Vocabulary: X-actly What You Needed on a Lazy Sunday

It’s time for another fun vocabulary post!  Today’s letter is x.  It marks the spot, denotes a signature, and looks like someone making a snow angel.

Wheeee!

Image:  Kerys / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

Because of the letter’s rarity in English, many words that begin with x have Greek origins.  You pronounce the x at the beginning with a z sound.  I’ve included pronunciation for some of the less familiar ones.

X axis – The horizontal line on a graph.  It’s math; don’t ask me.  Ask these people who think math is fun (it’s not).

Xanthophyll (ZAN-thu-fill) – This word tripped up Laura (Ingalls) in Little Town on the Prairie during a town-wide spelling bee.  It’s a yellowish or brown pigment that causes colors in autumn leaves.

If you haven’t read the Little House books because you think they’re for kids, go back and reevaluate your life.  Then read them.  They’re much, much better than the television series, which I loved as a child but find completely unwatchable now (except for certain select episodes, most having to do with Alison Arngrim’s delightfully wicked Nellie Oleson).

How could you not love this?!

How could you not love this?!

Image:  @iamnellieoleson / Twitter.com

Xerophyte –  A plant that can survive with very little water.  You often see xeriscapes, or gardens made up of such plants, in arid regions.

Xerotic – No, it doesn’t have anything to do with porn actors doing the nasty on top of a Xerox machine.  Get your mind out of the gutter, you dirty thing.  (Or not; I like that in a person.)

Medical folks refer to abnormal dryness of the skin, mucous membranes, or conjunctiva (in the eye) as xerotic.  Anybody with eczema (like me) probably has a touch of xerosis.

Xenophobia – An intense fear of strangers, or of that which is foreign to one.

“Doctor, maybe we shouldn’t go near those aliens,” Clara whispered nervously.  “They look rather fierce.”

“Nonsense!” the Doctor said. “One unfortunate trait of humans is a predilection for irrational xenophobia.  You’ll see what I mean when Earth gets to the 2016 elections in the U.S.  Let’s go say hello.”

–RAWWRRR!!!–

“On second thought, a little xenophobia can be a very healthy thing.  Run!” 

Xhosa (HO-sa) – a South African ethnic group who comprise 8 million members made up of several tribes.  Their titular language is the second most widely spoken after Zulu.  Read more about them at Wikipedia.

Beautiful kids!

Image:  Zakysant / Wikipedia.com / CC BY-SA 3.0

Xilinous (ZY-li-nuss) – Pertaining to cotton.

“I believe that this xilinous material will burn,” said the Doctor.

“G-good,” Sarah Jane replied through chattering teeth, “because this b-bloody planet’s like ice.  Let’s get a fire going, Doctor.”

Xiphoid (say it like typhoid with a z) – Sword-shaped.

Xoanon (zo-annon) – A wooden cult image from ancient Greece.  None have survived except where reproduced in other materials such as stone.

Give me some of that xilinous material. It’s cold in here.

Image: User Mountain / Wikipedia.com

Xù (Vietnamese) –  A South Vietnamese coin that was the equivalent of a cent (one one-hundreth of a dông, which I guess was like a dollar).  Click the links to hear some native speakers pronounce the words.

Xylorimba – A musical instrument like a xylophone with an extended range–it covers many of the sounds a marimba and a standard xylophone can make.

Check out this man demonstrating one on YouTube.

Xylograph – An engraving in wood used for printing.  You see these prints a lot in medieval illustrations, where they’re often called woodcuts.

That’s all for today, kids.  See you next post!

Cat Bites are Dangerous! or, It’s not Pig’s fault her mouth was a steaming cesspool of filth

We will resume our regular flippant writing content after this post.

I need to divert from talking about writing to discuss something important.  You may have seen my previous posts—Psycho Kitty (aka Pig) died on July 7.  When I caught her for transport to the vet, she bit me quite hard on both hands (poor little baby; it wasn’t her fault).

