Where everybody knows your name…

I’ve read some interesting blog posts on setting preferences. Urban or rural. Big city or small town. Downtown or suburb. Great apartment with chrome and glass or old farmhouse with squeaky doors and sprawling porches complete with sleeping cats. Such choices, and aren’t we the lucky ones because we get to make those choices? Since I’ve found those blog posts interesting, it figures that I’m going to write another one. (It’s true—I really don’t have an imagination.)

I love cities. I don’t think I’ve ever had more fun than when my daughter and I spent three days in New York. We’re planning Chicago this summer (unless we run out of summer—she’s a schoolteacher). I like Indianapolis in my home state and Burlington, Vermont. Montreal is amazing. Nashville, Louisville…well, any city where I don’t have to drive. There is so much to do, so much to see, and no responsibility beyond good manners. As a tourist, I don’t have to become intimate with a city’s problems—I only have to not add to them.

So it makes sense to me that I would set my stories in cities. The research alone is enough reason to do so, and how cool to relive the excitement in the story. Right?

You’d think.

Most of my books have taken place in Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee. I mention cities in passing, but Peacock, Taft, and the Ridge barely even have stoplights. There’s nothing to do in any of them, but there are lots of porches, sleeping cats, and squeaky doors. I sometimes think I am as invested in these fictitious towns as I am in my own community, where—like the song about a particular Boston bar says—“everybody knows your name.” The problems in these communities (and mine) are my problems. I don’t leave them behind when I go home.

My class reunion’s coming up here in a week or two—no, never mind which one; this is not an AARP blog!—and I’ve been helping with the class book. We’re doing an “in loving memory” page of the classmates we’ve lost. I typed their names and the dates of their deaths and wrote a little tribute thing. And mourned their loss all over again. Not that we were all friends—no, of course we weren’t, but we meant something to each other. Those of us who still meet up every five years at the class reunions—we still do. We are glad to see each other in ways I doubt any of us can explain. I was the geekiest of the geeks, but now the cheerleaders and the jocks and the geeks all laugh at—and remember—the same things.

That’s the reason I write about small towns with squeaky doors and sprawling porches and sleeping cats. Because that’s where I’m invested, where I know everybody’s name and they all mean something to me.

What are your favorite settings? And why?


Where everybody knows your name… — 24 Comments

  1. My first setting was the city I live in–too easy, but I love my city and it was fun to set a book in a place I knew intimately. But the next ones (at least 3, probably 4), THE WOMEN OF WILLOW BAY, all take place in a little fictitious town on the west coast of Michigan. I think I set my stories in places I want to live and I’d love to live on the shore of Lake Michigan…

    • I’d love to spend some real time in Willow Bay after visiting it (it sure doesn’t FEEL fictitious)–it’s a little slice of heaven with some really interesting people. Thanks for coming by, Nan.

  2. I enjoyed this post and love the picture of the home with the flowers on the porch steps. Ah, small towns. That’s where I prefer to set my stories because so many of Nebraska’s small towns are dying. They are a wonderful, relaxed place to live, almost like going back in time.

  3. I hate cities, except Phoenix. LOL My stories are always set in/around small towns. Can’t see myself ever writing one where there aren’t cats in rocking chairs and creaky old barns! Super post!

  4. I love small towns too, Liz. My favorite is my made-up town of Widow’s Grove, set amid the oak covered hills of Central California.

    But I love small towns everywhere!

  5. I love this post, Liz. One of my best trips was to New York City (for the first time) with my best girlfriend. We had an amazing time. So far my stories are always based in cities–but smaller ones. But I love the idea of doing research by visiting cities all over the world. 😉

    BTW, if you like walkable cities, I highly recommend visiting Santa Fe, NM!

  6. I have to be honest . If I had a preference it would be big cities. I am a huge fan of Julie James and I love how she incorporates the city of Chicago in her books.But most of the books I see at the bookstore are set in small town. I wish more authors would do books set in big cities.

  7. I love small towns, live in one and write about them. Here’s the funny thing. I live in Florida, but moved around a lot in my youth. I quickly discovered that I have an aversion to cold weather. I tend to avoid books that are set in wintry ice and snow. I can’t help it. I’m sitting on my front porch in 80+ degree weather and I’m getting cold just thinking about it.

    • I love all the seasons, so it doesn’t bother me, but I can see why it might some people. I’m so traditional, though, that I want Christmas books to be set in the cold and white!

  8. Some of my books are set in small towns, including my upcoming release from Carina Press, “First and Again”. I grew up a small town (actually a farm outside of a small town), so I feel I have intimate knowledge. Others are set in medium to large cities like Winnipeg (where I live) and Ottawa (where I’ve visited many times). I haven’t set one in a really big city like New York – yet. For my WIP, it feels right that my characters should live in Manhattan, but I’ve never been there, and don’t know the city. I’m not sure I could pull it off. I’ve got a question for you, Liz. If I did decide to set my WIP in NYC, what’s the best way to tackle the research without actually hopping on a plane? Google Earth? Interviews with people who live there?

    As a reader, I like books set in both small towns and big cities. The kicker for me is if they feel authentic, as if the writer really knew the place. That’s what makes me worried about setting a story in a place I’m not well acquainted with. Any advice is greatly appreciated, Liz!

  9. I would say put out a call to people who live there, Jana–that’s the best way to get that authenticity you mention. I can say where something is and how big it is, but not how it smells or what the floor feels like under your feet or how it sounds when you walk in–you need a resident (preferably one who loves it) for that.

    I’m like you–I like reading almost all settings, but my writing stays in small towns. Thanks for stopping by!

  10. Hi! I also love to read and write small town settings. Why? I think they are believable to me, somehow. Even though in reality, as I’m told, it isn’t all that much fun to live in a small town where everyone knows your business. It is interesting, though, how some people define “small”. For me, small is a town with 10,000 people or less. But we live in what some consider a small town, with 34,000 other people!

    • Oh, I know, Maria. I read recently where Ft. Wayne, Indiana was referred to as a small town. It has over 250,000 people! I wouldn’t have thought it would be a subjective thing, but maybe it is. Thanks for coming by!

  11. I swing both ways on setting. I lived in Chicago for over a decade, so it’s one of my favorite stomping grounds. Now I live in the South and I’m fixated on nosy little towns. The best part about writing is that I get to be a part of it all!

  12. You know me, Liz. I’m hooked on small towns. Not only do people
    know your name, they know what you’re doing before you do. Makes for lively conversation!

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