SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
Cheating on Indiana
I’ve had the strangest feeling lately that I’m cheating on Indiana.
As a writer, I mean—get out of the gutter. You see, my new novel is about to be published, and it’s set in Michigan. There’s nothing wrong with that. Lots of authors do this thing called using your imagination, in which their stories are set somewhere other than where they live. One of the best authors I know routinely sets her stories in California, even though she lives in Missouri. One of my favorite authors, L. Frank Baum, set most of his stories in places that don’t even exist.
But up until now, all my published works have been set in Indiana.
It wasn’t supposed to be that way. In fact, when I first started writing, none of my stories were set in Indiana. When you’re a teenager—at least, an introverted, emo teenager like I was—all you care about is getting out. Half my stories were set in space. Half were set on a fictional fire department, somewhere generally to the west. The other half either took place in other areas of this planet, or started here and then journeyed away.
(What, that’s three halves? That’s why I took up writing: I suck at math.)
But things happen and, long story short, I stayed in Indiana. Why? Because it’s an awesome place, when it’s not winter. I also moved from science fiction and action to romantic comedy—see above about things happening.
Years ago I had a literary agent for a time, and of the three novels he looked at he thought the first one I wrote, Radio Red, was the best. It was set in an area of northwest Lower Michigan where my family vacationed at the time. Why? Because my in-laws had a cottage there, and I had … debt.
Michigan is almost as beautiful as Indiana, but even colder.
For whatever reason, Radio Red never sold. Maybe editors don’t like red—they’re always complaining about red ink. Instead the second one I wrote, Storm Chaser, sold first. It’s not only set in Indiana, but in my home county of Noble. I didn’t have to research a setting; there’s a fine line between brilliance and laziness.
I told my publisher that I was writing some short stories to help promote Storm Chaser. Showing awesome overconfidence in my ability to make them money, they said, “Great! Put them together, we’ll publish a collection.” All but two of the stories in Storm Chaser Shorts are set in Indiana.
Are you detecting a pattern? You should, because along came The No-Campfire Girls. Although inspired by a Missouri Girl Scout Camp, I set it in southern Indiana. Why? Because I stole some of the characters from another book of mine, an unpublished mystery set in, yes, southern Indiana. The rest of the characters I stole from Storm Chaser. Is it stealing when it’s from yourself? Or just another case of brilliant laziness? I’ve coined a new term.
The Storm Chaser sequel, (hey, it works for Hollywood) is The Notorious Ian Grant. Now, it’s not essential that a sequel be set in the same place as the original. But except for the main character, I didn’t have to invent new people or locations. Creating Ian Grant was exhausting all by itself; in Storm Chaser he’s mentioned in exactly one line, in which his sister calls him an “ingrate”. Great introduction, sis.
My first entry into non-fiction, Smoky Days and Sleepless Nights, can be described entirely by its subtitle: A Century or So With the Albion Fire Department. Granted, there are more than two dozen Albions in the United States; but come on—pay attention to the theme, here.
My unpublished “Slightly Off the Mark” columns were collected into the imaginatively named Slightly Off the Mark: The Unpublished Columns. See what I did, there? You can argue this one, but many of the columns are about Indiana, and by gosh they were all written in Indiana by an Indianian, so there.
(Indianian? No wonder we call ourselves Hoosiers.)
After that was what I call my picture book: Images of America: Albion and Noble County. Kidding, I never called it that, but it’s historical images and fun stuff about Albion and Noble County. Which are in Indiana. Any questions? I didn’t think so.
Last year we released Hoosier Hysterical: How the West Became the Midwest Without Moving At All, and if I have to explain how that’s about Indiana … well, I just don’t.
(I also had a short story in Strange Portals and a humor piece in My Funny Valentine. I usually don’t count them as my wholly published work, but in this case what the heck—they’re both set in Indiana.)
So that’s … how many is that? Jeez, the other day I told someone I’m about to get my tenth book published, but if you don’t count the parenthesis above, Radio Red will only be my ninth. It gives me the warm and fuzzies, to say “only” nine. I’m on track to beat Isaac Asimov’s publishing record! Only 500 more books to go.
And now … well, Radio Red, like the Storm Chaser series, is set in a real place; but that place happens to be in Michigan. It’s been bought by Torrid Books, and has an official release date on March 7, and …
And I’m cheating on Indiana.
But I feel Hoosiers will forgive me. And if they don’t … well, then I can only imagine what they’ll think of my first spaceship story.