Friday, June 4, 2010
DOES SIZE REALLY MATTER?
by Darrell James
Okay, before we get off on a debate that has only one obvious answer, let me say that we’re talking city’s and towns and story settings.
The reason for the discussion is that I’m considering starting a new series of thrillers (aside from the Del Shannon series that will debut next year). Some advisors suggest that a series should have a large playground, ie: a major urban area in which to fashion multiple stories. The argument is that only big cities have the depth and diversity to sustain multiple stories in a long running series. Certainly others have gone this route: Leonard has Detroit, Lehane has Boston, and nearly everyone has L.A. (Connelly, Crais, Wambaugh, Chandler.)
But is it possible that a small town has just as much depth of interest (if you look deep enough beneath the skin) to form the setting of a major series?
I was raised in the Bluegrass State, in the small town of Crescent Springs, Kentucky. It was a simple string town with store fronts lined along the tracks of the Southern Railroad where the rails led south out of Cincinnati, Ohio. A wooden, one-lane bridge at the end of Buttermilk Pike got you across the tracks and into the heart of town. There was a little grocery store, hardware store, a barber shop, and “stag bar” (yes, only men allowed! sorry feminists!) and a depot, where in the old days, trains would make “unscheduled” stops to let off passengers. In later years the depot housed the volunteer fire department.
The population of this little berg was too small to bother counting (maybe a few hundred at the time). You knew virtually everyone in town and referred to them as Mrs. Eubanks or Mr. Tucker. (Never Bob or Roy or Bettie or Edith.) Even adults used this formal politeness.
Life in this little microcosm was less than glamorous by “city folk” standards. In the evenings, bats would swarm around the one street light near the bar (the only business open after dark). Drunks would stumble home on foot. Hooligans of the day would sit on the bridge railing to smoke and watch the cars go by. Maybe one every two hours or so would pass (they went through a lot of cigarettes obviously). On the rare occasion that two cars met at the bridge, one would have to wait for the other to cross before proceeding in or out of town. There was a politeness here too. No one dashed for the bridge to be the first one across. They’d wait and wave, and sometimes argue over who should go first. Meaning… “you first”… “no, please, after you”… “no, you”…
You get the picture.
While, I could go on, I’ll save it for the potential series.
I guess my question is: as a reader or a writer, do you favor fiction set in large metropolitan areas? Or do you find small towns can have their own rich diversity that can serve a story series well?
While you’re at it, tell me about your city or town. Or your most memorable fictional location.