Like a lot of romance writers, my books take place in a small town of my own invention—Konigsburg, Texas. I’ve written some things that take place in real places and in large cities, but I keep coming back to Konigsburg. There’s something really appealing about a place you know intimately because, well, you created it. I remember the first scene I wrote in Konigsburg. It was in a bar called the Dew Drop Inn (hey, I didn’t say it was a particularly inventive small town) and I found myself naming and describing all the people who were sitting at the tables around the room. I later had to get rid of all that when a critique partner pointed out (quite reasonably) that she was getting terminally confused by all the names, but it just goes to show. When you’ve got your very own town, you want to introduce all those people to the visitors.
But small towns have their perils too (and I’m not just talking about the psycho kidnapper in Be My Baby or the Texas secessionists in Brand New Me). The main problem is finding the right path between realism and the Land Of Cute.
Realistic small towns work in literary fiction and mysteries—serious stuff, in other words. But you don’t necessarily want realism in a romance. You’re looking more for charm, for something like the town in Roxanne or Cicely, Alaska, in Northern Exposure. The current mayor of my town (he took over in Brand New Me) is one of the town vets, a charming old curmudgeon based on Wilfred Brimley (and on a former mayor of San Antonio who won my heart, Phil Hardberger). Knowing Texas, I doubt any of the Hill Country towns actually has someone that sensible and charming serving in the mayor’s chair, but it doesn’t matter. Konigsburg is blessed with Horace.
On the other hand, if your town is too adorable, your readers may suffer from sugar shock. Cozy mysteries have this problem sometimes—tiny towns with names like Sunnyville Acres that nonetheless offer art museums, theatres, university branches, and community centers, all bankrolled by some munificent, civic-minded billionaire. The citizens are adorable too, quirky and eccentric but basically good-hearted and always ready to Do the Right Thing.
But I’d argue that you don’t want your town to be Never Never Land. You need a few warts here and there and some occasional connections to reality, no matter how tenuous. Konigsburg boasts an array of restaurants, hotels, and bed and breakfasts, like most Hill Country towns. But there are no elves around to clean up messes, and the town also has its own complement of jerks.
So I invite you to drop by Konigsburg. You’ll meet the new vet and the owner of Kent’s Hill Country Books (Venus In Blue Jeans), the county attorney and the bookstore assistant (Wedding Bell Blues), the accountant and the B and B manager (Be My Baby), the chief of police and the winery publicist (Long Time Gone), and the bar owner and his barmaid (Brand New Me). Of course, along with them you’ll meet the rest of the town—restaurateurs, cops, gift store owners, bouncers and chefs among them. But I promise they’re not too cute.
And maybe you’ll discover it’s a place you want to stay for a while. That, after all, is what all of us small town creators are really hoping for.