They've done it again. Usually, it's Money Magazine with its "Best Places to Whatever" lists that drags me away from where I'm hard at work,
insert my author photo into a photo of Oprah was at least good for a laugh.
At some point before I realize it's the entire paragraph that's the problem, I decide I really need to check out the headlines over at Yahoo!, in case I've now missed some crucial world-changing event. And there go the next ten minutes, because I've spotted this headline: The Coolest Small Towns in America.
I would wager there's not a writer or an artist alive who can resist the promise of future happiness hidden behind this link.
Does this explain why regional mysteries are so popular? Although someone once advised me against writing a regional mystery, as it was "too hard to sell," this falls into the same category as telling Louise Penny no one wants to read a book set in Canada. Louise, having wisely ignored this advice, has of course practically had to add a new room onto her house to display the awards for her Canadian mysteries starring Chief Inspector Gamache of the Surete du Quebec.
What exactly is the appeal of the regional? Maybe it lets us, readers and writers, travel somewhere we might only dream of living--and might not actually like if we did live there. The particular lure of the small town for writers is that it might just contain everything we need to get the WIP moving: The promise of seclusion and quiet. Of unobtrusively friendly folk ("How's the book comin' along, Gin?" "Why, jes' fine, Jeb!"). Of gorgeous scenery to provide much-needed inspiration. Reliable repairmen. Clean air, room to breathe. All that.
These "best" articles can function as a sort of Rorschach test for writers. In this particular list, I personally skipped right over Ely, Minnesota (too cold in winter) and Cuero, Texas (too hot in summer). Likewise, any place where I might be expected to cook whatever someone just caught, shot, or trapped for dinner is out. Whale blubber and trail mix constituting any part of my daily caloric intake, also a no.
The place on this list that jumped out at me was Nyack, New York (just the right weather mix), partly because of the tagline applied to it ("Creativity around every corner"). I've driven around the Hudson River Valley, and much of it does live up to the hype. And, with "Creativity around every corner," I bet I could come up with a way better word than "indulgent."
But I have a quibble about one lovely small town missing from the list: Staunton, Virginia. Isolated, but not too--it's got a train station so you can get out of Dodge if you need to. Small-townish, but with an edge, and some very nice shops and restaurants.
Do you have a favorite pick from the Yahoo! list, or your own favorite small town?
p.s. Be sure to read the recent interview with our own Lisa Bork, who sets her "Broken Vows" series in what is undoubtedly her favorite, a fictional small town on the Finger Lakes.
Photo of Medicine Creek, beneath the Wichitas in Medicine Park, Oklahoma, from the Medicine Park Chamber of Commerce.
Photo of Me/Oprah courtesy of Oprah.com
Postcard image of Nyack, NY, from americanart.si.edu.
Photo of Staunton, VA, from Virginia.org.