March ’23 Newsletter

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Welcome to the Newsletter!

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you enjoy it and will share it with your friends and family.

Thanks for reading Billy Don Loper-Fiction and Fascinations! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.

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Recent Announcements:

This month I will be interviewing Harlan Guthrie, the man behind the Malevolent audio drama podcast. I can’t wait to sit down with him and talk about all things eldritch horror, podcasting, and the connections between audio drama and prose fiction. 

Also, I’m excited to announce I’ll be interviewing Harlan Guthrie of Malevolent, a wonderful eldritch horror audio drama later this month. Updates to come!

I also completed my interview with Cat Voleur early this month, so be watching out for that this summer in ARCHIVE OF THE ODD. Updates to come. 

Project Progress:

Sci-fantasy story is back from the copy editor! I’m making the changes in preparation for a second round of beta reading. I made some progress on the scifi story this month, but all other projects are still on second-class status until this one is finished. 

Recent Fascinations:

Imposter syndrome is a hell of a thing, ain’t it? For authors it can come in so many forms and at so many different places along the process that it is almost a required right of passage. Every writer feels imposter syndrome at some point. Sometimes it’s when you read someone else’s work and it feels so, so much better than your own. Sometimes it’s when you are working on a project that has you stumped, and you wonder why you even bother. For a lucky few of us it’s when we get published, even just short fiction. We get published and immediately start talking about how hollow it all feels and how we have to chase the next high (Also Known As the TBQ Effect). Then at times, it’s when we edit and wonder what bumbling, pig headed, jackass idiot wrote this in the first place. And whose decision was it to make me clean this mess up? And WHY exactly can’t this idiot just get it right the first time?

If you can’t tell, I’m currently feeling a touch of that last one. 

I’m most of the way through a pretty serious edit of my sci-fantasy manuscript after getting it back from the copy editor and, of course, I’m feeling some doubts. My main character needs serious edits to keep her personality consistent, and her love interest required much of the same. I think I’ve got the love interest’s personality straightened out, but I’m not sure I have my MC’s nailed down just yet. Part of me knows I will eventually. I still have another round of beta readers left and another read through by my copy editor, and by the end of it all I know I’ll have everything worked out. Still, though, it’s hard not to dwell on the issues while they’re there on the page. 

This is especially true during the editing process, when you’re spending hours and hours hyper focused on the flaws of the piece, trying to find every way you can to iron them out and make everything neat and proper. 

Maybe modern review culture is partly to blame, it is certainly to blame for the idea that everyone has to like everything and relate to it for a work to be considered good in the common way. My MC isn’t particularly likable, she’s anxious and headstrong, and aggravating, but that’s the point. This is a single story in her journey, and it’s a journey I want to tell, because it’s one I identify with, regardless of if I like her. 

I have to keep reminding myself that even the finished product won’t speak for the entirety of my ability, that it’s a process made up of many people wearing many hats. Most of all, I have to remind myself that there’s no one I’m impostering. 

I’m just a writer, and when I’m done it might be good or it might be bad, but It will undeniably be mine. 

Thanks for reading!

Thanks for taking the time to read my newsletter.

Check out my website: billyloperhistory.com

Check me out on Twitter at: PineyWoodsHIS

Check me out on Facebook at: Billy Don Loper-Fiction

Check me out on Instagram at: bloperficiton

February ’23

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Welcome to the Newsletter!

Thanks for stopping by for my first newsletter of 2023! I hope you enjoy it and will share it with your friends and family. 

Thanks for reading Billy Don Loper-Fiction and Fascinations! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.

Subscribed

Recent Announcements:

Since my last newsletter two of my short stories have been accepted to publication. The first was “Father, or the Pain that Lingers,” and it was published in late January. It can be read here: http://www.usmproductmag.com/current-issue. The second was “Key to the Heart,” a story which recently won a story competition at a local bookstore (The Author Shoppe, Hattiesburg, MS). It’s been picked up by Panorame Journal for their Summer Gothic issue, which will come out Summer ‘23. 

Outside of these publications (wild that I can put an ‘S’ on the end of that already), I have also joined THE SINISTER SCOOP horror media website as a contributor. (check them out here: https://www.thesinisterscoop.com/home). There should be some cool stuff coming from me there soon. 

