Gene Puddles = Close Knit Families That Are Deeply Flawed But Love Each Other Unconditionally
  • Glorification Of “Good Ol’ Days” Is A Problem And Does Not Belong In American Gothic Literature
  • I Don’t Like “Gone With The Wind” – This Is A Personal Opinion

If you enjoyed this post, please like, share, and/or comment on it to let me know. Doing this helps me know to write more posts like this one.

As Always, Thank You For Reading – Without You These Words Are Floating In A Void Of Approximately 1,200 Petabytes.

Book Review:”The Death Doll” by Brian P White

Summary

As the zombie apocalypse descends upon the United States, a truck appears with scavengers rescuing survivors while dispatching the undead. But when these survivors arrive at their new home, nothing is quite as it seems. With the end times near, how will a group of survivors so different from one another in ideologies, backgrounds, and desires band together to make a new way? Or will pride, envy, gluttony, greed, lust, sloth and wrath be the downfall of any chance at a new society?

The standard apocalypse and Book of Revelations tropes get upgraded with zombies, more diversity, three dimensional characters, the beauty of redemption, and the impacts of American racism and social prejudices in a post-apocalyptic scenario. Want to throw America under a magnifying glass? “The Death Doll” is not a zombie novel to miss.

Overall Response (Caution: accidental mild spoilers)

I mentioned on Twitter that this is my favorite zombie book of all time. I’m saying this as a former resident of Pittsburgh that relished in Halloween every year because it meant celebrating Pittsburgh’s history as one of the cities where zombie mania began. This meant that I saw “Night Of The Living Dead! The Musical!” and did zombie themed weekend adventures around the city. I loved World War Z and I’ve loved every unique spin on zombies out there. Nothing compares to this book, and it has nothing to do with the zombies.

In “The Death Doll”, Brian P. White takes a hard look at various subgroups within the United States and places the reader inside representative characters’ heads. As described in a thoughtful disclaimer at the beginning of the book, this does include the use of bigoted language to demonstrate bigoted characters. If you would prefer to not read a book with swearing and bigoted language for demonstrative purposes, then this is not a book for you. The author does a great job of giving the reader warning ahead of time at the front of the book.

Head hopping is hard. In this book it felt natural. I never had to guess the character currently holding the point of view, and the writing style adapts to each character’s personality traits. Head hopping can only work when it is done well, and in my opinion “The Death Doll” nailed it.

I mentioned that racism and social prejudices are put on full display. Let me be blunt: no character is left flawless and racism is sometimes the base layer expectation. Every character reveals their true nature and grows when given the opportunity to incorporate new information into their world views. The characters that don’t? These are the antagonists because during a zombie apocalypse the zombies aren’t your biggest problem: other humans are. Even with conflict resolutions, the story is written without the white savior trope playing out. In fact, the book turns that trope on its head and gives it the finger in a way that does not feel forced, rather, as a reader, it seems the most competent characters are recognized for their merit.

I love that the characters make choices in actions that have consequences they must live (or die) with. Small choices around the placement of objects are brought back to have huge consequences with constantly logical chains of events (there’s a pun there you’ll only catch if you read the book).

While I do not identify as Christian, that doesn’t mean I don’t love when the Bible is used as a story telling aid for readers with high attention to detail. This book is full of biblical references that add to the symbolism and foreshadowing already present. These references are extensive enough that I would recommend “The Death Doll” for Christian book clubs that really want to delve deep into the teachings brought up and don’t mind the other details previously mentioned. I have to admit, some references are too good, bringing on laughter or groans at the incredible puns that turn into legitimate literary devices. Remember that high school friend of mine that’s a church leader? This book 100% got recommended to him.

Saving the best for last, my absolute favorite aspect of this story may be the story arc of the Death Doll herself, but, to avoid spoilers, readers will have to read the book to find out why.

LGBTQA

While there is no overt representation of the LGBTQA community, this does not impact my rating of this book because there’s an overwhelming message of love and inclusiveness.

Grammar+

Any errors fell within the 1/10,000 words industry standard.

