Saturday, May 30, 2015

Set in Arkansas

By Velda Brotherton

The Boston Mountains in the Ozarks of Arkansas are some of the most beautiful non-mountains in the world. What? Not mountains. Well, I guess our friends out West could attest to that because the Rockies are mountains. But this portion of the Ozarks, contains the highest peaks, though they are really a high and deeply dissected plateau that stretches through Northern Arkansas into Eastern Oklahoma.

I was born here, moved away to live in St. Louis, Wichita, Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs, back to Wichita, then to Long Island, and lo and behold, with these ancient non-mountains (if you don’t mind I’ll refer to them as mountains from here on) calling to my soul, returned to live within 15 miles of where I was born. For the past 43 years I’ve watched the four seasons pass in glorious beauty. Here I’ve lived and worked for 9 years as a feature writer and reporter and city editor for a rural weekly newspaper, one of the largest in the state. Without a journalism degree I earned three Merit awards for columns and stories from the APA. That’s Arkansas Press Association.

My adventures with that newspaper are truly amazing and I am busy writing blogs about them to share with my readers. Perhaps I’ll write one here next month. I can’t decide whether to write about the 30 foot reticulated pythons I made friends with, or maybe the magnificent white tigers I walked among. Or the day I spent behind bars interviewing those permanently penned up there. Then there was the marijuana dealer…well, those stories can wait for another day.

It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I decided to begin setting books in my little corner of the world. Why? Because up to that time, not very many readers were interested in us Arkies except as the stereotypical hillbillies that we aren’t.  Funny how no matter where one lives, those who live there have misconceptions of those who live anywhere else.

After living in New York for 9 years, I am amused when I hear people discuss “those New Yorkers” with all sorts of far out ideas about them. But it was no different in New York, where my accent (I really don’t think I have one) amused my friends and colleagues there. I worked in New York City for a while and enjoyed it immensely. What did I know, I was in my mid-twenties. The rush, the noise, the smells, the crowds, the traffic jams, walking the streets where construction workers’ whistled at pretty women, riding the train and then the subway to work. All these were exciting to me at that age. I loved it.

But the time came when I needed more peace and quiet, so the move to these serene Ozark hills. When I was young I eagerly bloomed where I was planted and had a great time doing it. My roots are here now and I make sure I pay attention to everything that’s around me. I drive to town on a highway with very little traffic. It winds north 21 miles, following a river on one side, bluffs and hills on the other, to the small town of Fayetteville, its University of Arkansas, businesses and residences scattered amidst seven hills.

My writing career began while I lived on Long Island. I joined a writers group and we met at the hotel in Garden City near the airport where Charles Lindberg took off for Paris on that long ago day to set a brand new flying record. My first published short story was a fictionalized tale about William “Coin” Harvey, who built an arena at Monte Ne in an effort to have his name forever known. It is now under Beaver Lake in Northwest Arkansas. My story was published in a small artsy magazine there.

But I had to come back to Arkansas before my writing career took off. And I credit it to my surroundings. I believe writers can write anywhere, yet there is a special place that makes everything come together so perfectly that no other locale will quite do. And I’m forever surprised that it took me so long to begin to set my books here where I live and have found peace.


Arletta Dawdy said...

Hi Velda,
I love how you turn up in new places, but write from your "old" place. Setting becomes a character for many of us. Now finishing my trilogy set in Arizona's Huachuca Mountains, I'm thinking of turning to my home county of Sonoma,CA for a new setting. Thanks for sharing your experience and outlook.

Charles Gramlich said...

I set my first published novel in Arkansas, but most of my stuff is SF and fantasy so set on other worlds. I recently published a memoir of sorts, though, called "Adventures of an Arkansawyer." Your name sounds familiar. I knew some Brotherton's around Charleston, Arkansas. Would that be your family?

Liane Spicer said...

The older we get, the stronger our connection to our early years, I think. I know it's true for me, and I think my best writing comes out of those early connections to place and people.