So … Where DO You Get Your Ideas?

There are no stupid questions.

Okay — there are a few stupid questions. If you walk into the dollar store, where there is an enormous sign on the door that says “EVERYTHING ONE DOLLAR” and you ask the clerk for a price check on an item, you have asked a stupid question.

But there are very few stupid questions, and “Where do you get your ideas?” isn’t one of them, no matter how stupid people have tried to make you feel for having asked it. It is the question most writers are asked most often by most would-be writers and most readers, and the reason why it is THE number one writing question is because it is a good, solid, complicated, vast, confusing, difficult question.

Easy to ask. Stone bitch to answer. But I’m going to give it a shot.

But first you have to understand that, even after I answer the question, odds are you won’t have what you need — you will not have the answer you really want to the question you meant to ask.

Because the idea is not the book. The idea is nothing like the book. The idea is a germ, a seed, a small, powerful bit of compressed potential energy that is going to consume vast amounts of fuel and time and effort and pain and thought to reach its full expression. And just as the germ does not look like the full-blown disease, and just as the seed does not look like the majestic tree, so the idea will in no way resemble the book that is finally grown from it. When you ask, “Where do you get your ideas?” odds are, the question you’re really hoping to have the answer to is “Where to you get your books?”

The answer to that one is easy. Apply ass to chair, apply fingers to keyboard, don’t move until the day’s pages are written. Bleed, suffer, hope, weep, laugh, and die a thousand deaths to rise again, and in the end, you cannot help but have a book.

But the seeds that grow the books? Such an easy question. No one answer that fits every writer, or even every book.

So I’ll answer by way of example, and hope my examples offer you something you can use.

I got the idea for the ending of the book I just finished proposing from a Reader’s Digest “Drama in Real Life” article I read when I was fifteen, while I was swinging in a hammock on the screened-in breezeway of the big adobe house that was part of the Friends Mission complex in Chicquimala, Guatemala, where I lived until the earthquake nearly shook it down on top of us. The breeze up in the mountains was fairly cool the day I read the article, and I was lulled by the sweet scent of blooming roses, and I’d already done the vocabulary quiz and read a handful of not-so-memorable articles when I came across this one that totally blew me away. Since I don’t want to spoil the book for anyone — should this be the one that sells — I’ll just say that it was a hell of an article. It had to be to still be with me in vivid detail thirty years later. It dealt with a woman who managed to survive a terrifying accident just by keeping her head, and I burned the details of how she survived into my memory, in case I should ever find myself in a similar situation. In my nightmares, I frequently do find myself in that very situation. Maybe in writing this book, I’ll exorcise that particular storyline from my subconscious.

So.

Idea Number One: Article read thirty years earlier. You could call this particular seed slow to germinate. You could also note that it’s lucky the brain doesn’t unclutter itself in the best Home & Garden Network Organize Yourself! fashion, because if it did, I wouldn’t have had that ending I needed.

I built the SECRET TEXTS series (Diplomacy of Wolves, Vengeance of Dragons, Courage of Falcons) around several ideas. One came from years of childhood religious training, and it was: What if a messiah came back as promised, but died before he could save his chosen people? What would his chosen people do then? The second came from watching the Godfather movies back to back, feeling the epic threads of that story working their way across a broad canvas of time and space, and wondering, What would have happened if the Mafia had had access to magic? And the third came from this weird little twitch in the back of my brain that just wanted to know, What would happen if a hated, despised werewolf had a sense of honor, and was presented with a chance to save the doomed people who persecuted her?

Idea Number Two: Sixteen years of regular churchgoing and exploration of religion, and a whole lot of questions that kept being answered with “Because we say so or because God/ the Bible/ the minister says so.” In a emergency, if people are shooting at you and someone screams “GET DOWN!”, then Why? is a stupid question and Because! is an acceptable answer — assuming you’re still alive to hear it. But there were no bullets flying when I asked all those questions, and longer, well-reasoned answers were required. Eventually I trudged off to figure out the damned answers on my own.

