Truer Than the Truth
Why fiction is—and should always be—part of Salvation South.
Just because this online magazine you’re reading is specifically about the American South doesn’t mean convention forbids me from, every now and again, quoting a writer who is not from our region.
Many influential writers have argued how fiction can be truer than the truth—or, at least, truer than fact. And storied writers from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Margaret Atwood have written or spoken pithy things along those lines that would look just dandy on an embroidered sampler, hanging on a writer’s wall.
My favorite of those sayings comes from the Afghan-American novelist Khaled Hosseini, author of bestsellers including The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns:
“Writing fiction is the act of weaving a series of lies to arrive at a greater truth.”
Or, as I once heard a mountain raconteur say on a porch in North Carolina, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”
When Stacy Reece and I launched Salvation South almost two years ago, we assumed fiction would not be among our offerings. Then writers of fiction submitted stories, and we reconsidered. Because sometimes, there is high truth in a well-woven series of lies.
As time goes on, we will publish even more fiction, because our goal is to tell the truths known by Southern people, and we know that sometimes truth emerges more forcefully in a made-up story.
Tad Bartlett, a New Orleans writer who contributed, along with his friend the lauded novelist Maurice Carlos Ruffin, one of our earliest essays, “Reconciliation Road,” a few weeks ago came to us with a piece of fiction that rang true to us. It is the story of two boys, Woody and Tommy, who grow up together in the made-up town of Tomsville, Alabama, and it’s called “We’ll Start a New Country Up.” Fans of Southern music might recognize that Tab nabbed the name from a song called “Cuyahoga,” by the legendary Georgia band R.E.M.
Let's put our heads together
And start a new country up
Our father's father's father tried
Erased the parts he didn't like
That’s what Woody and Tommy do in this story—imagine a new country that erases the parts they don’t like about their tiny town in Alabama. “We’ll Start a New Country Up” is a fine, moving read, and we hope you enjoy.
As the time for summer travel draws to a close, our Southern Reader’s Travelogue series is coming to an (until 2024) with a piece that isn’t exactly a literary journey. We perhaps should’ve renamed this one, “A Southern Reader’s Rocker’s Travelogue.” Our culture warrior, Rob Rushin-Knopf, takes you on a journey to the birthplace of Elvis Presley: Tupelo, Mississippi. His story tells you not only what to look for in Tupelo but also how to understand what allowed a young Mississippi boy—despite his many assiduously documented faults—to change the culture of the South (and the whole wide world) forever.
In our poet’s corner this week is a new contributor to Salvation South, Tennessee’s Claire Coenen. In the money-earning side of her life, Claire is a social worker faced with the daily task of empathizing with people as they stare down some of the worst circumstances life has to offer. Her empathy shines brightly in the hopeful set of four poems you’ll read this week.
As I write this to you from our home in Georgia, it was nearly noon before the thermometer topped 70 degrees. It's the first week of autumn, and you can feel it in the air. We hope this season is good to you.
Chuck Reece is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Salvation South, the weekly web magazine you're reading right now. He was the founding editor of The Bitter Southerner. He grew up in the north Georgia mountains in a little town called Ellijay.