We got to the vet, but there was nothing he could do for her.  From the symptoms I described, he thought she might have had a heart problem.  I took her home and buried her in the backyard, near her favorite bush, her favorite toys with her.

Within three hours of the actual bite, my hand looked like this:

My gross cartoon hand

Photo:  Elizabeth West

It hurt like I’d been shot.  Since it was after eight o’clock and the urgent care closes then, I went to the emergency room with an infection called cellulitis.  They gave me a small bag of IV antibiotic, a tetanus shot, an ultrasound, and a prescription for oral antibiotics, but it wasn’t enough to overtake the infection.

The next night, I was back in the ER–it got worse.

More IV dope, and they popped me in the hospital for two days.  I must have had five or six bags of the stuff altogether–four hours on the drip, then a couple hours off, then four more hours, etc.  Round the clock.  They took an x-ray to check for bone involvement.  Fortunately, my bones were good to go.

Finally, they discharged me and sent me home.  I’m still taking the oral antibiotics, and though my cartoonish hand has resumed normal proportions, my finger is still swollen and painful with limited range of motion.  I’ve been assured by a hand surgeon that it will heal, and I have a follow-up appointment with my primary care physician in the morning.

I don’t blame my kitty.  She was very ill and she had never bitten me like that before.  I don’t know if she even realized it was her mummy trying to stuff her into a carrier.

Her little gravestone.  <3

Her little gravestone.  <3

Photo:  Elizabeth West

I’ve been telling everybody who will listen to please, PLEASE take animal bites, especially on your hands, and any signs of infection from any wound seriously.   Cat bites in particular are very dangerous–their teeth are like little needles that poke the germs right in there.  And your joints have lovely sacs of synovial fluid, which bacteria just LOVE.

It’s warm, it’s dark, it’s anaerobic….bring on the mai-tais!

It’s warm, it’s dark, it’s anaerobic….bring on the mai-tais!

Image:  cuteimage / freedigitalphotos.net

Watch yourself, everyone.  You don’t want to go through this.  I was lucky it didn’t get worse.  And I miss my kitty.

In Memoriam: Psycho Kitty (aka Pig)

UPDATE:  

I DO NOT EVEN BELIEVE IT. Not FIVE minutes after I posted that blog post, Pig showed up on the patio.

She still will not eat.
She will not come to me.
I cannot leave food out, because two seconds after I put something under the bush for her, the monster strays were in the yard.

This is almost worse than if she were dead. I have to watch her slowly go feral and die.

I cannot get rid of these cats and if I don’t, she WILL die. I don’t know what to do.  I guess I will call the shelter and the vet in the morning and see if there is anyone who can help me either get rid of these cats NOW, or catch her.

Being single and alone sucks big time.

————

Psycho Kitty has disappeared.

She was harassed out of her yard by strays–a mother cat and kittens who took up residence in my neighbor’s crawlspace.  When last I saw her, she was hiding in the culvert pipe and would not eat, nor would she come out.  I checked again Sunday afternoon, and she was gone.

I have called her Psycho Kitty as a pseudonym, but I will share her real name with you.  She was called Pig (prior owner called her Miss Piggy, but I shortened it).  I often called her Piggy, Baby Girl, Bawlbaby, and Piggins.

This is a picture of her on her thirteenth birthday, 5 May 2016.  That is her purple British mouse, one of a packet I bought her at my auntie’s vet office in London.  It may have been her last birthday.

Aww Pig 2016

Photo:  Elizabeth West

This is not a feral animal (or rather, she wasn’t; if she is still alive, she may be now).  Pig has had two owners–me and a former neighbor.  The previous owners took care of her shots and fed her, but they didn’t bother to socialize her. She has always been timid as a mouse.  They dumped her on me when they didn’t want to care for her any longer.

I didn’t want a cat at that time, but I realized no one would likely take her because she was so scared, and she was strictly an outside cat.  So I adopted her.  After a great deal of coaxing and love, I had a sweet little baby who would come when I called.  She would demand attention from me.  She played with toys I bought.  She loved being brushed.  She even let me put her on my lap and pet her.

