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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Inspiration Post #15: The Midwest

Inspiration Post #15: The Midwest

I consider myself a West Coast person. I've lived on the West Coast of the US for about 75% of my life. I feel most at home here. If I could freely choose any part of the US to live, it would be somewhere in California, Oregon, or Washington. But I lived that other 25% in the Midwest, and that's what I want to talk about today.

People who live on the coasts don't think about the Midwest very often. The flyover states, we call them. Despite all the culture that can be found in cities like Chicago and Minneapolis, midwesterners are stereotyped as hicks, a bunch of dowdy people straight out of American Gothic. Are there hicks in the Midwest? You bet. But believe me, we have plenty of 'em around here too. You know Chris in my Bones books? You don't have to travel far outside Portland to find a lot of guys who resemble him as Dylan first saw him.

Although it's been exactly 20 years since I last lived in the Midwest, it continues to influence my stories. Several of my shorts are located there: "Care and Rehabilitation," "A Great Miracle Happened There," "No Place Like Home." In "Violet's Present," a good chunk of the action takes place in Nebraska. The locations in those stories are based on places I've visited or lived in Illinois, Nebraska, and Iowa.

For example, in "A Great Miracle," Jude and Mac meet at a cafe. It was based on a friend's favorite cafe in Iowa City, DeLuxe. I hadn't actually been there when I wrote the story so didn't know what it looked like, but I tried to capture the feeling of a neighborhood bakery cafe. I did get to visit the real place this summer--and their pastries are delicious.

Jude and Mac get to know each other while painting and prepping Mac's new home. His house was based on the house I lived in in Lincoln, Nebraska. It was a cute little thing built in the 1880s. And yes, the living room walls really were hot pink when we bought it. Here's what the outside of my living room looked like:

When I moved to Nebraska for graduate school, people kept saying, "Don't worry! It'll grow on you!" Yeah, I thought. Like mold. But it did grow on me. I miss thunderstorms, fireflies and cicadas, "interesting" weather, cardinals, foursquare houses, and that brand of unpretentious realism and friendliness that seems to rare on the coasts.

I love being close to the ocean and the mountains, and I don't miss tornadoes and ice storms. I'll probably stick to the West. But don't be surprised if those flyover states show up in my stories now and then.

Next week: Saint Bernards


  1. A lovely tribute to the flyover states. :) I spent my young adulthood in the Midwest and now that I live in Philadelphia I actually run into people who think Wisconsin is somewhere near Alaska and populated only by farmers (and apparently polar bears). It's kind of funny and sad and in a way reassuring. Midwesterners like coming in on the blindside. :D And that house is adorable!

    1. Thank you! The Midwest is definitely the Great Unknown for many people. (You're sure there are no polar bears in Wisconsin?)