One of those things writers get asked a lot is, “Where do you get your ideas from?” (Or, if you’re like some of us, you more often hear “Where do you find these hot cover models?!” You’ll have to ask the cover artists!) My usual answer to the first one is something along the line of, “From the ether.” I make these stories and characters up out of whole cloth, really. My settings tend to be either fictitious or far-away places like London and Australia.
The setting of Town Man, Country Man, though, is different. This time, I wrote local, and it was Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania that gave me the idea for TMCM. The idea came about after taking a drive up to Grove City one afternoon for a picnic at Moraine State Park. I got to thinking on the way back about those lone houses that one occasionally sees on a hillside above the highways around here. They usually look like a big, old farmhouse with a great view of the surrounding countryside. Quite picturesque.
But I wondered what it’s like living there, kind of cut-off from everything. That idea gave birth to Ben, the country man who lives in such a place. Though a little further removed from the highway, he still has that big house, set off by itself, where he can see the world in its comings and goings but not really have the world observe him in return – not at eye level, at any rate.
Clearly, Ben needed a counterpart, though. That got me thinking toward the opposite end of the spectrum – the town man sort. That’s something I relate to much more, being in the middle of everything, in walking distance of whatever you want, whenever you want it, people-watching accompanied by the vague understanding that someone is probably also making assumptions about you based on your shoes, hair-do, and presence (or lack) of yoga-mat, miniature dog, and/or venti iced green tea. Being a lot more comfortable with that sort of belvedere, Josh became the narrator, wondering, much as I did, how people actually get on living ‘way up there’.
That’s not to say Josh is representative of your dear author. I’m probably more the Dante type.
From there, the story took off, almost on its own. Spending time in many of TMCM’s settings allowed me to give Josh and Ben’s personalities and motivations geographical roots as well as psychological ones. Of course, sometimes it’s easy to forget that not everyone is as familiar as a place as you are. Sometimes you gloss over details or include references that others will miss, running the risk of confusing the reader. Personally, I like a style that doesn’t explain everything but gives enough context clues for me to get the gist, but then, I like a story that makes me want to go to Google to find out more for myself.
Those missing details are one of the reasons beta readers are so incredibly valuable, they will see the omissions you take as read. That lends itself to reconnecting a little more closely to those places and settings, experiencing them more mindfully, appreciating the facets that make a place so singular. For me, it was the ubiquitous scents of spring, the way the sidewalk slabs are nearly unnavigable in some of the nicest areas of town because they’ve been pushed up by very persistent tree roots (the very same trees that drop big, squishy, old-cheese scented bombs in the autumn), the fact that nobody dares to dance at clubs before 11pm, the combinations of pop radio and football fight songs in the marketing Strip District streets that are as contrasting as the empanadas and tamales on one block and the pizzelles and cannolis on the next.
One thing I love about reading things set in places I know well (like Pittsburgh) is recognizing all those little details. That grin and nod of identification that you get automatically. I loved that about Felicia Watson’s Where the Allegheny Meets the Monongahela (I mean, the title alone was a bit of a giveaway!) and I loved it again in Jana’s own Kept Tears. There are probably more ‘Burgh stories out there that I’m not at all aware of - please don’t hesitate to clue me in!
There’s always that line about “write what you know,” but the more writing I do, the more I find that for me it’s more a case of knowing what I write. And that often means coming to know the things I knew in the first place all over again.
Blurb Town Man, Country Man
“Town man” Josh Douglass meets “country man” Ben Bauer at a mutual friend’s wedding, and passion kindles immediately. As urbanite wedding planner Josh and closeted contractor Ben spend more time together, they develop a deep, comfortable romance despite the fifty miles between their homes—and despite the drastic differences in their lifestyles. But as they grow closer, it becomes apparent that Josh and Ben have been enjoying the first flush of love without giving much thought to longer-term logistics.
A crisis leads Josh to ask himself serious questions about how his relationship with Ben can realistically work. But just as Josh is feeling ready to talk about the next step with Ben, a misunderstanding threatens to put an end to their love affair. Compromise is the key to any relationship, but it isn’t always easy to balance careers, friendships, and family expectations. Josh and Ben just need to see that bringing together the best of both their worlds is well worth the sacrifices they’ll have to make to remain in each other’s lives.
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Jessica Skye Davies