Tuesday, February 22, 2011


I really envy teen bloggers. Writers just seemed so distant when I was a teen. I can’t tell you how many times I labored over a fan letter and got—well—a whole lotta nothin’, frankly.

While I didn’t get to be part of the blogosphere as a teen, at least I get to be part of it with some incredible teens…fellow writer and Missourian Maggie at The Juniper Breeze, for example.

Maggie and Sam (One Sparkling Star—stay tuned for tomorrow’s post) have just been incredible…It was a joy to see their faces at all my Springfield-based author events when A BLUE SO DARK was released…

I’m including my guest post for The Juniper Breeze below, but don’t forget to comment and link to Maggie’s blog for a chance to win a copy of PLAYING HURT!

My Missouri Roots

My roots in Missouri run deep—six generations deep. My great-great-great grandparents were some of the first settlers in Southwest Missouri. A family cemetery exists not far from Springfield, where many of my Civil-War-era relatives are buried.

While my parents both grew up in the Kansas City area, I am myself a lifelong Springfieldian. Born and raised on Cashew Chicken and Tent Theater. Attended SMSU for undergrad and grad school. (It will always be SMS to me, no matter how many years away we are from the official name change). Bottom line? I’m Springfield through-and-through.

It wasn’t really by design that I’ve lived here forever. But as far as my writing is concerned, I’m glad I have…

In some respects, a book needs to be universal. In order for readers to fall in love with your main character, they need to “get” your main character. She (or he) needs to be somebody that your readers feel like they could walk out of their front door and run into. You don’t really want to craft a character who would only make sense in one geographical location…
But—you do want your work to have a sense of place, a local color. Place, in short, is more than just a two-dimensional backdrop.

Take THE BLUE BISTRO, by Elin Hilderbrand. Okay, so that’s not YA, but it is a romance, like PLAYING HURT. That book has such a vibrant, breathing sense of place that I’d argue the location (Nantucket, and more specifically, the bistro located in Nantucket) is actually one of the main characters. When the bistro closed toward the end of the novel, I found myself mourning more than I did when the restaurant’s owner, Fee, died. I can’t imagine that book taking place in another area of the country—just wouldn’t have worked.

I’ve lived here so long, I find Missouri (or, by extension, the Ozarks) becoming a part of my work without a conscious effort on my part. And I don’t mean I can toss in a few names of intersecting streets to give it “authenticity.” Local color isn’t something that can be achieved with proper nouns.

If you’ve lived in a certain area long enough, local color becomes part of your characters. In PLAYING HURT, when Chelsea and her family leave Missouri and head to Minnesota for vacation, I think they take Missouri with them: I see it in Brandon’s refusal to let his sister be dishonest about her relationship with Clint. I see it in Chelsea’s refusal to let the object of her desire slide by. In my debut, A BLUE SO DARK, I see the Ozarks in Aura’s straightforward, blunt style of narration. The Ozarks I know is full of (emotionally and physically) strong people. And I love building novels around that kind of character…

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