Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Backyard Revisited

By Deb Baker

I grew up in the Michigan U.P. where my Yooper mystery series takes place. When I was looking for material for my first book, I thought my childhood was just like everyone else’s. But I gave it some thought and decided it had been a little unusual.

We had bugs the size of Volkswagen Beetles. One year my grandmother’s house was pre-ner plastered with bay flies. Once when we were picking blueberries in our secret place, I spotted a spider the size of a half-dollar (remember those coins) and beat it out of there. We really do vacuum up those black flies that swarm in the windows in early spring. Wood ticks don’t fly but they do leap at you from trees.

Saunas and bars are our social hubs in the same way you’se guys enjoy fitness centers and coffee shops.

We can tell the difference between a squirrel, a chipmunk, and a skunk.
Men don’t remove their baseball hats except for church.
Women hunt and fish and make a point of out-doing the men.

During deer hunting season we have to dress our dogs in orange and even then some Troll (that’s what we call Lower Michigan residents because they live below the Mackinac Bridge) will shoot at them.

Upper Michigan should have been its own state or at the very least should have tagged onto Wisconsin. We root for the Packers and make pilgrimages to Green Bay to honor St. Vincent Lombardi, who coached da Packers.

We drive on Lake Michigan and Lake Superior in the winter and we all know what black ice is. Its ice camouflaged as black top. If you hit it, you can kiss your hinder goodbye.

We eat anything and everything – Trenary toast, Cudighi (a sausage invented in Ishpeming), Pasties (not the things exotic dancers wear). We love sugar doughnuts and coffee, lots and lots of it. Mackinac Island fudge. Roadkill (but only if it’s fresh). Kalja (beer).

Yes, I considered all of this perfectly normal. So the next time you’re looking for something unique to write about, check out your own back yard.

Hot off the press – Murder Grins and Bears It, Next up – Murder Talks Turkey


kitty said...

Is Escanaba In Da Moonlight one of your favorite movies?

I'll definitely have to check out your mystery series because I love Steve Hamilton's Alex McKnight series.


Mark Terry said...

"...Troll (that’s what we call Lower Michigan residents because they live below the Mackinac Bridge)"

You know, I've lived in Michigan 43 years (my whole life, in other words) and never heard that one. Fudgie, yes. Troll, no.

Yoopers always seem more Canadian than Michigan to me. Of course, I worked in Detroit for 18 years and note with a certain amusement that the average Detroiter thinks if it's north of 8 Mile Road it's "up north."

Deb Baker said...

I own a copy of Escanaba In Da Moonlight. I sent Jeff copies of my books but haven't heard from him yet. Thought he'd like to direct a movie about Gertie. LOL.

Mark, that's cuz we call you'se guys that behind your backs.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

I recently finished Murder Passes the Buck and thoroughly enjoyed it. Over the years I've known a lot of folks from Wisconsin and Michigan, both upper and lower, and found myself fondly recalling many of their cultural quirks. I even dated a man from the UP many years ago and he pretty much fit Deb's description even though he'd left the UP behind for California.

One of the best things about reading books with colorful regional flavoring is learning about the differences that make this world fun and amusing. Keep them coming, Deb!

Mark Combes said...

Oh yeah you betcha! I too hail from the Great White North and although my series is set slightly farther south I think there is some Midwest sensibilities in my characters. You can take the kid out of the woods but you can't take away his Lefsa!

spyscribbler said...

What a great post. I just wonder, when you're researching a place, how do you discover those differences?

When you interview someone, how would they know those things? I had a friend publish a book with Northern Ohio quirks, and I couldn't spot a single one. It just all seemed normal.

So how do you discover those "normal" things about a place?

Deb Baker said...

I don't think you can use "place" as a character without really knowing it. That's why I write about settings I'm familiar with.

Julia Buckley said...

Is that handsome shirtless devil your husband? :)