She loved me, and I loved her.  She could be very annoying, and it cost money to have her taken care of when I traveled, but I found a good pet sitter and took her to the vet regularly.  I bought her special food.  She has been well cared for.

PIg distracted from the squirrels

Photo:  Elizabeth West

Pig’s previous owner had her spayed.  I had no worries about unwanted kittens.  Unfortunately, other people have no such concerns.

The feral cats next door have starved and driven my cat out of her yard.  They drove my neighbor’s cat indoors (lucky him, to have a cat who likes being inside).  It has been a nightmare akin to having wharf rats move in.  I’d actually prefer the rats, because at least a pest control company will take care of those.

In her memory, I make this plea to you, interspersed with a few cat facts:

  1. Please, please, PLEASE spay and neuter your pets when they are young. (Dogs too.) Cats can start to reproduce as young as 4 to 6 months, and they will.  It’s a biological drive.  Neutered animals may still have loud kitty sex outside your window at 2 a.m., but they won’t be able to infest your yard with kittens.  According to this website (http://www.knowyourcat.info/info/reproduction.htm), “It has been estimated that in a 12-year lifespan, without human intervention, a single female cat could be responsible for as many as 3500 descendants.”

There is no good reason for pet cats to reproduce.  They don’t long for babies the way humans do, and it is not against God or nature to neuter them.  Unless you are a reputable, licensed breeder, I beg you–spay and neuter.

  1. Please do NOT feed strays. Do not leave food out for your animals–cats don’t need to snack all day, and I guarantee you they won’t eat it.  The strays will.  Also, don’t feed in one place hoping to distract them from another (in desperation, this was tried and it does not work).  If you leave food out, you will also attract skunks, raccoons, and possums, all which probably live in your city.  (If you’re in London, it would be foxes.)

Pig was fed twice a day and given only what she would eat. There were no leftovers, and until these cats moved in, we had few problems.

  1. If you see a neighbor feeding strays, please talk to them and try to convince them not to do this. Please realize that feral cats are not cute.  They are, in effect, wild animals.  Cats are very close to their wild origins, much more so than domestic dogs.

a.  They do not need you to survive.

b.  They carry various diseases that can infect other animals, including feline distemper and rabies (which can also infect you and has a 99% fatality rate).

c.  The lifespan of a feral cat is usually only about 2 or 3 years, and it’s not the best life.

If you don’t spay and neuter and / or if you foolishly abandon animals you grow tired of, then you cannot call yourself an animal lover.  Cats who are well cared for can live up to 15-18 years. If you’re not prepared to make that kind of financial and emotional commitment, then you should not have one.

Only known video of Pig playing with toys

 My sweet, timid kitty is either running wild and scared, or she is lying dead somewhere and I can never find her or say goodbye to her.  I may have lost her forever, and these horrible awful animals who drove her away are still frolicking through my yard until they’re weaned and gone.  Pig did not deserve to have to starve alone away from her loving home.

Dear Pig, Momma loves you.

I miss seeing you at the gate when I pull up after work.

I miss you coming to meet me at the car like a dog.

I miss your bawling at the kitchen window for me to come out and then running around like a crazy thing when I tried to play with you.

I miss you setting the belly trap and I know you were laughing when I fell for it (ouch).

I miss you yelling at me in the car after we went to the vet’s office (and you were a good girl while you were there–they all thought so).

I miss your excitement when you got a can of Fancy Feast or a little broth envelope.

I miss giving you a treatie at night before you went to bed.

I miss you.

Godspeed, little girl.

Even this one, fat and mouthy as she is.

