Is Southern Literature Dead?

From one corner of the world comes a category of writing so rich in human experience and character that it stands out as a prominent vein in the marbled landscape of literary fiction. I say this not simply because I favor certain authors who write in this vein. In fact, I favor any well-written novel that evokes a strong internal response based on the writer’s ability to infuse magic into realism. In many cases genre fiction achieves this, but Southern Literature, bourne from the tradition of great southern writers such as Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor, carries story-telling to the plane where “literary fiction” is often found. American Southern Literature meets the definition of literary fiction at an acute pitch. It is story-telling at its best, striking chords deep within our human psyche.

I awoke this morning still immersed in the tones set by Lena Burch and Reverend Hightower as I drifted off to sleep last night mid-sentence with Faulkner’s “Light in August” clutched in my hands. Mulling it over as I sipped my coffee, I asked myself where modern Southern Literature lies in the landscape of literary fiction. It then occurred to me that what was once defined as Southern Literature has morphed through the last century. Just as the south has changed, so has the experience of life in the south changed and along with it southern literature has as well. But is it dead?

In the purist sense, southern literature typically brings to mind William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Margaret Mitchell, Flannery O’Connor and a host of other early 20th century southern writers.  What will the future bring? As the title says, will the south ever be “Gone With the Wind” ? I say no, because the true essence of what defines southern literature is organic, not static in time.


When one thinks of southern literature there are three elements that automatically come to mind, firstly, the setting. Though currently this is arguable criteria (debated by professors, editors, writers and readers across the country) the setting must be in the southeastern corner of the U.S.  Secondly, the story is most often character driven, that is, the substance and unfolding of the story springs primarily from the internal machinery of character as opposed to plot and action. And lastly, the themes tap the inner landscape of humanity, addressing questions that always lead to a definition of what it means to be human amidst either a confining or contradictory moral code.

Take for example Flannery O’Connor’s short story, The River. One could say it is about a small boy, seemingly abandoned, who takes a walk one day and ends up drowning. But the true story is from an omniscient voice delivering a story of a rather matter-of-fact journey as this small innocent scales a raw landscape, yet to be sullied or glorified. Morality exists only as an ideal to the child, but its power draws him toward the river and the ultimate embrace of its cleansing in the biblical sense.

The early 20th century produced the most clearly defined examples of southern literature, most likely due to the fact that the South was in a critical stage of transformation after becoming free of slavery. The residual social tension and moral dilemmas during this era produced deep seated challenges and became a catalyst for the exploration of humanity. Set against a backdrop where society strives to be devout, despite the most heinous of sins against one’s fellow human, that of slavery, the collective conscious of the south experienced a schismatic moral psychology, far deeper than just racism, the issue at surface.

While the earliest examples of southern literature are clearcut and easily categorized, where does this class of literature stand today? The same elements and three main aspects of southern literature remain; however, the difference between now and then is that the experience of the south has become less provincial as it blends with the mainstream of America and the world at large. While the history of the region will never be forgotten and to a large degree will always influence the tone of the south, a new generation of writers, tagged in the Southern Literature genre, have infused the genre with their experience of the south on these more modern global terms.

I am perhaps more southern than most. Though I’ve lived in several corners of the United States, my first decade of life was formed in the deep south amidst the tumultuous decade of the sixties and my father’s family whose roots follow an interesting path from Virginia to Alabama to Florida and Georgia. In fact, I am only five generations from a “Lee” line traceable to the most famous of those, Robert E. On my mother’s side I am deeply rooted in a Kentucky family, who fought amongst themselves split between the Union and Rebel sides during the Civil War. I have lived far enough removed from the south to be objective, but I have remained close enough to have felt the far-reaching effect of the hard hits with which it has been impacted, and in turn influenced the rest of the United States.

