Have a Ball with Research, But...



While researching the probable setting for a future project on a tiny back road near Caddo Lake in deep East Texas, I came across this sign for a "calf fries" cookout sponsored by a mom & pop bar & grocery. Tragically (awww...), the date for it had passed, leaving only the words and that ball of I-don't-even-want-to-know-what tacked against the placard.

Research can be both fun and funny, as it's a place's differences that catch one's attention and excite the imagination. But writers sometimes forget that those differences don't tell the total story. Select only these, and you'll end up with a stereotyped gooberville, a cartoonish depiction that does a great disservice to the smart and savvy locals. This sort of lazy over-generalization is what makes Southerners groan at so many of Hollywood's renditions (Dukes of Hazzard, anyone?), just as it hacks off folks from working class, Northeastern urban neighborhoods and infuriates more mainstream residents of San Francisco. Written by an outsider, it comes across as mocking, so the moral of the story is to go ahead and have a ball while doing research, but remember that the oddities are oddities and most folks are merely doing their best to make their way and raise their families in this world, the same as you and I.

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