Jill Weatherholt

Writing Stories of Love, Faith and Happy Endings While Enjoying the Journey

Almost Heaven

68 Comments

Image courtesy of www.flickr.com

Image courtesy of http://www.flickr.com

How glorious a greeting the sun gives the mountains! ~ John Muir


I admit it; I was born in West Virginia. In fact, my entire family is from West Virginia. Growing up, I heard all the jokes, “West Virginia…one million people and fifteen last names.” The one I heard most often was, “How could you be from West Virginia, you have all your teeth?”

I was a year old when my family left West Virginia for the Washington, D.C. area. That was home for forty years. I often wonder if I would be the person I am today if my parents hadn’t decided to make a drastic move from West Virginia. Would I have married young and not gone to college? Would I have a job? How different would I really be?

I thought about this as I reviewed some of my earlier writing. I concentrated solely on my characters. I missed the world surrounding them and the impact the setting could have on their lives. The setting should have played an important role in how my characters talked, where they worked, how they dressed and how they socialized. Instead, my characters were having floating head conversations.

When I read a book, I expect the setting to ground me in the story in the most physical sense. I want to be provided with a time and place, but I don’t want the description to be so long it stops the flow of the narrative. The setting is more real if it unfolds slowly within the story, and brought to life with small details. Put some dirty dishes in the kitchen sink or a shattered window in the bedroom.

As a writer, if it’s easy to take my character from their current setting and drop them elsewhere, without a notable difference of who they are, I haven’t done my job. The type of world I create will determine the behaviors and reactions of my characters. I want them deeply affected by the time and place in which they live, but I have to be careful. Portraying a small town girl from West Virginia who only wears bib overalls, has no teeth and who says “Hey y’all” every time she speaks is an insult to my reader, especially if they’re from West Virginia.

I’m proud to say I was born in West Virginia; it’s a part of me and my heritage. Known for its scenic mountains and diverse topography, it’s a beautiful state. Despite its beauty and all it has to offer, I know I wouldn’t be the person I am today, if my parents hadn’t made the decision to move. They believed you could not get to where you want to be by staying where you are and for that, I’m grateful.

I’m curious, where were you born?

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Author: Jill Weatherholt

My name is Jill Weatherholt and I’m a writer. I have a full-time job, but at night and on the weekend, I pursue my passion, writing. I write modern stories about love, friendship and forgiveness. I started this blog as a way to share my journey toward publication and to create a community for other new writers. Raised in the Washington, DC area, I’ve lived in Charlotte, North Carolina since 2004. I hold a degree in Psychology from George Mason University and a Certification in Paralegal Studies from Duke University. My first book, SECOND CHANCE ROMANCE, published by Harlequin Love Inspired released on February 21, 2017 and is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.com. I was the first place winner in the Dream Quest One Short Story Contest in the Winter 2014-2015 competition. In 2014, I placed second in Southern Writers Magazine Short Story Contest. I was also a top ten finalist in Southern Writers Magazine Short Story Contest in 2012 and 2013. I’m a 2010 and 2012 winner of the NaNoWriMo Contest. I love to connect readers, visit me at jillweatherholt.com

68 thoughts on “Almost Heaven

  1. WV-born gal myself. I think WV has changed from when I was a teen, determined to get out…yes, there are still huge problems, like prescription drug abuse, etc. And I’ve noticed lots of houses for sale lately. But like any place you think of as “home,” I think it grows on you as you get older. Especially if your family is there…you have that sense of rootedness. I’m at the point where I appreciate the mountains and the rural setting, the people who are tough and determined, yet kind-hearted. Yup, WV is my home. And I also have all my teeth. Grin.

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    • Knowing you’re from WV, I was hoping you’d stop by and share your thoughts, Heather. “The people who are tough and determined, yet kind-hearted,” that is so true. Both of my parents were born and raised in WV and I have wonderful memories of visiting family after we moved to VA. If I were in your position, I would keep my roots in the beauty, that is WV, especially since your family is there. I’ve seen your photos, you have a beautiful piece of property and your teeth are perfect! Have a great weekend and thanks for stopping by today. I can’t wait for your book release!

