Montana

My Horngate books are categorized as Urban Fantasy. But the truth is that they aren’t particularly urban. In fact, they are downright rural. Rural Montana, to be exact. It’s a different kind of place than rural Alabama or rural Texas, or rural Maine. While you can generalize some things from place to place, the truth is that the terrain and the way you have to live in a rural place, informs the life there more than anything. I know, sounds obvious, right? But digging into those difference can be a little bit tough unless you visit or get acquainted with people who live there. Let me give you some examples.

In Montana, people have been known to get lost and freeze to death (seriously–to death) within sight of a farmhouse. There is such an ingrained sense that ‘thou shalt not trespass’ that people will literally not cross boundaries to save their lives if they must trespass. Does this happen elsewhere?

Guns are commonplace in Montana. You can leave a rifle on a rack in your truck and your doors open and people don’t steal them. If they do, it’s a serious offense. But truthfully, it’s fairly rare. Most rural people have guns, and most hunt to fill their freezers for the winter. Hunting season, therefore, becomes something you schedule around. Better know when what’s in season.

People eat a lot of game meat. If you’re asked if you want a hamburger, there’s a better than good chance it will be made from deer, elk, or antelope, and occasionally moose (it’s tough to get a moose tag, but the meat is tasty).

People are incredibly independent. They are capable of things that many people don’t consider and they’ll do it alone. Women just as much as men. And women hunt as much as men. People butcher their own kills and wrap them in the garage. It’s called harvesting.

In Montana, roads are just as likely to be gravel and dirt as paved. Highways can be gravel and frequently are.

You get used to driving a long way for ordinary reasons. Costco might be a good 2-3 hour drive, one way.  The mall, the same thing. A lot of people just make that trip every few weeks. It’s nothing. What other people think of as an exhausting drive, Montanans tend to think of as a quick day’s errands.

It has to be -30 and blizzard conditions for a school to close, or pretty damned close.

All right. These are just some basic things off the top of my head, and there are a lot more I could name. But consider how they might change a story. One doesn’t run into town quickly to get supplies. A run into town often means an hour or two drive to get to a place where you can really get supplies. So you stock up and that stock depletes and you are stuck with what’s on the shelf or in the freezer. Generators are normal, woodstoves are critical (or fireplaces). Termites aren’t a problem–it’s just too cold for them. If there’s a stranger going to threaten a woman, she might just drop him with a punch, or she might just pull a gun. It wouldn’t be strange for her to have one.

A woman who blew the tires on her truck and had her horsetrailer catch fire because of dragging it through dry grass on the shoulder with the truck throwing sparks, would stop, get the horses out to safety and try to put out the fire and maybe put a call in for help if she has cell service (happened to a young woman I know). It would be a dramatic event, but also one that she wouldn’t expect help with. She’d know she’d need to take care of it herself and she wouldn’t fall apart doing it.

I don’t want you to think Montanans are’t hillbillies. Many are very well-educated. But they are tough and they live in an unforgiving rural world. There isn’t a lot of help out there and you figure stuff out for yourself.

Does that mean the usual sorts of human drama doesn’t happen? Of course not. Does that mean people don’t go to theaters or concerts or get pedicures? Of course not. But their approach to life can be very different from other places. You might show up for your pedicure in shitkickers, having moved a herd of steers that morning. You might be tired from night-calving. Maybe you go to that auction fundraiser for a local family and buy straws of bull semen (yep–not unusual). Maybe you’re worried about the wolves and your lambs or calves.

The point is, the nature of the people in Montana is different from what you’ll find in other rural areas. People who come from urban areas often don’t see that, because the rural life is so strange (and the city world is just as strange to the rural character). People from Montana tend to be self-sufficient, confident, and highly independent. The place requires it of them. One of the reasons I like setting my Horngate Witches books in Montana is to take advantage of the particular character and quirks of the place.

 

 

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  1. 1. Patrice Sarath

    Excellent depiction of the people of Montana. I’m so glad you pointed out that rural people are not all alike — a common mistake that is exacerbated by lazy TV and movie writing.

    And mmmmm….mooseburgers.

Author Information

Diana Pharaoh Francis

Diana Pharaoh Francis has written the fantasy novel trilogy that includes Path of Fate, Path of Honor and Path of Blood. Path of Fate was nominated for the Mary Roberts Rinehart Award. Recently released was The Turning Tide, third in her Crosspointe Chronicles series (look also for The Cipher and The Black Ship). In October 2009, look for Bitter Night, a contemporary fantasy. Diana teaches in the English Department at the University of Montana Western, and is an avid lover of all things chocolate. Visit site.

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