Sophie Littlefield has used western Missouri effectively for both her Stella Hardesty mysteries and her Hailey Tarbell supernatural YA novels. In this months’ Scene Of The Crime, she discusses the area and the type of people who inhabit it.
MYSTERYPEOPLE: What made you use western Missouri as a setting?
SOPHIE LITTLEFIELD: I grew up in central Missouri, but virtually all of my childhood summer vacations were spent camping in parks all around the state, often in the Lake of the Ozarks region. When I was in high school, I went to All-State Orchestra every year (another time we can discuss my incredibly geeky pastimes: playing the cello, debate club, and spending Friday nights at the library). It was held at the faaaaabulous Tan-Tar-A Family Resort in Osage Beach. I was struck by the beauty of the lake – when I wasn’t busy being struck by my first kiss, first cigarette, first liquor, etc. (Parents: watch out for those seemingly-innocent band kids!)
MP: What makes it unique as a crime fiction backdrop?
SL: The thing about the heartland is that everyone is so darn nice all the time. You really don’t expect a whole lot of shenanigans when folks are constantly exhorting you to ‘come on back, now.’ Of course, that’s only one side of the Ozarks coin – you have only to dip a toe in a Woodrell novel to catch a glimpse of the other side.
MP: What is the biggest misconception about the place?
SL: Now I’m going to contradict myself – people think that the Ozark region is full of rednecks and yahoos. The truth is that it is a historically and culturally rich and vibrant place, and I hope I never give the impression that I believe otherwise. The Osage Indians, the riverways, the hardscrabble lives early European settlers faced, the folklore – all of these fascinated me as a child and continue to today.
Also, some coastal types mistakenly believe that Missouri has a mild climate. Hell no! You freeze your ass off in the winter and wander about in a sweaty, listless fugue state in the summer. Remember in Little House on the Prairie, when Pa died in a snowstorm because he got lost on the way back to the house from the barn? Happens ever year in my home town.
SL: Stella is a true Midwesterner, community-minded and generous. I explore that theme in the second book in the series, A Bad Day for Pretty, which opens with a flashback to when she was a child and her father and uncle helped rescue neighbors during a tornado. “Helping folks is what Daddys do,” her father tells her, but the real message is that helping others is what *everyone* does.
MP: You now live and write in California. Is it sometimes a challenge to put your mind back in the Midwest?
SL: It’s funny how those early years stay with you. At times, I’ve struggled mightily to wring the midwest out – mostly during my insecure younger years when I wanted to seem more sophisticated than I actually am. But you’d be amazed how hard it is to eradicate that relentless good nature. We midwest types are the opposite of edgy – if you don’t believe me, wander around central Missouri until you find a scowling, pierced, tattooed teenager and bid him a good day: he will be UNABLE to resist mumbling “you, too.”
MP: You have at least two series set in the area with strong women from different generations. What’s special about the the women where you’re from?
SL: We’re sturdy, we’re determined, and we age well!