Wednesday, July 21, 2010
A Sense of Place and the Impact on Writer and Protagonist
Guest blog by Carolyn J. Rose
From the moment I opened a book by Zane Grey at the age of ten, I wanted to escape from the Catskill Mountains, to go west, to live beneath a huge expanse of sky. I dreamed of being away, of setting myself loose from the hold of family and place, of floating like a milkweed seed to some new place with a future only I would determine. I gave that same desire to Dan Stone, the protagonist of Hemlock Lake, knowing it would lead to conflict.
Like me, he headed west when high school was finished. Like me, after a few years his visits home were infrequent. Like me, he found that he could leave the place, but that the place never left him. A break with the past is seldom clean, wounds inflicted then can fester for a lifetime, love given or withheld can change the course of a life.
My memories of the hollows and ridges, the creeks and rills, are like stones in those centuries-old walls piled up when fields were cleared. Like those stones tumbled by frost, smoothed by passing years, worn by lichens, each of my memories is still distinct. In writing Hemlock Lake, my aim was to give readers a sense of time passing in the Catskill Mountains—of spring giving way to summer, summer being eclipsed by fall. I hoped to share not only a sense of physical/geographic place, but a sense of small-town social place as well.
Because of their size and population, cities offer a sense of anonymity that small towns don’t. There are far fewer fish in the small-town bowl, and they are far more visible. In a small town, although there are few who openly “spy” on other, there are also few secrets.
I’ve also found that among many long-time residents of small towns there is an ironclad sense of heritage—you are who you are because of what members of your family accomplished or failed at, and the way in which they interacted with others through the years. Were they calm and capable, angry and obstructive, helpful and full of good humor, picky and passionate? Because of that past, there are expectations and observations. There is a sense of knowing and predictability. There are roles and responsibilities. You can accept them or reject them, but there’s a price either way.
Dan Stone found all of that confining, another reason to leave his home at Hemlock Lake. And that creates conflict when, to solve a mystery, he returns to the community where he grew up. He finds that it is as if he renounced his citizenship and forfeited his passport when he left. He discovers that by attempting to forge an identity of his own, he created the impression that he was better than those who chose to stay. Stranded in a social no-man’s land, his job becomes more challenging.
As summer sizzles on and crimes escalate, Dan wonders if he can break through perceptions and misperceptions and carve out a niche for himself. And he also wonders, as many of us might, whether he should just walk away—and stay away.
Had I grown up in Atlanta or Omaha or Los Angeles, I might still have written a mystery that dealt with love, loss, belonging, and betrayal. Or, maybe not.
Carolyn J. Rose grew up in New York’s Catskill Mountains, graduated from the University of Arizona, logged two years in Arkansas with Volunteers in Service to America and spent 25 years as a television news researcher, writer, producer, and assignment editor in Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. She has published a number of mysteries and lives in Vancouver, Washington, with her husband, radio air personality Mike Phillips, and a motley collection of pets. Surf to www.deadlyduomysteries.com for more information.
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My Review of Hemlock Lake: Just finished reading an ARC of Carolyn J. Rose's Hemlock Lake and it was great. I've been really busy, with little time to read, but once I got into this one, I had to keep right on going.
Set in a small Catskill Mountain community, Hemlock Lake is feeling the pains of the development of luxury homes. The neighbors are up in arms but someone takes the protest a bit further with arson and attempted murder. The hero is Sergeant Dan Stone who lost his wife in the lake at their family home as well as his brother, who committed suicide immediately afterward.
There are plenty of twists and turns as Dan battles his demons while trying to discover who is really behind all the destruction.
Wonderful read with many surprises.
Thanks for being my guest today, Carolyn. And everyone, her book Hemlock Lake is available today!