Visiting A Small Town

I love the song by John Mellencamp, Small Towns. It’s got great rhythm and singability. (Yeah, I confess it’s going through my head as I write this…yours too I bet!)

columbus-ohioWhile the song is nostalgic to me, I did not, however, grow up in a small town. Nope. Columbus, Ohio is not a small town, even though a famous country singer once dissed it by calling it a “cow town”. It’s a state capitol. It’s a thriving educational and research mecca. Heck we even have our own Golf Tournament in the Memorial. (It takes place in Dublin, a suburb of Columbus.)ย A population of over 800,000, this is NOT a small town people. That lighted building in the picture is the Lincoln-LaVeque Building, a skyline landmark of Columbus. We’ve also included a picture of Columbus on the back of KIDNAPPED, the first book in my Edgars Family Novels and where the series takes place, mostly.

So why does this song bring back memories to me? As a teen involved in quite a few activities, I did travel to and through many a small town throughout the state of Ohio. My parents were from a small town in the foothills of the BlueRidge in Eastern Tennessee. We visited there 1-2 times a year, every year of my life, to visit family. (I have lots of family still there!) And even living in Columbus, we went to a church where most of the members had come from small rural towns throughout the South. (Did you know there was a mass migration of Southerners to Northern cities in the 50’s and 60’s, looking for jobs?) I grew up in this community, along with neighbors who also had come from smaller communities to Columbus. We understood neighbors and each other. It was comforting and I still keep in touch with many of those friends of the family and school friends.

But that isn’t the reason Small Towns is bopping around in my head these days.midsomer_murders_-_season_385_1280

It’s in my head because I’ve been watching Midsomer Murders, all 17 seasons. It’s a mystery series that takes place in a fictional English rural county of Misomer and features a wily Chief Detective Inspector, Barnaby. The countryside they travel around reminds me of the rolling landscape NE of Columbus. There are funny characters; characters with deep, dark secrets; innocent characters; and always a murder to be solved. Barnaby’s wife and daughter pop up in the shows, we even saw his daughter get married. (Rumor has it they’ve changed the main character to his cousin another police detective, but I haven’t gotten to that year in the series. I’m only on year 11.)

The farms and towns also remind me of my parents’ hometown, where my uncle was even mayor for a term or two. Mostly people know each other in the little villages of Midsomer, and quite often their private business, too. Gossip helps solve many a case of Midsomer Murders.

Another reason Small Towns is playing over and over in my head is I’ve returned to Westen in my writing. Westen is a town I built based on all these travels through rural Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee. The characters of Westen, not just the heroes and heroines, but the town folks are all a figment of my imagination, but fit quite nicely into the small town world I hope to build. They have a pride in their town. They know their neighbors and their neighbors business, mostly. But like any small town, there are secrets.

Close to home  small for bnIn CLOSE TO HOME, book #1 of the Westen Series, we stroll into town and meet some interesting characters. There’s the hero Dr. Clint Preston and the heroine Emma Lewis. We meet Emma’s family, her aging mother Isabelle and her young twin sons, Ben and Brian. There’s Lorna Doone who owns and runs the gossip hub of Westen, the Peaches ‘N Cream Cafe, where Lorna not only dispenses blue plate specials and pie to die for, but sage advice, whether wanted or not. Lorna’s daughter, Rachel is a high school student who has grown up in the cafe, but dreams of life outside of Westen. So there you have Westen, a quiet little town with few problems. But like Doc Clint’s taciturn nurse, Harriett, is always telling him, things aren’t always what they seem. And in CTH we also meet Elizabeth Wilson, Libby. She has a secret that’s haunted her for the past ten years.

Close to the Edge final front only for bn

CLOSE TO THE EDGE, book #2 of the Westen Series, a secrets almost destroyed the town. ย I won’t tell you more in case you haven’t read it. ๐Ÿ™‚ But in CTTE we meet Deacon Reynolds, known as Deke. He’s a fireman. We learn he has back scars on the left side of his neck, his throat and up his left jaw line. (There may be more, but right in CTTE that’s all we know.) Deke had a secret of his own and that secret has him carrying a butt-load of guilt into this new book, CLOSE TO THE FIRE.

ย Which brings me to my Work In Progress, (WIP), CLOSE TO THE FIRE. Westen is in store for some new changes, both in the physical and emotional sense. One of the fun things about writing in a fictional small town, is you get to know everyone and every place in the town a little bit at a time. Take places for example. In CTH and CTTE we learn there’s the Peaches ‘N Cream Cafe, the bank, the Gold’s food mart. There’s a local newspaper office and a county courthouse, as well as Doc Clint’s medical clinic. We learn the town is located on the edge of Amish country, which really does exist in NE Ohio. In CLOSE TO THE FIRE, we’re going to visit the local beauty salon, (as yet unnamed), the local high school, and a new place, Colbert House, a half-way house for troubled young men.