Photo:  Elizabeth West

Secret Book Update and a Bit of Light Reading

You might have noticed the number creeping up on the Secret Book progress meter.  I don’t know why the status bar won’t move, but whatever.  I’ve been tapping away at it–I’m determined to finish.  On a much-needed six-day staycation, I decided I would do just that.  Only seven more parts I need to write and then I’m done.  It’s been going in dribs and drabs; two consecutive nights, I wrote over 4.000 words and then nothing, then 400, then 114.  Ugh.  That’s the way it goes sometimes.

Then I wrote over 2200 words of bullshit that had nothing to do with anything (just a stupid bunch of headjunk).  But hey, at least I was writing.  Judging by how I am at work, if I had a deadline–a REAL one–I wouldn’t have this problem.  Making up my own seldom has any effect because obviously, I don’t pay any attention to them.

Instead of writing, I went shopping at Barnes & Noble (and Amazon) and bought all this–

torture

I’m not allowed to read ANY of this until I finish Secret Book!

Image:  Elizabeth West

The title of that photo is Torture, fittingly enough.  No one can stop raving about Joe Hill’s The Fireman, which debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list.  I would love for that to happen to me someday.  The apple didn’t fall far from the tree there (Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son).

I’m a bad fan–I didn’t know the Clive Barker book had come out.  Forgive me, Mr. Barker!  I met him once, at a Fangoria magazine horror convention in L.A. in the early 1990s.  He’s a very nice man.

Now that I look at it, every bit of that reading material is horror/fantasy.  Wow.  I went through the bookstore and bought without really thinking about it–I knew I wanted the Joe Hill novel, and I was behind on my Stephen King (I also got The Colorado Kid on Kindle, though it’s not in the picture).

The one on the tablet is Foreign Devils, by John Hornor Jacobs, a sequel to his excellent fantasy novel The Incorruptibles.  He’s a really cool writer I met at VisionCon, the same day I met Brian Keene (whose Last of the Albatwitches also should be in that pile, though I didn’t get it at B&N).  You need to check him out.  He’s going places.

With all these lovely gems to plunder, I hope I can force my brain to get its ass in gear (brain ass? ass brain?) and just finish the damn thing.  Then I can move on to something else before I go back and finish all the research.  And I can hunker down and blast through all these beauties.  I need something to take my mind off real-life horrors.

When nightmares happen during the day, you make this face.  

When nightmares happen during the day, you make this face.

In the meantime, back to work!

Blogging from A-Z April Challenge Reflection Post!

The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge is over for another year and I have survived!  To everyone who made it through with me, cheers to us!

Hedgehog cheering for you

Sorry it took so long to write this–work has been insane and I’m so tired at night I can’t even work on Secret Book or anything else.  I hope things level out soon.

This year, in addition to choosing a theme ahead of time and pre-writing, I decided to pre-post.  WordPress has a scheduling function that allowed me to construct each post the night before and set it to go live at 6:00 am the following morning.  I knew this existed, but I’d never used it.

I think it should be my go-to from now on; writing the night before instead of waiting until I got home from work saved me so much angst.  Usually, I either try to crank out something on my lunch hour and then post when I get home, or wait until then.  It’s too easy to get behind that way.  So nope.

I have several blogs bookmarked to read—unfortunately, the list of quality posts is crazy long every year and I can’t possibly visit all the interesting-looking blogs while trying to keep up with my own posting.  But after the challenge, I can go back and peruse them at my leisure.  I have no life; I might as well catch up.

Off-topic, but why are there so many stock photos of people with laptops lying like this?

Image:  Matthias Ritzman/Corbis / dailymail.co.uk

Everybody knows you use your laptop in bed like this:

Image: Sam Diephuis via Getty Images/huffingtonpost.com

I enjoy doing this challenge, because it lets me choose an aspect of writing and deconstruct it—trying to explain it to you often changes the way I think about it.  Not everyone who reads my blog writes also, and I’ve had more than one question about how I do things.  While each writer’s process is different, we’re all trying to do the same thing.  When I read other people’s posts, I learn from them as well.

