Urban Tribes: Writing What You Know

I am writing this entry in a coffee shop in downtown Omaha, where I’m sitting with two friends of mine whom I know through the local NaNoWriMo group. They have organized their own monthly event called Third Tuesday Tea Time, in which they invite their friends to come and meet them at a coffeehouse, hang out, drink tea (or coffee, if they prefer), and write. They get the word out about these events the simplest, fastest, and most far-reaching way possible: by posting about it on Facebook. The NaNoWriMo group in our region uses the same technique to bring people together. It has its own Facebook Page that we use to stay in touch with each other about who’s going to be at our weekly get-togethers. Yes, some of us are good enough friends that we want to see each other all year round.

Last month, I read a book titled The Great Emergencewhich I enjoyed and valued very much (the link goes to my review of the book on Goodreads). One of the many helpful concepts that I took away from this book was the concept of the urban tribe. The author, Phyllis Tickle, explained the concept in these words in the study guide section of her book: “Ethan Watters’ book Urban Tribes describes the phenomenon of collegiate and post-collegiate peers who function, for all intents and purposes, as family for one another. These adults choose to remain single or delay marriage (as well as starting a family) and focus intently on their careers and their social relationships with their urban tribe. Watters, both through research and his own personal experience, describes the urban tribe overall as loyal, supportive, and generative.” (Tickle)* This concept resonated with me because that’s exactly what the NaNoWriMo group has become for me. They’re a group of friends who act like family for each other.

November 2012 was my first November in Omaha, and for NaNoWriMo that year, I attempted to write a fictionalized version of the experience I’d had of moving to Omaha. That novel draft currently has the working title of Upriver, but that will definitely change before publication. I set the story in a traditional fantasy world, but I didn’t find the project particularly compelling, so I haven’t finished it yet. Recently, though, I’ve discovered two ideas that I can add to that story to make it worth telling. The first is the concept of the urban tribe. My urban tribe is one of the best parts of living here, and I would really like to explore and celebrate that phenomenon in my novel. The second idea has to do with the role of magic in this fantasy world.

There is a short story by Larry Niven called The Magic Goes Away. That story is set in a fantasy world where all the magic is gradually being used up, so that magic will eventually cease to exist there. I’ve decided that the setting of my novel will be the exact opposite of that setting. In the world of my novel, the magic won’t be going away – it will be a new phenomenon that has arisen within the last 50 years or so, and it will be growing stronger. For this story, I decided to use magic as an analogue for digital technology so that I could write what I know, but make ‘what I know’ more fun and exciting than it is in reality. For example, I have my protagonist working in a magical guildhall that parallels the network command center where I work. When I finish and revise this novel, I will still be writing what I know, but I will try to look outside myself more and focus more on the broader society of which my character is a part. Having a setting where the magic is bursting forth (as opposed to going away) will allow me to write about the effects of new technology on society, while using a different plot thread to focus on new kinds of social relationships. In short, this novel will explore and celebrate newly-emerging ways of life. I don’t know when I’ll get back to this novel; it will have to be after I get rolling on my podcast, and after I’ve read Niven’s and Watters’ books.

A meta-blogging side note: Yes, I do realize that I’m falling into the old “writing about writing” trap here. Of the 12 posts I’ve made on this blog so far (including this one), six of them have been categorized under “Writing,” and they’ve all been about stories I plan to write, or am in the process of revising. Meanwhile, I still haven’t made any of my original writing available to the public, in either text or audio format. I know I need to devote some time to actually writing the stories themselves, and I intend to do so within the coming week.

* Work Cited:

Tickle, Phyllis. The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2012. Ebook.


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