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  2. I really enjoyed reading this very interesting post Jill and getting to know where you were born and where you grew up. I have visited Virginia and Washington DC (not sure if it was West Virginia or not!) and I long to revist New England with my hubby one day.
    It is very interesting how you have often wondered what kind of a life you would have lived, what choices you might have made if your parents hadn’t moved when they did. I do the same thing.
    I was born in Kingston upon Thames in the south of England and for the first 10 years of my life I grew up in Surrey. For me, the big change came when my mum left my dad and took me and my brother to live in Suffolk on the east coast of England and my life changed radically. I have asked myself the same questions that you have for so many reasons.
    Thank you too for the great writing tip about the importance of a character’s setting and bringing in their world around them and how they would behave in this world, even in such detail as a shattered window or dirty dishes in the kitchen sink. I found this very helpful.
    Have a lovely weekend Jill 🙂

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    • Thanks, Sherri! I’m happy you found the post helpful. Thank you for sharing your story of where you were raised. I can understand why you would question how different your life would have been if you hadn’t moved to Suffolk. I’m sure it was a difficult time for you and your brother. All of the moves and experiences make you who you are today and personally, I think you and your blog are pretty great. 🙂 I feel fortunate to have met you through WP. I hope you have a fantastic weekend!

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  3. John Denver called West Virginia “Almost heaven” in his song ‘Take me home, country roads’ so I have always imagined it to be that. I always find it surprising how we all pick up an image of a place by a few simple words or even someones opinion. Maybe one day I’ll visit and make up my own mind

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    • Hey Steve! It’s good to see you. I’ve missed your blog posts, but I’m sure you’re busy. John Denver wrote the truth when he wrote, County Roads. If you ever have the opportunity to visit WV, I would say do it and try to go in autumn…the leaves are spectacular. Have a great weekend and thanks for stopping by.

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  4. Well, I don’t have that stereotypical image of a West Virginian. Due to my ignorance of detailed USA geography, I associate Virginia with the wonderful colours of Fall and imagine it quite blissful. But yes, we absolutely are formed by the place we live, and you’ll know that I’m a north east lass through and through. (though I was born in the Midlands in Coventry. I was only there till I was a few weeks old so it doesn’t count) 🙂

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    • You’re so funny, Jo. Well my knowledge of England geography isn’t great, but I’m learning a lot from you and a few other followers who reside in England. My partner was born in Devon, England. so he’s much more knowledgeable. You are on spot with your association of wonderful colors in Virginia during fall. As a photographer, you would be in heaven. I hope you have a great weekend, Jo!

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  5. As a lifelong resident of New Jersey, I am used to jokes and assumptions. When people I meet online finally get to hear me speak, they aften say soemthing to the effect of, “You don’t sound anything like Tony Soprano.” I’m so sorry to disappoint, by I don’t say “youse guys” or “you got a prollem widdat,” either. You got a prollem widdat?

    😉

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    • LOL! Yeah, I think New Jersey residents deal with the same kind of jokes and assumptions as West Virginians. Man! I thought for sure you sounded like Tony Soprano when you spoke, Eric. You need to make a Vlog, so we can all hear your real voice. Have a great weekend!

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  6. Where we grow up influences who we are as adults, but where we go from there and where we wind up adds to the equation. I grew up in Florida, lived on the West Coast, then wound up in rural Virginia. All of those experiences shaped my life. Your post is so interesting because it points out the fallacy of stereotypes and the value of moving to new environs.

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    • That is so true, Dor. I’m a firm believer that all of our experiences mold us into the people we are. My opinion is a little bias, but I think you made a great decision to settle in the Shenandoah Valley. After living in VA for forty years, it’s one of my favorite places. The photo you posted today, took me back home…thank you for that. Have a great weekend and enjoy those leaves. Unfortunately they won’t stick around for long.

