Thursday, January 12, 2012

ACROSS THE BACK FENCE – Thursday Thoughts

Hey y’all, welcome back to my back fence. Hope you wore your jacket today ‘cause the temperature’s a bit chilly here. I saw a couple of horses standing with their rear ends backed up against the sunny, west side of the barn yesterday. Smart animals. Today, we’re expectin’ some snow by noon. My old barn jacket feels pretty good right now, but by tomorrow when the snow storm hits, I’ll need a much heavier one. Still, a little January sunshine always warms my heart. How ‘bout you? Are you having a good day?

If you stopped by the back fence last week, you’ll remember I promised I’d be writing about small towns and why I set my books in them. Some folks believe nothing interesting ever happens in small towns. Not true! I don’t know what those readers call interesting, but let me assure you, small towns can be fantastic fodder for all genres of fiction. Mysteries, hot romances, sweet romances, thrillers, romantic suspense...small towns can have it all. Sure, big cities have a larger scope, more places for mysteries and romances to occur. But I write about what is familiar to me. It’s easier and a lot of fun. I believe writing should be fun, as well as satisfying. I enjoy reading about big cities and foreign locales, but I’m much more comfortable in the small towns of my imagination.

In a small town, people are often privy to their neighbors personal life. And if neighbors know each other that well, chances are there’s an active gossip hotline. That closeness of community can be a good thing...or not so good, depending on what genre the writer chooses to write. Follow me so far? Getting any ideas yet?

If you need a little mystery or suspense, consider the fact that illicit affairs might be difficult to keep secret. A moral slip-up of any kind wouldn’t be easy to hide. What about the stranger who moves into town? Is he/she someone you can trust? Suspicion is contagious and folks in small, tight-knit communities tend to look after each other. Nosy? You betcha! But there’s usually a good reason. What about that staid businessman who’s lived in the neighborhood for years? What goes on behind the closed doors of his home that suddenly causes his wife to become a recluse? Does their neighbor notice something out of the ordinary and investigate or report it to the police? And what if there’s a bad cop on the police force? Stuff happens, folks. Small town citizens are human. They have flaws and secrets to hide, as well as dreams to pursue.

On the positive side, good deeds done by well-meaning citizens are often recognized and praised by the town council. Local newspapers spread good news through the community on a regular basis, often for free. Town folks give pats on the back and high fives when meeting each other in the local café or market. Churches hold festivals and town celebrations for the whole community to enjoy. Kids ride their bikes to town without fear of being harmed. Folks are genuinely concerned when a neighbor needs help, and don’t hesitate to step up and lend a hand. A small town takes care of its own. And if the community has been around for a long, long time, the town’s past history often holds secrets and surprises that could stir up a hornets’ nest, if discovered. Old friendships turn into love affairs after a small town class reunion. New loves can blossom when an unlikely pair meet under unusual circumstances. You see what I’m sayin’? Fodder for fiction, and very likely close to real-life.

Romance writer Robyn Carr sets her terrific VIRGIN RIVER series in a small mountain community in Northern California. For an intriguing small town mystery series, read Susan Wittig Albert’s CHINA BAYLES series, set in the fictional town of Pecan Springs, Texas. JoAnn Ross writes a compelling SHELTER BAY series that’s a must read.

What are some of your favorite books with small town settings? Why? What draws you to them? I’d love to read your comments. And while you get ready to answer those questions, I’ll share a couple of regional recipes from my small town memories. Remember, they come with NO guarantee.


1 ½ cup yellow cornmeal 
½ cup flour 
1 tsp. baking powder 
1 tsp. salt 
½ tsp. baking soda
1 egg
2/3 cup buttermilk
Sift together dry ingredients. Add egg and buttermilk and beat well. Pour into greased and floured pan (Mama always used a pie pan) and bake in moderate (350*) oven 25-30 minutes or until brown on top. Slice and serve hot, slathered with butter. Yum!

1 pound fresh okra 
½ tsp. salt 
1 ½ cups buttermilk
2 cups self-rising flour
vegetable oil for frying

Wash okra and drain well. Remove tips and stem ends, cut into 1” slices. Sprinkle with salt. Add buttermilk, stirring until coated. Let stand 15 minutes. Drain okra well and dredge in flour. Deep-fry in hot oil (375*) until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. (I know, I know! Not everyone likes okra.)

Mix as pie crust: 
1 ½ cups flour
1 ½ stick margarine
add ½ cup chopped pecans. 
Press in bottom of 9x13 baking pan and bake at 350* for 10-12 minutes until brown.

Mix well 1 large cream cheese
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup whipped topping
Spread on cooled crust

Mix 2 pkgs. Instant Lemon Pudding with 3 cups milk until thick. Spread over cream cheese mixture. Top with more whipped topping and sprinkle with chopped nuts. Chill before serving.

NOTE: To make MISSISSIPPI MUD, substitute Instant Chocolate Pudding for the Lemon Pudding. Both are scrumptious!


  1. I remember moving from Kalamazoo to the small town we now live in. Talk about culture shock! Everyone was in your business. If you didn't have anything interesting going on in your life, the local folks would make something up! I was horrified! But, when I was eight and a half months pregnant with my daughter, we had a horrible blizzard, which left my husband trapped at work in Kalamazoo. The snow was 3 1/2 feet deep, I was alone with my tiny toddler son and a belly out to here! My dog was in her pen, and impossible for me to get to. At that time we had a CB radio, and complete strangers called to see if I was all right. They came on snowmobiles, shoveled a path to the dog so that I could bring her in the house, brought milk and diapers, then shoveled an area so that the dog had a place to do her business when she went outside. They assured me that if I went into labor, they would be there quick as lightning. That's when I found that small town living was more bright than dark, and that truth has been proven over and over in the years that I have lived here.

  2. Being a small town gal myself, I know there is such carrying-on that one book will never be enough to cover it all. You're going to have writer's crap. Oh, nowadays I guess it's carpal tunnel.

    All the best, Annette

  3. Ha, ha, ha. Writer's cramp. I'd better stick to the carpal tunnel.

    All the best, Annette

  4. Hey Everyone! Loralee sends her apologies for not being able to respond to your comments, but she's experiencing some technical difficulties with her computer :( Keep the comments coming though, because she can read them even if she can't respond to them. Thank you!!!

  5. Thanks for the info, Florence. I very recently had an internet breakdown. I couldn't even read any. My condolences to Loralee. I'll check back.

    All the best, Annette

  6. Always love your posts Loralee! I live in a small town now, but when I was growing up we lived on the outskirts of Grand Rapids. Even though the area was big and there was a lot of happenings going on, our neighborhood was like it's own small town. Everyone looked out for each other and helped each other in times of need. So I got those wonderful small town perks right in the big city!

    Hope you're tech difficulties are cured :)

  7. I used to feel sorry for my citified relatives--their neighbors seemed so bland. My small-town neighbors provided endless material for dinnertime conversation. (I always wondered what they were saying about us.)