Sunday, January 18, 2009

America Loves "Southern Appalachian" Fiction

"Books based on life in small town southern Appalachia sell like hotcakes!" stated one publicist.

According to book sales data, from 1998-present, America can't get enough stories about small town life in Southern Appalachia. Over twenty-five million books about life in the Appalachian mountain regions of America have been sold in the last decade alone. "That's an incredible statistic," said one industry spokesman, "I don't know of another region of the country that can tout such sales figures."

Interestingly, this phenomenon isn't a recent development. For many years, life in Southern Appalachia has been a favorite destination for readers of all ages.

Some of the best-read Southern Appalachian authors include: John Fox, Jr. (Trail of the Lonesome Pine), Jan Karon (Mitford Series), Adrianna Trigiani (Big Stone Gap), Ann B. Ross (Miss Julia), Charles Frazier (Cold Mountain), Gail Godwin (Evensong), Robert Morgan (Gap Creek), Sharyn McCrumb (The Rosewood Casket), Lee Smith (Fair and Tender Ladies), Harriet Arnow (The Dollmaker), James Still (River of Earth), Barbara Kingsolver (Prodigal Summer) and Wilma Dykeman (The Tall Woman). Others in this genre include: Bobbie Ann Mason, Silas House, and Fred Chappell.

According to Tom Cannon, author of Mountain Empire, "Perhaps we love books about the Southern Appalachian region, because they give us a sense of belonging, and remind us of happier, gentler times - a time and place we all long to find, and would love to call home."

In a recent interview, Jan Karon (Mitford series) gave definition to our love for small-town fictional settings, that quite possibly reflects the reason many of us have fallen in love with Southern Appalachian-style books, "I think I was born with a kind of deep affinity for the rural, the rustic. In addition, I'm very drawn to the pastoral novels of the English genre -- the village novel where a small group is used to paint a picture of a larger society. I still have in me a great love for the agrarian -- for what this country was, for what we still are. People say, "Oh well, I guess there's no such thing as Mitford." Well, the good news is there are Mitford's all over the country, and there are still great stretches of open land and pastures and meadows and fields. It's not all bad news. There's so much left of this country that is reasonable and moral and strong. And that's the part I relate to."

Apparently, 25 million+ readers are thinking the same thing. That's how many readers have purchased fictional books about the Southern Appalachian region since 1998. And seemingly, there's no end in sight. Ann B. Ross (Miss Julia series) said, "I think the South grows storytellers like it does peanuts, sweet potatoes and kudzu." And that's good news for fans of Southern Appalachian fiction.

A new book, "Mountain Empire" by Tom Cannon (Jonesborough, TN) is the newest work to join the ranks of Southern Appalachian, small-town fiction. Reader's reviews suggest it will become a favorite.

Set in the fictitious town of Empire, in East Tennessee, "Mountain Empire" is a lively, adventure-filled coming-of-age story about a young boy (Jesse Jones) who finds himself, and his family caught in a sudden and unexpected transition from his childhood home in Mississippi to the unusual world of Appalachia. The story begins when Jesse's father (Pastor J. Paul Jones) is forced to leave his church in Natchez, and accepts the pastorate of a church in East Tennessee.

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