Ah, the South.
Constant Reader knows I am a child of the South; my childhood is filled with memories of summers spent at my grandmother’s in the country in Alabama: picking wild blackberries in the woods, orangish-brown creeks and rivers, fields of cotton and corn, towering pines trees and hollows filled with kudzu. I remember the heavy thick humidity of lazy afternoons, the four o’clock bushes blossoming every day at four, the round rocks in the gravel roads, the way darkness pressed against the screens at night with moths and other insects fluttering their wings trying to get to the light, lightning bugs floating in the air glowing yellowish-green as the sun went down, the sound of rain beating out a rhythm on a tin roof. Next week I am off to visit my parents, and will be driving through the south; through Mississippi and Alabama and Georgia and Tennessee. I used to get creative on those long drives, particularly through Alabama, where exit signs and Birmingham itself trigger a lot of memories, things I’ve forgotten, and make me itch to sit down and start writing. I’ve written a lot about Alabama, but have only published two of my Alabama stories (“Son of a Preacher Man” and “Small Town Boy”), as well as one book, Dark Tide. But even though my main character in the novel was from upstate Alabama, it was set down on the Alabama Gulf Coast–which is really not much different than the Mississippi or Florida panhandle coasts.
I really do think the next book will be an Alabama one.
If you’re not familiar with Ace Atkins, you need to go buy his books NOW. He wrote a wonderful New Orleans-based series, featuring music history professor Nick Travers, some terrific stand-alones, and now is writing the Robert Parker Spenser novels in addition to a great series set in upstate Mississippi featuring former Ranger Quinn Colson. I am several volumes behind on that series–I am taking one with me next week–and they are truly fantastic; the first two were back-to-back finalists for the Best Novel Edgar award. Yesterday, I read his contribution to Mississippi Noir, “Combustible.”
“I shouldn’t be doing this,” I said.
“Hell you shouldn’t,” Shelby said. “You fucking owe me.”
“Don’t you want to meet Lyndsay Redwine?”
“Ever since I saw her in a bikini at the city pool.”
“Then shut the fuck up and drive.”
Shelby was fourteen. And she talked like that.
This delightfully dark little story, which plays with point of view (not easy to do in a short story), is incredibly well done. Atkins has an eye for the rural South; he makes it easy to imagine and visualize the area, the characters, and the situations they find themselves in. A lot of this is done through voice, again not easy to do, and the story, as the best ones often do, inspired me to want to write something.
I do recommend it, and so far Mississippi Noir is knocking my socks off.
And now back to the spice mines.
Here’s a hunk to start your weekend off: