There was a time when I loved the New Yorker, but today not so much. One of the reasons for my disenchantment with the celebrated magazine is its nose-in-the-air attitude about geographic points of interest other than the east and west coasts. A couple of years ago, however, one of their articles pointed out the fact that the magazine exhibits an uncharacteristic ignorance about what has been not-so-kindly dubbed flyover country. Since my home is in Michigan, I am particularly sensitive to a state with some of the nation’s greatest universities, museums, and medical facilities being so summarily dismissed. At one time, however, I, too, was guilty of the same self-hating abandonment of my native state. I excuse my temporary defection by saying there is a time when most everyone apologizes for where he or she came from. In fact, if you study the bios of some of our nation’s most annoying intellectual snobs, you find that most all are only a generation removed from my beloved Midwest–or Mideast as my Utah cousins insist. I love that many of the harshest critics of the Midwest are from Pittsburgh which is as close to being Midwest as you can get without crossing into Ohio but they still, like my late mother, call themselves “Easterners.” Anyway, it is this defensive feeling I have for my home state that drives my insistence that my cozy mysteries be set in it. Both Snoop and Murder on Cinnamon Street are set in charming Michigan towns, much like the one that Hemingway spent his boyhood summers in.
I am not picking on Obama in this blog. I love this picture because it is so clearly of a young man reinventing himself once he left home. Traveling from his protected prep school to the vastly liberal Occidental College, he is to be forgiven for “feeling his oats.” We all do it. But what I notice is that the kids from Michigan who leave for the coasts, east and west, often seem to eschew the land that grew them. To these kids, the world of elite, pompous intellectuals is new and magical, even though those intellectuals, in almost incomprehensible words and images, wax ad nauseum about tolerance and acceptance. Yet these self-serving, self-loving boors create a land where only the best-educated (read that to mean Ivy League and Stanford) are allowed to play. To Midwestern kids, who have grown up with the unwritten law that we are all truly equal, this new delivery system with all its affectations makes the information appear new and exciting.
When my husband and I were first married we went east to visit his aunt in Connecticut. I fell in love with the East Coast and with her. For years, I was convinced that I would never be happy unless we moved there. When someone pointed out that a great deal of New England looks like parts of the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan, I still wasn’t convinced. It was Connecticut for me. But work for both my husband me was in Michigan so we stayed and visited whenever we could. Over the years/decades everything on the East Coat seemed to get dirtier and more crowded. Michigan remained green and spacious. Perhaps it’s a figment of getting older but I have fallen in love with the state I’ve lived in for over half a century. It’s welcoming, affordable, and big. There’s lots to see and do and within a couple of hours both my children received excellent post-secondary educations. And though they both have had to move away to get jobs, our state’s only glitch is a lack of jobs–but we’re working on that, I observe that their visits home reinforce what a great state they came from. “I forget how beautiful and green it is,” were my son’s words a few weeks ago when he returned for the Michigan/Notre Dame football game.
So as a paean to my beloved state, I set my books in Michigan. And I picture the town squares you can find in many of our small towns. Oh, and there must be town gossips who let people know when marriages have exploded, drunks have been arrested, and even bludgeoned bodies have been located. I want my readers to sit on their porches and read my books with cold glasses of iced tea, in the spring and summer. In the fall and winter they will, like me, read in front of a fire next to windows looking out on tree-lined streets. Let them laugh at us here in flyover country, but let them remain where they are. The Midwest is known as a friendly part of the country to live and raise a family. We don’t want anyone to spoil that.