Small Towns—Where Everybody Knows Your Name by Lynnette Austin
Small town versus city. It’s one of the first things a writer needs to know when plotting a story. Generally, though, the story itself makes that decision…or the main character, although it’s sure fun to drop a big city gal into a small town or to put that small town guy into the city.
I, personally, love to set my stories in small towns. There’s something so quintessentially comforting about them. A small town is like the old Cheers TV show, a place where everybody knows your name…and probably what you had for dinner and when you went to bed. But your neighbors also go to bat for you, mourn with you, and celebrate with you. This sense of community is important to me as a writer. When a reader finishes one of my books, I want her to feel as though she’s traveled to this town and shared the characters’ journey.
The small town becomes very much a character in and of itself. Each town has its own personality. And not all small towns are created equal. Some are warm and friendly while others have an undercurrent of darkness. The town needs to match the tone of a story. In my Magnolia Brides series, Misty Bottoms, Georgia, needs saved as much as my main characters. Like so many small Southern towns, it’s fallen on hard times. In The Best Laid Wedding Plans, Jenni Beth Beaumont leaves a great job in Savannah and puts into action a plan to do just that by making Misty Bottoms a wedding destination. Cricket O’Malley, my eccentric florist in Every Bride Has Her Day, makes it her goal as well. It’s not long before the entire town is pitching in to help.
We live in such a fast-paced world, yet we yearn for slower days. We want that front porch, the cold glass of sweet tea, and a place where everyone is safe and welcome. Small towns give us that feeling. Instead of prearranged play-dates, children can run down the street to their friend’s house for a game of kick-the-can and play until the fireflies start to twinkle, telling them it’s nearly bedtime.
Ms. Hattie, Darlene, and Dottie at the diner are all willing to lend a hand or an ear. If you need a plumber, Beck will come right over because he’s your friend or your wife’s cousin. Seasons are celebrated with trick or treating, caroling, and parades. And if someone in town has a special moment, it’s celebrated, too, whether it’s a wedding, a graduation, or a first driver’s license.
And no matter what happens in a small town, it’s personal. There’s a sense of intimacy. Secrets and family feuds go back so far no one remembers how they started. A family’s dirty laundry is hung right out there for everyone to see. But…if anyone in town needs help, the community rallies around her. There’s definitely a ‘we-take-care-of-our-own’ mentality.
There are certain expectations in a small town, and in the South it’s very much about who your people are! There’s a sense of continuity. It’s generational. Most of the inhabitants were born here and grew up here as did their parents and their grandparents. Because of that, there’s a shared history. It’s fun to throw in someone new, someone who isn’t aware of this history, and watch him navigate. This is what I did with Sam DeLuca, a NYC detective, in Every Bride Has Her Day. Although he’d spent several summers in Misty Bottoms, Georgia, as a young boy, he’s a Yankee in a small Southern town. It makes for some very interesting scenarios!
For my new series, I stayed in small town Misty Bottoms and brought the Wylder brothers to town. New blood! They’re setting up shop to restore vintage cars and motorcycles when a wrench gets tossed into the mix. In Must Love Babies, Brant’s sister is involved in a DUI accident, and he finds himself responsible for the care of her seven-month-old son. A true fish-out-of-water, he flounders until the town rallies to help—blending emotional, heart-wrenching scenes with laughable, real-life situations.
A small town’s almost bound to have that old swimming hole where, at some time or another, everyone’s jumped in to cool off on a hot summer’s day. And as you get older? If you need help catching that girl? There are plenty of busybodies more than willing to help. But remember, gossip is always the appetizer du jour. If you take that pretty girl out on a date and manage to stay the night, hide your car! Don’t park it in the drive or on the street. Tongues will wag! And if you sneak a little PDA? Your second-grade teacher might be the one to catch you.
Most of all, small towns take pride in their community and in their people. Having grown up in a small town, that’s where my heart takes me—to those quirky small towns where everybody knows everybody…and all their business, for better or worse.
Wishing you happy reading…and writing!
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LYNNETTE AUSTIN loves long rides with the top down and the music cranked up, standing by the Gulf of Mexico when a storm is brewing, and sitting in her local coffee shop reading, writing and enjoying a cappuccino. She grew up in Pennsylvania, accepted her first teaching job in New York, then moved to Wyoming. Now, she splits her time between the beaches of Florida and the Blue Ridge Mountains of northern Georgia. She’s been a finalist in Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart Contest, PASIC’s Book of Your Heart Contest, and Georgia Romance Writers’ Maggie Contest. Writing for Grand Central and Sourcebooks, she’s published thirteen novels and is hard at work on her new series. Having grown up in a small town, that’s where her heart takes her—to those quirky small towns where everybody knows everybody…and all their business, for better or worse. Visit Lynnette at www.authorlynnetteaustin.