I'm "home' in Bozeman this week (I went to college here for more years than I'm willing to admit--the Bozone sucks you in), moving my daughter out of the dorms and into her first apartment. The thing about Bozeman is it's easy to forget how funky and odd it is, particularly when I live in So. Cal. now, with all the delight and horror of that place. Yesterday, after a two day drive north, I checked into my weird motel (it's totally retro!) and took the dog for a walk. Dandelions were EVERYWHERE, yellow flowers pushed up in shaggy lawns, boldly declaring, "Order is for Losers!" This Dandelion profusion would not stand in any middle-class neighborhood in So. Cal, nor even in my hometown Helena, Montana, where lawns are carefully edged, mowed and sprayed for 'weeds.' But in Bozeman the dandelions run amok, more profuse than wool socks and Birkenstocks (and that's saying something).
Bozeman is a Granola Town. And I love it. It's genuine and quirky and unabashedly weird (Yesterday I saw a fence made out of old skis, and two purple houses). It is also a universe unto itself. If you live here you think its "normal," this profusion of dandelions and granola-heads and purple houses. In that sense Bozeman is not unlike a novel. A good novel. One that takes you away and makes you believe.
See what I did there? I used two incomplete sentences in a row and the world did not explode. Neither did my head. For it was in Bozeman, back in the 80s, where I first learned to really write. To write clearly and cleanly and in a scholarly manner that would say, "Look at how smart I am." Grad School made it worse, until I got so I could hardly stand my own writing. Complete, compound sentences, don't dangle the participles and for goddess sake, cite everything. Oh, and don't forget the stick up the nether regions while we're at it. For stiffening. Bring on the yawns.
Fiction writing aims to reproduce some version of reality. Reality is messy. People do not talk or think in complete sentences and universes may not be adequately described in footnotes.To invent is to invoke the imagination. The imagination is like a lawn full of dandelions, ebullient and gloriously resistant to bland conformity.
In many ways my series of novels about Kate Warne, the first female Pinkerton detective are a response to the un-dandelion-like nature of traditional historical writing. The past has a billion weird stories in it, some of which I discovered when writing The Lincoln Special. Did you know, for example, that pro-slavery Senators planned to kidnap their own president, James Buchanon, just before Lincoln's inauguration and blame it on Lincoln so as to derail his presidency? Talk about dandelions! But if I were writing "real history" I'd have trouble writing about that plot because it was secret and secret things are hard to prove, hard to footnote, hard to line up in orderly, scholarly rows. But in a novel? Lay on the dandelions, strap on the Birkenstocks and write it baby!