Monday, July 23, 2018

LEARNING TO LOVE MY SOUTHERN VOICE: Guest post by Dorothy St. James

Learning to Love My Southern Voice 

When I talk I might not sound Southern, but trust me, I have pluff mud in my veins. That’s how closely I associate with the area where I was raised. It’s in my blood. It’s who I am.

My parents, bless them, are from north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Daddy’s work brought the family to Charleston, South Carolina decades ago. I don’t remember the move. I was less than a year old at the time. My flat accent comes from living in their house during my formative years. But the voice I hear in my head is as Southern as peach pie and as colorful as a rainbow after a hurricane. It simply doesn’t come out my mouth that way.

When I first sat down to write novels way back in 2001, I struggled to find my voice. My family’s voice and history pulled me in one direction and the land that had fed my spirit pulled me in another. As a result, it took years (and I mean years) for the words that spilled onto the page to sound natural. My first success came when I started writing Regency romances. You may think the genres of Southern fiction and Regency romance are worlds apart. In a way, they are. But my dear Charleston had its heyday during what was considered Regency times in England. It was the Georgian time period over here in the colonies. My research into that time-period reintroduced me to my modern-day Charleston area. I toured local historic homes and talked with local historians. And for the first time in my life, I embraced my Southerness.

I may not have been born to it, but the stories and the history of the people who built the area are the stories that come to life for me. Once I recognized that, my writing blossomed. My writing voice felt strong and confident. From that newfound confidence, the White House Gardener Mystery series featuring a spunky Charleston gardener sprang to life.

After my daughter was born, I took a break from writing. But when I was ready to come back, the Southern Chocolate Shop Mystery series, which is set on a fictional beach town that is very much like the beach town where I lived for twenty-years, spilled onto the page like a pot of melted chocolate. It felt good. And tasted good.

Others seemed to agree that I was moving in the right direction with my writing. Much to my surprise, only a week after my agent offered to represent the series the proposal went to auction. That’s never happened for me before. The Southern Chocolate Shop Mystery series is a series that seems to resonate with almost everyone who reads it. After years of writing, I’ve finally found my voice. Who knew that it was waiting for me all this time in my own backyard?

Experts have long said, “Write what you know.” And I’d long scoffed at that because I didn’t think I knew anything. I grew up in the suburbs with a normal family. Only people with insomnia would want to read about anything I knew.

Despite my background in urban planning, which is all about telling the stories of the places where we live, I was too dense to realize that I knew quite a bit about the magic of Southern living. And anytime I need a refresher course on Southern life, all I need to do is go outside and listen. My Southern roots feed my writing in a way that constantly inspires and surprises me. My voice was waiting for me in the song of the cicadas, the whoosh of the wind, the crash of the waves, and in the sweet scent of sweetgrass on the air. I’m so glad I finally started to hear it.


Former beach bum and Southern author, Dorothy St. James loves thinking about, writing about, and especially eating chocolate. She’s the author of a dozen books, many award winning. The third book in the Southern Chocolate Shop Mystery series, IN COLD CHOCOLATE (Sept 2018) combines sea turtles, chocolate turtles, and murder. Night Owl Reviews has already called it a top pick. For more information, visit Dorothy’s website:

1 comment:

Thonie Hevron said...

This is a delightful post about the vagaries of "finding your voice." I found mine in much the same way on the opposite coast from the culture and people who surrounded me. Very nice, Dorothy!