Moving into the 21st century are the contemporary authors, Pat Conroy, Ron Rash and Jesmyn Ward, to name a few, each unique and having evolved past the Civil War era to what is often termed the Southern Literature Renaissance.  As a new writer, I include myself in their company, because my first novel, Swimming With Wings,  is the story of a young southerner’s experience in the new age as she breaks away from the confines of southern ideologies and religions. Each of these writers, me included, address brutal truths which carry us far beyond the region of their character’s setting and elevate us to a larger story which is ultimately a universal, human one.

As we head deeper into this new century what will the southern experience mean, and will southern literature die out altogether? I believe that southern literature has evolved and will continue to do so. It will meld with a greater global interpretation of what it means to be a southern story teller. The influences of the Civil War in southern experience will always be there, but no as longer a primary influence.  Instead it will become a layer upon which literary fiction writers will build as we grow into a society hoping to form a new age of compassion, tolerance and understanding.

Lee Libro is the author of Swimming with Wings, available on or by order at your local bookstore.

Swimming with Wings
Continue reading “Is Southern Literature Dead?”

Review of The First Book of Calamity Leek

The First Book of Calamity Leek
by Paula Lichtarowicz
published by Flatiron Books, an imprint of Macmillan
Release Date April 2016
297 pp


I was provided a complimentary Advance Reader Copy of this novel by Flatiron Books. Nevertheless, this review, as with all my reviews, is completely honest and objective.

The beginning pages of The First Book of Calamity Leek by debut author, Paula Lichtarowicz, stretch the reader’s ability to grasp the world in which the main character, Calamity Leek, lives. At first, we can only gather that she is part of a group of young girls, that she appears to live in a barn-like dwelling within the “Walls of Safekeeping” set amongst gardens and above which sits a “High Hut”, occupied by an overseer of some sort. Also, the world itself is capped by a sky lid. These details alone were enough to keep this reader at least curious to read on and figure out the mysterious basis for this setting. I wanted to know more about Calamity Leek and this very odd world, and I’m ever so glad I did. In fact, after the first 60 pages or so, I simply couldn’t put the book down.

Despite my initial disorientation into her weird world, the voice of Calamity Leek is so enthralling and clear, that reading it was compulsory! We come to discover that she and her fifteen sisters have been raised in a rose garden with a very twisted creation myth of how and why their world exists. Both disturbing and inspiring, we root for these girls as they struggle with challenges to their perception of the world as they know it and careen toward its ultimate destruction with the inevitable reveal of the truth behind its making.

Readers who enjoy young adult, post-apocalyptic (though this is not), or stories that pose anthropological and philosophical questions about the workings of human culture, will adore this novel. The book has been reviewed elsewhere as “wonderfully strange” and I’ll have to agree. In a five-star kind of way, this novel has burst through literary boundaries. It offers readers wild, fascinating new territory, especially with regard to setting and plot development. Lichtarowicz is a genius at voice, but more so at enticing the reader by timing key elements that reveal the story. You’ll be glued to the story until the very end.

I give this book Five Magic Books!


Promote Your Book : Get Reviewed!

BookReviewers_Badge_3Maybe you’ve landed on my blog, because you’re seeking a book review by me here at Literary Magic. You certainly may. Please review my guidelines here, but while you’re at it, I’d like to share with you ways to promote your book by attaining book reviews elsewhere as well.

The following is a compilation of resources for attaining reviews of your book. The lists have been compiled based on successful experience I’ve had on both the giving and receiving end of book reviews. The lists are broken down into three categories: Book Bloggers, Book Review Agregators and Blog Tour Operators.

Book Bloggers: Book Bloggers are simply individuals who love to read and post reviews of the books they’ve read. Sometimes they are writers as well, (as was the case with my book blog) There are a multitude of book bloggers in the “blogosphere.” Book bloggers can provide powerful publicity if they receive high traffic and/or post the review not only on their blog but around the web at other sites, such as Goodread, Shelfari, and Amazon. The ones on my list I’ve chosen because I’ve previously networked with them or they have strong visibility, i.e., they post regularly, post on multiple sites and they have listed themselves on the blog directories so they want to be found. You will need to peruse a blogger site to see if your genre is right for them and also to discover what their submission guidelines are.