Idea Number Three: Watching movies while impaired with a genetic brain defect. That’s my only excuse. How many other people in the world watched Brando and Pacino and De Niro in performances that were arguably the high points of their respective careers, and found themselves swept up into that amazing generational epic of honor and loyalty and betrayal and ruin and thought, Man, what those guys could have done with a couple of good spellcasters? And then wrote 345,000 words about in an entirely different world with completely different people to give the question an answer?

Idea Number Four: A strong personal compulsion to root for the underdog (in the case of those three werewolf books, literally), paired with an absolute requirement that my underdog be a genuine good guy who will play fair even when the guys with the power are cheating like hell. This is a me thing. It’s simply part of who I am and what makes me tick. I must cheer for underdogs, but I cannot cheer for underdogs who cheat, no matter how high the odds are stacked against them. I’m no fan of Loki.

I’ve lived in the Deep South for a lot of years now, by choice. I like it here. I like the people, I like the atmosphere, I like the community. It isn’t the richest area in the world, but does it need to be? Folks here are decent, crime rates are low, property is relatively inexpensive and so is everything else. Drivers will let you out in traffic, courtesy still means something, and I cannot remember the last time I heard someone blow an automobile horn for any reason. Wait, yes I can. It was a couple of months ago and the jackass wasn’t from around here.

I am not amused by redneck jokes — by the assumption that’s its fine to mock or hate the folks who live in trailers and work two jobs to scrape by and who have a couple hundred dollars in the bank at most. To deride them just because they’re white and their parents couldn’t afford to pay their way through college.

I tired of the inbreeding jokes. Know who the most inbred fuckers on the planet are? Royalty. The remaining royal families have been keeping the power in the family for so long by means of marrying each other that it’s amazing they aren’t born with two heads. Know who the second most inbred bunch of assholes are? The old-money rich. Same rationale — money marries money, and big money marries big money, and at the top you end up family trees that don’t branch and with some really, really, butt-ugly kids. George W. Bush and John Kerry, frat-boy Skull-and-Boneser pampered elites both, are from old, powerful families — and when you look at their faces, you can see the non-branching family trees have not been kind. Boston Brahmins, Daughters of the American Revolution, the Old Boys Network: Same story. Powerful shitheels who have been running things in this country since before it was a country, marrying each other to make sure the land and the money and the power aren’t diluted.

But people kiss ass to the rich. And now that it’s not okay for the rich to keep people from hating the rich by directing their anger to Indians or blacks or Chinese immigrants, they’ve carefully set their propaganda machines going against the last group its great to hate.

Rednecks.

So now, because the upper-class media machines tell us to, we’re going to dump all the hate we have on the descendents of the guys who came over in chains as convicts because they they committed such heinous crimes as stealing food to feed there families? Or the descendents of the young men and women who sold themselves to drummers because they were starving (or were drugged and dumped onto white slave ships because they weren’t wary enough or quick enough to spot a con) and who came over under the euphemistic term “indentured servant” in their teens, and who, in the majority of cases, if they didn’t die in the Middle Crossing, did not survive their seven-year term of indenture? Who if they did survive where whipped and beaten and burned and raped, who if they got pregnant had the terms of their indenture doubled or tripled and the children they bore enslaved for up to thirty-one years? Who died in slavery in higher numbers than blacks (and I know that fact is going to piss off a lot of folks. Sorry, but it’s true.) And whose descendants have been scraping along, never quite getting a break, ever since. Don’t believe me? Read The Redneck Manifesto: How Hillbillies, Hicks and White Trash Became America’s Scapegoats. But meanwhile, keep reading here, because there’s a story idea in this, and I used it for three books.

Yes, I’m pissed off about the treatment rednecks get. I grew up in trailer parks. Teachers were invariably shocked (mouth hanging open, eyes wide shocked) when they found out where I lived and what I lived in, because in the eyes of just about everyone, every white person who lives in a trailer is an ignorant toothless barefoot slutty violent moonshine-swigging inbred lowbrow without hope of a future or possibility of redemption. And that just isn’t so.

