There are times when I don’t want to admit that I grew up in, and currently live in, suburbia. Almost anyplace sounds more interesting. It’s the land of houses and lawns and neighborhoods and strip malls that all look the same and exist in the same pattern around almost every major U.S. city. And by default, we suburban dwellers are often seen as all the same. We are the families with 2.5 kids, swing sets in the back yard, and baloney sandwiches for lunch. It’s seen as the middle of the road where middle-income families drive mid-sized cars to their mid-level management jobs wearing their mid-priced mall wear.
We are mocked in movies and scorned by hipsters who insist that creativity and passion can only exist in places with independent coffee shops, non-standard house paint colors and high crime. The consensus is that exciting stories and interesting people can’t be found in the aisles of Target and Lowes or on soccer field sidelines. But I live here, I know better.
I’ll admit there is a Stepford-like element to living here. Conformity is encouraged and rewarded both in housing and personal demeanor. Crazy is generally not welcomed and should be concealed. But that’s where the fun starts. Crazy set out in the front yard or brazenly displayed on the porch is so obvious. If you wave your nut-ball flag all the time there’s no rumor, intrigue or speculation when the cops show up.
There is passion and angst in suburbia along with pain and hope. It’s just hidden behind tan and beige exteriors and banal discussions about potty training and tree rot. There’s an art to reading between the lines and looking for clues, finding raw humanity in a place designed to hide it.
I set both books in my Burnouts series in suburbia, because that’s what I know, and because it’s so much more challenging to both present the veiled outside and the spirit beneath in a character. I love the scene in chapter 5 where Ben’s parents separate. It’s real pain played out on the driveway (where everyone can see, *gasp*) by players schooled in the art of keeping it cool.
I’m not sure if I’ll use suburbia again as a setting for a novel. It’s a hard sell. Like any stereotype, it creates a set of expectations in readers. Fictional suburbia is supposed to be cheer leading practice, Friday night football and the occasional heated discussion over fence height regulations. But I prefer the reality I saw growing up: the kids who didn’t fit in, the families who struggled to fit the mold, the imperfect and awkward love stories in a seemingly perfect world.