Michigan, Land of Contrasts
Michigan is a land of contrasts and extremes. You could even call it the bipolar state. It freezes in the winter and sizzles in the summer. On the shores of the Great Lakes, the summer sand burns your feet and the icy water turns them numb with cold.
Since it’s Michigan month, I’ve been thinking about the effect my home state has on me as a writer and a person.
My answer lies in the distant past and Michigan’s up-and-down economy.
Starting in the mid 1600s, fur trade flourished and sexy French voyageurs’ canoe express delivered the goods along the Great Huron Trade Circle. (They had highly developed chest and arm muscles from rowing 15 hours or more each day.) The fur boom ended in mid the 1800s with scarcity of furs, loss of Indian trappers and fickle fashion’s switch from fur hats to silk.
Lumber took the place of furs in Michigan’s economy. The age of the Lumber Baron’s (1870-1890) ended when the supply of valuable lumber ran thin.
The old house I grew up in was never finished because of this catastrophe. My grandparents owned a lumber camp and started adding on to the house during the boom. They were doing well and couldn't imagine the change that would occur when the bottom fell out of that market. Their spirit of expansion left them with a bare boards second floor, a subsistence level farm and a lot of endurance.
Later still, Michigan’s booming automobile era was followed by extreme unemployment as foreign markets took the lead in car sales.
I see a grim personal lesson in this historical pattern as I struggle to develop a sustainable work style; if I'm not careful to pace myself, my personal productivity follows a boom and bust pattern. At times I am full of energy and focus, able to work fast. I start planning my life around the new pace I've set and tell myself that writing a novel every four months should be a piece of cake--if I just push myself a little harder. No surprise to anyone but me, after a while, I need to slow down and renew my personal resources.
Lucky for me, unlike fur and lumber, creativity and focus usually come back after a brief rest.
Most of my paranormal stories take place in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and are very regional in tone. My characters reflect what I think of as Michigan attitudes about life, money and risk.
Michigan people remember the past and look to the future. They are often ready to live on next to nothing in order to run that family farm or business, holding on in order to be ready for the next turn of fortune’s wheel.
Chanah, the psychic lead in my paranormal romantic suspense novel, “The Stray” is very much that sort of person. Plucky, making do with just enough to live on, but also willing to take chances in life and love, she’s happy enough to be just getting by as long as she’s doing work that matters to her. When an enemy from her past burns her store to the ground, she doesn’t give up. Her determination is part of what attracts Nick the wealthy werewolf who wants to play Prince Charming to her Cinderella despite Chanah’s need to stand on her own two feet.
I realize that these attitudes are not unique to Michigan, but I also believe that we are influenced by the past—not just our personal pasts, but the long ago pasts of the places we’ve lived.
What do you think? Is our individuality shaped by local history and the places we’ve known?
Or would we be the same people no matter where we were born and lived? How does your home shape you?
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