Some other characters that have popped up over both the first two books are the deputies that work for Sheriff Gage Justice, the hero from CTTE. One in particular is Cleetus. Cleetus is described as having the body of an NFL linebacker and the naivetรฉ of a teenage boy. He’s kind and jovial, unless you mess with someone or something he loves, like the town of Westen. Interestingly, I got a few emails and FB comments wanting to know if Cleetus would get his own book. I considered it for a bit and have decided that while Cleetus deserves a love story, I don’t think he can carry a whole book. Sooooo…I’ve decided he’ll meet his love interest in CLOSE TO THE FIRE, but we’ll let it grown slowly over a few books. ๐Ÿ™‚ย 

In CLOSE TO THE FIRE we’re going to meet Kyle Gordon, a young man who comes to stay at Colbert House. Kyle’sย past is going to trigger dangerous events that force both Deke and Libby to share their secrets, confess their guilt and maybe, just maybe, rekindle the love they once shared.

Yeah, how’s that for a tease? ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ˜‰ ๐Ÿ™‚

So, what small town shows do you like to watch or revisit? Which small town book series do you love to get your hands on? Are there recurring secondary characters that you hope will get a story? What about small town shows or books do you like?

 

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Comments

18 Comments

  • Jane says:

    Hello Suzanne,
    I love “Midsomer Murders,” too. I’ve seen the newer series with the other Barnaby and it’s still good. I don’t know what it’s like living in a small town, but I do enjoy reading about them. I really love Barbara Freethy’s books set in Angel’s Bay and Toni Blake’s series set in Destiny. As for shows I loved “Broadchurch” and “Foyle’s War” which were set in small seaside towns.

    • Hey Jane!

      OMG, you watched Foyle’s War and Midsomer Murders, too? We truly have to hang out together. Have you watched Bletchley Circle yet? I’m searching for season 2 right now.

      I’ve just started reading Barbara Freethy’s series, so will let you know how much I like them.

      • Jane says:

        I love “Bletchley Circle”, too. I was bummed to read that they just canceled the show. I’m a fan of “Endeavour” and trying to wait patiently for the new episodes to make it over to the US.

        • Oh, no, I hate they’ve cancelled Bletchley Circle. Now I really do have to subscribe to the second season so I won’t miss it!!

          What is Endeavor about?

          • Jane says:

            Endeavour is Inspector Morse, but it follows him as a young police officer in Oxford.

  • Helen says:

    Hi Suz

    I love this series and can’t wait to read Close to the Fire ๐Ÿ™‚ I fell for Weston and its characters in the first book and am eagerly awaiting more in the series as I don’t watch much TV it would have to be books that bring me to small towns and I have read many over the years and loved them all. And I am all for Cleetus finding the love of his life this is going to add so much more to the stories ๐Ÿ™‚

    Have Fun
    Helen

    • Oh Helen, I know you’ve loved these books as much as I do! ๐Ÿ™‚

      I just figured out the other day how Cleetus is going to meet Silvie, (that’s his lady love). And I think the big guy is going to be Gob-smacked as we say over here! ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Deke and Libby are already pulling at my heart strings, so hopefully I’ll write their story with all the richness that Westen seems to offer both the characters and you readers!!

      I’m looking at it coming out late this summer.

  • Shannon says:

    Small towns are fun. But I know how much gossip goes on, and some of it is less than kind.

    In fiction I love Pennyroyal Green in Julie Anne Long’s series. I forget his name but there’s a character who’s run off to sea to fight slavery to win the affections of ?Olivia?. The two operate under a curse that their love will never prosper because their families are the equivalent of the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s.

    • Hey Shannon!

      You’re so right. Gossip is one of those things that can destroy and warp small towns and even small communities inside bigger towns. Heck it even hurts people who work in close quarters, such as hospitals.

      That book sounds very intriguing. Did you see the History Channel’s version of the Hatfields and McCoys with Kevin Costner? I have the sound track in my play list for writing.
      I have yet to have mean gossip hit Westen on a large scale, although poor Emma had to deal with it years before she met Clint. Mostly, it’s concerned and well-meaning characters I’ve let play in my town.

  • Debbie Oxier says:

    I love the series The McCarthys of Gansett Island by Marie Force and Virgin River by Robin Carr. Another good small town series is Barbara Longley’ s Perfect, Indiana. Having grown up in a small town, these series are near and dear to my heart. In Marie’s series there are a ton of secondary characters, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends. Most have had a book of their own but am still looking forward to finding out about those remaining. I am halfway through the Virgin River series and she too has secondary characters, although she tends to introduce them one at a time. Can’t wait to read the next Westen book!

