Friday, May 12, 2017

Writing With an Appalachian Twang

By Pepper Basham

Coming from a strong, southern Appalachian heritage of oral storytelling, stories not only fascinated me from an early age, but became a part of me. My Granny Spencer could recount genealogical tales from five to six generations back, and these amazing tales inspired my imagination.

I consider myself a southern girl, but within that southern-ness is a subset known as Appalachian, and there are some interesting differences between being a ‘flatlands’ southerner and a ‘mountain’ southerner which bring out some interesting cultural dynamics.

Generally speaking, although Appalachia is part of the south, geographically the mountains hemmed us in so that, in many respects, we were isolated from our southern neighbors and developed a unique sub-culture. Most of the deeper south southeners were influenced by English, African, and French, while many of the settlers in the mountains were Scots-Irish—hardy mountain people in their own right. Their influence brought blue grass-sounding music, storytelling, dialect differences, a fierce independence, and beautifully intricate lore.

My southerly neighbors used their land differently, which changed their commerce and livelihood. Whereas many places in the deeper south had large stretches of land to farm for crop development, the mountains didn’t lend themselves to large crop. People learned other means of commerce: moonshining, hunting, orchards, mining, but also craft-making (which may somewhat come from the influence of Native Americans—like the Cherokee—in our family histories). 

Also endemic in the Appalachian culture is an ‘isolationist’ ideal—both in a good and bad way. We are fiercely loyal to our families, culture, history, and land, but we’re also suspicious. (If you’ve ever read or seen Catherine Marshall’s Christy, you can definitely see how this plays out in our culture).
Hard work was often valued over education—and in some parts of Appalachia, still is.  But despite our suspicions and isolation, we are usually friendly, quick to help those in need, possess a deep-set sense of justice, and an equally strong distrust of new people who want to enlist change J (we’re a hard-headed lot)

So, how does THIS impact my writing?

When I write about Appalachian culture, in both historical and contemporary romance novels, I want to bring out the values I’ve learned and loved, but also show the insular nature of the culture. As a whole, we’re “closed off” from the outside world in such a way that when strangers visited Appalachia even fifty years ago, it was like stepping back an entire century. In some of the remotest parts of Appalachia, there is still a ‘language’ and ‘accent’ which resembles a sort of Scottish-influenced Elizabethan dialect. It’s really amazing to hear.

What you find in my novels is that fierce love for family, the struggle between stepping outside the safety net of the mountains or remaining ‘safely’ inside, the love of history, the celebration of music and Appalachian creativity, the hardiness, loyalty, determination, stubbornness, extreme independence, faith, and dedication in these folks…and, of course, the love of story.

Faith is a strong thread throughout the Appalachian culture—both in its wholesome sense and in the sense that some aspects of faith is sprinkled with the superstition of our forbearers—and once we Appalachians create a tradition, we’ll fight tooth-and-nail for it! J

All these elements add a complex dynamic to the novels I write, influencing the humor, joy, depth of story, and plots. Since the Appalachian culture stems from parts of Britain, my newest series takes the two cultures (with their shared histories) and clashes them together in the present in a fun match of similar loves, desires, and dreams. I call them Britallachian romances, and I can think of nothing quite as exciting as watching “cultural cousins” impact each other to find a happily-ever-after, because despite what people might think about us mountain folk…we really do love happily-ever-afters.
Pepper Basham is an award-winning author of both historical and contemporary romance, and enjoys sprinkling her native Appalachian culture into her fiction whenever she can. Her Penned in Time World War 1 era series completed in December 2016 with three books. Her first contemporary romance arrived in April 2016 and her first britallachian romance debuts in April with a Top Pick 4 1/2 star review from Romantic Times. You can connect with Pepper on her website at, Facebook- or Twitter at and Instagram Pepper Basham (@pepperbasham) • Instagram photos and videos

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