Saturday, August 30, 2014

She Did What?


Kathleen Kaska (Fifth-Saturday Blogger)

            A few years ago, I sent a manuscript to the agent who was representing me at the time. She was appalled that my protagonist had the temerity to speed over a cattle guard on an unmarked the dirt road. There was no motive to my protagonist's wacky actions, according to her, and furthermore, this absurd incident wasn’t mentioned again in my story. And what did she have against this cattle guard anyway?
       Her comments momentarily confused me. What was the big deal about driving over a cattle guard? How in the hell else was she supposed to get where she was going? It finally dawned on me that this young New Yorker hadn't a clue about ranch life. She assumed the cattle “guard” was a person, standing sentinel over some bovines. Fighting laughter, I gently explained this contextual cattle guard. She was good-natured enough to then allow some mutual chuckling.
            In one of my writers’ critique groups, two members were confused about “she pulled the door to.” They wanted to know why I didn’t finish the action stated. “Pulled the door to what?” they asked. When I explained to them that “pulling the door to,” meant closing it without actually shutting it, they seemed unconvinced. To them, the door was either closed or it wasn’t.
            Here’s another example. A reader chastised me about an expression in one of my mysteries. My protagonist had responded to something of no surprise to her by saying, “Well, slap me silly.” The reader thought the remark a bit extreme, bordering on masochistic. She couldn’t imagine someone asking to be slapped and why there wasn’t a comma before “silly.” I demurred. The reader obviously lacked a sense of humor. 
            My current mystery series is set mainly in the South and I use a lot of Southern expressions, which come naturally to me since I’m from Texas. My new series is set in Manhattan. Fortunately, I lived there a while and some Big Apple slang stuck with me. One of my favorites is “schmear” (a small amount or smear of cream cheese added to a bagel order. Living now in the Pacific Northwest, I was pleased to see this word on a local coffee shop menu. Is the world shrinking? Are we really becoming a global village? Have we reached the point where we all understand one another? I hope not. That would be boring.
            Do any of ya’ll use similar regional slang or colloquialisms in your writing? Keep on!

9 comments:

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

I'm not from the South, but I know what all those references meant--for goodness sake, don't these people read much or go to movies?

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Grew up here in Texas and knew all of them. I think more than anything else it is a generational thing. The country has lost its regionalisms and those in charge of the publishing world are far too young to know what as been lost.

Kathleen Kaska said...

So true, Kevin. I do appreciate those in publishing that do an excellent job of fact checking like my younger-than-me publisher who told me my character couldn't have smoked Salems since they had not been on the market during the time my book was set.

Lynn Cahoon said...

I was told by an editor that I couldn't have animals on my small farm, that was a ranch. I guess she didn't grow up in the country. :)

Love the cattle guard story.

Kait said...

I confess, I just had to ask my Arizona raised husband what a three legged Texas goat rope was. Stop laughing y'all. My South was ag not horn. I think Kevin is right, it's generational and the regionalisms are dying out. Sad, but true.

Kathleen Kaska said...

Lynn, I can't imagine a farm without animals. Maybe your editor didn't consider a chicken an animal.

Kathleen Kaska said...

Kait, I have to admit I had to look that one up.

Linda Thorne said...

I staged my first book (not out yet - under a publishing contract) on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and created one character who uses real southern slang. He says things like, “I can do everythang,” he said. “Mizz Briscoe uses me in ‘bout any job if they are short o’ help.” I have another southern character in the book who has good grammar and articulate in her words, but says things like "Lands sake," or "It's a real gully washer," or "She acts like she's been put through a wringer." I worked at staying consistent with their voices.
That was a hoot about your character running over the cattle guard. Yeah, if that guard had been a person, then it had to have big meaning in the storyline to have been mentioned.

Kathleen Kaska said...

The Mississippi Gulf Coast is full of colorful characters, to say the least. I love the phrase "lands sake." I certainly know what it means, but I am curious of it origin.