Setting: Your Home Town

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What happens when someone writes about a place you know?

I get a little giddy. My pleasure is about fifty percent nodding along with the author and mumbling “that’s right” and fifty percent is trying to catch the writer at getting it wrong.

Most of you probably remember the TV show ER. Before I moved to Chicago I just watched it. After I moved to Chicago I scrutinized it. “She’s going where? Ha, no way she’d take the Orange Line.” “Lunch break at Navy Pier on last week, lunch break at Shed Aquarium on this week? It must be nice to work at a roving hospital!” And my favorite, Nurse Sam stranded north of Chicago, near Winnetka…with mountains and cactus in the background. They could have at least painted the desert sand green to try and fake the midwest a little.

I do enjoy seeing and reading stories that aren’t set in New York or LA. And I often wonder why more stories aren’t set in other locales….locales that I know. Of course, if I listened to myself complain when they are, I might have answered my own question.

All of this brings me to the TV show Justified. It takes place in Kentucky, where I grew up. I heard about it and instead of getting excited, I ignored it. Like stuck-my-head-in-the-sand-hoping-it-would-go-away ignored it.

I’d heard enough shoe-less, electricity-less, outhouse-using redneck jokes to last more than one lifetime. I didn’t want to see Kentucky be the butt of another joke for season upon season. Yes, I moved away, but that doesn’t mean I want it made fun of.

A friend who had lived in Kentucky and had the same fears I did bit the bullet, watched the show and told me I should see it. Yes, there are racist rednecks galore in season one. That’s not great, however, they are from the same clan and the people in the big city of Lexington, where I actually grew up, are normal. Kentucky isn’t being made fun of, so I feel better. I even get excited when they mention roads that I actually learned to drive on, but the scenery isn’t quite right. Yes, they have white horse fences (good), green (good) and trees (good), but the mountains are wrong. The mountains and hill country looked right in the pilot (shot in PA), but were too distant in other episodes (shot in CA).

I watched the behind-the-scenes about how hard they try to make California into Appalachia. Maybe it’s because there’s no tumbleweed rolling past or because they explained how they shot it, but I feel better. They do do a good job and I often forget to scrutinize and just enjoy the storyline and characters.

What is it about the places you know and love that make it real — or not — when handled in a story (on screen or in a book)?

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11 thoughts on “Setting: Your Home Town

  1. bethfinke

    A friend of mine is a fairly successful published author. She doesn’t live in Chicago but has been here many times to visit and appear at book festivals. She set one of her novels in Chicago, and my friends here who read it couldn’t get past the fact that the author had the city all wrong. When I asked her why she didn’t bother to research the streets and locales to make sure she was accurate, , she just shrugged and said, “It’s fiction.”

    • I understand when some realities need to take a backseat to the story, but the “it’s fiction” comment bothers me. If an inaccuracy pulls me out of the story, it doesn’t matter that it’s fiction.

      I suppose I shouldn’t be too holier than thou, since I’m sure there are parts of my work that aren’t as accurate as they should be.

  2. Kim

    I found myself nodding along, reading your post. Yes, my city brought the world “Hee-Haw”. But we’re so much more than that. Nashville has a thriving arts community of writers, artists, famous (and yet-to-be famous) singers and musicians of all genres. We do have rednecks but many of them have multiple degrees and are well-traveled. I love this place!

    I’ve spent lots of time at Lexington’s KY Horse Park, showing jumpers, then cruising around Lexington during down time. It’s gorgeous. There isn’t another city like it. When a big news story happens in the south, CNN always interviews a toothless goat farmer instead of one of our more educated, less stereotypical folks. Just like Hollywood’s take on us, that makes me crazy.

    • I have heard great things about Nashville, especially about the varied music scene and the relaxedness of the people. I didn’t realize that Hee Haw was from there…although that makes perfect sense.

      Isn’t the Horse Park fun? I’m so glad you like Lexington!

      Hopefully Hollywood gets the memo soon.

  3. I’m not from Kentucky, but another corner of the Appalachians. I often found the characters from Justified ripped right out of my hometown, dialogue, attitudes and all.
    Hubby and I will talk after the show about how which character reminded us of the guy who ran the corner market, our neighbors, people from various sections of town, etc.
    I usually try to give a show some leeway with the scenery, as long as it’s not completely botched.

    I’m relatively new to WordPress and enjoyed finding your blog through Freshly Pressed.
    I still have a long way to go!

  4. Recently, I was reading a book and I would say it was fairly interesting book, and just like that, one incorrect information, totally turned me off from other wise good work. While, it is understood that you can not always know the fine details of the background of the picture you are trying to paint, but at least one should attempt at getting the most obvious things in place.

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