Also, in March I’ll be interviewing horror author Cat Voleur for ARCHIVE OF THE ODD, (

https://archiveoftheodd.com/

), so stay tuned for more there. 

Project Progress:

My sci-fantasy story has officially been sent to the copy editor! Once I get it back, there’ll be a lot of work left to do, but in the meantime I’ve moved back to my speculative sci-fi story and hope to make a little progress on it in the meantime. 

Recent Fascinations:

Two of my most recent reads have put an interesting topic at the front of my attention. In January I read through Stephen King’s novel HEARTS IN ATLANTIS and D.J. James’s novella STITCHES. These two stories, despite both being part of the paranormal genre, could not be more different. However, it isn’t the distinctions of genre nuance (such as STITCHES being a body horror story and HEARTS IN ATLANTIS being a psychic thriller), but instead it is the classification of writing the two fall into. 

While the spectrum of written works is as wide a tapestry as possible, two extreme distinctions exist that do not necessarily communicate quality, but do communicate density: Literary Fiction and Independent Genre Fiction. Literary Fiction is often dense, metaphorically layered, and an overall more complex experience. Independent Genre Fiction, on the other hand, is often quick to read, exciting, and focused on telling a compelling (or terrifying) story. Language and metaphor come second in Independent Genre, in other words. 

I’ve often considered myself a primarily-literary reader. Prose and metaphor have always been very important to me, and because of that I’ve often scoffed (yes I’m ashamed of this) at independent fiction. However, reading STITCHES and then finishing up HEARTS IN ATLANTIS really caused me to think about what that kind of perspective means. King is the undeniable…king of genre fiction, but HEARTS IN ATLANTIS is a true masterwork in literary fiction, it just happens to have a slight paranormal tint in places. If Shirley Jackson or Nathanial Hawthorne are literary writers, then so is King in the instance of HEARTS. D.J. James, though, did not write a literary story in STITCHES. James instead invokes memories of 1960s and 70s pulp paperback horror novels. STITCHES is bloody, disturbing, and fast moving. It leaves the reader with a feeling of sick dread. The prose is simple, if at times a little clunky, but it conveys its story in a quick, direct fashion that leaves plenty of room for the disgust to splash out of the page. HEARTS IN ATLANTIS is a story in the vein of THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, while STITCHES is the paperback version of 1980s slasher horror. B-Movie on the page, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, that kind of fiction is an important part of the genre, and often provides room for more literary works to breathe. 

So as I read STITCHES and began making criticisms to myself about the quality of the prose not being quite as high as other books, I found myself realizing that those kinds of criticisms are, by definition, meaningless. STITCHES was not supposed to be a literary masterpiece. It isn’t a psychological, complex horror movie. It is FRIDAY THE 13TH. 

And that’s okay. You should read HEARTS IN ATLANTIS, but you should also read STITCHES. 

Thanks for reading!

Thanks for taking the time to read my newsletter.

Check out my website: billyloperhistory.com

Check me out on Twitter at: PineyWoodsHIS

Check me out on Facebook at: Billy Don Loper-Fiction

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January ’23

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Welcome to the Newsletter!

Thanks for stopping by for my first newsletter of 2023! I hope you enjoy it and can share it with your friends and family. 

Recent Announcements:

In late December of ‘22 I started a “Bookstagram” account on Instagram in an effort to further share news about my writing and do a little review work on the books and media that I spend so much of my time consuming. So far it’s been an interesting experiment, and if you want to check me out there my username is @bloperficiton. 

Project Progress:

I’ve moved onto the next stage of editing of my sci-fantasy manuscript, grammar edits to prepare it for my copy editor. However, that process is taking far longer than I anticipated, because I did not get near the amount of writing done during the Christmas/New Year holidays I had intended. It’s likely that that planned deadline is going to have to be moved back to the second half of this month/early Feb. 

Other projects are still on hold until this deadline is dealt with. 

