Recently, my home office was painted, and now I’m slowly putting it back together, organizing stuff that has been in boxes for months now (since we moved house in April). One thing I stumbled across was a map of Civil War battles. It’s not mine; I think it belongs to one of my kids. But I stopped to look at it and thought, fleetingly, of writing a book set in the Old South. And then I thought:
But I’m not allowed to do that.
At least, not in a way that romanticizes that time and lifestyle.
You have to understand that 1. I grew up in the American South, and 2. I love Gone with the Wind. Which I’m also pretty sure I’m not allowed to love anymore, but while I can definitely see that it’s problematic, I can’t hate it. I used to watch that movie every time I was home sick from school. We read the book in high school, too, and I enjoyed it as well. Then I fell in love with the North and South miniseries (though I never did make it through the books). These things are just my jam.
And maybe it’s because I grew up with a fascination for history, and my area history in particular, which included a number of plantations. But the fact that I feel the need to make excuses for things I enjoy—that’s where I start to get uncomfortable. Because again, though I see and acknowledge the problems of our past, and of putting a romantic veneer over it, I still love a good Southern Belle love story. As they say, the heart wants what it wants.
But I’m not supposed to want to read books like that. Or write them. Books set in the pre-Civil War era are now meant to be serious, and to highlight the gravity of how terrible slavery was. IT WAS. I don’t even think we can comprehend it. I’m still blown away by how recent civil rights are, that my dad went to a segregated school for a big chunk of his life. Like, what??? I can’t wrap my brain around it.
And maybe that’s another part of my problem. I can understand and appreciate a love story, regardless of setting. But I can’t do that for something as enormous as our slave-weighted past. I freely admit my failings here, and I am in no way suggesting slavery was anything but a blight on our history.
Still, being told what I can and can’t like to read, or watch, or what I can or can’t write… It’s a kind of censorship. That I’m supposed to self-inflict in order to be politically correct. Sort of like not eating all the fudge because, you know, that’s bad for me and also not nice to anyone else who wanted some fudge. Writing a Southern Belle romance would be considered both bad for me and not nice to anyone who finds that setting problematic (except when being explored as a terrible thing).
I don’t write sexy books because I don’t like them. But I don’t shame writers or readers of that kind of thing. And it’s considered progressive to be “sex positive.” Yet I’m pretty sure if I wrote a historical romance set in the Old South, I’d have people jumping all over me for it. Because that’s the opposite of progressive, I guess.
I don’t really even know what I’m trying to say here. I’m thinking (typing) out loud in a more stream-of-consciousness way. It’s a fine line to walk. Big picture is the way that the PC mindset is in some ways actually restricting rather than freeing.