My parents moved us around quite a bit when I was growing up, from the east coast to the west coast and back again, which may be why I’ve become a place-based writer as an adult. I think I’ve always been on the lookout for my true homeplace. Pennsylvania? New Jersey? California? Florida? Home always seemed to be somewhere other than where we were living. Over there, or there! I’ve long been envious of people with deep family roots in one state, city, town. One of my favorite books is Scott Russell Sanders’ Staying Put: Making a Home in a Restless World. It’s important, I believe, to know one’s place, literally and figuratively, and my fiction and creative nonfiction all probably boil down to this ceaseless and never fully successful effort of mine.
I didn’t love the place-based writing of Henry David Thoreau when I first encountered his work as a college student, for all the reasons that some of my younger (and even some of my older) college students at Florida Atlantic University don’t quite cotton to it, or him. Thoreau seemed stuffy and remote, and I didn’t get his jokes. I was anxious to call him out for what I took to be inconsistencies or oversights in his arguments about where he lived and what he lived for, and how the rest of us were all doing it wrong. Oh, was I an insufferable smarty-pants! But writers and their books, I’ve come to learn, can mean something different to readers at different stages of their lives, and this has been the case with Thoreau and me.
As I returned to Walden and some of Thoreau’s essays and Journal entries as an older adult, raising three kids with my wife in south Florida, the less I saw him as an imperious recluse and the more I saw him as, well, a young man (he would only make it to 44) just trying to find his place in the world and quite generously sharing his struggles with us so that we might undertake our own journeys toward self-discovery, and home. In my novel, The World That We Are, I tried to evoke the young Thoreau that I imagine inhabited the small town of Concord, a man who was fiercely attached to family and friends, who early on suffered the heartbreak of romantic loss and the loss of his dear brother. To add a tantalizing contemporary element to the novel, and to engage more fully with the issues of family, individuality, and community broached by Thoreau’s life and work—matters that all of us still grapple with today—I invented a present-day plotline and set of characters, as well. This plotline involves an aging scholar of Thoreau, haunted also by family tragedy, seeking to repair his relationship with his estranged adult daughter who returns home to Maine under mysterious circumstances after a ten-year absence.
While much of my previous and ongoing writing evokes my current homeplace of Florida, I’ve been hooked by this backwater in Downeast Maine that I’ve imagined in The World That We Are. So much so that I’ve continued to write several stories set in this fictional town involving both the major and supporting characters of my novel. Several of these stories have appeared or are forthcoming in various litmags, including Santa Monica Review, Potomac Review, Southern Indiana Review, Grist, Solstice, Cold Mountain Review, and Oyster River Pages. Other short works of my prose have appeared in The Southern Review, Oxford American, Ecotone, Terrain.org, Willow Springs, The Florida Review, and Prairie Schooner, which selected my essay, “Quarantine,” for the 2021 Glenna Luschei Award. My most recent books include the novels Jewfish (Little Curlew Press, 2020) and Goldens Are Here (Green Writers Press, 2018), and the memoir Bitten: My Unexpected Love Affair with Florida (University Press of Florida, 2014), which was named a finalist for the ASLE Environmental Book Award.
When I’m not writing, reading, or teaching, you can probably find me swimming rather too competitively at one of my local pools or the ocean, or fishing out there over one of our reefs, or bird-watching, or surfing (my latest hobby!), or gardening in our backyard (which principally involves yanking weeds), or giving our wonder-dog, Storm, his exercise at our local dog beach with my wife and our youngest child, Eva, combing the sand for the perfect piece of sea glass or sea turtle hatchlings.
Regal House Publishing is proud to bring you The World That We Are in the fall of 2025.