How is it Margaret Mitchell, Flannery O’Connor, Harper Lee, William Faulkner, Robert Penn Warren, Erskine Caldwell, James Dickey, Pat Conroy and the legacy of so many other great Southern authors have endured long after they left us? And, today Southern authors like Fannie Flagg, Alice Walker, Kathryn Stockett, Jeswyn Ward, Charles Frazier, Greg Iles, Charles Martin, Rick Bragg, and even John Grisham are still securing their legacy for future generations.
Let’s not forget the endless stream of fresh literary voices beckoning us with new Southern-laced literary works that supply the timeless and borderless demand for memorable flawed heroes, victims, and villains depicted in colorful Southern settings dealing with 21st-Century challenges and changes.
What constitutes a great Southern story?
First of all, truth be told, I don’t know how to write the next best-selling Southern Novel. Of course, if I did happen to know how, I’d be too busy writing it and more than likely have my eyes cast on writing at least three. Three best-selling Southern novels would leave the kind of legacy that any writer would only dream about. But at least I know one when I see one. That’s because really great best-selling Southern novels are discovered, not written. In fact, none of the aforementioned authors began writing the next great Southern novel. They merely wrote what resided within them to write.
The indelible mark of Southern Author
Being reared in the South leaves an indelible mark on one’s soul where inspiration and motivation sprouts from fertile memories, the good and the bad, to write compelling stories. Aspiring writers with souls stained and strained growing up in the South cannot write anything else worthwhile. Southern stories are written experientially. An author might learn the mechanics of creative writing, but no classroom can replicate growing up and experiencing life in the South. There’s no better fodder for storytelling than lending an ear to the tall-tales of folks spinning yarns in the South. Such tales may be heard eating dinner, attending church, getting a haircut at a local barbershop, or at a beauty parlor for the women-folk, but let’s not neglect sitting on a neighbor’s porch.
The Southern Author Is Too Polite to Name Names
I have learned one thing in my sixty-eight years, fiction is just the truth and reality wearing a mask and being stretched a might to be more palatable, and often more plausible. You see, more than not, the truth just ain’t as believable as the tall-tales that follow.
Now there are certain trademarks of any Southern story, they revolve around food, family, friendships, faith, and football. Right off, if any story fails to mention the sipping, swallowing, or gulping of sweet tea, consider it suspect right away. Also, in the South, a coke may not mean a Coca-Cola, and whiskey didn’t originate here, but it was perfected here. In fact, the tales of Cooter Brown’s perpetual drunkenness is a Southern-rooted legend.
Grits, gravy, and greens are menu staples, morning, noon and night. Anything else worth eating is also usually fried. Peaches, pecans, and peanuts are the foundation of many epic desserts too.
In the South, Change Arrives Reluctantly
It may be the 21st-Century, however, “Yes, ma’am” and “No, sir” are not derisive retorts but words of respect to our elders. Boys and grown men instinctively grab the door for a woman or young lady. Now, that’s not saying Southern gals don’t have spunk. Lord, just rile a Southern girl and you’ll learn right quick they invented sass. They also know, you know, you likely deserved it.
The 21st-Century Southern woman exited the confines of the kitchen and no longer remains in the shadows cast by men. She forges her own identity in society and dares men to catch up to her.
Some Traditions Linger
Of course, when someone approaches on a backroad, there will be a casual exchange of raised fingers atop their respective steering wheels. It’s an evolution of the tradition that declares in the South no one stays a stranger for long. Handshakes and howdies transform strangers into friends whether visiting or just passing through. What has changed is the inclusion of women in those customary exchanges.
But Some Traditions Remain Steadfast in the South
Last but not least, it’s downright hard to distinguish faith from football conversations. They both can offer the same fervor. In the South, the Lord’s Day is Sunday and everyone agrees that God graces every church, small or large, but Saturday, God sports our team colors, sits on our side of the field and favors our victories.