So in three books, I made rednecks my heroes — and not back-handed heroes charming in their stupidity and delighted to occasionally get one over on the city boys. I made them genuine goddamned heroes, full of the same courage and self-sacrifice and honor and determination and grit that you’ll find in any other heroes worth their salt. These are the folks I know, and I didn’t create qualities they didn’t have to make them look better. I didn’t pretty them up for public consumption, but I didn’t dumb them down to get a laugh from the assholes only too willing to despise them, either. I stuck them in the Deep South because that’s where the ones I know actually exist — fine people without a lot of money but with all the courage in the world. But they’re all over. And all over, they’re still by and large good people.

And in the WORLD GATES novels (Memory of Fire, The Wreck of Heaven, and Gods Old and Dark), I let my redneck heroes be who they were, and they saved the world. Just like they have as the backbone of the military in all our wars. Just like they have as the working-class backbone of this country since it was founded.

Remember that bit about me cheering for the underdogs? Right. I earned that. Grow up in trailer parks and see the good people you know treated like shit because they’re poor and white, because they couldn’t afford college or a nice little house with a picket fence. Be treated that way yourself, for those same inexcusable reasons. And then see if you can cheer for the folks who have life handed to them by their mommies and daddies, and who manage to whine about how unfair everything is, and tell me again about how all white folks benefit from white privilege. Because I don’t think I heard you right the first time. Where are the redneck benefits, honey?

Idea Number Five: Rage at the mistreatment of any people because of the color of their skin or the size of their pocketbooks. My rage over racism extends to encompass all who experience it, and all who perpetrate it, and in my books I’ve written black heroes (Cadence Drake in Hunting the Corrigan’s Blood) and Hispanic/ Amerind heroes (Kait Galweigh in THE SECRET TEXTS) and one Any-Race-But-Swede heroine (Phoebe Rain in MIDNIGHT RAIN, who has black hair and black eyes and is never described in more specific race detail than that.) I’ve also written a lot of white characters, because I have a lot of experience there.

Culture is something worth fighting for. Or over. I get a hell of a lot of ideas from that.

But race is a figment of our imaginations — genetically we are no more different than a bunch of over-bred Cocker Spaniels. And our skin color is as meaningful as it is on those same dumb dogs. There are no true generalizations you can make about Cockers with one coat color that is not equally true about all the rest of them. The reds and tans and browns and blacks are all genetically the same under the fur. And so are we. Race does not define us. (Culture does, and not all cultures are equally worthy of respect. But that’s a fight for another time.)

Where do you get your ideas, then? You read everything, you watch everything, you live your life, you suffer your pain, you pay attention to everything, you get pissed off by the things that are genuinely worth getting pissed off about. You ask yourself questions, including those questions that seem weird or stupid. And if those questions interest you, you pursue them and you write them down so that you can find the answers. You plant the seeds, tend them with your own flesh and blood and dreams and effort and time. You go into a book you write with your heart and soul engaged a different person than you will be when you come out, because if your questions were any damned good at all, you didn’t know the answers going in. You weren’t writing polemic to shove your views down the throat of readers. You weren’t, trying to make a point. You were trying to answer something you wanted to know, and you were doing it for your own satisfaction, and finding out the answer is going to change you. If you don’t cheat.

If you cheat? Well, if you cheat, you’ll never be a hero of mine.

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About the author: Novelist, writing teacher, on a mission to reprint my out-of-print books and self-publish my new ones.

15 comments… add one
  • Arathe Aug 27, 2005 @ 14:46

    I come from a lower-middle class family, you know, the kind that always lived in apartments and never hoped to have a house. I was raised primarily in Washington state, and I have to say, after reading this I did a little thinking.

    Never, NEVER have I discrimiated against the poor. My family has had to stand in our fair share of food bank lines, and I would never think to judge someone on “class” regardless of where they live. But I have found that maybe I’m as guilty as others for descrimination against “rednecks” for different reasons.

    I absolutely can NOT STAND intolerant people. I believe people have a right to live their lives as they choose, regardless of race, gender, religion, or sexual preferance. And I’ve found most of the gay haters and racist people I’ve come across come from the south. I’m not saying ALL southern people are racist and intolerant, but over my life I’ve noticed a distinct trend that way. And because of that trend I’ve fount myself disliking “hicks” in general. Which is not at all the way it should be.

