Have you noticed that small towns are really popular in romance right now? The one I most recently discovered is Jill Shalvis’s Lucky Harbor. Nora Roberts has Hawkins Hollow, Lunacy, and St. Christopher’s, to name just a few. Virginia Kantra has Dare Island. These places have distinct identities, but the people in all of them share a strong sense of community. They also know, gossip about, criticize, and help each other.
I grew up in a small town, Davidson, North Carolina (population 1200 when the college students weren’t in residence), and it was like those communities. I knew if I did something I shouldn’t on Main Street, my parents would hear about it before I got home, just over a mile away. At the same time, though, I knew that if I needed help, I could knock on almost any door along the way and get it.
I regularly rode my bike to the town library, bought a big orangeade at the M&M Soda Shop (now The Soda Shop, pictured at left), and checked out the latest comic books at the M&M or at The Hub.
(As an aside especially for Jeanne–the M&M and the Hub both made fountain cherry Cokes that were fabulous!)
Our family ran a monthly tab at Goodrum’s Drugs, which also sold soft drinks and comic books, though the comics tended to be Archie’s Pals ‘n’ Gals, Richie Rich, Casper the Friendly Ghost, and MAD magazine rather than super-heroes.
Goodrum’s is now Cats on Main, selling Davidson College merchandise. The Hub is gone, along with the two gas stations, a Gulf and an Esso/Exxon, that were on Main Street.
The town is much larger than it was, and I think it’s unlikely that everyone knows who everyone else is, not anymore. It’s still a lovely town, and I hear it still has a strong sense of community. But it’s no longer the town where I grew up.
I live in a metropolitan area now. I know my immediate neighbors, but not the ones around the corner and certainly not the ones a mile away. The streets between me and the nearest library are way too busy for me to travel on a bike, even if the library were not much farther from my house than the one in Davidson was.
We enjoy the restaurants, movie theaters, and other conveniences of an urban area. But part of me misses having it truly quiet at night. I miss hearing the 8 p.m. Monday blast of the volunteer fire department siren and knowing nothing’s wrong. I miss stepping outside into a yard dark enough for me to see thousands of stars. I carry a piece of that bygone little town inside me, and I think–hope–I always will.
So it’s probably no wonder that I put a small town into my paranormal Protectors series. The books are set in southern Georgia, near the Okefenokee Swamp. Those of you who stop by regularly or have read Renegade or Protector know the setting includes the imaginary town of Wayfarer.
I created Wayfarer because I wanted a place where Griffin Dare, the mage hero of Book 1, Renegade, could find a home, where he didn’t have to constantly look over his shoulder. Small towns close ranks, protecting even relative newcomers from total strangers asking questions.
And the town grew on me, maybe because it was rooted in that little fragment I carry inside me. In any event, it’s the primary setting for Book 2, Guardian. That meant I had to really flesh it out. As I created businesses and characters walked from one to another, I realized a map would be really useful. The boy, an architecture student, did the one above from my very rough pencil sketch. My editor liked it so much, it also appears in the book, I’m pleased and proud to say.
Then I realized I could find buildings that were much like the ones I was describing (yeah, duh! I know. *g*). From there it was a short step to asking him if he could adapt photos to illustrate my fictional town.
He agreed to take a shot, and I set out to visit the towns and countryside near Davidson, looking for houses and other buildings that matched or could become the ones in my head. At left is the abandoned chair factory where Griff lives at the start of Renegade. (The map refers to it as Griff’s Hideout.)
The boy took out utility poles and wires, removed the street, changed the terrain, and added trees from photos I took on our last research trip.
Another important location is Miss Hettie Telfair’s house. Miss Hettie is a retired lawyer who’s close to Griff and his friends. Her house is always open to them, and some important scenes take place there.
The boy hasn’t gotten to Miss Hettie’s yet, but he’s working on it. This house, owned by Davidson College, is the model for her place. Her home is set way back from a country road, and the tree in her front yard is a magnolia, not a pine, but the house is the right style and period.
The house is also special to me. We knew the family who lived there when I was growing up. Their youngest daughter was a friend of my mother’s and often babysat us. This house also is where my grandparents started their life in Davidson, in the upstairs front room on the right of the photo.
As I was working on this blog, I kept hearing a song in my head. I finally realized it was John Mellencamp’s “Small Town.” He uploaded a video on YouTube:
We’ll officially launch Guardian next Tuesday, July 2 (less than a week–squee!), with a big party in the Lair. Meanwhile, if you’d like to know more about it, you can clickhere.
One commenter today will get the chance to read Guardian for free via NetGalley, courtesy of Grand Central Forever Romance. So tell me–do you prefer books set in small towns or in big cities? Whichever you choose, do you have a favorite series or book set there? What do you like about it?