Twilight Zone Moment

There were 2 Twilight Zone Moments:

  1. How do cell phones work in a post-zombie apocalypse world? This is nit picking and is unlikely to bother the average reader. My brain went into a lot of unnecessary technical details.
  2. CPR/AED scene – There is one CPR/AED scene that I struggled with as a healthcare worker, but this could be fixed by characters reminding each other of modifications to the CPR procedure to reduce infection risk.

More About The Author

You can buy the book here and other online book retailers such as Barnes & Noble and BookBub. To learn more about the author, you can follow Brian P. White on Twitter and through his website here.

Lo Is Domestic AF: Passive Aggressive Smashed Blueberry Lemon Scones

Smashed Blueberry Lemon Scones with a pot of Whittard's Chelsea Garden White Tea

Recipe Inspiration

There is a lot to unpack here and domesticity is something that generally comes with a focus on the family, right?

Today, we’re making gluten free dairy free Smashed Blueberry Lemon Scones.

The “passive aggressive” got added in there because a lot is happening in the United States right now. There are a couple wrong turns with this recipe. I’ll admit that it’s an invention based on this one I created in a way similar to that story about the Ship of Theseus.

All of what’s happening right now in the United States though? That’s where I got distracted today. There’s a lot. I’m trying to hold back because my words here aren’t the ones you should be listening to. Listen to the disenfranchised that are trying to make their voices heard.

Screen grab of https://slate.com/ (10:15PM MT) News & Politics Section

I’m getting ahead of myself.

Ingredients and Supplies

If you’re going to make this recipe with me, you’re going to need to gather some ingredients – no specific brand should be necessary:

  • Frozen Blueberries (Costco sells big bags)
  • Lemon Juice (There’s a theme here)
  • Cup for Cup Gluten Free Baking Flour (I use Namaste from Costco)
  • Baking Powder
  • Salt
  • Stevia In The Raw or equivalent (I’m not sponsored, but I might have a Costco problem)
  • Powdered Sugar
  • Almond Milk (Okay, we’re calling it a Costco solution)
  • Coconut Oil (Costco non-polar solvent)
  • 1 Egg
  • Vanilla Extract

Supplies To Grab:

  • 1 Large Mixing Bowl
  • 1 Medium Mixing Bowl
  • 1 Small Mixing Bowl
  • 1 9″ Round For Your Great Idea
  • 1 18-muffin baking tin
  • Muffin tin liners
  • Whisks
  • Measuring cups / Kitchen Scale
  • Measuring spoons

While you look for those, I’m letting Jacob takes over. [You will continue to see Jacob’s thoughts in italics]

It’s weird how normal everything seems here, in Montana. I worry about the future of the United States and I have absolutely no idea of what that means to me, to us, here. The steady increase in violence from our government is terrifying. I wonder when it will reach here (or if, but I wonder if that’s too hopeful). But we’re in a low population density state. I can’t yet decide if I’m glad or disappointed that everything that’s going on is so far away.

Namaste flour blend, wet and dry ingredients, bowls, whisk, masher, baking supplies, etc.

If you’re following along, then you may have noticed that we have liquid ingredients and dry ingredients. I bet you can guess what I’m about to do next.

For your dry ingredients combine the following:

  • 2 cups (0.47 l) of the gluten free flour blend
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 6 tbsp (75 g) stevia in the raw (or whichever baking stevia)

I whisk those together until evenly distributed and get distracted again.I want the protesters to return home safe and alive at the end of this storm. Refocus. Regroup.We have liquid ingredients too. Whisk together almond milk, lemon juice, vanilla, and egg.

  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup (120 mL) almond milk

You may see something that looks a little like curdling. It’s almond milk, lemon juice, vanilla extract and egg. Don’t freak out. Keep calm and carry on, etc.

Measure out 1/2 cup (120 mL) of coconut oil (soft and pliable, not hard), then look everywhere for your pastry cutter. Once you find it, cut the coconut oil into your blended flour mixture until homogeneously incorporated. While I’m doing that, I definitely got distracted again.

I’m Distracted Again.

I keep reading about the violence and the destruction of these places I know and am from.