Now there’s a heap more we could wrangle back and forth about on this subject, but I reckon you’ve got the gist. We may not always be able to plainly define it, but we sure know when we have read a great Southern novel. When we come to the last page and close the book we feel sad because it ended.
T. M. Brown
Coming May 5, 2020, Purgatory, A Progeny’s Quest, book three in the Shiloh Mystery Series. Watch for more news about book three in the coming weeks. But I can tell you, Theo just can’t seem to avoid being in the middle of the threats to the peace and tranquility of lil’ ol’ Shiloh. Some family trees get shaken and familiar characters face life and death decisions in the next story.
Right after a potential reader sets their eyes on your book cover, the next critical test to pique the interest of the reader is page one of the story. Does it beg the reader to read more?
For this reason, I begin and end writing and editing with the first page. Like in real life, “first impressions matter” in establishing relationships. We don’t often get many second chances. Neither do our books should the first impression fail to pique a curious reader’s interest.
As an independent author, my books do not have the advertising and promotional blitz advantage afforded by the top publishers hawking their stable of best-selling authors. T. M. Brown does not have the name recognition of best-selling authors, such as Grisham, Patterson, Baldacci, Karon, Blackstock, etc. Like the myriad of other new books published this year, the majority lacking the deep pockets and name recognition, success boils down to passing the sensory appeal test.
What is the sensory appeal test? Does the book cover stand out when on display amongst the notable NYC published best sellers, or does it shrink almost unnoticed, overshadowed by more noticeable book covers?
Maybe its the competitive nature within me, but I desire my books to compete among the notables, the best-sellers. I prefer my books to be on the eye level front shelves in the bookstore; not relegated to shelves set aside in the back of the store. Why is that important? Okay, T. M. Brown is not a household name in the literary world, but when my book covers are displayed beside notable names that readers seek, Sanctuary, A Legacy of Memories and Testament, An Unexpected Return are exposed to more potential readers. BUT, now the sensory appeal test begins.
When either of my book covers catches the eye of a perusing reader and they pause to slide the book off the shelf for a closer look, the reader’s keen senses in the next few seconds decide the fate of my book. Without the notoriety of the more familiar author Dan Brown, it is the front cover which then earns an extended feel of the book.
My publisher utilizes heavier stock paper to print its books, and it is noticeable to the feel. The reader then flips to the back cover and peruses the carefully edited snippets about the book. If the book cover has passed the initial sensory appeal test the reader invests another critical moment and thumbs through the pages before eyeing the first page. Those first 200 or so words reign supreme over the next few seconds as the reader weighs the quality of the content of this interesting new author’s novel. Should by chance the reader flip the page or closes the book but runs their hand over the cover once again, chances are a decision is underway. In that brief moment, the weight of the first page matters.
Now It’s Your Turn
Now it’s your turn. What do you think? How much time do you give to selecting out a good novel to read? Are you narrowly focused on tried and tested bestsellers? Are you a reader who more often than not feels dissatisfied by the novels being hyped and peddled by the big New York City publishing houses. Sadly, there is more and more pressure for the assembly production of novels by notable authors. They are easy to recognize because the author name takes up the top half of the front cover. They are promoting the author’s reputation, not the story inside.
So how do my books stack up? Do the first pages cause you to consider reading more?
Are you ready to accept the Indie Author Challenge to never quit? Though Indie Authors must bear an enormous handicap to publish and then market in the growing sea of books on the market today, are you up to the challenge?
As an Indie-Author there are days when I feel like Brock from the movie, Facing the Giants. In this inspirational scene, Brock is challenged to bear crawl blindfolded toting a huge handicap on his back. Like Brock, I have no idea how far I must push myself to reach the goal line. I also share trying to heed the two voices screaming to determine my fate. There are the encourager’s persistent external urgings that compete to be heard above that inner voice screaming within my head, “I can’t do this! It’s too painful. It costs too much. I can’t possibly succeed.”
