Friday, January 22, 2010

Writing Our Region

blog21 I was checking out at the grocery store yesterday with a shopping buggy jam-packed with food. An elderly African American man came up in line behind me with cucumbers and a bottle of Ranch dressing.

“Would you like to go ahead of me?” I asked, continuing to throw cans and boxes at the conveyor belt.

“No thanks,” he said.

“No, really—It’s going to take me a while to unload this cart. Why don’t you just slip ahead of me?” I’m still flinging things on the belt, not even looking at him.

“No thank you. If I go ahead of you, maybe it wasn't meant to be. Maybe I’ll walk outside and get hit by a car. Because I wasn’t supposed to be there—I was supposed to be behind you at that moment. Instead, my cutting in line sends my day on a different path.”

Now I looked at at him. He solemnly watched me as I continued pelting the conveyor belt with food while I mulled this over.

“Maybe,” I said, “you’d be saving my life if you went ahead of me, though. Maybe if I get delayed by a few seconds then I won’t be in the wrong place at the wrong time. It might be the right decision.”

He nodded. “Just the same, though, I’ll stay put. I don’t want to jinx anything.”

Superstitious place, the American South.

“ the way? And I don't mean anything by it,” he said. “But you’re going to rush yourself right into a grave if you don’t slow down.”

I looked at him again. He gravely studied me above his glasses. He reminded me of that billboard with the eyes from The Great Gatsby.

I slowed down.

This is why my books are full of as many psychics and superstitious people as church-going congregants. The quirky characters around me color my manuscript.

Looking at the mystery market (and the trend may also be true for other genres), there's a lot of interest in unusual settings for books.

What’s unusual to a publisher? It seems to be anything that’s not in New York, the hub of the publishing industry.

Stieg Larsson’s series is set in Sweden. Louise Penny’s series set in a Canadian village near Montreal is enjoying great success. My friends Jim and Joyce Lavene have a brand new series for Berkley set in the small town of Duck, North Carolina.

The exciting thing for writers is that our own experiences and personal knowledge of our region drifts into our manuscript. Since we live in so many different areas and our readers hail from different regions, it makes our writing seem even richer.

Of course, some writers write about regions in which they don’t reside. Martha Grimes is an American who has done extremely well with her Inspector Jury series set in Britain. I can only imagine the research she’s had to do.

If we write our region? Local color is as close as our grocery store. And we produce something original--an appealing commodity for publishers--in the process.