I’ve got more pictures to post but I’ll do that sometime tomorrow. I thought I’d take a break from Fall Semester prep to do a little bit of pondering about the story.
Tearing Down Tuesday filled what I felt was a gap in the current science fiction inventory of recent short stories, namely a story set in the American Midwest that did not rely upon East and West Coast stereotypes of Midwesterners. From 2000 to the moment I sold TDT, I found my level of aggravation with the lack of such stories growing. When such a story did manifest itself, it usually took the cheap shots at the population which lives in the Midwest.
Who are those people? Well, in the case of DeKalb County, Missouri, they tend to be of European descent. In other words, they are white. If you look at the demographics, I believe the county population tends to run eighty percent plus on the white side. They are hardworking people who do their best to run their farms, keep their bills paid and support their families. They believe in taking care of their own problems for the most part without a lot of government help.
These days they grow corn, a lot of corn. In fact I remarked to Trinity that we didn’t see a single wheat field on our way to Maysville, Missouri and back. The main crops were corn for use in ethanol and soy. This is a contrast to the fields of golden wheat I remember from my childhood. They also maintain a certain amount of livestock, but not the massive herds that many might think.
In some instances, they’ve managed to adapt to changing conditions. One local example in nearby Clinton County, Missouri is the Shatto Milk Company, located on Highway 33 not far from Highway 36 in Northern Missouri. They produce local organic milk sans additives in an environment that looks to be healthy and easy on the animals. They also run a gift shop on the property which is where we met the owners. The story is that in the late 80s they realized that the major purchasers of milk were not paying anything close to prices that would sustain their business. They had to try something else.
So they took a leap and went local and organic. Others in the region went down the same path, raising heirloom livestock, growing organic produce and changing the way they do business.
However, for every success story, you can find a dozen deserted farms in Northern Missouri. The land has been sold or rented to the survivors.
The people in this region love to hunt deer, quail, turkey and ducks when the seasons permit. They fish with permits and subscribe to the Missouri Conservationist. More than a few of them, including one of my cousins, works for the Missouri Department of Conservation. They care about where they live and want to see it preserved. They are capable of adapting to changing conditions if pressed.
This goes against the usual depiction of the Midwestern Rural Resident. Inflexible, stubborn, unchanging, conservative and very religious.
I suppose the big dig against this environment is that it does not possess the same diversity which can be found in urban environments. Perhaps. However, given demographic trends in the country as a whole, I will make a prediction.
The Midwestern Rural Areas will, probably by the end of the century, be split between European and Latino populations. It is a bit of a failing on my part that I did not account for this in Tearing Down Tuesday. There simply should be more Latino characters in the region.
Another dig against the Midwest is that it is backward. No Starbucks. No bandwidth to speak of.
These are people who still take pleasure in their environment, enjoying a sky full of stars while the coyotes compete with the bullfrogs and the cycadas for one’s attention. They enjoy fishing on the lake under the moonlight, poker games and fish fries.
They have their flaws. The stereotypes would not exist without those flaws. They are the people I know, the land I know, the grist of my sunshine summers under brilliant blue skies. They are the people Robert Heinlein wrote about in his stories.
And yet, I suspect, there is not a lot of room for stories from this land in American Science Fiction today. I find it quite telling that Tearing Down Tuesday sold to a British Publication, Interzone, and not an American one. Now to be fair, TDT was never sent to an American market, but my gut tells me that outside of Apex Online Magazine, I’d have been hardpressed to sell that story anywhere else.
The other concern I have is, well, frankly, these people are the Enemy Personified to many in American Science Fiction. They are rednecks, white trash, probably inbred and most likely engaging in perverse acts with their livestock. There may not be any room for stories from Northern Missouri.
A writer is instructed from the start, write what you know. It is good advice.
However, the message I get from the American Science Fiction Community is also very clear to me.
Rednecks need not apply.
Steven Francis Murphy
Author of The Limb Knitter and Tearing Down Tuesday
North Kansas City, Missouri