Romance author Sherryl Woods discusses why she loves the mystique and magic of small towns. Her latest release, "Home to Seaview Key," returns to a small island community off Florida's Gulf Coast for the story of a woman hoping to rediscover herself and make amends for past mistakes.
Over the thirty-plus years of my publishing career, I've written a lot of books set in small towns. During most of that time, I've lived in a very big city—Miami. I grew up in another very big city, a suburb of Washington, D.C. And when I went to college, I landed at Ohio State University, which at the time boasted over 40,000 students.
So, how on earth did this fascination with small communities come about? I have several theories, one of which revolves around my childhood love for the Little House on the Prairie books. Not only did those books tell stories about a simpler time, but they focused on family and community. People cared about one another. Survival often depended on other peoples’ kindness.
During the same years I was reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, I was lucky enough to spend my summers in Colonial Beach, a tiny town on the Potomac River in Virginia. The year-round population was fewer than 5,000 people. It still is. My friends were local kids, rather than "summer" kids, so I got a real taste of small-town life.
While in the city, my spare time revolved around organized activities at school or church. What a difference in the summer, when we devised games to keep ourselves entertained, when we wandered up the street to get ice-cold soft drinks from a cooler in a neighborhood store barely bigger than a closet. Seriously. The building's still there and I marvel at how much seemed to be stocked in such a tiny space.
Sure, summer is a carefree time anywhere, but in a small town with all the entertainment relying on our own imaginations, it seemed magical. I desperately wanted to live there year-round and go to that small school and attend bible school in the summer with my friends. I thought my dad, who worked for the federal government, could surely find some sort of job at the small naval base near town. I thought my mom—an executive with a direct mail advertising company—should be a waitress at one of the local restaurants. Needless to say, they saw some serious shortcomings in my plan.
Still, I dreamed of living in that close-knit community where everyone seemed to know one another; where relatives lived down the street, not miles away; where parents kept an eye on all the kids in the neighborhood and where bingo on the boardwalk or a July snowball fight (crushed ice is a dangerous alternative, trust me on this) was excitement.
To this day my friends from that time in my life are among the closest I have. I still spend my summers in that same tiny town. And I can't go anywhere without running into somebody I know.
This background provided the basis for Seaview Key, for Chesapeake Shores, for Whispering Wind, Wyoming, for Serenity, South Carolina—the home of the Sweet Magnolias—and for all the other small towns I've created over the years.
That's all about me, but what about readers? Well, of course I have a theory about that, too. In today's world, many of us live far from our families. The sense of community we all desperately want may be harder to come by as we race from home to work, to obligations, then home again. Demands are many. Time to ourselves to read, to walk barefoot in the grass or catch fireflies on a summer evening, is at a premium.
Books set in small towns, whether mine or those created by so many other wonderful writers, fulfill our longing for a sense of community. Catching up with characters we've come to love is just a little bit like connecting with friends or family who live far away. It's reassuring. It's comforting. And it reminds us of a simpler time, when family and community mattered above all else. It seems to me that's something worth remembering.
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