Then that encouraging voice pleads even louder, “Don’t quit! Don’t you quit! You can do it!”
Which voice will win the day within you? Do you believe in your heart that the goal line lies just beyond your grasp though you just can’t identify how much further it lies?
Are your ears attuned to those just like you who are being inspired by you and have piped in to cheer you on? Is it your tenacity and stubborn refusal to not give up …to not quit that has spurred them to your feet?
It is an undeniable fact: Indie Authors must carry a handicap to compete in the publishing world, and the amount of sacrifice and effort to reach the goal line is not always visible, BUT you gotta believe there are encouragers all along the way rallying you to not quit.
So for me, I will be like Brock and keep on, keeping on until I can’t go any further. And when I finally succumb and take off the blindfold, I pray the “blood, sweat, and tears” was worth it, and the goal line rested beneath my exhausted body. Because by overcoming the enormous handicap I began the Indie Author challenge carrying, others will be emboldened to accept the same challenge.
Can I count on you to encourage me and other Indie Authors to reach the goal line?
Nelle Harper Lee (1926 – 2016), simply Harper Lee to millions across America, a Southern voice for decades based on her first book, To Kill a Mockingbird, published in 1960. Her other book though written in the 1950s, Go Set a Watchman, did not see the light of day until 2015 and was published as a sequel to her Pulitzer Prize classic.
Harper Lee wrote what she knew best, the Deep South of the 1930s from a child’s point of view. Harper Lee’s hometown of Monroeville, Alabama provided her with ample opportunities to portray the irrationality of adult attitudes in the racist culture that permeated the South.
A footnote worth mentioning: the character in her novel named Dill was based upon her real childhood friend, Truman Capote. What were the odds that little old Monroeville, Alabama would rear up both Truman Capote and Harper Lee? Today, Monroeville, Alabama entertains thousands of visitors who flock into town to get a glimpse at the old courthouse and homes that Harper Lee wrote about in To Kill a Mockingbird. Might I suggest you might want to visit the link below to learn more-http://www.southernliterarytrail.org/monroeville.html
After a broken ankle immobilized her in 1926, Margaret Mitchell began developing a manuscript that would become Gone With the Wind, ultimately published in 1936. The success of Gone With the Wind made her an instant celebrity and earned a Pulitzer Prize for Margaret Mitchell, and the famed film adaptation released three years afterward. Over 30 million copies of Mitchell’s Civil War masterpiece have been sold and translated into 27 languages. Tragedy struck in 1949 when Mitchell was struck by a car, leaving Gone With the Wind as her only novel.
Born and raised in Atlanta, Mitchell experienced tragic twists and turns; with the loss of her mother in 1918 and then four years later and four months after her wedding, her first husband abandoned the marriage. She wrote nearly 130 articles for the Atlanta Journal Sunday Magazine during that troubled time. By 1925 with her first marriage officially annulled, Mitchell married John Robert Marsh who encouraged her writing during her recovery from a broken ankle in 1926. By 1929, she nearly finished her thousand page Civil War and Reconstruction era story – A romantic novel, written from a Southern woman’s point of view, steeped in the history of the South and the tragic outcome of war.
Rest of the story lies in what happened next…
However, the grand manuscript remained tucked away until 1935 until she reluctantly out of fear showed it to a traveling book editor, who visited Atlanta in search of new material, and the rest is history.
What motivated the book editor to leave his ivory-tower office in New York City?
Southern authors during the decades since earned a warmer reception from the dominant publishing houses as the appeal for Southern stories grew.
What Southern stories rest on your bookshelves at home as a testimony to their lasting imprint on our lives?
(Click the hot link above to see the full interview at the ACFW webpage)
By Tiffany Amber Stockton – July 2, 2018
T. M. “Mike” Brown has recently released his second novel, Testament, the sequel to the award-winning, Sanctuary.
Welcome, Mike. What message do you hope readers take away from this book?