    I’d like to thank you for writing this and reminding me that all southern people aren’t like that. That a lot of them are just nice people with less than others. I’ve never judged people by how much money they have. I know that poor people can be just as intelligent as rich people, and often with a better work ethic and a more realistic outview…but you’ve reminded me that I shouldn’t judge people on the region they come from either, just because other people from that region might be intolerant assholes.

    So thanks, maybe it made me a bit of a better person.

  • Jenne Aug 26, 2005 @ 8:02

    I’m from the poor branch of one of those DAR family trees, so I relate to a lot of what you’re saying. We are in a house now, but I’ve lived in a trailer before and I would not eliminate it as a choice for the future. There is a kind of queasy feeling about being the poor cousins, though. To get that kind of discrimination from your own kin stinks– and nothing I do in my life will ever elevate me in their eyes. Maybe that’s why I have an apparently inborn distaste for the country-club-and-golf lifestyle. They’d look down on their own family if that family doesn’t live up to their superficial values.

    I think my preference for working class heroes has a lot to do with why I like sci fi and other genre fiction and generally find “literary” writing to be dull. Frankly, I don’t care about the trials and tribulations of spoiled druggies at private East Coast colleges. I see the children of privilege around here, too. They’re the ones who brag about not going to class. They know they never really have to work and they’ll always get whatever they want because that’s the way the universe works for them. You know what, though? I’d rather work hard and go to bed at night knowing I put in an honest day’s work. Even if finances are a struggle.

    Sorry for rambling.

  • hollylisle Aug 24, 2005 @ 12:54

    To everyone interested — I did the searches on redneck and the other racist epithets and saved them in the post to Alison. If you click on any of the linked words, you’ll find what I found without having to do the work.

  • FrankA Aug 24, 2005 @ 9:40

    “…readers who don’t quite see why the results turned up on the “redneck” search are offensive, just change the color of the skin in all those ever-so-funny pictures to something yellower, or redder, or browner. Or replace the word “redneck” with a racial epithet for any non-white race. It should be an eye-opening experience…”

    This reminds me of when I was living in Atlanta and there was the big to-do about the Atlanta Braves. At the time they had a “mascot” named Chief Knock-a-Homma. They set up a little plastic tee pee over one of the dugouts and every time someone hit a home-run, this white guy with paint on his face (not exactly ceremonial paint) would come out and do a “war dance”.

    A handful of Indians protested games but there weren’t enough to make any kind of impact. Until someone got on CNN and asked the world, “If it was the Atlanta Slaves, and they had a white guy in black-face come out and do a tap dance after each home-run, would you still do it?” Suddenly they decided to remove that part of the show.

    In general, Indians that I know don’t mind being mascots in name, The Redskins, The Seminoles, The Braves, because that is a kind of honoring for strength and athletic ability. But the whole chief Knock-a-Homma thing wasn’t respectable at all. Changing the color of the subject suddenly put it in a light the majority of people could understand. That’s what you are suggesting for jokes about poor rural white folks. I think it’ll work for most people.

  • Monica Aug 24, 2005 @ 8:22

    Okay. . . I knew the words I mentioned above were racist, and never use them, but I didn’t know redneck was in the same category.

    Since this is out of my ken, of course I take your word for how you define it.

    I’ve heard few trailer park jokes–the poor folk I know look up to people in trailer parks, LOL! And as I said, the redneck jokes have been limited to the Internet and Comedy Central.

    It’s true that people have to look down on something. Seems to be the human condition.

