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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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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