As published on https://beverleyabaird.wordpress.com/2023/02/08/wow-blog-tour-for-whispering-through-water-by-rebecca-wenrich-wheeler-guest-post/ February 8, 2023 for the WOW! Women on Writing blog tour.
I grew up in a small town in the Tidewater region of Virginia, about 45 minutes due east of Richmond. My hometown is a peninsula, with a population of approximately 3200 people living in 6.6 square miles. Surrounded by water on three sides, our town boasted two bridge exits and one land exit, and two stop lights. Despite being small, we were fortunate to live in a community that was invested in education and supported the well-being of our small public school (so small that my graduating class was 37 people strong!) I spent many hours at our local library, and I can stilI picture exactly where the Nancy Drew books were located on the shelves.
I didn’t fully comprehend the modest size of my hometown until I attended college in North Carolina, which although was considered a small university, still had a larger population than my town. My first year teaching high school, I’ll never forget the shock on students’ faces, when I told my Creative Writing class that if four more students were added to this room, you would have my entire graduating class.
Additionally, it wasn’t until I moved to Raleigh, NC did I encounter a large division of wealth. The majority of my hometown’s residents worked for the paper mill. As kids, what we considered a “mansion” would be an average-sized home in comparison to the wealthy suburbs around Raleigh. Growing up, I don’t remember being concerned about having the latest brand-names or gadgets, those things were luxuries beyond most families’ budgets, besides the fact shopping malls were 45 minutes away.
Although, growing up in a small town doesn’t reflect the idyllic portrait of a Hallmark movie, especially for an awkward teen like me. As a young child, I loved being able to ride my bike everywhere knowing I was safe and all of my classmates feeling like best friends. As I moved into adolescence, however, finding my place proved more difficult. In a small high school there are only two groups, the popular crowd and the rest of us. I was the latter. Although I will say the rest of us have grown up to be fascinating adults, a group of artists, academics, therapists and educators. I am grateful to have not been among the popular crowd as it allowed me to define my own margins (at least I can say that now as an adult looking back!).
When the idea hit me for a coming-of-age novel, Whispering Through Water, my small town upbringing provided an excellent backdrop. Adding the water imagery to the novel came naturally, not only for aesthetics, but also as both a symbol of freedom and a barrier. My students who were raised in the city were able to visualize opportunities I never knew existed until I got to college. (Now, I’m a mental health clinician, and I never knew what psychology was until I took an introductory psychology class as a college sophomore!) For a young protagonist taking a leap faith, the jump seems much larger when the launching pad is a small town. My novel ends before we know if the protagonist’s dreams of the big city and her future match her expectations. Although, I like to think she is realistically optimistic like me, taking every opportunity we can to learn, even if that means failing, because that’s the only thing moving us forward.
Whispering Through Water was released January 4, 2023 and can be purchased wherever books are sold.
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Rebecca W. Wheeler
School counselor, psychology educator, and yoga instructor.