Recent Fascinations:

After finishing up THE FAR MERIDIAN, which I still highly recommend, I moved on to another podcast-audio drama titled GIVE ME AWAY, which I don’t recommend (check out my review on Instagram). However, as the year wound down and I progressively started focusing more of my free time into my writing, specifically the not-writing part of being a writer, I’ve found myself considering the idea of “being literary” and being a writer in general. 

In December, my first story was accepted for publication. While it won’t be in print until the Summer, the guarantee of publication shifted the way I think about being a writer in a way I never thought it would. I had told myself for a long time, years and years, that once I was published I wouldn’t be an aspiring author but a real, proper writer of fiction. Even though I won’t earn a red cent from this publication, it’s still the lifelong realization of a childhood dream. I found out my story was accepted just as I pulled into my driveway after a long week at my day job, and I sat in the car for a minute, telling myself over and over again that I had finally made it. 

I’m a writer.

Then I went inside and cooked and tended to my infant the same as any other day. The next Monday I woke up and went to work and did the same work I do Monday-Friday. There were certainly congratulations from friends and family, and I’m still ecstatic to have achieved this, but to me it seems that as soon as I reached that long-chased goal, another appeared just as fast. 

I’m a writer, sure. Now let’s find a way to do it for money. And that, dear reader, is the real hat trick. 

So I started a Facebook page and this newsletter and an Instagram and suddenly there’s more to all of this than writing. There’s building an audience and posting and being public. And to be quite frank, none of it feels very “literary” at all. 

A part of me had always imagined big bookshelves and roll top desks and quiet contemplative writing framed by the chase of publication as the peak literary goal. Certainly that’s part of it, at least part of the mindset, but so too is the marketing and the audiences and the social media of it all. The meaning of “suffer for your art” really seems to have changed, at least for this social media luddite. 

Anyway, @bloperficiton, like-share-subscribe, and all that good stuff. 

Thanks for Reading!

Thanks for taking the time to read my newsletter.

Check out my website: billyloperhistory.com

Check me out on Twitter at: PineyWoodsHIS

Check me out on Facebook at: Billy Don Loper-Fiction

Check me out on Instagram at: bloperficiton

December ’22

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Welcome to the Newsletter!

This one will be a little different than what I have planned going forward, but thanks for checking it out.

Why a Newsletter? (and why now?)

Author newsletters are the lit world’s standard, and Substack makes that process a lot easier than running a traditional email listserv. So instead of running a listserv, I’m going to try out running a monthly (as it is currently planned anyway) newsletter here.

As far as why now: I’m early in my writing career, having just had my first short story accepted for publication. I’m hoping that this space can become an accountability tool as much as a genuine place for delivering updates and other tidbits. Writing often and in many different ways is a key way to hone the craft, so that’s part of what I hope to do here.

So here is the first edition of my newsletter! I hope you enjoy it, and thanks for reading.

Recent Announcements:

  • In October my short story “Key to the Heart” won the Author Shoppe’s Scary Story Contest. You can read the story here: https://billyloperhistory.com/short-stories/a-short-story-key-to-the-heart/
  • In December my short story “Anatomy of a Waterfall” was awarded 3rd place in the Tishomingo Arts Council’s 2022 Fall Writing Competition. It was then selected to for publication in the 2023 Edition of THE VIEW FROM WOODALL.

Project Progress

I’m currently working my way through an edit of my current manuscript, a sci-fantasy series focused around a library. I’m planning to get it to a copyeditor by mid January.

Outside of that, I’m also working on a horror novella and a sci-fi story unrelated to my other manuscript. Those are both on pause until January.

Recent Fascinations:

Lately I’ve been working my way through THE FAR MERIDIAN, a magical realism audio drama focused on mental health and trauma. (Check it out here: https://www.whisperforge.org/thefarmeridian). It’s a fantastic show that is as thought provoking as it is genuinely charming. For me, audio dramas are hit and miss as a format, but this one has been an absolute hit. But it, combined with my read throughs of Stephen King’s THE INSTITUTE and a friend’s manuscript, has me thinking about theme in the context of different genres.

