View Full Version : Calling all Wyomingites! (and small Western towners)

03-11-2009, 10:57 PM

I've finished the first couple drafts of my YA novel, set in small-town northern Wyoming. My maternal family is from a similar town (~1200 people, Bighorn County), and I spent a portion of my 10th through 13th summers there.

Thing is, I haven't been back since age 15 (the age of my protagonist). Besides my love for the outdoors, I'm as different from a Wyomingite as they come -- liberal, So-Cal raised, would never shoot a squirrel, let alone an elk, etc. -- and yet, cowboy country is in my blood. There's a delicate balance: I don't want to offend with my portrayal of the different types of Wyoming people, but I also want my book to be genuine.

So far, as "research", I've used my memories, extensive interviews with my mother, and extensive Gretel Erlich and Annie Proulx. I'm planning a revisit of our old road trip in May, in hopes of adding more colorful details to make this book come alive. But I've already got an outstanding request from a Writers House agent for the book, which makes May seem so far away.

Here's were you come in. (If there are any of you!) What was your Wyoming experience? Or your experience being a teenager in any smallish Western town? Slang and dialect? Pastimes? What was taboo? How did you view different types of adults (ranchers, teachers, etc.)? How did you view pop culture and people from other states, other ways of life? Were you itching to get out? Any thoughts, memories, opinions you can contribute would be appreciated.

Grace, my MC, is intelligent and reflective, which probably makes her easier to relate to for people on this writing board. For a little more info on the book, here's a link to my query (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=129474). Thanks so much!

03-11-2009, 11:46 PM
Congrats, Wandergirl, on your request from an agent! How exciting for you. I live in a burg that has abut 26 year-round residents. I'm not a native Wyomingite, but I've lived in Wyoming since 2000 (yes, that's a tidbit that matters. If you're not native, it takes decades to be thought of as one.).

I have lots to respond with, but I have to get back to work. I'll respond later this evening. There's a few of us who live in Wyoming, so hopefully you'll get lots of info.

C.M. Daniels
03-11-2009, 11:58 PM
I was born and raised in a tiny town in western Montana (fewer than 1200 people).

Pastimes: high school sports, drinking, sex, sports, sex, and drinking

Taboo: anything "different", being a Californian was one of them. If someone rolled into town with Cali plates, they often got shouted at to go home, they weren't welcome.

The adults in my town were in a few different categories. There were the faded local heroes who'd taken up residence on a barstool a year or sooner after they graduated. They spent their time reliving the old days. There were the breeders, people who got married right out of school, who banged out a bunch of kids right away, who quickly go from participating in their own school activities, to watching their own kids. Their kids are known as "so and so's kid" in school, because many of the teachers had their parents as students.

There were the "old" families. These big inbred clans had been marrying one another for 150 years, with no plans to change. They owned most of the local businesses, including farms and ranches. Many cousins of these families attend school at the same time, so there's often classes were 6-10 people have the same last name, or there are 6+ related students attending the school at any given time. These people are very closely related to or are direct descendants of Local Heroes and/or Breeders.

Church is a big deal, but not for the reasons you think. This is what substitutes as a social life for many of the more "modest" adults (ie., the people who aren't at the bars every night). Church is where the more wealthy members of the community show off their newly purchased big-box crap. This is where they make those who are less well off feel like lesser human beings because certain members of the congregation can't put a 20 in the offering plate, or wear nice new clothes every week. Local Heroes and Breeders are fond of church, as it's the only place that approximates the school, where they can still actively participate.

Teachers are a combination of Local Heroes who went to college and came crawling back, due to their inability to escape the pull of the town and school. These people are often coaches, keeping them directly involved in their former sport, while escaping the fate of the barflies. Other teachers are typically very young, in the earliest years of their career, and in town because the school was the only place that would hire them. They are often looking for the first chance to escape to a better school system in a larger town. Sometimes, escaped Local Heroes from other nearby towns will wind up at the school because their former school is waiting for a new teacher to defect before welcoming Hero back into the fold.

Pastimes: anything involving the outdoors, camping, fishing, hiking, and remember, the first day of hunting season is going to cause more absences than a funeral, plague, or ice storm.

Pop culture is followed closely via the media. The school kids rarely get any direct contact with the mainstream pop culture they emulate, unless they went to visit some cousin from California. . .There will always be goths, jocks, geeks, preppies, and cowboys, keep in mind though, that because schools from towns this size often only have about 200 students, that lines will blur, especially in athletic. You will see football players who come into the stands to play their part in the national anthem with the pep band. You'll see the homecoming queen crowned on the basketball court, while she's still in her varsity uniform. The star center on the basketball team has the lead in the school play. The shy goth is actually a state champion cross-country runner. You'll see barely legal students bring their 20 and 30 year old boyfriends to the prom.

There's no way to escape the people who bug you in school. That kid who picks his nose and eats it in class is in all of your classes, because you're both juniors in the college prep track, and the classes you need are only offered once during the day. The teacher who makes you crazy is the one you're stuck with, because only Mr. Smith teaches American Lit, and you need it to graduate. There will be very few, if any, AP or IB classes. It's frustrating, because a small school can only offer so much. The upside to that being, a small student body lends itself to a lot of personal attention from the faculty and staff.