Life offers unexpected twists and turns, but God designed this roller coaster ride we refer to as life. At every twist and turn lies a choice to be made – some clear-cut and others not so much, but each decision usually rests between what is right and what may seem best. Whether what is right and what appears as best are compatible or in conflict, we should always trust what is right and allow God to use our circumstances for His glory, even if the choice embarks us onto an uncharted and uncertain path. It’s amazing how our faith strengthens when our future appears bleak, and shadows lurk at every turn we can see.
Reflecting back, what do you see as most significant to your publication journey?
Never allow your judgment to be clouded by fancy promises and lots of smiles and friendly handshakes. Do your due diligence. The publishing journey entails what appears to be unwelcome pitstops and painful advice. There are no shortcuts to success. Embrace the pitstops and opinions provided, and invest in and trust your editor. Proofread before you submit to your publisher and again after they hand you the advance reader copy of your book. Take the extra time to proof carefully. It’s kinda like inspecting your child before his or her first prom dance.
How do your faith and spiritual life play into the picture and affect your storytelling?
As a former preacher and teacher, my faith and spiritual walk played a sizable part in deciding my stories. I decided to write to the broad audience and use Southern small-town life as my setting so it would naturally interject some of my faith values and spiritual dilemma decision-making without preaching a good story. Those who have a firm church foundation will get a slightly different take on my stories than a non-churched reader. I have found this to be very accurate in book club discussions by the nature of the questions and responses shared. I am a firm believer that we should eagerly cross the bridge to meet people where they are at in life without casting judgment, and hopefully bonding on familiar ground. In the end, I pray those seeking God no matter their background will hear a message that helps them in their search.
On a quick note: The most memorable portions of the biblical narrative are not verbatim verses we struggle to memorize but the stories and parables we learn early in life that speak about God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness.
What do you consider the greatest moment of your writing/publishing career?
That is a tough one. Seems something new is around every corner. The celebrity aspect makes me feel a little bit uncomfortable. However, a better answer would be the cumulative moments that have created memories of how my wife and family have been with me throughout the journey. Connie, my wife of the past 45 years, travels to every event and invests her talents to help make each event special for everyone we meet. For this reason, I believe the most significant moment of my writing/publishing lies yet around the next corner.
What have you learned from writing a sequel?
The sequel is always more comfortable to write than the first! There was so much I learned writing Sanctuary. First of all, I did not have a sequel in view when writing it. It wasn’t until some of my Beta readers urged me to write a sequel and my publisher then asked if I would consider it too. Thankfully, my editor and writing coach smiled and remained on board for the year it took to complete the sequel. A far cry from the nearly 2-1/2 years for the first.
What do you think makes your style of storytelling unique?
I write what I know best. I love Southern time-lost towns. They offer the most intriguing settings and indeed the most entertaining character opportunities. Besides my father and his parents had country roots in Georgia, and through the writing of my stories I reconnected and recognized why my father raised us as he did through my siblings and me were raised in suburban settings and far from the countryside he used to talk about. I miss my father and grandfather but found in writing my stories many long-forgotten memories, and tall-tales about our family surfaced and became a part of my stories.
You have a significant amount of Biblical, theological, and literary history featured in the background story for Sanctuary. How did this passion for history come about?
One cannot look to the future without knowing where you have traveled from. I learned at the U. S. Coast Guard Academy, you plot your ship’s course beginning from where you’ve traveled to where you want to go. My love for history is quite the same. If you neglect the past, you’ll most likely make the same mistakes and continue to wander off course. In seminary, I majored in Church History which has helped me to teach biblical studies from the position of knowing the context of the biblical passages to understand and apply the content to life today. In Testament, I added more history to my little town of Shiloh because I believe, what has played out in the past ultimately shapes what and why the future reveals. It is writing the context to explain the content of the present story…
What led you to choose the genre in which you write?
My grandkids will read my stories more readily than my biblical writing and sermons, or any of my expository papers about my beliefs. So, as I said above, my wife reminded me the value of stories and parables which planted the seed for what turned out to become the Shiloh mystery stories.