It’s loads of fun to tie something into the theme, like the Sherlock pictures in the Character posts in 2014’s challenge.  I had a great time thinking up captions for those.  This time, Stephen King’s The Dark Tower not only provided illustrations but plenty of examples.  While I’ve got nothing quite so ambitious, my little brain wheel is churning over a sequel to Tunerville, which may take me into an alternate universe, if it please ya.

If you want to read TDT but you’ve never read any other Stephen King, you should absolutely read ‘Salem’s Lot first and then Hearts in Atlantis [edited to add: and also Insomnia, though it’s a brick].  I’m a third of the way through Book VII and I’ll be finished soon, so I won’t bug you with it (much) after this except to periodically exhort you to read it and not watch the Hollywood shitshow.

Okay, one more.

Image:  Michael Whelan / stephenking.com

I hope the A-Z team keeps this challenge going–unless a miracle happens and I get so busy with cool life stuff and book tours (!!!) that I don’t have time to blog every day, I’ll keep doing it.  I’ll see you soon with more random writing and stuff.  ‘Til then, long days and pleasant nights, sai.

Z is for Zoo

Will there be indigenous animals in your story?  Your setting’s fauna will reflect other elements such as climate, topography, and the introduction of non-native species at some point.  Usually, this last is caused by human travel and/or habitation.  There are few unspoiled places left on the planet, no thanks to us.

We’re dirty things, we are.

Image:  nsf.gov

If you’re creating an imaginary world, you’ll still have to work within these parameters if you want it to be somewhat realistic.

I’m mostly done poking you in the brain with Stephen King’s The Dark Tower.  If you haven’t already, I hope you read it before the whole Hollywood mess comes out.  However, I have one more thing to discuss:

Billy-bumblers!

Image:  darktower.wikia.com

Known in the High Speech as throcken, billy-bumblers look like a cross between a dog, a badger, and a raccoon, as King describes them.  They have luxurious fur, corkscrewed tails, and beautiful gold-ringed eyes.  At least, Oy does.  I’ve seen lots of different depictions of Oy in fan art.  Bumblers have limited speech—it seems imitative, but Oy is clearly intelligent and can count a little—so I think it’s more like with certain species of parrots.  They’re very smart and some experts think they’re capable of a degree of reason and communication.

Aside from Oy’s species, Roland’s world contains animals most of us are familiar with:

  • Horses
  • Dogs
  • Birds—rooks, crows, etc.
  • Mules (the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse)
  • Fish
  • Hares/rabbits
  • Deer (primary ingredient in gunslinger burritos)
  • Tygers (at least one). Yes, that’s how you spell it in Mid-World.

And some we wouldn’t be:

  • Taheen­—creatures with human bodies and the heads of animals (nasty minions of the Crimson King). The can toi are the offspring of taheen and humans (even more nasty).
  • Lobstrosities—carnivorous lobsters that live in the Western Sea; they tumble out of the waves at night and eat whatever they can find on shore, including people)
  • Were-spiders
  • Skin-men
  • Cam tam—doctor bugs. See “The Little Sisters of Eluria,” Everything’s Eventual and Song of Susannah)
  • Lots of mutants, or muties, thanks to the Great Old Ones’ thirst for nuclear wars

Oy is definitely the best animal in the series, and one of the best characters too.  Your animals may not be characters (or plot points either; bear attack, anyone?) but they’re worth including.

This shit is why I don’t go camping in the high country.

Image:  youtube.com

They can lend quite a bit of color to your setting.  Let’s say your characters find themselves in a jungle.  This biome is full of life–monkeys chirp and howl, birds screech, snakes will slither across the debris on the forest floor.  And you can’t forget the insects and arachnids.  Some tropical spiders have leg spans the size of a dinner plate.  You can look that up if you want; I’m not gonna.

Readers can relate to characters with pets.  You can play them for comedy–a pet parent who spoils her little Yorkie or kitty, or who names a Doberman Poopsie.  Use them for drama–a couple splits up, and who gets to keep the dog?  If you’re a heartless bastard, you can even twang people’s emotions with them.

