Ask my readers what makes my novels special, and many of them will say, “community.” The term comes up in reviews often enough that I’ve added it to my tagline: Engaging characters. Strong communities. Deep faith. Sweet romance.
I’m currently writing within my fifth and sixth series, and I can definitely see the underpinnings of community in each of them. While Green Acres Farm (in the original Farm Fresh Romance series) might still be the best known, Bridgeview, the setting for the Urban Farm Fresh Romances, brags the most reviews that mention it. It might be because there are more stories set here!
What makes a vibrant community, and how does Bridgeview line up?
1. A great community shares a sense of place, whether that’s a physical location or a virtual one.
Bridgeview is a semi-fictional neighborhood in the real city of Spokane, Washington. I’ve been there multiple times. I’ve walked its streets, climbed its steps, strolled the riverbank pathway, listened to traffic on the bridge overhead, and taken hundreds of photos. You can see some of them in this post on my blog.
As mentioned in the linked post above, this fits the real neighborhood Bridgeview is fashioned after, and I kept those characteristics. Bridgeview is bounded by the Spokane River to the north and a steep hillside to the south. There is one narrow roadway entering on the east and another on the west. It’s not an easy through-street. In short, if you’re not headed to Bridgeview, it’s much faster to go around it than through it.
It’s walkable, at least if you’re fit! The north/south streets are narrow and steep, and some are replaced by stairways. In fact, climbing those steps might be quicker than driving around. A few residents **cough Alex Santoro cough** bike those steep streets, but I wouldn’t recommend it for the average amateur.
3. A great community shares values and passions.
If you’ve read any Urban Farm Fresh Romances, you’ll know what I chose as Bridgeview’s shared passion: growing food and farming in the city. This is the fabric that’s woven through every story, more visible in some than in others. I’ve explored urban goats, a community garden, foraging, and other angles. I’m excited about the upcoming stories (four more to write!) that will explore additional aspects.
4. A great community has a center.
In the first story, Secrets of Sunbeams, the neighborhood has taken possession of an old brick building in its core. It used to be an art gallery, but that had closed years ago. Now they are in the midst of renovating it as the heart of their community gatherings. Through the various novels, you’ll find scenes that take place in the community center, as well as at the playground and basketball courts across the street (beneath the bridge itself).
Bridgeview has more than one “heart,” though. The Bridgeview Bible Church acts as another gathering spot, as does Bridgeview Bakery and Bistro. You’ll find scenes in both those locations in most of the novels.
The real neighborhood came with a riverside pathway. Tall cottonwoods stand ankle-deep in the water. Gray squirrels dart among them while birds wing from one to the other. The river is moving quickly here, especially during high water (as you’ll remember if you’ve read Memories of Mist). Fishing is great, with redband trout abounding (as you’ll remember if you’ve read Flavors of Forever).
But it needed a real community garden. The kind where neighbors can rent a raised bed and bump into each other while planting, weeding, and harvesting. They can swap recipes and abundance. The community garden entered the series narrative in Breezes on Butterflies.
6. A great community has a local-centric school.
Where I live in SE British Columbia, the closure of rural neighborhood schools because of declining enrollment and tightening budgets is a difficult topic. It’s hard to justify the tax dollars to keep a school open for a handful of students, but the closure is a devastating blow to a small community. Parents fight hard to keep those schools open, and they don’t always win.
Bridgeview has an elementary school, although the real neighborhood does not. The school played a central role in Memories of Mist as the PTA raised funds for a greenhouse and fought for gardening curriculum.
7. A great community has residents who know each other and help each other.
This might be the core of the definition, actually. You can’t be a community if each resident lives in isolation emotionally. Even in the real neighborhood, we spotted people chatting over back fences and on sidewalks. In the fictional Bridgeview, I cranked that up a few notches. Marietta Santoro, who turns 80 in Glimpses of Gossamer, is the matriarch to a solid percentage of Bridgeview’s residents… and in everyone’s business for good or ill. But it’s not just her. Everyone knows everyone, and it’s hard to remain a loner.
Over to you! What do you think makes a great neighborhood? What are some examples of fictional communities (besides mine) that make you want to visit?
And… what aspects of community seem less than desirable?
Welcome back to Bridgeview! Glimpses of Gossamer releases on Tuesday, February 11. Save 25% by pre-ordering.
Artist Marley Montgomery finally thrives in her inherited rundown cottage with its overgrown yard, but there are rules about how many rescue chickens fit on her urban lot. Too bad the cute but uptight accountant next door is friends with the animal control officer.
Alex Santoro prefers things orderly and by-the-book, but his waif-like new neighbor offers a glimpse into a simpler lifestyle that is surprisingly intriguing. Maybe it’s the whimsical art she creates. Maybe it’s the wild beauty emerging in her unkempt yard. Or maybe Alex is simply falling in love with a pretty girl who’s unlike anyone he’s ever known.
How can Marley trust her secrets and fragile wings to the man who has everything?