Friday, September 10, 2010

Hard at Work

by G.M. Malliet

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, checking out Lady Gaga's twitter status rewriting that paragraph on page ninety-five of the WIP, that paragraph where each of several synonyms I've tried doesn't sound right and I end up back where I started with the lame-sounding, lumpy, and somehow totally graceless word, "indulgent." Sometimes writing the word in color and a different font helps: indulgentindulgent. indulgent.

Sometimes not.

Time well spent, as I'm sure you'll agree. Although the time used to 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
Postcard image of Nyack, NY, from
Photo of Staunton, VA, from


Lisa Bork said...

Gin, I went back to look at the first picture with the waterfall three times. That's my kind of place! Staunton looks fabulous, too!

Your post is timely. I was searching for a setting online this week and got lost in pictures of small towns in the midwest. It's a great help that so many people document their journeys online these days.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

I love small towns with "creativity." Maybe it's because I live in sprawling Los Angeles. My dream is to retire to one of these charming places. My 3rd Ghost of Granny Apples mystery partially takes place in Jim Thorpe, PA. A charming historic town at the base of the Poconos. You can certainly get lost doing the research on these places.

G.M. Malliet said...

Sue Ann - Jim Thorpe, PA, is a darling place. Perfect setting for your story.

Darrell James said...

Gin- I'm working on a story that takes my character back to his (my)hometown of Crescent Springs, Kentucky. A stringtown along the Southern Railroad tracks, a one lane bridge to get in and out of town. It does't get much homier.

Totally enjoyed the post. I vote for Staunton.

Alan Orloff said...

I think that when I retire, I'll be indulgent, buy a Winnebago, and check out all the cool towns. As long as I can get Internet along the way, of course.

G.M. Malliet said...

Darrell - that one-lane bridge has lots of potential for a mystery, doesn't it? And Then There Were None...

Alan - The idea of just taking off in a Silver Bullet and seeing the country - very appealing.

Carol Grace said...

Speaking of retiring or using charming locations in our books, I know no one's old enough to belong to AARP (How did they get my name and address?) but this month's magazine lists "5 Best Places to Live Abroad! Enjoy your dream life in paradise." I'm salivating. Where to go? The South of France or Umbria or maybe Portugal.

G.M. Malliet said...

Carol - OMG. I am so there. I'll have to borrow a copy from an elderly neighbor. ;-)

Beth Groundwater said...

Hey Carol,
I belong to AARP, but my husband, who is 7 years older, refuses to admit that he's old enough to subscribe. :)

As for my vote for favorite small town, it would be Breckenridge, CO, where I hope to start living full-time soon.

Mary said...