When I was searching for an upstate New York setting for my new novel, What Remains Unsaid, I couldn’t find the perfect town. So I made one up.

I grew up in a small—very small—town. One traffic light, one grocery story, a post office, and a population of 1,500 or so spread over fifty square miles. But the real town of Hillsdale wasn’t quite right as a setting for the book.

Hillsdale’s traffic light (from Google maps)

For one thing, it was too far from Syracuse, where much of the book’s early action takes place. Also, I wanted no confusion about the fact that this book is fiction, not memoir (you’ll see why when you read it). So I came up with the fictional town of Dyerville. I conceived of it as Hillsdale transplanted a couple hundred miles to the northwest, about halfway between Syracuse and Ithaca.

Ginny, one of the five characters whose lives the book explores, spent her formative years in Dyerville with her best friend Nora and her first love, Keith. Yet it’s a place she can’t wait to leave.

Elements of my experience growing up in rural New York echo Ginny’s, although our feelings about it diverge. For her, the town becomes not merely a backdrop to the novel’s action but also a symbol of stagnation, ordinariness, and decline.

Ginny escapes to the Manhattan suburbs and eventually to California, while other characters remain rooted in Dyerville. But Ginny never forgets the house she grew up in—which she inherits after her parents’ deaths—or the woods she roamed as a child and where she and Keith first connected as young teens. These settings remain more vivid for her than many present-day locales.

On the road outside my childhood home. (Personal photo, circa 1969)

The pull of the past

The experiences of early childhood are often intimately connected with place. I’ve now lived in California for more than 25 years but still feel the tug of my childhood home. In What Remains Unsaid, I dip into that well of memory and the often painful nostalgia that accompanies it.

Winter in Hillsdale. (Personal photo)

A couple of years ago, I wrote about the complex relationship between fiction and reality. You can read that post here.

If you have questions about where my ideas came from (or anything else), head on over to my “Ask the Author” page on Goodreads, where I’m answering questions about the book for the rest of the month.

You can read What Remains Unsaid now on Kindle

If Kindle’s not your thing, stay tuned. Other editions, including a print version, will follow over the next few months. But remember you can download a free Kindle app for your phone or tablet that lets you read on any device.

Appearances

For readers in the Bay Area, here are some places I’ll be over the next month:

Sunday, May 21, 9:30 – 11:30 a.m. (event goes until 5)
Barnes & Noble, 11 West Hillsdale Blvd., San Mateo, CA
Reading with other local authors in an event sponsored by the SF/Peninsula Branch of California Writers Club.

Saturday and Sunday, June 3-4
Bay Area Book Festival, Berkeley, CA
Hanging out at the Sand Hill Review Press booth with fellow authors and attending some of the fabulous events.

Saturday, June 17, 2:45 – 4:00 p.m.
San Mateo County Fair Literary Arts Stage – Author Day
Selling books with other local authors.

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17 thoughts on “Where do stories come from?

  1. Maybe I write fantasy because I grew up in a tract house in a Southern California suburb — so terribly un-special. I envy you the small town as a place to be nostalgic about. And the pix are beautiful. Would I have wanted to leave such a place? I can’t really imagine… because I can’t imagine living there. I guess I should read your book!

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  2. I did not realize you grew up on the east coast. I really enjoyed how you wrote about Dyerville–I could picture it so well and feel Ginny’s desire to escape it and Nora’s desire to return. Great post!

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    • Yes, born in New Jersey, grew up in NY state! I didn’t have quite as negative a reaction to Hillsdale as Ginny did to Dyerville, but thoughts of escape definitely permeated my childhood. Thanks as always for reading and commenting.

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