Book Review Agregators: These guys are powerful. They will take one or more copies of your book and distribute them to the book reviewers for you. Some take only hard copies; others accept ebooks. Because they have overhead (shipping charges, for example) some may charge for this service. (with the exception of Midwest Book Review) Others may not charge you, if you sign up to become a reviewer of books they already have in their stable of books to be reviewed.

Blog Tour Operators: Similar to Book Review Aggregators, except that Blog Tour Operators are more structured and usually charge a fee. They’ll line up consecutive reviews of your book across the internet on participating blogs with an agreed upon schedule. These are often run with incentives to the blog readers such as giveaways of Amazon gift cards to readers, etc. Some new blog tour are free (in order to establish themselves) but are not.

Again, remember, individuals who provide book reviews should not charge for their reviews. Book reviewers are held to advertising laws which prohibit this. The proper way to review books is to do so with the following disclaimer to be included in the review. This is a fairly well know law among the more prolific book reviewers, but there are still those who do not know this and may solicit payment for review. I would NEVER pay someone for a book review. This practice infringes on the FTC’s guidelines.

Disclosure of Material Connection: A copy of this book was provided to me by the author. No payment was received by me in exchange for this review nor was there an obligation to write a positive one. All opinions expressed here are entirely mine and may not necessarily agree with those of the author, the book’s publisher and publicist or the readers of this review. This disclosure is in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255, Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.


Visit a book blogger site and look for their “request a review” or other link to their review policy. A book blogger should never request a fee for a review. If they do, move on to the next book blogger on your list. Obviously, they don’t know the protocol.

There are too many bloggers to list here, but here are a few I have worked with in the past.


If you want a free effective way to get book reviews, compile your own custom list of bloggers to contact. To do this, an easy way to start is by visiting a blogger directory, such as   There you can sort through the blogs that review books in your genre. Visit their blog to evaluate them and determine if they are the right fit for you. View their submission guidelines and begin submitting requests for reviews.

Points to consider when evaluating a blog:

  • How often do they post? Be careful, some blogs may no longer be actively blogging. Go to their home page and take note of the date of their last post.
  • How well are their posts written?
  • How many followers or visitors to their website do they have? You can find this information usually in the sidebar of their blog.
  • Generally speaking, are the reviews on their blogs favorable?
  • Do they relay their blog posts to social media? If they don’t mention this, you may be able to tell anyway, if they have a Twitter or Facebook feed in their sidebar. Many now do. This means magnified publicity for your book.
  • Will the blogger’s review also on Goodreads, Amazon or other sites? Many bloggers do. Again, this means magnified publicity for your book. Usually, somewhere in their “about” page or review policy page, they’ll state whether they send the review as a post to multiple sites.


  1. KIRKUS Reviews     Charges $425-575. Highly regarded, a review, especially a favorable one from Kirkus carries quite a bit of impact. One just has to decide if they wish to pay them for it. This is the only legitimate place I would actually pay for a review.
  2. Author Exposure

3.   Midwest Book Review  Free, All genres

Established in 1976, the Midwest Book Review is an organization committed to promoting literacy, library usage, and small press publishing. The MBR publishes monthly book review magazines specifically designed for community and academic librarians, booksellers, and the general reading public. They post reviews on the Internet with a number of thematically appropriate web sites, databases, and online discussion groups. Archive their reviews on the Midwest Book Review web site for a minimum of five years.

To submit a print book for review, they require the following:

  1. Two finished copies of the book.
  2. A cover letter.
  3. A publicity or press release. This (or the cover letter) must include either a physical address or an email address to send the review to.

Mail the above to:

James A. Cox


Midwest Book Review

278 Orchard Drive

Oregon, WI 53575

Though a response may take 14-16 weeks, a review from the Midwest Book Review is well worth the wait.

