When my husband graduated from high school, his class selected “I’m From the Country and I Like It That Way” by Tracy Byrd as their graduation song. You may be thinking, “Surely you jest!” No, no I do not. The next year, I graduated from the same high school. So, yes, I am also from the country. And I do like it that way.
The protagonist of my fiction novel Identified: The Maya Price Story is from a small (fictional) town that is very similar to Tarkington, which is where I where I grew up. Before I proceed, a brief disclaimer: Maya is not me. She is much, much, more athletic and also much, much, quieter. ( I tend to have a loud mouth). I also do not have the same sort of paranormal abilities that she does (that I have, so far, discovered). However, Maya is from a small town that is very much like Tarkington. Growing up in Tarkington molded me and shaped me into the person I am today and I wanted Maya’s hometown to do the same for her. Don’t get me wrong, I live in the ‘burbs now and really like it. Yet, there is something about growing up in a small town that enables you witness, firsthand, the true meaning of compassion. Anytime a tragedy struck our tiny town, I saw the outpouring of compassion and love. If a member of our community lost a loved one, the entire town would take care of the family by cleaning the house, supplying them with at least three weeks of meals, and undertaking many other tasks that a bereaved mother, father, sister or brother would not want to tackle. The day of my wedding, friends of my parents cleaned their house so it could serve as a reception venue and members of our church supplied the wedding party with platters of Subway sandwiches. Once, I translated for a man in our community who was offering to take two non-English speaking men, who he did not know, into “town” because their truck had broken down. When my in-laws lost their house to a fire, and one of my nephews suffered from second and third degree burns on eighty percent of his body, the town rallied around them. They raised money to pay my nephew’s hospital bills and rebuild my in-laws’ home, participated in the construction of the new house and, of course, brought food.
Before I sent my main character, Maya, out into the world, I wanted to give her a solid background. I wanted to her have the kind of compassion that I observed from my friends, neighbors and family. You see, Maya will need that kind of compassion if she is to overcome the various obstacles that lie ahead of her. Thus, I created the town of Diamond, Texas. Before I reveal too much of the plot, I will leave you with a short excerpt from Identified in which I describe Maya’s hometown.
If grew up into Tarkington, you know that no written words can describe the value of our childhood and formative years. No, our humble town is not perfect, but it made us who we are. And I think we turned out all right.
Identified: The Maya Price Story
Excerpt from Chapter 1
“Maya had never fit in with the students at Diamond High School. While most of them liked her, she had never developed close friendships with anyone other than her sister and Pete. But, she was not ready to leave. It was odd, really. On the weekend, her classmates liked riding four-wheelers through muddy creek beds and she would rather write in her journal while sitting in her dad’s hammock. Or, if the weather dipped below fifty degrees, she watched old, bad action movies with Pete. Maya did not like fried okra, banana pudding or Friday night football, but she loved Diamond. She loved the quiet when she was running in the morning. She loved that her classmates still showed up for church on Sundays, even though some of them smelled like booze from Saturday night’s pasture party. She loved that, when Leah McCall’s mother died the previous spring, the family had enough food for weeks because the town stocked their refrigerator with casseroles and cobblers. In the fall, the whole town attended the elementary school’s Fall Festival. In the winter, they dispersed to the various Protestant churches to watch Christmas nativity plays. In the spring, the schools let out on Thursday and Friday for Rodeo Weekend. That weekend, the almost every resident went in to “town” to watch the Future Farmers of America students show their steers, pigs and goats during the day. Then, they watched barrel racing and bull riding at night. In the summer, no one needed an invitation to a wedding; if you happened to see the wedding announcement in the local newspaper, you were invited.
Maya loved that in Diamond, even though she did not fit in, she still felt at home.”