  • alisons Aug 24, 2005 @ 7:46

    Holly,

    OK, I genuinely didn’t know that “redneck” was regarded as such a racist word. I knew that “cracker” was, because there was once a massive flame war about it on a dog list I’m on. But I hadn’t heard the word “cracker” prior to that discussion, whereas the word “redneck” is used extensively in the UK too (applied to Americans). I’d agree with Monica – I thought it was the same sort of thing as “blonde” – a word that could be used either descriptively or in a jocular sense that people would not generally be offended by. I’d assumed that a word wouldn’t be so widely used if it wasn’t generally acceptable.
    If it’s actually in the same category as “nigger” in the eyes of many people, then that’s something I didn’t know, and I’m more than happy to edit my blog entry from “redneck extremist” to “white rural extremist”, if that would be more accurate and less offensive.
    I’ll run the searches you describe later.
    Do you think it’s OK for a self-declared redneck to describe themselves as redneck, then, as Monica suggests with nigger? Or should the word be avoided altogether, in your view?
    The trouble with this minefield is that it’s so easy to cause unintentional offence, unless you exclusively use formal vocabulary. And then one comes over as an over-educated bore. Oh, wait, maybe I am one…

  • hollylisle Aug 24, 2005 @ 7:15

    Alison — in fact, Google searches on words like “nigger”, “raghead”, and “gook” DON’T turn up such nastiness. They turn up a lot of apologies for the racism of the word, a couple of jackoffs being jackoffs, and the occasional telling find. The contents of the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, for example, are indistinguishable from the current Google redneck search — except for two things. One is that the Museum is cataloging behavior that is no longer acceptable, while the search is cataloging identical behavior and proving that it is QUITE acceptable. And the other is the skin color of the group being attacked.

    And for readers who don’t quite see why the results turned up on the “redneck” search are offensive, just change the color of the skin in all those ever-so-funny pictures to something yellower, or redder, or browner. Or replace the word “redneck” with a racial epithet for any non-white race. It should be an eye-opening experience.

  • hollylisle Aug 24, 2005 @ 6:51

    I’ve heard blacks use the words crackers, peckerwoods, PWT’s and terrapins to refer to whites, but never rednecks. PWT’s are the only specific for poor whites, and that usually only means the mean ones. PWT’s can be mean but they seem nowhere as mean as N-words.

    The words are identical synonyms, and are equally racist. If you know what they mean, you have the meaning of redneck.

    As for trailers, they’re an easy shot. How many “God hates trailer parks” jokes have you heard? Nice neighborhoods get clobbered by tornados, too, but nobody makes jokes about how God hates split-levels. My trailer is a nice, new doublewide on a good chunk of land that I own. It’s clean on the inside and the outside, though we don’t have much furniture, and what we have is almost all from WalMart or Home Depot build-it-yourself kits. I’ve planted trees and flowers and I keep the yard mowed. My closest neighbors, (black family on the right, white military family on the left, elderly couple across the street) do the same. Down the road from us there are folks who have stuck two ancient singlewides together in an L shape, have windowed the place with plastic, and are growing ancient refridgerators and dogs in the back yard. But they’ve planted flowers, too, and they mow, and they’re doing the best they can on almost no income. What’s wrong with trailers? Hell if I know.

    But people have to hate someone, don’t they? And rednecks/ crackers/ hillbillies/ poor white trash (PWT)/ hicks have been a favorite target for a couple hundred years.

  • Monica Aug 23, 2005 @ 21:41

    What exactly is a “redneck?” Does this refer to all poor white folks?
    I’ve never heard anybody black make any redneck jokes, only other white people who call themselves rednecks–on Comedy Central mainly. I honestly thought it was sort of the same thing as “blond” jokes.

    I’ve heard blacks use the words crackers, peckerwoods, PWT’s and terrapins to refer to whites, but never rednecks. PWT’s are the only specific for poor whites, and that usually only means the mean ones. PWT’s can be mean but they seem nowhere as mean as N-words. We take back the power of the word–as some women are doing with the word bitch–and use it to refer to underclass ghetto blacks or anybody else who gets on our damn nerves (including my man), but whites don’t get to use it.

    Does redneck have similar connotations?

    And what’s wrong with trailer parks? Feeling clueless here. Mostly whites do live in them. I always saw them as cheap alternative housing and a major step up from the projects where the poor black folks live. You gotta have some sort of credit and cash to buy a trailer.

    I had a lot of home care patients in trailers and most of them were on social security incomes and that’s what they could afford–in Texas, many were set on rather nice tracts of land.

