In my debut novel, Back to You, I never mentioned a specific name for the small town at the core of the story. That was completely intentional. I didn’t want it to be some predefined mark anyone could find on a map. I wanted it to be adaptable to the reader’s mind like it was to Iris’, to give them the ability to hate it for its faults but then sometimes love it for its strengths. I chose to do it this way for the same reason I think I got into writing in the first place.
And that was the complete hatred I had for the small town I called home during adolescence.
Like Iris in the story, I grew up in a small town in Louisiana that was just a short drive away from its capital, Baton Rouge. I had neighbors that knew things about my family we didn’t tell them, places to go where it was guaranteed I’d run into people I didn’t want to see, and an experience at school that made me feel like a loser for wanting to get good grades.
I was shy, painfully sarcastic, and despised where I lived; all things I now ironically attribute to my being a published romance author.
Not only did my childhood inspire the setting in Back to You and the reasons why Iris left home for college, but it also gave me plenty of alone time to write and realize just how much I loved it. If I would’ve spent those middle school and high school years at the movie theater or mud riding like a lot of kids my age did, then I don’t think I would’ve fallen as much in love with writing as I am today.
Now that I’m older I realize some of my hatred for the town was self-inflicted, and that’s why, in Back to You, I also wrote about the good that can accompany life in a small town. The same good I overlooked simply because I already hated a few things about it, so why not hate everything? And that’s the abundance of care; the Saturday spent over a table of boiled crawfish, drinking beer and talking about the upcoming LSU football season. And there’s the people, the love, that make staying in a place like that worth while.
In the book, Iris had to take a step away to realize all of that.
And in real life, so did I.
Unfortunately I didn’t find my own Weston to keep me there. Instead I moved in with my best friend in a tiny apartment in a much larger city, but I think that I’ve been able to find the same peace with growing up there that Iris did. Would I ever want to move back? Probably not. But am I able to talk about the town without getting angry like I used to? Absolutely.
And now, whether living there actually helped me or not, I’m living my dream. I’m an author, and doing things that that introverted, awkward little girl I used to be, the one who spent weekends typing away on a crappy laptop, never imagined possible.