Sunday, March 25, 2012

Weaving Magic

Have you noticed how the voices of Southern writers weave a kind of magic spell over readers?

You can feel that magic throughout the pages of Augusta Scattergood's first novel, Glory Be, as she weaves her spell with the sweet sounds of a Southern dialect, an unerring eye for details, and heartfelt compassion for her main character, Gloriana June Hemphill, who is struggling to learn how to be true to herself in a world that seems to be changing so fast that the truth is sometimes difficult to discern.

The story is set in Hanging Moss, Mississippi during the summer of 1964. Every year Glory celebrates her birthday on July 4th with a party at the public pool, but this summer the pool has been shut down to avoid integration.

Not only does her friend Frankie betray her, but her older sister, Jesslyn, is no longer her best friend now that she’s discovered boys, and Glory's new friendship with a girl from Ohio places Glory under suspicion that she’s helping the troublemakers from up north.

These are just some of the challenges that propel the plot as Glory tries to figure out a way to re-open the pool so she can celebrate her birthday as she always has in the past. But the present, she realizes, is changing, and she has to decide how she feels about the changes as her birthday approaches and the story unfolds.

Here’s an example of Scattergood's magical voice from the book's opening page:
Franklin Cletus Smith has been my best friend since we hunted doodlebugs together in my backyard. Some people call him Frankfurter ‘cause he’s got hair the color of a hot dog. I call him Frankie. I squinted down the sidewalk, and finally here he came, dragging his towel with his bathing suit hiked way up.

"It’s a million degrees out here. I’ve been waiting forever."

“Well, hey to you, too, Glory,” he said.
There’s an assurance to this voice, a deep knowing which this voice conveys to the reader. It's a voice that belongs to a tradition of Southern voices, and you can sense the assurance and confidence of this voice right from the start of the story.

Part of what gives this voice its Southern charm and magic, I think, are words like “doodlebugs” and “hair the color of a hot dog,” and the way Glory describes the day (“It’s a million degrees out here. I’ve been waiting forever.”) and the way Frankie responds (“Well, hey to you, too, Glory.”). The phrasing, the way Glory shares her life with the reader, is what sets the reader firmly inside Glory's world and heart.

Here's another sample:
After supper, Laura and me sat on the back steps listening to the crickets start up. You could about catch a lightning bug by holding your hand out. Before we knew it, we were slapping mosquitoes and I had to turn on the stoop light to see real good.
And one more:
I took a deep breath, smelling the chlorine and the coconut suntan lotion, trying to remember hot dogs frying on the snack bar grill, and the lifeguards' whistles. I stood between Jesslyn and Laura with the warm sunshine beating down on my neck.

"You remember last July Fourth?" I asked Jesslyn. "The watermelon race? Me and you and Frankie and our cousins at my birthday party? And that cake you and Emma made me, shaped like a cat? Remember?" They weren't really questions I was asking Jesslyn. I just needed us to remember.

"I'm sorry, Glory," Laura said.

"I don't think the Pool Committee's worried about your birthday" was all Jesslyn said.

Here I was, sure that one little part of this town had changed. That maybe people like Frankie's daddy finally got together to decide opening the pool up for everybody, just in time for a Fourth of July celebration, was the kind of thing you should do on our country's birthday. But I was wrong. My thinking was all mixed up.
In the Author’s Note that you'll find at the end of the story, Scattergood writes:
There’s a saying that “Mississippi grows storytellers.” I was raised with stories told around the Sunday dinner table. Most nights, my grandmother dreamed up new bedtime tales for us. English teachers and librarians introduced me to the very high bar set by my state’s great literary heritage. Since I was old enough to listen, I’ve been hearing Mississippi in my head. This is one story I needed to share.
Thanks to Scattergood’s gift, we can hear Mississippi in our head, too.

For more information about Glory Be, visit:

And for more info on Augusta Scattergood, visit her website:


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