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  7. Great reminders about the importance of setting in our work. Yet one more factor to consider in making our stories and characters come alive for the reader. Although Chicago has been home to me for more than 20 years, I hail from an equally dubious location. I was born and spent the first 13 years of my life in Cleveland, Ohio — you know, the “Mistake on the Lake?” I can’t even lay claim to a nice suburban hometown nestled in the rolling hills that are so characteristic of Northeast Ohio. No, I’m from the inner city, complete with all the glorious stereotypes. Like your parents, mine wanted a better life for us, so we left the city in the early 80s for a rural town outside Milwaukee. Though I only lived there 5 years (I left when I was 18), it certainly helped shape me into the adult I am today. I too often wonder the course my life would have taken if I’d attended John Marshall High, a rough, gang-infested school in Cleveland. Hmmm…perhaps I’ve just sparked a new story idea…

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    • LOL! We have a lot in common, Gwen. “Mistake on the Lake”…we’ve heard all the jokes. I Googled WV jokes and I came across pages and pages of jokes. I can’t picture you attending a high school infested with gangs…not my sweet little lunch lady! 🙂 I think you have a good story there. Have a fantastic weekend, Gwen!

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  8. Great post Jill. People are a product of their environment, if not completely, at least a part of them. I was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico but promptly flown out to Southern California where I lived (for the most part) until I was 22. The funny thing is, where I grew up, many people consider it the West Virginia of California… It was in the Mojave Desert, a rural community (town pop. was barely 10,000 when we moved there). Lots of smiles missing teeth. 🙂

    I can’t help but feel that small town environment shaped me into the person I am today, though my exposure to the rest of the world since then has broadened my perspective.

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    • Thanks, Phillip and thank you for sharing your history. I’m having a great time reading about everyone’s background. Wow, I can’t imagine growing up in a community of 10,000 people, and in the desert…so cool. I think you turned out pretty great, so small town desert life in combination with other exposure, was a good recipe for you. Have a great weekend and congratulations on your productive week!

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  9. I was with my writing friends last night and we were discussing just this. Place is so important – it evokes atmosphere as well as putting your character firmly SOMEWHERE. The jury is still out over lots/not too much description – I think that boils down to personal taste, and for me, I go with lots! I like writers like Dickens, Ian McEwan, Lawrence – beautiful enhancing description!
    As for where was born – it won’t mean much to Americans, but for the first 18 months of my life I lived in Croydon,(British readers will be cringing), after which my father moved us out to the countryside of the Surrey/Kent borders. I don’t think it has left a lasting impression, but you can never be sure.

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    • I love that you and your writer friends were discussing this topic. Like you, I enjoy the enhancing description, but I’ve read a lot about the downside of too much. Often people will skip over descriptive narrative. It’s sad, but so many people are pressured for time and constantly in a rush, they feel they can skip it and still know what’s going on in the story. I’m not one of those readers. I read to relax and get lost in the story…it’s not a horse race for me. Living in the countryside sounds beautiful. Enjoy your weekend, Jenny and thanks again for the boat tour!

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  10. I enjoyed this thought-provoking post, Jill. I also don’t have a view born from stereotypes of what characterizes someone from West Virginia.

    I was born in Chicago. While I’ve written about city living in the past, city living does not play a huge part in my fantasy novels oddly enough. Yet the city living mentality affects my way of thinking about relationships in stories. Though I live in a smaller town where I see some of the same people over and over (at the library, church, grocery store), I still write about characters who are somewhat isolated. They wouldn’t walk up to someone on the street and say hello the way I wouldn’t walk up to someone in Chicago. Unlike my college roommate, who was from a town of 5000, where everyone knew everyone else.

