Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Small Towns With Big Stories


I’m blogging today 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, historical as well as contemporary, but I’m much more comfortable writing about the small towns in my imagination.

In a tight-knit community, 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 kind of closeness 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 in a small community. A moral slip-up of any kind would be a disaster of deadly proportions if discovered. And what about the stranger who moves into town? Is he/she someone you can trust? Suspicion is contagious and folks in older, established 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. More fodder for the writer’s imagination.

On the positive side, good deeds done by well-meaning citizens are always recognized and praised by the town council. Local newspapers spread good news through the community on a regular basis - often for free - with an attitude of love thy neighbor. 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 entire community to enjoy. Kids ride their bikes around the neighborhood without fear of being harmed. Folks are genuinely concerned when a neighbor needs help, and never hesitate to offer a lending 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 and her THUNDER POINT series in a similar Oregon region. For another intriguing small town mystery series, read Susan Wittig Albert’s CHINA BAYLES series, set in the fictional town of Pecan Springs, Texas. Susan Mallery writes a compelling FOOL’S GOLD series that’s a must read. And the list goes on.

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’re thinking about your answers, I’ll share a couple of regional recipes from my small town memories. Please remember, they come with NO guarantee. The recipes, I mean. 



MAMA’S CORNBREAD

1 ½ cup yellow cornmeal 1 tsp. salt
½ cup flour ½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder 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!


FRIED OKRA

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

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. Enjoy! (I know, I know. Not everyone likes okra.)


LEMON LUSH

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

Filling: Mix well 1 softened, 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!

Now see what everyone participating in the Insecure Writer's Support Group hop has to say!





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