I grew up in a house built on a retired potato field, in one of those small towns that constantly murmurs of moving on, of getting out. And right on schedule, as soon as I graduated from high school—in one of those school districts that treats the first day of Deer Season as a national holiday—I got out. I spent the next four years four hours away from home, then spent the following three months in France. Then, it was with a sigh of defeat that I came back—the magnetic pull to return home that every native Pittsburgher carries with her finally caught up with me, four years and three months later.
But then something unexpected started to happen to my writing. I’d spent all that time away, trying to write about patisseries in southern France, or nail down just the right words for the color of the Dwarf Buckeye tree, and it wasn’t until I came back to my run-of-the-mill, southwestern Pennsylvania life that I noticed my potato plot roots start to pop up in my writing. All of a sudden, my characters were gritty and not speaking properly. My scenes morphed from snobby attempts at describing a sort of catchall Parisian fantasy into muddy, bug-infested summers and still, wooded winters.
My stories became raw in their honesty, in the small, everyday graces that pepper their characters and scenes. And then I started looking for these things: for little spots of memory, sensory details from my childhood—like the way a patch of sunlight has of lighting up the dust in a room—that spoke to this truthiness from which I’d been forever shying away.
Coming home taught me that writing isn’t a fantasy. It’s dirty, sore, it skins its elbows on gravel, kicks up dust in the rearview mirror. It’s sometimes bloody, sometimes overwhelmingly still, sometimes it breaks your back. My collection of short stories works towards those moments of quiet grace that punctuate the silent hardships of everyday occurrences in a rural, blue-collar town.
In many ways, I have been heavily influenced by the work of Stuart Dybek , who captures poverty in the slums of Chicago with such grace and elegance that you want to meet his characters on the train, share a breakfast with them at a rickety kitchen table, listen to the radio. In my own work, I am interested in capturing similar everyday moments that reveal that raw honesty that seems to be characteristic of working-class backdrops, whether in 1960s Chicago or present-day rural Pennsylvania.