THE FAR MERIDIAN is a deeply introspective and emotionally powerful story, while THE INSTITUTE is a thriller mostly focused on fast paced action and shocking revelations (a standard for most King stories, to be sure), and my friends manuscript (which I will be providing no plot details for out of respect for him) is an absurdist comedy. Yet all three of these works focus a lot on repressed trauma in one form or another. The different genres of these stories lend themselves to different explorations of this topic, each does it with the reverence and respect it deserves.

Far Meridian focuses on the ways that unexplored trauma can fester in unexpected and unseen ways. Kings’ Institute spends most of its page count exploring the institutional exacerbation of trauma and oppressive unforeseen forces. My friend’s manuscript explores generational expectations and the trauma it imposes. Each of these stories are different from one another in almost every way except the underlying theme of trauma and what it means to the characters. Genre does not, after all, define theming.

I don’t know how I ended up going through three stories with a similar theme at the same time, but it has ended up topical to my own writing as I work through one of my own characters with PTSD. I’m a discovery writer, so as of now I have no real idea where this character will head in the coming sequels to my current project, but I know their past and their trauma will play a major role. All of these works have shown me that, regardless of the direction in style and tone the sequels of this project take, there will be a way to tackle this trauma in a respectful and accurate way.

There’s not much detail I can go into here beyond that (I don’t like to reveal details about my stories until they refinished and settled). I can say that all of those stories handle the theme well, and I hope to do the same.

Check out THE FAR MERIDIAN and THE INSTITUTE. They’re both worth your time.

Thanks for Reading!

Thanks for taking the time to read my newsletter.

Check out my website: billyloperhistory.com

Check me out on Twitter at: PineyWoodsHIS

Check me out on Facebook at: Billy Don Loper-Fiction

ANNOUNCEMENT-Short Story News

My short fiction “Anatomy of a Waterfall” was chosen as the third place winner of the Tishomingo Arts Council 2022 Fall Writing Competition. As a result of this, the piece will be published in the next edition of THE VIEW FROM WOODALL.

I cannot begin to explain how honored I am to have this piece chosen for this. My life has been strange the past couple of years, and all of that came together to create this piece. I lost my grandmother to an aggressive cancer in 2020, had my first child this year, and have been busy trying to make something of my writing. So I’m happy TAC has given me this chance. I’ll always be grateful.

If you’re interested in the story, keep a watch and I’ll be sure to share once its published!

Thanks for reading-Billy Don.

A Short Story: Key to the Heart

An Author’s Note: This short story was written for the first time in 2015, then heavily revised in 2018. Since then I’ve struggled to find a home for it in the world of fiction magazines and journals. Its shocking nature, reliance on fast paced action, and lack of real metaphorical weight has made it a difficult sell to the magazine world, which tends to focus on more contemplative fiction. However, it has found a wonderful home with the Author Shoppe, a unique bookshop in Hattiesburg, MS. I have referred to Hattiesburg as my home for most of my life, even though I’ve never lived there but have always instead lived nearby. It is a great honor to have this story chosen as a winner in the Author Shoppe’s 2022 Scary Story competition. I can’t think of a better place for it to be recognized than in the town that birthed this story. So, since the Author Shoppe does not have an avenue for publishing short fiction, I’ve decided to take it upon myself to self-publish this piece so that it can be shared with their patrons. It might not be literary or speculative or contemplative, but as the Author Shoppe has noted it is oh, so scary. Enjoy my piece Key to the Heart.

Nancy fumbled with her keys as she tried to open the door to her townhouse, the scrubs she wore wrinkled and stained with the signs and smells of the sixteen-hour shift that had consumed her day. The soft glow of a lamp peered at her through the window on the door, casting long shadows behind her that flickered through the filter of her movements. After what felt like a lifetime, her searching hand found the keys, lost in the vastness of her bag, and clasped around them with enthusiastic frustration. With a quick turn, the lock clicked and she swung open the door. As she stepped in she flipped the light switch on and turned to walk towards her bedroom at the back of the house, but as she turned her heart dropped.

“Fuck,” she whispered, and her eyes raced through the room, bouncing off the scene like pinballs. Papers were strewn across the floor, every drawer in view ripped open and all the furniture upturned. Nancy collapsed onto the door and slid to the floor, her mind reeling as it worked to reject the scene laid out in front of her. Her pained, tired eyes looked out into the house with dismay, but after a moment, her mind caught up with her body, and she leapt to her feet. 