    • Hey Debbie!

      My mom loves Robin Carr’s Virgin River series. She can’t wait until each one comes out. I haven’t started them, because I’d probably do nothing BUT read them. (Mom and I have very similar reading tastes!)

      I’ll keep you posted to when you can expect CLOSE TO THE FIRE to come out! I promise! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Cassondra says:

    Hi Suz!

    I love small town series, and I’ve been trying to put my finger on exactly why. I’m writing one now. It’s my first try at the small town thing, but since everything I’ve been reading is set in those places, I thought maybe that was a sign I needed to give it a go. I grew up in a small town (actually a farm outside a small town) so I know that the idyllic picture many authors paint is not quite the whole story. But I also know that some of the positive things you can’t get anywhere else.
    That theme song from Cheers runs through my head when I think of it. Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name…

    I still haven’t quite found the grain of “yeah, that’s it, that’s why I love small towns,” as it seems to be sort of a group of ideas that all feel attractive to me.

    I think each author brings her own sensibilities to the small towns she writes. So cool that you’re going back to one in this novel.

    • Cassondra,

      That’s one of the things I’m trying not to do with the Westen series is make it look too idyllic. Probably why I’m incorporating some sort of suspenseful element in them, although the suspense in Close To Home was much less than in Close To The Edge.

      One thing that draws me to the small town series of books is the slower pace you get to let characters develop. Especially the secondary characters who might have a story later on.

      Take Cleetus, for example. I thought he’d be just a piece of the background until readers were asking about his love story. Really made me have to consider what I was going to do with him.

  • Suz, I’m so delighted that you and I are both diehard (pun intended) Midsomer Murder fans. I’ve been watching it for years. When I was a captioner for the Deaf, I subtitled a few episodes and as a result I’ve been hooked ever since. I think the acting in it is brilliant – and I love the sly humor, for example the way Barnaby’s new Sergeant nearly always comments on the high death rate in this rural and on the surface idyllic part of the England. And I love, love, love the setting. I know it’s chocolate box England but I DON’T CARE! Mind you, the chocolate box is pretty bloodstained by the time we get to the end of the show each week.

    I’ve really enjoyed the new ones with Barnaby’s cousin. The same wry humor and over the top plotting continues and there’s a cute dog, so what’s not to like?

    Ooh, wish I was there watching them with you. We could have tea and scones and Bakewell tarts!

    • Hey Anna!

      I just finished watching all the season episodes I could find on Netflix and Youtube! I wasn’t sure I was going to like the cousin, but he and his rather odd sense of humor has grown on me. And I love Sykes!!

      Teas, scones and tarts? While contemplating who the next victim of the episode will be? Sounds perfect to me. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • LOVE The Midsomer Murders! My Mom and I have watched the series for years! The little village reminds me of Kelsale where we lived when I was a child. Minus the murders, of course. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I live in a small town now. And there are characters and oddities galore. Plenty of gossip too.

    I love Hope Ramsey’s Last Chance series! Reading them is like stopping in to visit with old friends!

    And I love your series too, Suz! Can’t wait to read the next one.

    • Hey Louisa!

      I’m hoping they continue the Midsomer series. It’s one of my guilty pleasures, but I must say I’m glad I got to the end of what’s available. Talk about procrastination, even if I try to justify it as “research”! ๐Ÿ˜‰

      I’ve heard of Hope Ramsey’s Last Chance series. I suspect it’s another one my mom or aunt have been trying to get me to start. Hmm Maybe when Close To The Fire is done!

      Aw, thanks Louisa. Today was a fun day, Cleetus and Silvie had a scene!!

  • Laurie G says:

    Books small towns:

    Susan Mallery Fool’s Gold, CA
    Jill Shalvis Lucky Harbor,WA
    Susan Wiggs Avalon, NY
    Diana Palmer Jacobsville & Tyler, TX
    Jodi Thomas Harmony,TX
    Debbie Macomber Cedar Cove, WA & Hard Luck, Alaska
    Rachel Gibson Dundee, ID
    RaeAnne Thayne, Hope’s Crossing, CO
    Janet Chapman, coast of Maine
    Harlequin series Tyler, WI & Red Rock, TX series
    Stephenie Meyers Twilight Forks, WA
    Linda Lael Miller. Lonesome Bend/ Stone Creek, CO & Parable, MT

    I like the feeling of belonging to the community. The feeling that you are a friend neighbor or family member. I like the close knit family ties. The willingness to pitch in if there is a family emergency or someone is down on their luck.