NOOOO NOT THE DOGGIE!

NOOOO NOT THE DOGGIE!

Image:  complex.com

If you’ve never thought about including animals in your fiction before, give it a try.   Whether you write or just love to read, share your favorite fictional animals in the comments.  Who are they and why do you love them?  How do they enhance their settings?

Y is for Yearning

What if in your story, your character is not in the place he wants to be?  He yearns to return there.

When we yearn for something, we can build it up in our minds as much better than it actually is.  Most people who’ve had crushes or relationships have experienced this; if the love is unrequited, the object of our affections attains a near-mythical status.  A celebrity we don’t actually know takes on all the qualities of our ideal partner.

Following a breakup, the spurned lover can find himself in an agony of desire as he begins to idealize the relationship and focus on his ex’s best qualities.  He may forget about the reasons they broke up in the first place.  People who reunite after a split rarely stay together, unless they are committed to working out the problems that pushed them apart in the first place.

Because many times, love is not enough.

You could make the setting in your story the object of such yearning.  Like Dorothy in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, your character could spend his efforts trying to go home and arrive with a newfound appreciation of the place he left behind.  Or, he could idealize it to the point where a return makes his situation worse.

In a story that takes place inside someone’s head, the setting could be entirely within the character.  Films that use a similar technique include Shutter Island (2010; also a book), and to a smaller extent, Heavenly Creatures (1994).  In the latter film, the two girls, Pauline and Juliet, imagine a fantastical kingdom in which they can escape the uncomfortable realities in which they live.

Yearning is such a strong feeling that it can really mess with characters.  It can even mess with you, the reader.  Dare I say it can mess with writers as well?  Writing can feel like yearning, in that we long to be in the zone where our stories take place.  We want to go there and live the lives our characters live–if we didn’t, we wouldn’t put ourselves through all this.

I had this revelation the other day and it blew my mind a little, so of course I’ll share.  Some writers employ the technique of metafiction to deliberately knock you out of a story.  Whaaaaat? you say.  Bear with me; I’m getting to something.

They use ironic language and departure from narrative norms to point out that yes, you are reading a book and no, it’s not real but it could be, and wouldn’t that just be interesting as hell?

It’s behind me, isn’t it?

Image:  theinkandcode.com

People have criticized Song of Susannah (Book VI of The Dark Tower) not just for its slow pacing and weaker structure, but also because Stephen King actually inserted a version of himself in this book.

WARNING:  NOT REALLY A SPOILER BUT SKIP IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW.

Roland and Eddie go todash and are supposed to go to New York while Pere Callahan, Jake, and Oy go to Maine, but they all get switched.  They end up in Maine and find King; he tells them he quit writing the story, and they tell him he has to finish it.  Then they leave him with no memory of the encounter but a push to fish the manuscript out of a box in the basement and get back to work.

OKAY SORT OF SPOILER IS OVER NOW. 

Sounds silly, doesn’t it?  Well, it was, a little, but as a literary device, it’s absolute genius.  What if putting himself in the story was not Stephen King being egotistical?  What if this meta stuff makes it easier for the reader to imagine him/herself as a part of the story?  If Roland and Eddie could come through into our earth–into Keystone Earth, if that’s where we really are–and give King some shit, then we could go to Mid-World.

Maybe there really are other worlds, as Jake Chambers says in The Gunslinger.  Maybe we’re in one right now.  Oddly, I’ve seen two unusual cars recently like the ones the can toi drive.  The first was on the highway; the second, at my work.  Maybe I’m about to go todash….maybe Roland of Gilead will come and save me.  I can only hope.

If you haven’t read King’s books, then your reaction to these cars will be waaaaaay different than mine.  o_O

If you haven’t read King’s books, then your reaction to these cars will be waaaaaay different than mine.  o_O

Image:  Elizabeth West

Metafiction’s purpose is to make you question what is fiction and what is reality.  It seems King’s yearning to visit the setting he created and even infect his Constant Readers with it is so strong, he had to be there.  He’s so consumed by it that it didn’t stay in The Dark Tower books; elements of Mid-World show up in many of his other works.