The key, she thought, conscious of the sound of her voice in her own mind. God fuck I hope they didn’t find the key. They can’t have found the key, they can’t they can’t they can’t. She sprinted to her bedroom so fast that as she rounded the corner in the hallway her right foot slipped just enough for her to come crashing to the ground. She landed hard on her right hip, and her heavy frame drove her into the tile floor with such violence that she screamed out from the shock alone. Her heart pumped with such visceral intensity that the pain did not make its way to her brain, and she came back to her feet at the same speed with which she had fallen. 

In the bedroom she reached to open the top drawer of her dresser, but her hand found air as it grasped at nothing. The drawer laid empty on the floor at her feet. No, she thought, and her mind slammed to a halt. No. No no. No nononononononono. Not the key. God not the key. How, what. Where is the KEY? She screamed at herself now, the throbbing pain of her hip having made its way to her nerves. She shambled back into the hallway and to the room across from her bedroom. She put her hand on the doorknob, and her head began to pound with the all too familiar pain of anxiety. She opened the door. Shit, she thought, a yellow splash of light hitting her feet, the sound proofing material on the inside of the door marked with the imprint of a bare foot. How the fuck did he get out. How did he GET. OUT? What am I supposed to do? Oh Jesus fuck I am done this is it this is the end I am done. This is it. 

Nancy ran down the steps and left the door open behind her. By the time she reached the end, her breath came in shivering gulps. The pain in her hip throbbed at every step. When she saw the state of her basement, she shrieked, unsure of where the breath to do so had come from. The chains she had used to hold him lay on the ground still mounted in their home on the floor. The cuffs were missing, and a hacksaw lay half-propped against the wall. The table that held her tools was upturned,  her whips and ropes were ripped from the walls, and the supplies she kept on shelves along the far wall pillaged and strewn on the ground. For a moment, she thought he had somehow managed to reach the tools, but then a memory came rushing back to her. 

God dammit, she thought. God damn me. She remembered teasing him with the saw, slapping him again and again, and just before she started to cut, she heard her alarm echo down the stairs. As she stopped her play time and started up the stairs, she sat the saw on the table just a little too close to the edge. It fell, she thought. She was in a haze, staring at the mess covering her playroom. She remembered topping the stairs and hearing the sharp ping of clanging metal, thinking he was pulling at his chains. The saw fell.

“IT FUCKING FELL!” she screamed. Her mind flew into a rage, and she kicked at the tools on the ground and screamed into the abyss that her playroom had become, her hip screaming back at her in its still ringing pain. She almost couldn’t see through her anger, and she slammed her right fist into the block wall of her basement. The bones crunched, her knuckles busted open, and she let out a shriek that was half fury, half agony. As she clutched her hand, she surveyed the destroyed room. The hot sting of tears rolled down her face as she grinned at the mess that surrounded her. I’m done, she thought as her mind calmed and her hand was starting to throb harder and harder, a wildness settling in her hazel eyes. I’m done. They’ll catch me now. She sighed, looked at her broken hand, and noticed the way her knuckle bone was visible through the blood. “Short lived hobby,” she said aloud. In a state somewhere between melancholy and despair, she climbed back up the steps, her hip fading as the pain of her hand crescendoed to a bellowing volume. She took almost twice as long to go up them as she did to fly down them just moments before, and as she did her mind worked through the few options she had left. As she walked back to her front door, she saw it. On the ground, half covered by strewn papers and broken belongings, was the key and beside it was the lock box that had once held more than a dozen photographs.

She picked them up and dropped them into the trash can near her front door before she glanced out the window. She listened to the sounds of police sirens begin to crescendo across the city as they headed towards her home. Her mind numb from the failure and implosion of her world, Nancy walked to her kitchen, grabbed a large butcher’s cleaver, and placed it in a glass casserole dish. She looked at it for a minute, to be sure she had considered all her options, and covered it with a lid. As she started out the door with the dish in her left hand, a throb of pain from her right side reminded her of her bleeding fist, the trail of blood around her invisible to her whirling mind and foggy eyes. 