    1. Word Slinger Publicity $149.99


    2. Great Escapes Offers Free Ebook Tours; Print books begin at $100.

    3.  VBT tours–pricing.html

Run by BK Walker. She’s very organized and structures tours, keeping to the scheduling like a Nazi (That’s a good thing). My blog was a tour stop on several of her tours. Tours start at $100.

4. Book Blast Tours

Run by a very prolific blogger. Reasonable rates and excellent coverage and readership, but deals with mostly children’s and YA books.

5.  Enchanted Book Tours Start at $29

6. Novel Publicity

7.  Worldwind Tours  Reasonable prices, no personal experience with this one, but I’ve seen it written up as a good value. Tours start at $90.

Book Review of Coming Up for Air by Patti Callahan Henry


10856897Title: Coming Up For Air

Author: Patti Callahan Henry

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

ISBN: 978-0-312-61039-5

Pub. Date: September 2011

Format: Paperback Advance Reader Edition

Considering that I’ve never read any of Patti Callahan Henry’s works, and I usually steer away from books that even remotely resemble a dime store romance, why did I choose to review this book? The title captured my attention, and as it turns out, so did the writing.

At first glance, the phrase, “coming up for air” might describe one of two things: A) quite literally, a marine mammal or diver coming up from below water to surface for air, or B) a person rising to their authentic self. I chose Patti Callahan Henry’s book, hoping that it would reveal a story pertaining to the latter.

Coming Up For Air takes places largely in the Buckhead area of Atlanta, Georgia, where Ellie Eddington lives a neat, well-to-do life with her husband and one child away at college. From the beginning, however, we learn that she doesn’t sit quite as comfortably into her surroundings. On the surface, life amongst her family and family friends is well-groomed and polished, but lurking below is an angst easily recognized by anyone who has ever felt displaced in life. In the last decade, Ellie has taken to painting flowers, individual flowers, each reminiscent of the garden at her childhood home. Her journey begins with a very unsure Ellie as the story opens to her first art show, organized by her reluctantly supportive mother. An art show for a high-profile charity event, however, delivers to her mother enough reason to tout her daughter’s “hobby”.

The next day, Ellie’s mother dies and we learn that Ellie’s ex-boyfriend and first love, Hutch, had been creating an exhibit to pay homage to her mother. She had been elected as one of several women to be cited for their charitable and social contributions. The extent of these contributions perplex Ellie, when she discovers that her mother, who had always kept a stiff and somewhat cold demeanor, had actually been a passionate, anti-racist, activist in Alabama during the early 1960’s. What could account for the transformation of this woman who, later in life, appears to focus on status only, a woman who had grown the flowers in her garden “for their botanical and ornamental value only?”

A few days after her mother dies, Ellie comes across her mother’s journal. With a visit to Alabama, she and her ex-boyfriend research together her mother’s role in the very turbulent years in southern history, the Freedom bus ride, desegregation protests. Piece by piece Ellie comes to understand how her mother, whom she loved very much, had been two different people: the passionate, free-spirited one of her youth and the one she had cultivated herself to be…and the reason she had done so. Ellie is driven to understand this, because not only did her mother control many of the choices she herself had made in life, but there are parallels in the two women’s’ lives. Ellie has come to a crossroad in her marriage, especially with the reappearance of her first love, and she begins to feel her authentic self rising up out of the drowned existence she’s suffered for two decades.

Patti Callahan Henry’s prose is beautifully crafted in a way that reveals the underpinnings of the character’s actions. How a mother feels when they look at their college-aged daughter, a mirror of their younger self, for example, or the suffocation one feels with a manipulative partner, are written almost poetically, drawing true empathy from the reader. As the story unfolds, Patti Callahan Henry has masterfully layered the elements with symbolism and themes that any admirer of southern literature would love. She illustrates how past history can reveal truths; how people often lock their hearts away, only for them to burst forth later in mid-life, forced to “come up for air.”

