Sunday, July 08, 2007

True Dreams of Wichita

I'm going to Wichita--
far from this opera evermore

I don't usually talk about pitches here. Or anywhere, really. But I think I'm about to pitch something set in my longtime hometown of Wichita, Kansas.

It was suggested to me by an editor that I set a book in the South or a "red state," and I've been kicking it around. Frankly, Wichita is the virtual epitome of the heartland. Of the true Midwest. It's probably the largest "small" city in the Midwest. The largest city in Kansas, which is located in the literal center of the country. It's flat and windy, brutally hot in the summer, brutally cold in the winter. Spring and fall tend to pop in and out randomly for a day or two at a time, dancing briefly between nasty, hot days or frigid, blustery days. The people in Wichita lean just to the right of center generally, but, like anywhere, there are pockets that lean to the far right and to the far left.

but I must have been dreaming again 'cause there's nothing around the bend
except for that flat fine line, the Wichita skyline

Wichita was home to "BTK," a serial killer who snagged headlines a year or two ago when he came out of hiding and found himself busted. Also to the Carr brothers, two young black men who, one winter night, broke into a home in East Wichita and robbed, sexually tortured, beat, shot and ran over five young white people. One of the victims survived the ordeal to testify against the brothers. Of course, a less publicized event had occured a week or two earlier when five young black people were shot to death in a home in a less upscale part of town.

come to Wichita
won't be there in forty days
this is an evil land
brings a devil's cloud

One of the things about a city the size of Wichita (roughly 300,000 people) is that when a major event occurs, you can be positive someone you know was affected. So, as it would happen, one of the victims of the Carr brothers was the sister of a friend's girlfriend's roommate. My friend's girlfriend took the call from the Wichita DA the morning after the murders. And, so, the BTK killer was married to a woman who attended my in-laws' wedding. Wichita is really just a big, small town, and you can't really wander too far without running into someone you know, and, often, it's someone who knows a bit of your business. When my wife and I first found out she was pregnant, we told our parents (all of whom still live in Wichita), and that was it. Within three days, a friend from Wichita had called my wife, wondering why she hadn't been told "the big news."

Jack Straw from Wichita cut his buddy down
and dug for him a shallow grave and laid his body down

There's money in Wichita (which houses more than one corporate headquarters, and, as "the Air Capital," is the epicenter of the nation's aviation industry), and people with money will sometimes grow bored with Wichita's slightly limited entertainment options, and embark upon sloppy affairs or reckless second childhoods.

wiped-out wasted Wichita
watch out where I am
last time I's in Wichita
I did not give a damn

There's also something hard to define about Wichita. Something kind of melancholy. It's a place you either know you're leaving when you're young, or you know you'll never leave. The edges of town appear quickly, and within moments you can drive from a congested intersection to wide open highway, with nothing in view but stars and road. When I'm back in Wichita, it feels like I'm in a giant fishbowl. There's almost no way to get lost in Wichita. Drive a few blocks one way or the other, and you'll hit one of the numbered streets that runs East to West all the way through town, and you're on your way back to wherever it is you thought you wanted to be. And once you get there, it's often tempting to just keep right on driving into the endless skyline.

I hear you singing in the wire
I can hear you through the wire
and the Wichita lineman
is still on the line

Anyway, I'm working something up set in Wichita. If it flies, we'll see how the folks back home like it.


Mellon said...

how dare you shun the coasts and set a story in the middle of nowhere.


looking forward to hearing what it actually is.


Geoff said...

OK... I can honestly say I have never spent 2 seconds thinking about Wichita, until now. Even if nothing comes of your proposal, you made me interested in Wichita for a few minutes.

B. Clay Moore said...

Sadly, my attention has already shifted from Wichita to someplace more like...Joplin.

Gabriel said...

Perfect description of Wichita. Except you left out the part where the aviation Industry is slowly abandoning this place for greener pastures, making this the mediocre sequel to Detroit