I hosted an author takeover in our reader group on Facebook in November (you’re in our reader group, right? The Christian Romance Reader Gathering? If not, come join us, it’s a fun place to be!) One of the questions I asked was favorite setting for romance novels.
“Small Towns” was the overwhelming answer.
And it left me wondering, what’s so amazing about small towns?
It’s definitely a reader favorite — you just have to look at the bookshelves (or listings online) in romance (secular or Christian) to see it. The romance series that get made into Netflix series or movies? Small towns. Hallmark Christmas movies? Small towns.
It’s baffling to me.
I grew up in a small town.
One of my most distinct “small town” memories is from when I was eight or nine years old and my family decided to go to the movies. I don’t remember what we were there to see, honestly, but I do remember getting popcorn (major splurge!) and our seats and then, because Dad was a fanatic about being early so we didn’t miss anything, as we sat there for twenty(ish) minutes waiting for the movie to start, every. single. person. who walked down the aisle to find their seats stopped to say hello.
“Hey, it’s the Perrys!”
“Hi, Dennis. Linda. Girls. How are you?”
“Fancy running into you all here.”
And Mom and Dad looked at each other after the tenth or so greeting of that ilk and said, “You know it’s time to move when everyone who goes to the movies stops to say hi.”
And, in fact, we did move not too long after that (it’s not a causal relationship) – and settling in the DC area suburbs, where you were free to make your own small town out of people you wanted to know instead of the people who happen to be available? Life changing.
See, my family didn’t have a fantastic small town experience. My parents were (and are) outspoken believers in Jesus. And in the small town where we were, where science was god and any other worship was considered idolatry, you better believe that was unpopular. And in a small town, there’s nowhere to hide. There’s no way to get away.
And if the kids of the parents who hate your parents are cruel to you at school, there are no other options. There’s no transferring when there’s a single elementary school in town.
It wasn’t all bad. We had friends–good, lasting friendships that have stood the test of time and distance. But they’re few and far between.
Here are some of the reasons people gave for loving small town romances (and, hilariously, they’re the same reasons I struggle with them in real life):
“The whole town is like family.”
“The humorous busybodies who get involved in everyone’s business.”
“The heavy emphasis on community.”
“They feel homier.”
“Everyone knows everyone.”
(Many of the folks who commented grew up in small towns, too, so some people love it in their real lives, not just fiction.)
I do love books with that feeling of community–I just tend to make that community out of people (friends, family, and/or church family) and not the setting itself.
So maybe it’s not all the different. I’m trying to look at small towns with new eyes. I know my own experiences aren’t the same as everyone’s. I know not all small towns are the same. And I know I want to write books that appeal to readers — though I have to figure if I do take on a small town setting, it’s going to have my own spin on it, and, well, that might not end up being the idyllic place people picture when they hear the words “small town romance.”
What about you? I’d love to know what you love (or hate!) about small town romance and where you fall on the “community is the people I live near” to “community is the people I choose” scale.
If you have a small town romance series you’d love to recommend – hit me up with that as well! I always need something new to read.