Recipe for becoming a writer: be an outsider

by Sandra Hutchison

I know there are writers who never leave the town they were born in (think Emily Dickinson), but that’s far from my own experience. We moved often as my father’s career in newspapers advanced; I consider myself a journalism brat. And I think displacement is often a spark for writers who aren’t already tortured enough by some other trauma.

Moving can be fun, it can be educational, and it can be wrenching. One benefit is the keen eye that comes with simply not being local to a place. You naturally notice more — you have to in order to find your way around. It’s a survival mechanism that probably predates human civilization, when everything new in the environment was potentially deadly, and being the outsider was particularly dangerous.

I grew up in Florida, moved to the Northeast, and have always set my novels there. This makes sense because I noticed the hell out of the Northeast. It was a strange place with people who seemed standoffish compared to Southerners. I was a bit shocked by all the quaint housing and pastoral scenery that I had previously assumed was some sort of American mythology that only showed up in textbooks and historical novels like Little Women. Actual red barns covered in snow freaked me out.

This week as I am visiting my parents in Florida, I find myself noticing the hell out of their sleepy little town in Citrus County. I suppose if I moved down here, I’d be able to write realistic novels set here in a few years, not that I’m eager to do that. Right now, I’m still just observing, and aware that although I’m Florida born and bred, it doesn’t feel like home anymore.

I’m a naturalized Yankee who does remember and appreciate certain Floridian delights,  however, including live oaks covered in moss, Southern magnolias, the rare May morning that hasn’t gotten hot yet, pecans with just about anything, guava turnovers, Cuban sandwiches, and the vernacular use of “Bless her heart!” in the grocery store (you REALLY don’t want someone to say that about you).

A Florida live oak draped in Spanish moss

A Florida live oak draped in Spanish moss

And that’s all I have to say this week because I am busy with family obligations. As it is, I’m just glad I finally remembered my password to get onto my own blog.

Have you ever been an outsider? Did that end up being a good experience or a bad one, or — as is so often the case — a bit of both?