I’m not making this up

I had to chuckle when I read the review on Amazon of my latest release “Touch Me Gently,” the second of my Southern Secrets romance series.

“I esp. loved the sometimes tongue-in-the-cheek take of the American South…,” the reviewer wrote.

The truth is, folks, most of the Southern quirks in my books aren’t from my imagination. The stories are fiction, but many of the colorful characters, conversations and situations are taken from real life that surrounds me.

The South has always been fertile ground for many attentive writers — Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor, and William Faulkner, to name a few.  And, it is with a true affection that I weave that culture into my stories, too.

The fictional town of Oakboro, the setting for “Touch Me Gently,” is very much like the small North Carolina town where I owned a horse farm. The guy who bagged groceries at the town’s only market was a city councilman, the dry cleaner gave out Mason jars of moonshine to his best customers at Christmas, and Danette’s diner was where the town gathered for lunch and Saturday breakfast.

I swear I’m not making this up.

Many of my characters are actual people or composites of people I know.

When I was still turning over the idea for the book I’m currently writing — “Hold Me Forever” is the third of my Southern Secrets series — one of the main characters came sharply into focus when I attended a reunion of coworkers from the 1980s and renewed an acquaintance with a larger-than-life “steel magnolia” debutante.

Beautiful and incessantly Southern, Martha Anne describes her car as “pearl” rather than white. Her mother is Big Martha, and together they fret over Martha Anne’s nine-year-old daughter, Isabella, who thinks she should keep a percentage of the money she collected for the church charity. After all, she did all the work, Isabella told them. After a messy divorce from the rich Atlanta dentist, Martha Anne proved her mettle by taking him to the cleaners and raising her two daughters as a single mom.

To give you a taste of this woman who has become the foundation for my new character,  Mae St. John, here are a string of text messages from her, all sent in a single day:

“Mother calls now to say her bed is broken, her nurse is fat and the pillows are uncomfortable. She is unhappy with her doctor’s blood pressure advice being different than Dr. Oz’s. She is going with Dr. Oz.

“Izzy has one hour left of the fourth grade. Mother won’t take her meds because she once knew a woman who had bad side effects from it, so she is home-bound and getting no better and dispatching me on her errands around town. A mid-60-year-old couple I know are dead as he, a well known pilot, murdered her, a world-famous sporting life artist, yesterday. They were divorced last year. She was lovely, big into the arts and the horse scene in Aiken. Police took him out with several gunshots …

“Mother has now agreed to get the scrip filled for 5 of the 30 pills prescribed. This is so money is not wasted on the 25 she won’t need when the side effects set in. The woman is richer than God, but won’t pay for a few pills. My brother wants to know if she has become a Christian Scientist.

“Mother literally told me today I need to go for the man who is the best provider and if I’m not getting the other things I need, I can get a puppy to love.”

I swear I’m not making this up.

I found myself making mental notes at a recent cookout where seven of my friends were involved in an hour-long spirited debate over whether fried cornbread and hoecakes are the same thing. The more beer and wine consumed, the more adamant the differing opinions.  It was as though we were debating a matter of national importance.

I swear I’m not making this up.

In “Call Me Softly,” there is a scene where a group of old men gathered at an abandoned gas station once a month to fry fish or cook wild game. The grease rack that lifts cars to the mechanic’s eye level is turned into a dining table by throwing a sheet of plywood over the skids and raising it to chair level.

My 80-year-old uncle, a retired agriculture agent, is a member of such a group. It’s exclusive. You have to be voted into the membership. When my cousin retired and expected to be included, he was incredulous that my uncle was the one who blackballed him. “He tells too much,” Uncle Willis said. “A man’s got to have some privacy.”

It’s a mystery what those old men do or say at those dinners that shouldn’t be repeated, but then that’s where I take a pearl of reality and polish it with a good dose of imagination to embellish another of my Southern romance stories.

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