I was surprised when the public librarian in a small town in Virginia rejected the idea of placing my novels in her library, saying, “They’re too regional—they’re all set in the Texas Panhandle. I don’t think my patrons here in Northern Virginia are interested in stories that take place out West. They want stories set in their part of the country.”
I can’t say that she was wrong about her patrons. Maybe they really are that limited in what they will read. But she certainly was wrong in saying that a story can be “too regional,” and for that reason would not be of interest to anyone who is not from wherever the story takes place.
Good stories are timeless and “place-less.”
The best example I can think of is the Bible. In 1455, if Johannes Gutenberg had followed the advice of the librarian in his town of Mainz, Germany, he would have—instead of publishing the Bible by means of his invention of a printing press with moveable type—published copies of storybooks penned by local storytellers, for reading by fellow locals.
“The Bible is just too regional,” that local librarian would have told Gutenberg. “Nobody wants to read stories set in the Middle East, Egypt or Palestine—tales that take place thousands of years ago. They want stories about Mainz that take place in our time … here and now.”
Another example of a story that is timeless and “place-less” is Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl, which was first published in English in 1952. Since publication of the original Dutch version in 1947, it has been translated into over 60 languages. A play based on the diary premiered in New York City in 1955 and won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The play was followed by a Hollywood film in 1959, which was a critical and commercial success. Over the years, the popularity of the diary grew, and in schools around the world it has been included as part of the curriculum. Nelson Mandela read it while in prison and said after his release that he had “derived much encouragement from it.”
But I can imagine what the librarian of that same little town in Virginia would have said in 1952, when the English translation first came out, if someone had offered her a copy to place on the shelves of her library:
“Who in the world would be interested in the diary of a little thirteen, fourteen and fifteen year old German Jewish girl, who wrote it in Dutch while hiding in an attic in Amsterdam? I’ve paged through it. She never could go anywhere nor do anything interesting, and she only talks about how crowded it was with so many people around her and that she had no privacy. However, my patrons do like war stories, where American G.I. heroes are killing off Nazis. Bring me that kind of novel—not something that my daughter could have made up while listening to her favorite tunes on the radio. … I’m not even sure that in the neighborhood in Amsterdam where Anne was living people would want to read such a childish and boring memoir.”
I’m not going to say that the stories in the novels of my Once Upon a Time in the Texas Panhandle series can in anyway be compared to the parables of Jesus in the New Testament, nor to the poignant autobiographical story that Anne Frank tells. All I’m saying is that just because my tales all take place in West Texas in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, they should not be dismissed as being “too regional.”
It doesn’t matter where you live, how old you are or what you have experienced in your own life. If my storytelling is good, you will find yourself relating to one of more of the characters. If my historical romances are good, you will find yourself vicariously falling in love and vicariously overcoming the obstacles that all couples everywhere have to overcome in order to come together and remain together.
A good love story is timeless and “place-less.”