    So how are rednecks different from other white folks? (feeling even more clueless).

  • alisons Aug 23, 2005 @ 16:17

    Holly,
    Remember that I’m not American, and I genuinely may not fully understand the connotations of the word “redneck” to you, because I’ve only picked up the word when communicating with people from your side of the pond. If “redneck” is an inherently derogatory word, then surely you’d expect a Google search to turn up more nastiness than for the word “royalty”, just as you would expect “nigger” to turn up more nastiness than “black”. If “redneck” is purely a descriptive term, with no associated implications, then perhaps you wouldn’t.
    When I used the term “redneck extremists”, I was thinking about some of the people I met at a county fair in Mississippi, where the only black people in the entire place were the jockeys on the racetrack, where someone did actually say to us that “all the inner city problems were because niggers couldn’t be trusted in good housing developments”. That person was a white rural Southerner with a pickup, which I would’v’e thought made him a redneck, and I would certainly hope that his views made him extremist. If my use of the word, qualified by the adjective, offended you or anyone else, I’m sincerely sorry.
    I’m not arguing with your defence of the community you so robustly defend. Having just spent 3 weeks in the South, I liked it too, met lots of wonderful people (and ate fried green tomatos in a trailer home) and would quite see why you’d like living there (apart from the insects ; )) Nor would I disagree with your “country club” rant. I know lots of those people too, and I don’t like them either. But it’s not their incomes that make them distasteful as such, it’s what they choose to do with their lives, isn’t it?
    The point I was trying to make is not that the things you say aren’t true, but that it’s just as wrong to make blanket generalisations about any one group of people as any other – good, bad and indifferent come in all flavours. So I’m not sure how much my mileage varies from yours, but thank you for taking the time to reply, anyway.

  • hollylisle Aug 23, 2005 @ 11:39

    Alison — If a Google search for “comfortably well-off” or “royalty” spewed out the same sort of stereotyping, class hatred and venom as the Google search for “redneck”, I’d say you had a point. In fact, if you can find one other ethnic or socioeconomic group that, when searched on, yields that same horrifying set of mocking caricatures and scorn — and you can use any epithets you care to in trying to come up with similar results — I’ll concede your point, that everybody suffers the same. Give it your best shot, but you won’t find one. Not one. Because everybody doesn’t suffer the same. Life hands out shit to everyone. But Life and everyone else hand out shit to rednecks.

    While those of us occupying the mobile homes of America are a free shot for anyone who cares to take a swing at us (and there are comedians out there who have gotten nicely rich doing nothing but taking swings at us) nobody out there pays much notice to the folks north of the socio-economic break point.

    There was no blanket hatred in my post. A lot of anger, a fair amount of distaste. I do loathe whiners, and though certainly only a percentage of the folks in the following group are whiners, most of the people I hear whining loudest come from this group: the parent-financed colleged-educated comfortably-well-off who never pulled a night shift at a real job (a real job is one that feeds the family, not one that earns spending money to cover the extras mom and dad don’t), never worked a holiday, and never tried to decide whether water was more or less important than electric when trying to pay bills with not enough to get by on.

    Folks on the bottom don’t sit around making jokes about folks on the top. Can’t say the same about the other way round. For a while, I was married into “comfortably well off” and belonged to a country club on my husband’s membership, and discovered that the fine pillars of the community, safely ensconced behind their members-only doors, were quite happy to deride “lazy niggers” and “stinking rednecks” with their golfing buddies.

    (Or, to use the term you so casually tossed out in this post, “redneck extremists.” No one ever has anything good to say about rednecks, do they? You’ll die of old age before you find a phrase like “redneck hero” used seriously.)

    I avoided the country club — never took the kids to the pool there, never attended any of the activities. I didn’t like the class of people with whom I found myself rubbing elbows. They were smug assholes who’d done nothing of value with their lives. Who’d done nothing with their lives at all but make money.

    Your mileage may vary — but I’ve driven every damned mile of mine.