I recommend Coming Up For Air to anyone who likes romance as long as they are willing to dig deeper than the physical aspects of love. You won’t find any torrid affairs or bodice ripping action in Coming Up For Air. The romance in this story is tied more to how someone loves, not why they love or who; how loving a person or locking away your heart affects a person’s authenticity.

I also recommend the book to anyone who loves southern literature. The story is contemporary, but certainly hits on classic themes. It is literary fiction, too, as it deals heavily with the angst of being imperfect, being human. Just as Ellie describes herself, we are all like wildflowers in Mrs. Eddington’s garden, real humans who are weeded out because we haven’t fit the mold of the botanical or ornamental variety.

I give Coming Up For Air by Patti Callahan Henry 4 out of a possible 5 magic books.

Magic Book4


Disclosure of Material Connection: A copy of this book was provided to me by the author. No payment was received by me in exchange for this review nor was there an obligation to write a positive one. All opinions expressed here are entirely mine and may not necessarily agree with those of the author, the book’s publisher and publicist or the readers of this review. This disclosure is in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255, Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Getting Hooked: The Importance of a Novel’s Opening Line

hookA story’s beginning is everything. It’s the power point from which a story launches, better known as “the hook”. It can set the tone for what’s to come, introduce a character or hint at the genre of the story, but unless it grabs the reader, no matter how dazzling the rest of the story, without a zinger of a hook, the reader may never continue.

Take for example some of these openers from famous novels:


“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.” The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.

“All children, except one, grow up.” Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie

“To be born again,” sang Gibreel Farishta tumbling from the heavens, “first you have to die.” – Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses

“My name was Salmon, like the fish, first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.” The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold

“It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.” Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

…and one of my personal favorites:

“If you’re going to read this, don’t bother.” Choke, Chuck Palahniuk

With all the first impressions that a prospective reader filters through, the cover, the book jacket blurb, or perhaps the author bio, the first line of the story is by far the most important initial encounter. While all the press reviews and word of mouth may serve as an introduction to a book, the survival of the relationship between reader and writer pivots on that first sentence or two. Once hooked, will the relationship be a catch and release? Or will the reader reel in the fish and consume it whole? Only a solid hook will ensure the latter.

So what has been your experience with opening sentences? Have you ever read an opening sentence that was better or worse than the remainder of the book? What kept you reading? Do you have an all time favorite opening line?

Book Review: A Surrey State of Affairs by Ceri Radford


The publicists at Author Exposure provided me with an advanced reader copy of A Surrey State of Affairs by Ceri Radford after I chose it from a selection of over fifty other titles.  With a clever title, a bold cover and promise of some British humor, I was drawn to it immediately.

Usually readers relate to a story through a writers expertise in writing dialogue. Dialogue brings the character into the here and now, allowing the reader to be a spy on the wall. Getting into the interior life of a character takes a bit of finesse with just the right balance between narrative and dialogue. Imagine a story told mostly in narrative. Sounds static. Not in the case of A Surrey State of Affairs, which is written as a series of blog entries, and indeed, contains very little dialogue.

A Surrey State of Affairs is Constance Hardings’ diary, so to speak. She’s a fifty-something, church-going, bell-ringing, empty-nester, wife and mother who is naïve and newly initiated into the joys of computer usage. Blogging is a newfound outlet for her. Thinking nobody reads her blog anyway, she posts her daily observations and frustrations as she strives to appease, support and maintain her relationships including that with her beloved parrot. Think Bridget Jones’ Diary all grown up with the quandaries of a mid-life crisis in full havoc mode, delivered with the same humorous and endearing qualities of a Bridget Jones.

We, the reader, are Constance’s invisible friend, privy to her most private thoughts, and yet as good friends often do, we see realities long before she discovers them herself. But she’s naïve and we care for her. From her attempts to find a good wife for her son, who is obviously gay, to her inability to understand why she continually finds panties laying around her husband’s office, her naivety might frustrate a lesser friend, but due to Ms. Radford’s exceptional writing, so well formulated with the dry, pithy wit of a Brit, we stand by Constance.