    But your post causes me to rethink some of what I’ve written. If I’m writing about a small village, the relationships need to be more enmeshed, rather than “live and let live.”

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    • Thank you, L. Marie and thanks for not having any WV stereotypes. 🙂 I visited Chicago many years ago, it’s a great city. The jazz clubs were great, but I fell in love with the aquarium. It’s interesting that despite living in a small town, city living still affects the relationships in your stories. I look forward to reading one of your stories in the near future, L. Marie. Enjoy your weekend!

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  11. I was born in Connecticut, near UConn. Go Huskies! 😉 I miss it there, but I’ve been living in California now for almost 13 years, and I love it here, too. But you’re absolutely right – I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I’d stayed in CT.

    And that’s definitely an important thing to keep in mind while writing – I’ve heard setting described as another character that should be interacting with the rest of your story and your characters. I try to think of it that way, too, instead of as a passive background piece. Sometimes I’m more successful than others… 😉

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    • Wow! You really made a move, from one coast to another. I’m glad you got in your Huskie plug…great team! I’ve also read that setting should be considered as another character and I agree. When I think of Gone with the Wind, Tara is a character. I think you made a smart move, from snow to sunshine….good call! Have a great weekend!

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  12. Thought provoking Jill. Like Steve ^^ all I know of WV is via John Denver. I’m sure that, unless we physically uproot ourselves from our upbringing, we become very much a product of that place. I’m pleased I moved away from Birmingham (England) in my 20s to enable a different (not necessarily better) and wider view of life. Like you I like my books to have a firm sense of place.

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    • As I mentioned in a previous comment, John Denver’s songs captured the beauty of WV, so I’m happy that’s all you know. Our neighbor is from Birmingham and somehow ended up in North Carolina, I should get his thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your story, Roy. Have a great weekend!

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  13. Minnesota gal. (Yep, we say “gal” there. And yep, and we pronounce the “o” in Minnesota funny, with almost a Norwegian lilt even though only a few of us have Norwegian ancestors, and it’s “soda” not “sota” at the end).

    Although almost no one guesses where I’m from. I lived in MN until I was 16–then lived in Germany, a place which profoundly altered me and made me exquisitely aware of how place and culture shape us. I’ve also lived happily in Northwest Arkansas, North Texas, Northern Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Tennessee and Rhode Island. All this moving around has made it supremely clear to me that place effects character–at least it does in the stories I like to read.

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    • Oh, and we almost never say “yes.” It’s yep, yeah or frequently, the good old German, ja.

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    • Boy, you’ve covered a lot of territory, Tracy. I can usually nail the Minnesota accent. You’re right, the “o” pronunciation is a dead giveaway for me. I’m curious as to how long you lived in Germany. Moving to another country during your teen years, must have been difficult, but what a great experience for you. Enjoy your weekend, Tracy!

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  14. I’m from NYC myself — I think I did inherit somewhat of my drive from living there, and Northern California, where I now live, is like a much sunnier New York, at least in the Peninsula area where I’m at. Maybe that’s why people from NY or CA tend to simply shuttle between coasts, as I tend to do, as opposed to making any stops in between. I did correct that recently, to be sure, when I went to Indianapolis and Atlanta. Anyway, as for WV, the stereotypes you mentioned didn’t really come up for me, although admittedly I did think of coal mining. Somehow I doubt you were particularly into that. 🙂

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    • LOL! No, I’m extremely claustrophobic, so coal mining wasn’t a good career choice for me, Chris. 🙂 My father and grandfather did work in the mines. Their stories make me break out in a sweat. Boy, you and Mystic Cooking both took a big hop across the country. Given the winters in NY, I think CA was a smart move. Have a great weekend, Chris!

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  15. Where we come from makes us who we are. Thanks for the post.
    Theresa

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  16. I agree, Theresa. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment. Enjoy your weekend!