  • alisons Aug 23, 2005 @ 10:33

    Holly,
    I applaud your defence of the underdog. But, as far as we know, nobody chooses which income band (or race) we’re born into, and it’s just as unfair to deride royalty for being royal as it is to deride trailer park dwellers for being born in trailer parks. There are a whole set of different pressures and problems that come with the level of media exposure modern royalty gets, and those who were born into it don’t get an iota of choice about it – nor can they escape: even if they do something alternative and non-conformist, the media pack will still be after them just as eagerly. Nor can they help their genetic inheritance. I wouldn’t change places with any member of the British royal family, not ever. I can’t comment on the American government elite. I don’t know enough about it.

    I don’t think that it’s fair to blame comfortably-off people for doing what they can for their children. Who doesn’t want their child to have the best start in life, whatever you perceive that to be? Sure, it doesn’t do a child any good to be handed everything on a plate, but who’s going to cast their child out into the world with nothing? Where do you draw the line?
    Nor does wealth give protection against unhappiness – far from it: you can be rich and still be in an abusive marriage/suffering from cancer/struggling with a handicapped child. Sure, wealthy people don’t need to whine about money, but does having money mean that you can’t complain about anything else in your life, ever? Everything’s relative. Everyone reading this is rich, by the standards of most of the world, just because we all have access to a computer. Doesn’t mean nothing bad ever happens to any of us.
    I’m happy to support your rejection of predjudice against poor whites, but to denigrate everyone born into privilege, just because they were born into privilege, is the other side of the same coin. We don’t choose where we’re born. What makes us valuable is what we do with our lives afterwards.

    Sorry to be long-winded, and thank you for a thought-provoking post.

    Alison (white, English, middle-class, college-educated with the help of supportive parents, and the great-great granddaughter of at least one illiterate Scottish miner, just so my frame of reference is clear..)

  • Jim Aug 22, 2005 @ 19:18

    Holly, loved the post. Very well done.

    Just a few comments to add.

    1. I guess I’m one of those “Rednecks” that get talked about a lot. The original settlers hit my area of the country between 1810 and 1840, and I’m descended from one of them through five lines, and through two more through two lines each. (God, I love genealogy). But go back far enough, I’m also descended from royalty — and everyone alive is also if you go back that far, just simply because there were about 800,000 people in England at the time (850 AD) and — after forty generations — over one trillion positions to fill in your family tree, and for all the Royal scions where were killed or purged, there were others a generation or two off who survived because they were already so far out of the line of succesison that there was no need to hunt them down.

    But in that family tree — and in the generations immediately preceeding — I had ancestors who fought in the Indian Wars, the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War (on both sides), World War II, and (my own father) Korea, Viet Nam, and, I dare say, in the Middle East decades before anyone knew we would be fighting for our lives in the Middle East. And yes, I am only two generations from the farm, and that only because my father chose a military career.

    Which leads to the real hook I had about rednecks. The Union had a population base of 23 million and an industrial base second only to England in the 1850’s. The Confederacy was an agrarian society of some 9 millions with about the same land area to defend. Yet the Confederacy almost won, until William Sherman and Ulysses Grant realized that the only way the North could win was to apply scorched earth tactics — and had the fortitude to do so. It wasn’t becasue of slavery; it was because that typical “Redneck” southern boy believed that the government had no right to order the people around, and was willing to give his all to ensure the continuation of his way of life. Most of those boys never owned slaves (and some of the ones who did, like my own ancestors, ended up fighting on the Union side.) What they owned was a vision of independence and liberty that is still the earmark of the “Redneck,” as perhaps best exemplified these days by the musician Charlie Daniels.

    Oh, sometimes I chuckle at Redneck jokes (check out the “Redneck scrapbook” at http://www.boortz.com for some amusing examples) — but then, we Rednecks have a good sense of humor about ourselves too.

  • MotherNox713 Aug 22, 2005 @ 15:01

    BRAVO!

  • FrankA Aug 22, 2005 @ 14:07

    Very, very, very well said.

    My blue-collar, farmhand and soldier, Irish-Scottish side of the family that traces its roots back to starvation and desperation would approve of the entire thing.

    Now, the in-breeding thing with royalty has produced more than a few nut cases throughout history.

    Thanks for writing that.

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