Gary, Indiana: My Writing Inspiration


Since its inception, this blog has been about how I write and my efforts to get published. I’ve had some success. Though I’ve published short stories, a published novel is my ultimate goal. This time I want to discuss the inspiration behind my full-length manuscripts. As you can guess from the title of today’s post, it’s my hometown of Gary, Indiana.

Gary, Indiana? Seriously?

There’s a saying: write what you know. Or even: write what you don’t know! Well I’ve done both with my two historical manuscripts. My setting is in the place I’m familiar with, but there was so much about it I didn’t know.

My first completed manuscript, Striving After Wind, is the story of a former slave woman in 19th century northwest Indiana whose trials and tribulations while living along the Little Calumet River compromise her ability to achieve true freedom. A small press out of Chicago requested the full manuscript, so I’m here, compulsively checking my emails and voice messages for a yea or nay. It’s the farthest I’ve gotten on my five-year publication journey. My work-in-progress, tentatively titled Amid Fiery Beasts, tells of an angel stuck on earth (but in Gary, Indiana) during Prohibition. His lengthy stay is causing his physical body to disintegrate. Only a Lightbearer, the human descendant of an angel, can stop his transition into a demon.

I’ve chosen Gary as my setting because I’ve always heard about the glory days before 1970 (which is sad to say because the country’s first black mayors were elected in both Gary and Cleveland in 1969.) I’ve seen pictures of a vibrant downtown, beautifully manicured school campuses and an abundance of places and activities for an active social life. A lot of that is gone now. What outsiders see and post on social media are crumbling and abandoned buildings, a struggling school district and young folks desperate to leave. Certain people perceive this as a place to avoid when the sun goes down. I expect, and usually get, a negative reaction when I disclose where I live. So I want to tell of the city’s glorious– and oftentimes infamous– past. All of it fodder for my active imagination.

Everyone knows the basics: the city was a company town founded by the United States Steel Corporation in 1906. While that may not sound all that interesting, US Steel’s acquisition of the land for the mill and the city is. Milwaukee was the first choice, but the discovery of an unpopulated, marshy, swampy region right on the shores of Lake Michigan and nestled between the Grand Calumet and Little Calumet Rivers was easier to acquire. In 1893, the Chicago stockyards threatened to move operations into that very spot in northwest Indiana. Hoping to cash in, people began purchasing all that property. But it was just a negotiating tactic, and the stockyards stayed put. Now those people were stuck with land they couldn’t unload…that is, until 1905 when A.F. Knotts, under the authorization of steel executive Judge Elbert Gary, made secret purchases of that property in cash.

Within a year, Gary, Indiana was born and its storied history began.

I want my friends and neighbors to appreciate what Gary was, not what the media and surrounding towns perceive us to be. I picture my best-selling novels being made into blockbuster movie epics filmed right here. And the public becomes so interested in and intrigued by the setting that they flock to the place, ushering in a new era that rivals the city’s “Augustan Age” back in the 1920s (a girl can dream, right?)

Subsequent posts will concentrate on the history I’ve learned and how it inspired my two manuscripts. Hopefully, you’ll see the profound effect setting can have on a story and (geek alert!) how much fun researching that information can be.

Next time, I’ll tell you how a 20-year feud along the Little Calumet River turned the Midwest into the wild west and birthed my first manuscript, Striving After Wind.


About Michelle McGill-Vargas

Michelle hails from Gary, Indiana where she enjoys writing historical fiction, flash fiction, and short stories. Her writings have appeared in "Lutheran Witness", "Splickety Magazine", "The Copperfield Review", and "Typehouse Literary Magazine." She served as vice-president of the Indiana Writers' Consortium. Until the day her historical fiction manuscripts get published, she pays the bills as a special education administrator with a background in deaf education. In October 2018, she will be a contributor to Concordia Publishing House's quarterly devotional series "Portals of Prayer." Visit her blog at
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2 Responses to Gary, Indiana: My Writing Inspiration

  1. Glad you found a SMP to look at your novel. SMP is excellent for niche markets. Hope you get good news.

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