There is a cheap way of invoking the American South—common to country songs and television shows and pulpy novels—that involves setting the scene with cornfields or battlefields and setting the table with gravy and grits.
You know that you’re in the midst of it when an otherwise deracinated character drops his final “G”s and says something about livin’ high on the hog or complains about how it’s colder outside than a witch’s tit.
But it takes more than kudzu or a Mason jar to make a work of Southern fiction. A real sense of place requires something else—more verb than noun, not a thing but a way of being.
“Last fall, as part of the annual Bouchercon celebration of mysteries and their authors, one panel was devoted to discussing a writer who’s been dead for three decades and a character who last appeared in a book when Reagan was in the White House. One of the panelists, Ace Atkins (The Sinners) showed up in a T-shirt that proclaimed: “BASTARD CHILD OF TRAVIS MCGEE.” Immediately the other panelists all clamored for identical shirts. I was one of them.”
Editor’s Note: I have read, years ago, all of his Travis McGee books; I have one around now, in the garage collection.
Author Paul Theroux shares the insights he gleaned about America from the people he met in the small towns and backroads of the Deep South. Then history professor Mark D. Van Ells returns with more suggestions for visiting places that honor the sacrifices of Allied troops in World War I. For more information on Travel with Rick Steves – including episode descriptions, program archives and related details – visit http://www.ricksteves.com.