Once upon a time in a Florida bookstore
I heard the clerk give a customer this recommendation: “Have you read Joshilyn Jackson? She’s a Southern writer but…” She gave a vague gesture and said no more.
Sneaky word, “but.” It can lead into the perfumed or the stinky and qualifies whatever has gone before. If followed by something wonderful it snubs its predecessor as awful and vice-versa. So did this clerk intend to imply a Southern writer was a good thing? That wasn’t my impression.
What is a “Southern Writer” anyway? Was the bookstore clerk thinking of Margaret Mitchell or John Grisham? Did she refer to Faulkner or Mickey Spillane? Does the writer have to set their books in the South to be considered Southern? In that case leave out Truman Capote. Or does the person have to be born in the South. Leave out Cormac McCarthy. Both of these authors are listed as American Southern Writers, by the way. (http://www.biography.com/news/american-southern-writers-20874761) Amazon’s list of “Southern Writers of Fiction” includes Stephen King as well as Thomas Wolfe.
Perhaps I should have approached our unnamed clerk and asked her for a “Northern Writer.” Google “Northern Fiction Writers” and see what you get. Apparently Northern is an international term while Southern applies only to those United States that lie below the Mason Dixon line.
And still I am wondering “But what?”
Publishers get the blame for overly categorizing authors and their work. But I think this blame falls on the shoulders of book sellers as well – at least in the case of one clerk in Florida.