Of course, someday I may sit down and rewrite to publish some of my biblical studies as I had planned, but for now, I’m enjoying entering lil’ ol’ Shiloh with all its colorful and quirky characters whispering in my head nearly every day. Besides, I can work through Dr. Arnie Wright, Shiloh’s Baptist preacher boy, to communicate valuable messages I’d like to share.
How do you feel the setting a small town differs from a more suburban or urban setting? What do small towns offer that the suburbs might not?
That’s easy. Faith, family, food, and yes, even football have a life of its own in a small southern town. Church-life is more social and connected by bonds of multi-generational families. Country cooking is the grease that spins tall-tales faster and spreads gossip further. Maybe it’s the sweet tea, peach cobbler, fried chicken, smoked ribs, grits, and handmade biscuits. Of course, cooking in the kitchen is an art, a way of life in the country that suburbanites or citified folks just don’t rightly understand. In the small-towns, life just moves at its own pace, and it’s the seasons, the sun rising and setting, and the weather that dictates what any particular day holds. In small-towns, knowing other people’s business ain’t being nosey, it’s just neighborly. As a result, there are less locked doors and more handshakes shared in small towns.
What do you enjoy doing when you are not writing?
Sharing time with my family, mainly my five grandkids. They’re growing up faster with each new day. When not with the grandchildren, Connie and I enjoy our expanding author network and find opportunities to help other aspiring writers when we can.
What books are on your nightstand right now?
Baldacci’s, The Fix right now, but Terry Kay’s, The Kidnapping of Aaron Greene is next up. Of course, my reading takes second place to my writing so I don’t read as much as I would like.
Finish this statement: In the future, I will…
Hopefully look down from heaven and smile as my granddaughter shares the book her “Poppy” wrote with her granddaughter. She’ll laugh as she points to where she makes her cameo appearances in my stories along with her brothers and cousins, and of course, “Grammy” too.
Any parting words?
Enjoy the journey on which you are engaged. Laugh at yourself and with others. Success is a journey, not a destination, and comes sans any shortcuts. Allow God the final word on all decisions you get to make in life.
Tiffany Amber Stockton has been crafting and embellishing stories since childhood, when she was accused of having an active imagination and a flair for the dramatic. Today, she has honed those skills to become an award-winning author and speaker who works in the health & wellness and personal development industries, helping others become their best from the inside out. She lives with her husband and fellow author, Stuart Vaughn Stockton, in Colorado. They have a daughter and son, and a Shiba Inu-mix named Nova. She has sold over 20 books so far, three of which have won annual reader’s choice awards. She is represented by Tamela Murray of the Steve Laube Agency. www.amberstockton.com.
Testament, An Unexpected Return (ISBN 9781641110846)
Sanctuary, A Legacy of Memories (ISBN 9781641110730)
Go to the bookstore tab to order your copy of either or both novels. Available in Kindle or Paperback. You can also email me to discover the nearest indie bookstore to you to get your copies as well.
My wife, Connie, cleaned our garage today. We discovered two boxes of First Edition copies of Sanctuary – 30 books! They are no longer in print since the revised, updated 2nd edition released in January 2018. So what should I do? How about a limited quantity, Sanctuary Special Offer?
What’s the difference?
1st Edition, February 2017
2nd Edition, January 2018
First edition does not include the new epilog and the reviews on the back cover. Also, the first edition was printed by Ingram/Lightning Source as a Print-on-Demand book, which I never liked. That’s why all my new books are quality printed by my new publisher. Otherwise, there is virtually no noticeable difference, and it’ll be a cost-effective means to prepare you for the new sequel, Testament, An Unexpected Return (March 2018).
If you’d like to save $8.00 plus the postage so you can read Sanctuary: On a first. come, first serve basis, you can get this limited quantity of signed copies, postage paid, for only $10.00.