In my freshman year of college I met a girl named Denise. When I asked her where she was from, she named a town in Michigan. When I said I wasn't sure where the town was, she held up her hand, with her fingers together and thumb sticking out, and pointed to somewhere near the tip of her ring finger. She told me that the main part of the state of Michigan is shaped like a mitten, and she lived near the top. Don't believe me? Check it out. Since that day, whenever I meet someone from Michigan I ask them what part of the mitten they're from. They usually hold up their hand and point, and they seem to enjoy the fact that I know this little tidbit about their state.
I was chatting on Twitter a while back with author Dwight L. MacPherson, who also hails from Michigan. He told me about the Upper Peninsula, or U.P., which is the non-mitten part of Michigan. The residents of the U.P. are referred to as Yoopers by the folks "downstate." A stereotypical Yooper seems to be a cross between a hillbilly and Rick Moranis in Strange Brew. They even have their own dialect. Oh, and they eat pasties. Dwight and I got to talking about how people know so little about the country we live in. In all my 32 years I'd never once heard the term "Yooper." Yet it's been there the whole time.
I'm lucky to have been able to visit a lot of different states, and although there are definite similarities, each place has its own way of talking, own way of doing things. It's just fascinating to me, and it makes me think that we don't need to travel to exotic places to get inspiration. The old saying "write what you know" takes on a whole new meaning when you realize there's a large part of the country (and world) that doesn't know what you know. Every place I've traveled, from Anchorage to New York City to Georgia has given me a fresh perspective on things, and each one of these things has helped me in my writing. But my writing is also hugely influenced by the tiny town in Utah I grew up in. From riding bikes through miles of fields, to crawling around dry creekbeds finding pieces of flint, to hiking through the old refinery just outside of town, there are a million tidbits I can snag from my hometown and inject into my work.
So what's unique about where you live? Tell me something only a local would know. I can almost guarantee whatever you come up with will be of some use to you. Go out there and look around your backyard. Travel if you can, but also open your eyes to what's around your home. We live in an amazing country, and there's so much to see and experience. Keep your eyes open, and you might even meet a Yooper or two.