Friday, February 24, 2006

Location, Location, Location

Jamie Ford has a terrific post on his blog today. He talks about living in a "small town" of "50,000 people" in Montana.

OK. I'd think that any collection of 50,000 people in Montana would make that collection a buzzing metropolis, but I digress. Jamie makes an excellent point. Small towns mean small town life and small town values. Those are great things. Small town life means, as Jamie says, your kids can walk to school. There are other great things, too: You know all your neighbors and a whole bunch of other people, as well. The pace is more relaxed. There's more free time. It doesn't take an hour to get to work. There's no smog.

I know all this because I grew up in Cooperstown, population, just over 2,000. That's a small town. Actually, I lived three miles away, in Fly Creek, population under 600. Fly Creek is where I learned to hunt, and in Cooperstown, it's pretty easy to develop a passion for baseball, especially working at the Hall of Fame.

Jamie's post really hit home for me for another reason: I live in the suburbs of Boston (the suburb where I live has a population of 50,000 and is considered a city by itself, but it's so close to Boston that it's basically an extension of the Hub).

Here's the kicker: My writing is all about small towns.

Well, let me explain a little.

My first novel happens in a small town that looks suspiciously like Cooperstown. The setting is a fictional place, but let's just say that the fictional place looks a whole lot like the place where I grew up.

There are plenty of mentions of other (real) locales where I've lived and worked. But most of the story occurs in a fictional small town in a fictional county.

My second novel starts in a setting where I've never been and never hope to be: state prison. But it moves, rapidly, back to a small town... it's another fictional place, another fictional county, right next to the fictional county in my first novel.

Why?

Partly because I know Cooperstown and the surrounding area, so I've already done the research for this fictional county next door to the fictional county in my first novel. Mostly because I like writing about small towns.

The majority of us live in cities or suburbs now, and fewer and fewer of us get to experience life in rural areas. I didn't know it at the time, but rural living was a great joy to me. I couldn't wait to get out of Cooperstown when I was in high school, but now I can't wait to return. I visit as frequently as I can. And my writing reflects that. There are places in Cooperstown where I haven't set foot in fifteen years, but I write about them as if I were there yesterday. There are places in Boston that I visit daily that don't even register to me. If I want to write about them, I have to visit with a notebook and jot down details.

I'm also noticing a huge difference politically between rural and urban areas. No, that's not a news flash. I mean, specifically, guns.

I spent ten years as a Democratic political consultant. One of the great debates, especially during Presidential elections, is gun control. Republicans have successfully framed the issue this way: Democrats want to take guns away from law-abiding citizens. We Democrats have failed in our message, mostly because we're spending too much time responding to the Republicans. The funny thing is that a large majority of Americans favors gun control, but those who vote based on gun control are gun owners. Gun owners who vote based on gun control tend to support Republicans because the Republican party is in bed with the National Rifle Association. That's not a news flash either.

We're all missing the point. This is not a Democrat-Republican issue. This is a rural-urban issue.

The reason most people in this country favor gun control is that most people in this country live in cities or suburbs. If you're in a city or a suburb and you see a gun, you tend to have a slightly different reaction than you do when you see a gun in a small town, or way out in the country.

In a city or a suburb, a gun in the hand of anybody but a police officer means crime. (And on further reflection, it means the same thing even if the gun is in a cop's hand.) It means crime even to responsible gun owners who keep their guns for protection or target practice. If you see a gun, and you're not on a target range, you think: crime. You're justifiably terrified.

When I'm in Cooperstown and I see a gun, I think: venison, preferably marinated in red wine and crushed garlic, grilled (over charcoal, not gas) to a perfect medium rare. I think of my grandfather; I think of my favorite uncle. I think of my cousins. I think of spectacular times growing up, what we call quality time today. I think of the hours I've spent target shooting and the (fewer) hours I've spent hunting and the long walks in the woods that I don't take any more, because I don't like the woods and I don't live near any forests. But growing up, allergic to everything outside, hating the woods, I still loved hiking through them with my uncle, my cousins, my grandfather, looking for birds and game.

I'm a liberal, over-educated 35-year-old male. I'm a recovering lawyer, a former Democratic consultant. I write fiction. I have a Saint and three kids. I vote exclusively Democratic.

And I'm a marksman. Or at least, I used to be. I won shooting contests as a Boy Scout and could hit just about anything I aimed at when I was growing up. I own two firearms. They're both in Fly Creek, because Massachusetts has restrictive gun laws, and I'd have to register them here.

How can that dichotomy-- a liberal who hunts and shoots-- exist?

It's easy: Our attitude on guns is not based on party. It's based on where we live. City dwellers are scared of guns, with good reason. People who live in the country see guns and they're happy, also with good reason.

It really does come down to the simple matter of location.

Adam

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5 Comments:

Blogger M. G. Tarquini said...

Always something good over here, Adam.

10:53 AM, February 24, 2006  
Blogger Adam Hurtubise said...

Thanks a bunch, M.G.

I tried reading your competing posts with Bardawill from home this morning, thinking I'd be less likely to shoot liquids onto a computer monitor I actually own.

I tend to place a higher value on my Mac laptop than I do on the HP Windows behemoth at work.

Didn't matter. I need to upgrade to that new Mac with an Intel processor anyway.

Adam

11:00 AM, February 24, 2006  
Anonymous jamie ford said...

Great stuff Adam.

On the location thing, I like Stephen King more than Dean Koontz in part because I enjoy reading about people in rural areas, like Maine. Instead of L.A. where Koontz lives and where many of his books revolve around.

And wow on the gun issue. Tru dat.

I’m a conservative democrat, and growing up I thought guns were just useless redneck toys. Up there in the white trash Pantheon of Lucky Lager, Dale Earnhart and six-finger banjo playing.

But when I moved to Alaska I had my eyes opened. I saw people wear fur because it’s 20-below rather than fashionable. And I saw how people could be conservationists and also hunters. Managing the populations of game animals and raising money to protect the habitats.

You’re right, location is everything.

7:31 PM, February 24, 2006  
Blogger Adam Hurtubise said...

Great point on hunting and conservation, Jamie.

Every great hunter I know is also an ardent conservationist.

These folks are just huge into environmentalism, and huge into things like preventing pollution, because part of the hunting experience is walking over and through gorgeous lands and forests, brooks, streams, rivers, whatever.

So some of my hardcore Republican friends line up with me on enviro issues simply because they want a pristine hunting environment.

Adam

11:54 AM, February 25, 2006  
Blogger Lisa S. said...

Good points on small towns. But it's funny, I now live in a much larger SMSA (Hampton Roads) than I did when I lived in the Springfield Mass SMSA. But it's so much more small town here - in mostly good ways. Even comparing someplace like boho Northampton, it was much more of a city mentality than down here. I was culture shocked when I moved here. People were friendly for no apparent reason.

Yeah the traffic sux more around here, but it's an ok tradeoff.

6:27 PM, February 26, 2006  

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