Posted by CBethM on August 10, 2021 in Author Posts |
My hometown of Antlers, Oklahoma is so small that on most maps it doesn’t even warrant a dot. But that town takes up a huge spot in my heart and is the basis for the fictional town of Hope Springs, Texas in my debut novel. I love a book with a strong sense of setting, where a place becomes as real as the people who live there. I tried my best to do that in Hope Springs because I wanted readers to feel as though they’d visited there, and selfishly, because I wanted to visit too.
When I grew up, there was a single stop light in the whole county and it was in my town, a point of pride for locals. Both sets of my grandparents lived just a few blocks away. A short bike ride and I was flush with hard candy, any T.V. shows I wanted to watch, and sweet tea. My cousins lived on a farm, full of horses and ponds, and even a friendly old cow named Pet. When I was 11, the same age as my main character Jubilee, it seemed to me that Antlers had everything a person could want.
Things there normally changed slowly, so slowly that by the time I was a teenager, I probably would’ve said that nothing ever changed at all. But today, Main Street in Antlers isn’t what I remember. It’s not the center of town the way it once was. In fact, most stores now line the highway, dotting the route to a big box super store in a neighboring town, hoping to draw business from people on their way to somewhere else. Dying Main Streets worked its way into my story because Jubilee and her grandmother are also always on their way to someplace else and the two ideas got tangled together in my mind.
Jubilee and Nan live by a set of Relocation Rules, rules that are meant to help them find their “perfect place”; but as they skip one town after another, Jubilee starts to wonder if they’ll ever find a place that measures up. When Jubilee and Nan first arrive in Hope Springs they visit the Fabric Barn, a store that Jubilee immediately feels a connection to and where she ends up doing odd jobs for the owner. At the Fabric Barn Jubilee meets more locals, hones her crafting skills, and feels useful and appreciated—the first step toward letting her guard down and settling in. And just as she starts to feel something for Hope Springs and its residents, she learns that a big box store is set to open on the outskirts of town and Nan is preparing to hit the road again.
Unlike Jubilee, I never moved as a kid. I was born and raised in Antlers, as were my parents. My dad and grandfather worked together and owned Berry Drug Store right next to the illustrious stoplight. I spent most every day after school walking Main Street, stopping by the library, visiting my aunt who worked at City Hall, or spending my allowance at the Dollar Store. When I wasn’t put to work assisting with small tasks at my dad’s store, I was crouched behind the magazine racks reading everything from Time to Tiger Beat. That store, maybe even all of Main Street, felt like an extension of my home.
But by the time I graduated from high school, I couldn’t wait to move someplace where things happened, where change was a plenty. I got a job, saved for over a year after college, and then moved to Brooklyn, New York. Once I was all settled in an apartment with many roommates, homesickness was one change I wasn’t expecting. When my dad told me he’d decided to sell the store, I couldn’t imagine Antlers without it. On my first visit home, I almost cried at the sight of my parents, and over the smell of cut grass, and then again when I saw the drive-through of the First National Bank taking up the whole plot that had been Berry Drug Store.
There is something about growing up in a tiny town that can feel a little suffocating. Antlers is a place that refuses to let a person keep their distance. Certainly not a perfect place by most standards, but as a kid, I loved it. I thought that Jubilee, who’s had years full of too many goodbyes, needed a place to love and a place that loved her right back.
I made Hope Springs as much like the Antlers of my childhood as I could, for Jubilee, and for me too because I still miss it. I wanted to give her a community, a place she felt connected to and would want to fight for. But mostly I wanted to give her somewhere that seemed more like a good friend than a location, where a deep breath made her feel like she was right where she was supposed to be, and where she found what she and Nan had been looking for—not a perfect place—but a home.
Jaime Berry is a native of rural Oklahoma. After years with two small boys in a too small Brooklyn apartment, Jaime and her husband moved to the wilds of suburban New Jersey and added another boy and a dog to the mix. Hope Springs is Jaime’s debut novel. She invites you to visit her at jaimeberryauthor.com or follow her on Twitter @jaime_berry3.
This post appeared first on Nerdy Book Club.