Pastimes: Driving, going anywhere but home or staying in town. Dreaming big and getting stuck.

Many towns of this size have a few bars, a sit down restaurant, bowling alley, and local fast food joint, Custer's Last (Burger) Stand as opposed to a McDonald's. Big box stores, and most retail, will be a half-hour plus drive away to the next biggest town to offer such stores and services. If you need a pair of shoes, you to to Big Town. If you need a perscription filled in the middle of the night, you go to Big Town. If you need toilet paper after 7, when the local (tiny, price gouging) grocery has closed for the day, you to Big Town. . .lather, rinse, repeat.

Other ways of life and cultures are often looked at with confusion and revulsion, or as something that only exist on TV, and in that hell on earth, California.

I was one of those kids who was gnawing my foot out of the trap by the time my senior year began. I couldn't wait to get the hell out of there. I admit, I had a lot of opportunities kids in other states at bigger schools didn't get, but the feeling of stagnation and the lack of choices made it hard. I was in the band, played volleyball, was on the speech team, wrote for the school paper, was in school plays, and all sorts of things.

The moment I graduated, I moved out of my parent's house, before moving again for college, in California.

I've rambled enough, but if you have anymore questions, feel free to let me know.

I hope I've helped.

03-12-2009, 12:05 AM
Former Wyomingite here, lived in Laramie for fifteen years of my life. Now I'm in Nebraska. It's like Wyoming, but with more corn, less coal, and Warren Buffett instead of Jerry Spence. I still visit there several weeks a year.

I'd start by having an occasional peek at the Casper Star Tribune to get a grip on regional issues:


My teenage Wyoming experience has probably dated quite a bit and Laramie is atypical for Wyoming cities, due to the University. I can say that when I go back there is a bustle that didn't exist when I grew up there.

Times have been good in recent years, high energy prices changed the dynamics. The state now gives Hathaway scholarships to most half-way decent high-school students to stay in state for college. At a 3.8 GPA, you basically get enough to cover tuition and more.

03-12-2009, 02:34 AM
Read Mark Sprague, especially his short story 'Wapiti School'

let me know when you stop laughing ...

03-12-2009, 10:19 PM
wow guys, thanks so much! C.M. Daniels in particular -- you gave me so much great stuff to think about. In fact, the characters in my book are plotting an escape to California. Their (and your) itchy feet slightly mirrors my mother's experience, though she ended up at UW (with Dick Cheney!! good thing she didn't marry him) before moving to CA.

C.M. Daniels
03-13-2009, 03:04 AM
wow guys, thanks so much! C.M. Daniels in particular -- you gave me so much great stuff to think about. In fact, the characters in my book are plotting an escape to California. Their (and your) itchy feet slightly mirrors my mother's experience, though she ended up at UW (with Dick Cheney!! good thing she didn't marry him) before moving to CA.

Oh, I've got more where that came from. From rodeo queens to the one guy in town with a German luxury town (who whines because he can't get it serviced in-state), I can tell you about them all.

I could go on forever. . .

Happy writing!

C.M. Daniels
03-13-2009, 03:08 AM
Also, here's the link to my hometown's *weekly* newspaper.


Have fun.

03-13-2009, 03:57 AM
I have a cousin in Gillette, and was amused that her son's high school graduation theme song was "Free Bird."

03-13-2009, 08:21 AM
C. M. Daniels' comment about running away to California reminded me of a tidbit I've heard quite a bit: many young folks will leave the state after graduation. After years, they realize what they miss and move back.

In my tiny burg, there's three factions: one who almost no one knows live here since they don't associate with anyone, another who are known to everyone and are involved and has many friends (our writers group has these folks), and the third is only known to live at the bars (we have about 26 year-round residents and we have three bars!).

My husband says in Wyoming, you're one handshake away from knowing everyone in the state. I've found that's not far off! You have to be careful of your reputation because many in this state WILL hear of it. There are so many coincidences when you meet a stranger to find out the person you were just introduced to was the secretary for the doctor who delivered you, or the parents of a person in your university class bought your house a few years ago!

Poking fun at Greenies (Coloradoans).

Not afraid of snow storms that bring feet of snow, and sneering at those who whine about getting a few inches (wusses!).

Personally, I can't imagine living anywhere else. I don't need malls, fancy stores, or a cell phone. I appreciate and I appreciate those who value the sight of the elk herd that shows up on a certain hillside every winter, or the townspeople who have the daily moose report and where is she today. Even the jaded barflies enjoy the sight of the snowstorm as they drink their beers and wish it would last longer. Ah, paradise.

03-13-2009, 08:38 PM
My dad was born and raised on Crazy Woman Creek near Big Horn, Wyoming. I still visit relatives in the Buffalo-Sheridan area, but none live in town.

I was born and raised along the Yellowstone River near Big Timber, Montana.

"Near" is the operative word. Even Big Horn and Big Timber are cities, however small. If writers want to depict country life, it's not found in even tiny towns.

For instance, the Boulder River flows to Big Timber from the south. To the country mind, south of Big Timber is up river. "Up" is in the lay of the land.

To most townies, I've noticed, "up" is north on the map, no matter which way water flows.

A miniscule matter, and I'm not impying either view is right ot wrong, just different. But it's among thousands of other different details separating rural and urban.