“Home” is not exactly an unexplored concept. It’s pondered in poetry, where Robert Frost famously said, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, They have to take you in."
It’s also a significant theme in fiction, perhaps in romance more than most. We write about love, after all—finding the “home of the heart.”
Often that’s reflected in finding a physical home as well. In LaVyrle Spencer’s wonderful Morning Glory, the hero, convict Will Parker, has always been desperately alone and wants nothing more than to have a family of his own. (He finds it with widowed Elly and her boys in pre-WWII Georgia.)
Certainly the desire to find a home is prominent in my own stories. The theme is probably most explicit in Silk and Shadows, which starts with the words “He called himself Peregrine, the wanderer, and he came to London for revenge.” The story ends when the heroine says, “Welcome home, wanderer, welcome home.” (Subtlety has never been my strong point. <g>)
I’d say that most of my books have that theme of finding a home that’s both a place and person, and I think this is true of most romance writers. We write about people finding happiness, after all, and home is often a large part of that.
But what is “home?” I started thinking about the topic (resulting in this blog) after a discussion on a writers’ loop.
To start with, home is a physical place, and some people are born in the wrong place. Several eons ago I read a YA novel where two high school classes, one in Kansas and one in Washington State, do a swap to each other’s states. One of the Kansan protagonists saw the sea and walked straight into it up to her knees. All her life, she’d been missing sand and fog and sea gulls and she hadn’t known it. She found where she was going to move when she got out of school.
The same girl was startled when one of the boys from the Washington class was entranced by Kansas. The sunshine, the golden fields, the vast blue dome of the sky—they spoke to him. He decide to apply to the University of Kansas. He’d found his home.
Physical place makes a huge difference, but even a great place isn’t necessarily right all the time. I love the deserts and mountains of the Southwest. Love to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there—I’d miss the greenery and it’s too far from the ocean. The rolling hills of my native Western New York are beautiful, but snow is only fun for a while. Then it gets tedious. It’s not surprising how many snowbirds from that area head south for the winter.
Home can be about work. Some jobs can be done anywhere, but others tie people to particular places. If you want to work in tv or movie production, you probably need to be in Southern California. If you want to be an editor for one of the big publishers, that probably means New York. And if you want to be a Supreme Court Justice or member of Congress, you’ll be spending a lot of the year in Washington, DC. And through work, we often create strong friendships. (A writer’s professional peers are scattered all over the place, but cyberspace becomes the place where we meet and socialize.)
Home is also about society and culture. A friend of a friend always complained about the U. S. She wasn’t happy to be an American. After college she went to England, and found that she’d come home. She has since acquired a British accent, husband, and family, and is happy with all of them.
Even more than the general culture, of course, home is about the people. Our nearest and dearest, both family and our friends. The latter often become the family we choose in addition to our blood family. (And sometimes the families we choose suit us better than the ones we’re born into, but that’s a whole ‘nother topic.)
Travel is wonderful, but it does complicate the question of where home is. I sometimes envy people who grow up in one place and never feel the least need to leave. Friends and family are right there, and their roots fun very deep. Baltimore is like that.
Children who move around a lot when they’re young, such as military kids, end up with too many choices. Consider a girl who was born in Maine and loved the clean air and beautiful landscape. Later her family moves to Berlin, and she loveds the European culture and sense of antiquity. Then on to California—hot sun, dramatic desert and mountains and beaches, a laidback culture with lots of diversity. Maybe she goes to college in New York City and loves the excitement and vast cultural opportunities. And maybe she has grandparents in Maryland and Kentucky.
So where is home? Where would she live if she could choose any place she wants? Wherever she lives, she’ll probably be missing things about other places. I’d say the solution is to take a lot of vacations. <g>
For me, I think home is most strongly connected to friends and family. But it’s also place. I love Maryland’s four seasons and I like having lived in this neighborhood long enough to know what stores to visit, what places to avoid during rush hour.
Think of how hard it is to leave home for another country, even when it seems like the best decision. (The famous painting, "The Last of England" by Ford Madox Brown, captures the grief of a couple leaving family, friends, and everything they’ve ever known for another country.)
What about you? What means home to you? And if you could live anywhere you want—where would that be? And why?
In reading terms—do you like to see your romances end with the couple strongly connected to a particular place? Or are you okay with them taking off to the wild blue yonder for new adventures as long as they’re together?
Since this the topic is home, I’ll give away a copy of Silk and Shadows to someone who comments between now and midnight Sunday.
And may your home always be a happy one—
Mary Jo (on the 22nd anniversary of starting her first book)
PS: Please excuse the run on paragraphs. Typepad is in one of its hissy fit moods where it refuses to let me put spaces between.