Sometimes I feel like Montana has a one-dimensional image in the public eye. Most people who read fictional literature written about our state can probably describe that image with ease.
Realistically, Montana is a giant and very diverse place. Yes, we tend to lean Republican in national elections (although the only people who know that are probably from here, because our electoral vote is tiny), but that's about the only thing that's consistent here. Montana is anything but one-dimensional! Anything but flat (topographically, culturally, metaphorically... any "-ally" you want... even though we lean Presidentially Republican, we have a Democratic governor, just for instance).
For instance, if you take I-90 across the state, it takes you almost fourteen hours to cross Montana (if you go the speed limit, which, let's face it, we rarely do). And when you cross one border, near the Teddy Roosevelt National Park, you are in a very different culture/topography than when you cross the other border, in the midst of the Lolo National Forest, and near Wallace, ID (where Dante's Peak was filmed).
Montana's culture is not just the cowboy west. And it's not just the mountains. Yes, our total population as a state is less than the city of Portland, but that collection of 1 million+ people is as diverse as any urban area of similar size (perhaps not as racially diverse as a place like Portland or Minneapolis, although all the Montana cities seem to be much more racially diverse than they were when I grew up here). But culturally, we are very diverse.
For instance. It's very common for different areas in Montana to have unique cultures based on the immigrants who settled here. My area of the state (especially living right on the border, where a lot of Scottish immigrants crossed over from Canada in the early 20th centuray) was very Scottish and Norwegian. The area I went to high school (farther toward the center of the state) was very German. To the point where it wasn't uncommon for my classmates' grandparents to speak German in their home because they were immigrants. Most of my classmates' parents, while being first-generation immigrants, were also bilingual. In the area I currently live (around Bozeman), there are huge pockets of Dutch culture. And, of course, Butte (also known as Butte America) is famous for its Irish culture. We've all heard stories about St. Patty's Day in Butte (or been part of stories ourselves...).
As opposed to most places in the East and South, the West is pretty new. So most of us, in these rural areas especially, are more connected to our recent immigrant roots than people whose families emigrated in the 16th and 17th centuries. My dad is a first generation American. And that's not uncommon for people of his age, where I grew up. My family hasn't even been in America for 100 years yet. Many of the buildings in Bozeman (where I currently live) are less than a century old.
Then, you have the different cultures based on geography or topography. The rural cultures of the northeast and the north central and the northwest are very different. Their geography creates a different culture. While agriculture might be a commonality across the state, the types of agriculture even create different cultures. A cultural truism that holds fast in Eureka might not be the same for Sidney. And something that is true of Billings might not be true of Missoula. What about a major University culture in Malta? Or a wheat farm in St. Regis? Or a logging industry in Plentywood (that's where I grew up... funny story.. no trees!)? We have two Thai restaurants in Bozeman. And an Indian restaurant. Yes, we also have rodeos and cowboy hats, cattle ranchers and farmers, but that it not the sum of the parts of Montana. I would like to see a book about the biofilm culture in Bozeman. Or the writing culture in Missoula. Or the medical culture in Billings. Or the college culture in Glendive. Or the snowboarding culture of Big Sky. Or the art culture in Kalispell.
We are a great state. And not just in the "we're awesome" way. Also in the big, bold, and different way. Montana isn't just the home of cowboys and farmers. It's also home to scientists, restauranteurs, hippies, musicians, techies, actors, doctors, chefs, athletes, artists, clothing designers, etc.
And, of course, as everyone here can attest, fabulous writers! :-)
What do you think? What are the major stereotypes you see in writing about Montana? What do you love about books set in Montana? What particular part of Montanan culture do you write about?
**Stop by my blog (New Kid on the Writers Block) to see what I have to say about fictional stories set specifically in Bozeman--my hometown.**
***Also, all photography in this post is mine. Courtesy of... well... me.***