As a Virginian and a former resident of the city of Richmond, I’m okay with the statues put up by the Daughters of the Confederacy being toppled. Make sure to check out everything else they’ve funded there too in their efforts to glorify the former capital. I hear protesters succeeded in getting the major to agree to remove that obelisk in Birmingham.

Statues and museums can be replaced by new, better statues and museums that discuss the same history. Maybe these new ones won’t be meant to remind an entire portion of the population that white people still have power in the South.

I don’t consider those protesters violent.

They are not taking life, and they are not injuring anyone.

https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=3181002298674653&set=a.111248442316736
This pretty much sums up my some of my opinions.

Wait, what are those protesters doing?

They’re calling for the destruction of the property of a racist group of mental troglodyte white women that have been financially linked to the KKK and of other monuments to the glorification of the Antebellum Era. They’re destroying the property of the same people that ensured my parents had to explain that it was called “Martin Luther King Jr. Day”, not “Jackson Lee Day”. They’re destroying the property of the same people that earned property/money through slave labor, then retained it after the Civil War. As far as I can tell, that means that any protester descended from a slave is therefore destroying property that is theirs by inheritance.

If they succeed, they will be making the South a place I want to move home to.

Just. Saying.

We’re Making Scones, Right?

We slowly pour and cut in the liquid ingredients until a homogenous dough is formed. Now measure out heaping cups of frozen blueberries.

This is when I read multiple stories about the police initiating violence with unarmed peaceful protesters. I read about the police killing David McAtee – a man who was well known for feeding them for free. I get distracted by the Rose Garden speech and get hit by nausea. I am reminded of how the police initiated violence against Virginia State Delegate Lee Carter of the 50th District during a peaceful protest. My friends and family (and their businesses) are right there, and I am so far away. I think of my friends that I worry about every day because Virginia police pull them over regularly for driving while black.

I miss the days when it felt like, over time, the world was becoming a better place.

Scones. Focus.

Using a wooden spoon smash the blueberries in as I gently mixed them into the scone dough.

I tried not to destroy them, but during my distraction the blueberries melted. I try to form them.

Next I have my round pan ready to form my scones. Supposedly, I do this by transferring everything to the pan, then cutting it with a knife after it has sat in the freezer for a bit.

Baking The Scones

I prepare the pan by cutting out parchment.

I put the pan in the freezer for 5-10 minutes to help it firm up.

I give up on the first idea after transferring all the dough into the pan. I have no idea how I’m going to separate it with a knife. I try, and I fail. Then I realize that I forgot to preheat the oven.

The blueberries are melting more – they are weaker than before – the thin blue wall around their exterior is failing them.

I re-smash the blueberries and scone dough into a muffin pan with muffin liners. They’re still scones – they’re not round scones or nice looking scones.

They’re downright disaster scones for a downright disaster of a day, a week, a month, a year?

They bake at 400 F (204 C) until golden brown. This was about 25 minutes in a gas oven (non-convection setting).

Glazing The Scones

We finish these off with a lemon glaze. 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and accidentally pour the remainder of your bag of powdered sugar into the bowl because… oops.

Stir until no clumps remain.

Stir that up

I served them up with Whittard’s Chelsea Garden tea. This is one of my favorite teas and comforts me because I tend to prefer floral and citrus flavors.

What would I do differently next time?

Use canned coconut cream instead of coconut oil.

To lighten the mood Jacob has a joke to share:

What’s the difference between a hippo and a zippo? One’s really heavy, and the other is a little lighter.

Verdict? At least the scones and tea taste good. Next time: gluten free dairy free pesto risotto with black caviar. Jacob and I will leave you with a teaser of our next dish, warm wishes, and thoughts.

Be compassionate. Be safe. I support you and I hear you. Black Lives Matter.

FOR THE PEOPLE IN THE BACK

ALL LIVES DON’T MATTER UNTIL THE LIVES OF THOSE THAT FEEL THEIR LIVES ARE AT RISK AT ALL TIMES BY BEING ALIVE IN THIS COUNTRY MATTER.

#BLACKLIVESMATTER

What did you think of this installment of Lo Is Domestic AF? Are you planning to try out this scone disaster and improve upon it? If you do, I hope you don’t get as distracted. If you would like to see more of these, please comment below or like this post.