One day in the summer of 2001, a few weeks before planes flew into the Twin Towers, I sat down at my clunky IBM-clone desktop and tapped out a scene about a young guy, back in his hometown after a short stretch in jail, who meets an old girlfriend while working behind the counter at a fast food joint. I don’t know where the scene came from. I was working on a very different story, a historical novel set in 1940s Virginia, but that morning when I sat down to write, the guy and the girl and the fast food place were just there, demanding to be written.
Twenty years later, that scene is still in my novel Blithedale Canyon, more or less intact. Everything else about the novel has changed. Everything else about me has changed. A few years after that pre-9/11 morning, I abandoned the big historical novel and wrote another, very different novel. Then I wrote yet another, very different novel. My wife and I adopted a child and we moved first to New York City and then to Canada. All the while, between drafts of other things, I would peek at that story of the guy and the girl and the fast food joint, writing a chapter or two and dropping it, writing another chapter and dropping it, until finally a few years ago I set aside my other projects and settled in to finish what became Blithedale Canyon, which Regal House will publish in 2022.
In this way, the third novel I wrote came to be the first novel I will publish. (The other two will see the light of day, I swear!) In the meantime, I’ve built a twenty-five-year career in the classroom, teaching at Fordham University in New York and the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, among other places. I’ve also worked for many years as a journalist and critic. Since 2011, I’ve been a contributing editor at Poets & Writers Magazine and a staff writer at The Millions, and my work has appeared in The New York Times, The Globe and Mail, The Economist, Salon, and Literary Hub. And, of course, I’ve published short stories, in print and online, in Tin House, december, The Southampton Review, The Common, River City, and many other journals.
But now, after twenty years on my hard drive, Blithedale Canyon will finally find its way between hard covers. I used my hometown, Mill Valley, California, as its setting, and filled the book with sights and sounds and smells from my childhood – the park where I played Little League baseball, the crumbling World War II-era artillery bunkers where we partied in high school, the eucalyptus-scented hills where my parents still live. Everything else is fiction. But the book is, at heart, about hometowns, that place we are all itching to leave but which we know will always be there to take us back when we fall.