“That won’t do,” she said in a trance-like tone and turned back to the kitchen. She wrapped the hand in paper towels and put an oven mitt on. Her hand panged with pain, and she winced as she pulled the mitt over the broken bones. Out of sight, out of mind she thought, half laughing. She walked out of the door, careful to lock it behind her. 

Outside of the house the strobing red and blue lights started to light up the night sky only a few miles away. She let out an exasperated sigh and straightened her hair with her mitt-covered hand while she ignored the streaks of pain that ran down her arm. She walked down the sidewalk to her neighbor’s house, a small, ranch-style home almost a ticky tacky match to her own. She walked to the front door and adjusted herself to give off her best kind neighbor appearance and knocked. A tall, well-built man opened it and gave an honest grin. 

“Hey Nance,” he said as he leaned his head out of the door. “something going on nearby huh?.” The sound of police sirens was almost breathing down their necks. His eyes scanned over her, and he noticed how tired her eyes seemed, heavy and framed in dark circles. “Long day?”

“Real long,” she answered. “I made this casserole, and I don’t think I could ever get it all eaten by myself.” She held up the dish and gave a faint grin, the multi-angled shadows from the door and the streetlights behind her obscuring the fact that the dish was empty, save a solemn knife. “Hungry?” Her hand throbbed in the oven mitt, but she was careful never to break the smile. 

“You know me Nance,” he said, “always hungry. Come on in.” The man turned and walked back into the house, and Nancy followed behind him. She shut the door just as the police rounded the corner, and the light filled the windows of the house.

Looking for Plot in Strange Places: Dood, Juanita, and the Importance of Narrative Context

A Note From Me: The Ballad of Dood and Juanita, and how it shows us to examine a narrative in context, has been on my mind lately. This is a longer one, so thanks for reading!

Spoilers for the plot of Dood and Juanita

Concept albums, or albums meant to explore a concept beyond musical composition itself, aren’t a new–well, concept. David Bowie was famous for his Ziggy Stardust concept albums. Actor and all around eccentric man, Christopher Lee wrote and performed a number of heavy metal concept albums based. Rock acts, Rap artists, indie darlings (see the phenomenal Phoebe Bridgers), and instrumentalists have taken on the task of telling loosely connected narratives through their art. Country music, especially the Country and Western sub-genre, has perhaps been the most fertile genre for the concept album. The likes of Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and Marty Robbins tackled the idea of the narrative west through their music more than once in their careers. 

Sturgill Simpson’s 2021 concept album THE BALLAD OF DOOD AND JUANITA stands out as an interesting example of narrative storytelling, and it has an important lesson to teach on how we study those narratives. Sturgill first made use of the concept album in his 2019 outing SOUND & FURY, which was a hard rock abstract concept album, named after Faulkner’s (in)famous abstract novel. However, DOOD AND JUANITA is not an exercise in abstraction. Instead, it feels as if it is telling a story from an episode of GUNSMOKE, HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL, or BONANZA.

DOOD AND JUANITA consists of ten songs, and each one serves as a main plot beat within the narrative. From Juanita’s kidnapping to the death of Dood’s dog Sam, Simpson tackles the story of a Kentucky pioneer’s journey to save his wife. The music, it goes without saying considering it is the Grammy Award winning Sturgill Simpson at the helm, is phenomenal. But considering it dispenses with the concept album’s typical abstract complexity, discerning listeners might find the narrative of DOOD AND JUANITA simple and formulaic. 

Listeners expecting the weaving ideas of the Ziggy Stardust albums might be disappointed by Sturgill’s utilization of the concept album this time around. However, it is unfair to look at DOOD AND JUANITA through such a simple lense. While song to song, and plot beat to plot beat, the album’s narrative core feels formulaic, there is a lot more meat to dig into there than it might first seem. 