To thread Mid-World through the rest of his work this way is the ultimate use of setting.  (Or maybe he didn’t make it up at all.  All things serve the Beam.)

I know I’m inspired by it.  I’ve just started Book VII, The Dark Tower, which I haven’t read since it came out in September 2004.  Considering I sort of forgot what happens (not everything), it’s almost like reading it again for the first time.  I remember the very end and that there is some crying ahead.

If I could write something like this or Harry Potter, something that made my readers as happy and angsty and slavishly devoted to the tale as this story makes me, then I would consider this nameless yearning in my author’s soul as satisfied.  As it stands, I’m woefully short.  But there’s still time.  As Roland would say, there will be water if God wills it.  And when I come to the clearing at the end of the path, I hope I will not have forgotten the face of my father.

Perhaps Roland will be waiting for me there.  

 

Image:  Jae Lee / stephenking.com

X is for Xenophobia

Damn; I found an actual X word instead of having to x-aggerate something.

Xenophobia is a fear of strangers or foreigners, or anything that is strange or foreign.  This could encompass people, customs, or even food from another culture.  People can harbor a distrust of someone from another country, another region of their own, or even just a few counties over.

Small towns are often depicted as friendly, like Mayberry in The Andy Griffith Show, or often in horror fiction, horribly xenophobic.  Suspicious and unwelcoming residents have secrets, or the entire town harbors some dastardly events in its past it doesn’t want the interloper to discover.

Or worse, something happens that makes them turn on each other.  This one’s probably the most fun from a writer’s standpoint.

Just ask the residents of Maple Street what they think about THAT.

Image:  twilightzonevortex.blogspot.com

Having lived in small American towns, I can definitely say they are surface friendly—that is, you will be welcomed in a polite and hearty fashion, but you’re not truly one of them until you’ve been there for years, and many times not even then.  Most people in these places were born there, grew up there, and expect to die there, and an insular sociology dominates.  This post by Blake Campbell in the Berkeley Beacon (October 29, 2014) quite excellently illustrates some examples from Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft.

This isn’t unilaterally true; my father hails from Texas, but he is quite a well-known figure in the small Midwestern town where both my mum and I grew up.  It helped that when we moved there in 1972 (yes, I’m old; now shut up), he became very active in the local Chamber of Commerce, etc. and built an extensive social network.

A small town and a large city share this distrust to some degree—we all fear the unknown.  When a stranger speaks to us, we can react in a range from curiosity to terror, depending on the person’s appearance, demeanor, and what time of day or night it is.

In The Dark Tower: The Wolves of the Calla, several inhabitants of Calla Bryn Sturgis become aware that gunslingers are passing near their village.  For generations, the folken have been plagued by agents of the Crimson King that steal their children and return them roont, or ruined.  The minds of the roont ones are damaged and they grow to prodigious size and die painfully as young adults.  They don’t know if the group can help them, or if they will, but they take a risk and ask anyway.

Once the gunslingers win the town over (luckily, Roland knows what he’s doing), most of them accept their assistance.

Most of them.

Image:  Bernie Wrightson / stephenking.com

The cliché says that smaller communities are more helpful than those in a large urban area, but even real-life incidents can turn this trope on its head.  For example, in May 2015, in an accident in northeast London, a unicyclist became trapped under a double-decker bus.  People who work in the neighborhood, together with passersby, came together to lift the bus and free the man’s leg.

Keep in mind, we are talking about a very big city here, where people are busy and hurried.  They didn’t just call for help; they moved the bus off the man.

Think about this when you consider your setting.  Will the population welcome your characters?  Is your protagonist one of them, and will she fight to keep interlopers out?  What is her reasoning?  If you have no strangers, what conflicts will split the residents?  What events will bring them together?