Friday, May 19, 2017

Everything You Need to Know About Kansas by Stuart R. West


When I tell people I write books set in or around Kansas, I’m either hit with dumb jokes (“I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Toto.”) or derision (“Do they have electricity in Kansas?”). Then they ask “why Kansas?” Besides the first rule of write what you know, Kansas holds a lot of variety and interesting locales for a thriller writer. Really.

So instead of explaining it time after time, I’m going to condense it into a basic primer. Here’s everything you need to know about Kansas. You’re welcome.

FACT: Cowboys and Indians (at least the “traditional” Roy Rogers types) aren’t running rampant through our dirt streets. Back in my college days, I had a friend from Venezuela who told me when he first came to Kansas (and don’t ask me how a Venezuelan ended up there!), he expected shoot-outs in the streets, barroom brawls, and guys in one-piece long-johns with a back flap.

Folks, Kansas isn’t the old Wild West. Not anymore. And it’s not all farmlands either. For instance, I live in a suburb ten minutes away from downtown, Kansas City, Missouri (where my book Chili Run takes place), and ten minutes from the growing, thriving megalopolis of Overland Park, Kansas (where the Zach and Zora books take place). If I feel like going farmland/country (see Ghosts of Gannaway), I can hit that in about thirty to forty minutes.

See? Variety! Everything a thriller writer could possibly want (excluding shark tales, natch).
 FACT: Kansas still has active pockets of the Ku Klux Klan and the mafia. Not really a selling point, just an unfortunate fact. And good-to-go villains should I ever need them. (Not everything’s up to date in Kansas City.)

FACT: It’s illegal to sing the alphabet on the streets at night in Topeka, Kansas. Don’t ask me why, but it’s true.  It’s also against the law to catch fish with your bare hands so take your penchant for noodling elsewhere, ‘cause it’s not wanted in Kansas. Here’s the best one: at one time it was against the law to serve ice cream on top of cherry pie. Thank goodness they changed that law.

FACT: Kansas is host to the world’s largest ball of twine, the world’s largest prairie dog, and possibly even more disturbing, the world’s largest hairball! That’s right! Kansas is known for its culture, too! (The hairball in question was taken from a cow’s stomach, weighing in at 55 pounds.)

FACT: Thank goodness plans to build a “Land of Oz” tourist attraction in Kansas were scrapped. Not only would it have done more damage to Kansas’s beleaguered reputation, but the last thing we needed were thousands of munchkins causing havoc in the streets. True riff-raff, I tell you.

FACT: Kansas alcohol laws are among the strictest in the United States. Prohibition lasted until 1948, longer than any other state. Until 2003, you couldn’t buy alcohol on a Sunday or have a glass of wine with dinner. Grocery stores still prohibit the sale of alcohol (unless it’s 3.2% beer). There’re some really strange, detailed laws governing alcohol. The legislators had a whole lotta’ time on their hands since they weren’t drinking.

FACT: Kansas led the way in feminism and civil rights! The first woman mayor in the United States was elected in Argonia, Kansas in 1887. And the first black woman to win an Academy Award was Kansan Hattie McDaniel for Gone With the Wind. Take that California and New York!

FACT: Kansas has the largest population of wild grouse in North America and I don’t even know what a “grouse” is.

FACT: Kansas is home to two “Big 12” colleges: The University of Kansas and Kansas State. Oddly enough, they hate one another. I should know. I lived through the KU/K-State riots in the ‘80’s. Just like in the old Wild West, people ran through the streets smashing windows and beating people. I guess not too much has changed after all.

There you have it, everything you need to know about Kansas and then some. And, of course, you can read all about the seedy, secret underbelly of Kansas in my books. 

I dunno…maybe I should just move.