Simpson has layered the story throughout the album in a way that reveals more and more details with repeat listens. Dood’s relationship with his love Juanita, his mule shamrock, and his Shawnee heritage, are only a few of the details that weave themselves throughout the narrative. The first full song on the album, track #2 “Ol’ Dood,” gives a great deal of detail about Dood’s personality and background in order to serve the narrative of the album. From that song alone the listener can see Dood as if he were a character on stage, a fact which is a testament to the clarity of Simpson’s lyrics. After returning to the song a second time,  listeners might identify the way the song lays the groundwork for the rest of the album. The description of his ability with a rifle and his shawnee upbringing foreshadow the way that Dood eventually enacts his vengeance on Juanita’s kidnapper. For a narrative concept album that only has a runtime of about 30 minutes, DOOD AND JUANITA tells a pretty interesting and layered story.

The layered storytelling in DOOD AND JUANITA is not necessarily something revolutionary, and not even unique within the concept album sub-genre. However, it does serve as a recent example of something every reader, and writer should keep in mind. 

In the post-post-[post?]modern era, media analysis has taken a lot of criticism. The “the curtains are blue,” argument comes to mind when I think of what internet media criticism has become. However, that criticism, especially the critical-rating style analysis popular in magazines and online, is not necessarily unwarranted. 

Readers and media critics cannot, and should not, analyze the narrative quality of a young adult novel cannot in comparison with the works of Faulkner, Dickens, and Melville. Movie goers cannot examine the narrative quality of a children’s cartoon against the works of Martin Scorsese and Christopher Nolan. Even more important than avoiding these comparisons is avoiding inter-discipline comparisons, which can create a total misunderstanding of the narrative context a piece of art exists within. 

David Bowie’s most well known concept album, THE RISE AND FALL OF ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS, is a complex, abstract, and beautiful work of art. Any listener will notice that the narrative at its core has much more nuance and layered metaphor than  DOOD AND JUANITA. ZIGGY STARDUST is also three times longer than Simpson’s Country and Western narrative. In the context of concept albums, ZIGGY STARDUST is a Jack Kerouac novel, whereas DOOD AND JUANITA is a Jack London short story. 

No, DOOD AND JUANITA doesn’t have a particularly deep narrative, but in the context of other concept albums, there is a lot to love in Simpson’s latest outing.

Check it out here if you’re interested (not a sponsor).

An Update about Me and this Website

This website was created to serve as my digital portfolio during the job hunt that consumed my final semesters of graduate school, and after I found and secured a job this website was abandoned in the absolute whirlwind that was finishing my thesis, moving, and getting settled into my new life. On top of all that, my first child was born in March of this year, creating a new layer of chaos in my life that has slowed down any external efforts I have. So I wanted to share an update about what this website will be going forward, as well as what I am working on and what can be expected in the months going forward.

To begin with, I won’t be as active in the academic history space going forward. My career has taken a different turn, and its not something I am interested in working on outside of a 9-5, so there won’t be as much academic research and writing going forward. That said, I am working with the Covington County Genealogical and Historical society on a number of projects, and I’ll be posting updates about that work and what I’m doing within the local/community history space here in Mississippi. Be sure to follow along for those updates.

Most recently, I gave a presentation on community history research that can be seen here.

Beyond these public history efforts, I am actively pursuing my lifelong passion of creative writing. I can’t say that it will go anywhere and that I’ll be published anytime soon, but I can say that this is the first time I have had time to really pursue these efforts. I will be updating with any news in that area here.

Outside of all of these (I swear this is the last time I say that), I am planning to start (trying) to do regular blog posts here. These posts might be book reviews, general musings, or cultural/historical tidbits. I hope to keep them light hearted and easy to produce, so if that sounds like something your interested in, keep a check in here.

Thanks for reading.

-Billy Don.

The Center of their Universe-Part Two

Wyatt-Brown’s 1982 work Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South laid a foundation for scholarship on Southern honor and ethics that continues well into the modern day. His arguments on the lives of poor whites, much like any other topic the books touches, are not contained to a single chapter, but instead interwoven throughout his discussions of economic status, family, and personal morality. He situates poor whites in direct contrast with a classical view of “Southern Gentlemen,” which, despite his best efforts to avoid Gone with the Wind-esque stereotypes, can at times conjure as many images of Jefferson Davis as it does Colonel Sanders. The book roots the ideas of genteel honor and ethical behavior in ancient western ideas of chivalry but shows that poor whites were similarly rooted in the distant past. He explains, “those who lacked honor also lacked reputation…poor whites in the Old South were subject to the ancient prejudice against menials, swineherds, peddlers, and beggars” (Wyatt-Brown, 46). However, despite his characteristic view of Southern gentry, this contrast between poor and elite serves his argument well. It allows him to draw a clear distinction between the honor of the poor and the honor of the landed elite.

