“I know these woods.”
Robin Hood, in Robin and Marian
I know something of rural New York, which makes me biased toward regional writers who set their stories there. I know those woods.
Place matters. It is significant that something happens in one place and not another. And if particular experiences in particular places don’t matter, what the heck does?
Here are three regional writers I like. They have different subjects and styles. What they have in common is an exquisite sense of place.
Beth Peyton’s memoir, Clear Skies, Deep Water, was the best book surprise of the summer. It is about a lot of things: life in a lakeside village after the summer people have gone home, having the courage to love deeply and passionately, the hard work that comes on the heels of choosing to follow a dream, and finding the place just right, meaning home.
Clear Skies is a particular story—personal, individual, and rooted in a real place—but it also is bigger than the simply regional.
Mary Pat Hyland
Mary Pat Hyland is an Irish-American writer who lives in the Southern Tier area of upstate New York (generally, west of the Catskill Mountains and along the northern border of Pennsylvania, including the cities of Binghamton, Elmira, and Corning). She is the author of six novels and a new collection of stories, In the Shadow of the Onion Domes.
Her stories are fictional but feel real. They grow out of deep knowledge of the place where she lives.
Anne Sneller is the only writer I know of who published her first book at age eighty. As it happened, she didn’t publish a second one, but not because she couldn’t have. She lived well into her nineties, probably vigorous and observant to the end.
The book is a memoir titled A Vanished World. It goes WAY back; Anne Sneller was born in 1883 on a farm in Cicero, New York. A dust jacket photo on the first edition shows a good-looking woman; she must have been beautiful when she was younger.
In A Vanished World, she says, “Look! This is how it was. This is what my mother’s house looked like; this is what my crazy uncle was like, and my hard-worked and underappreciated aunts. Here are some images of death. And here are some of life.”
In my first novel, I quoted a passage from A Vanished World. That makes me the only writer in the history of the universe to quote a rural New York memoir in a science fiction novel set in the 22nd century. I hope that makes me interesting; it certainly makes me unusual.
I’m working on a story cycle with the working title of The Green Town Stories. It, too, is set in the 22nd century. However, Green Town is very old. In its earliest incarnation it strongly resembled the real Chautauqua, New York. At that point in its history its name was New Albion. It was a long strange trip to Green Town.
Chautauqua science fiction? I think that is another first.