We celebrate when Constance finally wakes up and embarks on a completely uncharacteristic set of behaviors. Call it a mid-life crisis or self-discovery, all in all her journey enthralls us, keeps us tethered to her blog. We can’t help but read on because A Surrey State of Affairs is both entertaining and heartwarming. I highly recommend it if you are looking for some light reading or are a fan of Chick-lit or British humor. I give this book four out of a possible five magic books!

Magic Book4

Disclosure of Material Connection: A copy of this book was provided to me by the author. No payment was received by me in exchange for this review nor was there an obligation to write a positive one. All opinions expressed here are entirely mine and may not necessarily agree with those of the author, the book’s publisher and publicist or the readers of this review. This disclosure is in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255, Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Book Review of All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

51bBbJPlfNLTitle: All The Bright Places

Author: Jennifer Niven

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, Random House Teens

ISBN: 978-0-385-75588-7

Format: Paperback, Advanced Reader’s Copy

Pub Date: January 6, 2015

Pages: 400

The publicists at Random House provided me with an advanced reader’s copy of All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven. The title drew upon my memory of a childhood favorite, Dr. Seuss’s Oh The Places You’ll Go.  While the title is borrowed from a line in Seuss’s book and indeed Oh The Places You’ll Go makes a pivotal appearance in the novel, Jennifer Niven’s story carries the reader far from the light-hearted lilting words we knew as children. Her heartfelt story takes the reader to dark places as well. But as they say, how can one know the light without also knowing the dark?

When we first meet the two main characters, Violet Markey and Theodore Finch, the two high school students are both standing on the edge of their school’s bell tower, contemplating ending it all. There’s no question that this is a powerful novel written for ages 14 and up. The story delves into the issues of grief and mental illness. One could argue that this is too dark for 14-year-olds, but then that’s exactly the bury-your-head-in-the-sand kind of slumber that I believe the author is hoping to wake us up from. And she does it with the crisp, clear bell of excellence in writing.

The novel is not all dark and it certainly can’t be stuck in a pigeon hole labeled YA angst. Theodore Finch will steal your heart away, just as he does Violet Markey’s from the moment he, the school “freak”, prevents the “out-of-his-league” girl from jumping from the bell tower. We all fall in love with him because he’s witty, funny, passionate and his eccentric ways are, well…the stuff that charisma is made of. Think Keith Ledger in Thirteen Things I Hate About You, but a bit edgier.

Violet and Finch find connection through their darkest days while completing a geography assignment: to visit and write about the natural wonders and historical landmarks of their state. Since the death of her older sister, Violet has stopped. A talented blogger, she’s stopped writing. An A student, she’s stopped holding herself accountable to anything at school. Basically, she wants to retreat from life. But the bold, funny and live-out-loud Finch draws her out and she begins to live again. Likewise, Finch, who suffers from manic-depression, finds that only with Violet can he be himself. As Violet’s world begins to grow, Finch’s begins to shrink.

The realism of the story takes you to depths in character portrayal that few writers can achieve. What makes All The Bright Places hit upon that Literary Magic, as I call it, is the skill with which Niven crafts a tangible world with real life problems. One might think there are enough problems in the world. Why pick a novel that focuses on them as well? Because the journey Niven takes you on through Violet and Finch is a wake-up call that will leave you all the wiser, with an ending that will leave your heart all the more touched.

If you like writers like Rainbow Rowell, John Green and Gayle Forman, then All The Bright Places should be your next read. It’s sure to deliver a full punch. A page-turner I couldn’t put down, I highly recommend it with a full five magic books!


Disclosure of Material Connection: A copy of this book was provided to me by the author. No payment was received by me in exchange for this review nor was there an obligation to write a positive one. All opinions expressed here are entirely mine and may not necessarily agree with those of the author, the book’s publisher and publicist or the readers of this review. This disclosure is in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255, Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.