I’m a city girl, born and raised in a New York suburb. My family moved to a Boston suburb when I was a teenager. After college my husband and I moved to Greensboro, NC, a medium-sized city in central North Carolina.
Until now, all my contemporary novels have been written with urban settings, usually New York, Boston, or Washington, D.C., places I’m familiar with and have lived in or spent time there. How does a girl who’s always lived in medium to large-sized cities write a book set in a small town in Georgia?
First of all, the decision to set the series in Willow Ridge, Georgia, wasn’t mine. It was a group decision by the set of terrific authors I’ve joined with to create this series of books. I didn’t have to agree to write a book in the series, but I liked the premise of the heroines all being part of the Hopeless Romantics Book Club in this town. I was also up for the challenge of working with a setting that is a little out of my comfort zone.
My heroine in Falling for the Deputy, Barbara Wilton, is also a city girl relocating to Willow Ridge for complicated personal and professional reasons. To quote a wonderful song by Clyde Edgerton, “She’s a quiche woman in a barbecue town.” You can listen to it performed by the Bluefields here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0kjqYFtJlk
Abbeville, S.C. P. Hughes, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Fortunately, I do have connections to some small Southern towns.
My husband was born and raised on a farm in western South Carolina that is way south of the nearest city and even a few miles outside the nearest small town, Honea Path. Until he was a teenager, he attended Honea Path schools. Amazingly, I discovered the town has a website here! (https://www.honeapath.com/) A quintessential very small, Southern town, it barely qualifies as a wide spot in the road.
We visited my husband’s family regularly when our children were young and his family was still actively farming. We traveled to Honea Path once or twice and a few other towns in the area occasionally. A wonderful antique shop in nearby Abbeville drew us there several times.
While we didn’t actually go to Honea Path often, I got a strong feel for it just from listening to his family’s conversations among themselves and with others who occasionally stopped by.
I learned by eavesdropping how everyone knew what was happening to everyone else. When someone’s wife hitched a ride with a truck driver and disappeared for a couple of weeks, word got around so fast it seemed almost like magic. There was no place to hide when Mr. Bigshot was accused of embezzling money from his company or a town councilman was arrested for being drunk and disorderly.
I also got a first-hand view of how they’d rally around someone in need, showing up to help rebuild a house damaged by weather or bringing food to a family when members were sick.
Family ties meant a lot, and one of the first things someone meeting you wanted to know was who “your people” were, meaning your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc. Because, inevitably, somewhere along the line, your people and their people were tied together if you came from the area. And who “your people” were said a lot about who you were, at least in the minds of many who met you.
Except of course, in the case of someone like me or my heroine Barbara, a big city girl from up North, with generational lines that go back only a few steps to some place in Europe. Once in the US, families scattered, which means the sad scandal of Uncle Ronnie could be so carefully hidden no one even remembers it now, and, although this never comes up in the book, like Barbara, I have cousins, even first cousins, I’ve never met.
I’ve tried to look at both up and down-sides of life in a small town. I see a lot of strength and good things there. Many things have changed over the last few years, with the spread of cars, television, and the internet bringing different attitudes in younger generations. Too many of them leave for better opportunities in other places.
Many small Southern towns are either dying or turning into bedroom communities if they happen to be close to a city. Something is being lost in that process, a part of what has made the country strong. I tried to show some of that in the book. I hope that many years from now there will still be small towns where everyone knows everyone else and they care about each other.
The pin below is a tour of Belton and Honea Path!