Wyatt-Brown situates genteel honor as focused on title and status, while explaining that the honor of poor whites was far more familial and fearful of outsiders. It is these ideas, the worries over honor and reputation and a subsequent rejection of outsiders, that he situates as the key features of honor for poor whites. One of the clearest examples of this rejection comes in chapter eight, “Strategies of Courtship and Marriage,” where Wyatt-Brown discusses the penchant poor whites held for what he deems “cousin marrying.” He paints the commonplace nature of incest among the poor as a strategy they utilized to prevent dangerous outside forces from eroding the ethics of their households. He explains, “cousin marriages were a means of reducing risks of incompatibility and of economic and social discrepancies” (Wyatt-Brown, 223). The supposed fearful nature of poor whites is discussed in much more depth during Wyatt-Brown’s discussion of violence and the so-called “frontier spirit.”

Wyatt-Brown does not claim this so-called “frontier spirit” created violence, but that it was a result of poor whites’ concerns over honor and reputation. He once again situates poor whites against the classical Southern genteel and explains that violence existed in all aspects of the South, but that lower ranked citizens committed violent offenses at a higher rate. He declares, “violence was the social necessity for men of all ranks to preserve white manhood and personal status in the fraternity of the male tribe to which all belonged. Through violence…the balance wheel of race, order, and rank was maintained” (Wyatt-Brown, 369). This, however, is where the primary discrepancy between Wyatt-Brown and Merritt begins to appear.

Wyatt-Brown’s views on poor white honor situates poor whites in a constant state of fear, reactionary violence, and reclusion. However, Merritt takes a far more economic view of the issue and situates poor whites in a closer relationship with slavery. Merritt’s view on poor whites will be the topic of the next entry of this series.

Thanks for reading!

Merritt, Keri Leigh. Masterless Men: Poor Whites and Slavery in the Antebellum South. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Wyatt-Brown, Bertram. Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

The Center of their Universe-Part One

The historiography of White, Southern identity is expansive. However, while the rise of modern conservatism and the massive resistance to the African American Civil Rights Movement has received a great deal of attention, the identity of Antebellum poor whites has not. However, that does not mean that the topic has gone entirely unexplored. In reality, two Historians contributed far different interpretations of poor whites thirty-five years apart from one another.

Bertram Wyatt Brown’s Southern Honor: Honor and Ethics in the Old South (1982)and Keri Leigh Merritt’s Masterless Men: Poor Whites and Slavery in the Antebellum South (2017) serve as both complementary and contradictory pieces of the historiography. Intense ideological and economic pressures surrounded poor whites in the antebellum American South. Whether it was religion, economic insecurity, social divides, or the classical idea of southern honor, a wide array of social and economic factors touched the lives of every poor white in the region. However, determining which of these pressures existed at the core of their world has been the subject of decades of historical investigation. This conversation comes to the forefront in the conflict between Southern Honor and Masterless Men. To Wyatt-Brown, poor whites existed in a world of “frontier spirit” that entailed exerting social control through violent means to preserve their ideas of honor (Wyatt-Brown, 370). In contrast, Merritt considers honor to be a small part of a larger trend towards violence rooted in the economic and social divisions which surrounded it (Merritt, 139-140). However, to both authors, what laid at the center of the universe for poor whites drove every aspect of their existence.

The historiographic conversation between Wyatt-Brown and Merritt, the larger historiography around the identity of poor antebellum whites, and the need for further research on the topic will be the subject of this series of blog posts. Throughout the next several posts I will take a close look at both Wyatt and Merritt as they dismantle the ideological foundation that created a poor white identity in the American South. Through this, this historiographical foundation of their conflicting interpretations is clear.

Thanks for Reading!

Merritt, Keri Leigh. Masterless Men: Poor Whites and Slavery in the Antebellum South. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Wyatt-Brown, Bertram. Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

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