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  17. Who said we can’t go home again?
    The truth for writers is this: we must go home again. In our memories, our attention to the details of the places and their influences on us, the people we knew and loved (or feared), the sounds and smells and and tastes and rhythms.
    It’s a long drive for me to visit my mom every month, but I’m amazed that each time I return “home” I remember something new, something essential to who I am now.
    Excellent post, Jill.

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    • Thank you, Marylin. I’m so happy you’re able to visit your mother each month and write about your experiences in your beautiful blog. Often I can go home again, by just listening to John Denver’s music, it’s inspired many of my stories. Enjoy your weekend!

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  18. Greetings from CA! My parent’s wifi is acting up but I wanted to stop by. We should all be proud of our roots regardless. I was born in PR and also grateful that we moved – but I love my little island. 😉

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    • Thanks for popping in, Maria. I know you’re having a great time in CA! Have you hooked up with Clint yet? 🙂 Well, PR was never the same after you left. Enjoy the rest of your trip. I’ve missed your posts this week.

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  19. I was fascinated by your post and in a way my life journey resembles yours. I spent my childhood and early teens in a most beautiful part of County Donegal , in the north west of Ireland, enjoying a Huckleberry Finn type of existence on a ruggedly spectacular coastline, where we children wandered free all day every day only returning home for meals. Like many of my childhood friends, I became an economic migrant and exchanged all of this for life and work in the City of London. What a contrast! 18 years later with my own family we made the migration back to Ireland, this time to the south west, where I have lived and worked for over 30 years. But where am I from – what shaped who I am – why Donegal of course – the beauty, the freedom, the laid back lifestyle, the wonderful sense of community, the friendliness of the people, lifelong friendships – it is these things that draw me back there to get back in touch with who I am. And I never noticed whether or not they have toothed smiles or gummy ones!

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    • Thank you so much for sharing your story and what a great one it is. Donegal sounds like a beautiful place to live and raise a family. A laid back lifestyle is certainly a way of life I long for. Enjoy the weekend!

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  20. I guess wherever you live during your life it leaves something with you x

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  21. As always, a lovely post… I dare say you’ve never heard of the ‘sawmill camp’ of my birth – Wooldridge, Tennessee (outside Jellico, TN on the Kentucky border). My wanderlust has taken me so many places since those early days. Love your lucid and warm writing, Jill!

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    • I appreciate your kind words, Billy. No, I’ve never heard of Wooldridge, TN, but I’m glad you’ve return to your home state. All of the beautiful and exotic places you’ve lived have made you into the wonderful person you are today. Enjoy the weekend!

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  22. Family is from West Virginia! I was born in VA only because my dad was in the service at the time. We moved from Fairmont when I was six. Last year, after not being back for 51 years to our former house, after attending a family funeral in Bridgeport, we stopped in Fairmont. And wow! it left me wondering the same thing . . . what would my life had been if we had never moved to New York. Even at such a young age, there was so much I remembered! And the memories kept flashing through my head so quickly. My older sister and I stood in front of the house and Dad snapped our picture. It was nearly overwhelming and I have yet to find the words to express what that moment with my sister was like.

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    • Mary, I had no idea you were born in VA. I’m very familiar with Fairmont and Bridgeport. My sister went to college at WVU and she had some friends from Fairmont. I’m sure it was very overwhelming to return to your home after 51 years…I can’t imagine how that must have felt. Being the wonderful photographer that you are, I’m sure you took some great photos. I’d love to see them. Maybe you’ve already posted some on your blog? Thanks for sharing your story, Mary. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

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  23. Would love to visit West Virginia someday. Looks like a great place to visit. I was born in Alexandria, VA, but eventually my family moved to a small city in Southern California in the mid-sixties. That’s where I grew up. Practically no one lived there when we first moved, and I have great memories of my time spent there. By the time I decided to leave when I was in my early twenties, it had grown so large that it was no longer anything like what I remembered it to be.

    Anyway, thanks for giving us a peek into your past … I agree, where we grow up can have a profound effect on what we eventually become.

    Have a great weekend, Jill!

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    • Wow, I had no idea you were born in Alexandria, VA, Dave. I’m so glad you shared your story. When my parents first moved from WV to VA we actually lived in an apartment in Alexandria the first year. What a big move for your family, from VA to CA, my parents just jumped the border. 🙂 Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

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  24. I love this post Jill. I do believe the setting, the environment and culture of a place influences us in many ways which in turn reflects in our writing. Your parents made a smart move and look at you now. You are a very established and polished writer, you have a great career and your education and your outlook on life speaks for itself. Your parents get a lot of credit for this. Excellent post. Have a lovely weekend and God bless.

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    • Thank you for your kind words, Samina. You’re right, my parents did make a smart move. I owe everything I have today to the sacrifices and compromises they’ve made throughout my life. They have always wanted the best for me and my sister. They are special people. 🙂 Enjoy your Sunday, Samina!

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  25. Wonderful post! It’s good to remember the importance of setting, whether in our fiction or our real lives. I grew in dairy farm country in upstate NY. I left when I was 21. If I had stayed, I probably would have wound up in a miserable job and a miserable marriage, given that I was fairly miserable in my very small, very parochial hometown. Yet, I have many wonderful memories of cornfields and starry night skies and distinct changes in the seasons and solitude and family. Even though I was eager to leave and often wished I had been born and/or raised someplace else, I cherish the memories now and look forward to visits home.

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    • Thank you, Marie. I appreciate you sharing a little of your background. I’m sure the farm country in upstate NY is a beautiful place to visit and full of so many fond memories for you. It’s always a great feeling to go back home, even if we’re unable to physically travel, we can always rely on our memories. Have a great week!

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  26. Hi Jill,
    I am from the Motor City. I was thirteen when I first went to Seattle, and fell in love with the place. Mountains and ocean both at once. I told my mom at the time that I was going to return to Seattle to live as soon as I grew up, and that’s just what happened.

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    • Ahh, the mountains and ocean, two of my favorite things. I can certainly see why you would make the move to Seattle. I’ve never been, but the pictures I’ve seen are always beautiful…one day. Thanks for sharing your story, Naomi!

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  27. Very wise words about setting. It’s easy to get wrapped up in your characters and to forget that key element: setting. I haven’t been to West Virginia and I hadn’t heard the two jokes you mentioned. I’ve heard others. But I don’t put much stock into it. I’m from California. When I moved to Colorado I was made fun of relentlessly and treated like a bimbo. And I was in high school. A place can define us, but it’s important not to judge a person by their place as well. By the way, I love the DC area. I’m a history nut and love that place.

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    • Thanks, TB! I agree, when I hear people tell jokes about WV, I just laugh and think they don’t know what they’re missing. So true, judging someone based on where they’re from is never a good thing. Recently I heard a story about a man who grew up in a drug and crime infested area. As a juvenile, he committed several armed robberies. Today, he is a well respected doctor, working at the hospital in the same community where he grew up. Oh yes, D.C. is a great place to both visit and live! Thanks for stopping by and sharing your story. I look forward to reading your book!

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  28. I drove through the Blue Ridge Mountains about 10 years ago and it was a stunning drive. Thank you for posting this….I am going to go back and re-read my WIP to make sure my characters have that background of where they came from. 🙂

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  29. Jill, I love setting that is tight and does its job anchoring a scene and creating atmosphere. But if it’s pages of description, I tend to skim or flip the page. 😉

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  30. Hi Jill, I agree that setting can be a character in itself. I grew up for the first few years on a lovely Scottish island called Arran, but my parents moved us and my younger brother and sister to Fife, near St Andrews when I was 8 years old as they thought there would be more opportunities for us growing up. Both places are beautiful but the upbringing on Arran would definitely have been more insular. It must have made a lasting impression though as that is where I set my first children’s book.

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