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Notes from the Nineties: Upstate is…where, exactly?

March 25, 2016

This is the fifth and final preview of my upcoming collection of short stories and poems, Notes from the Nineties. In the first part, I explained the background behind the first story and poem pair, Cois Fharriage and Ag an gCrosaire. In the second part, I took a look at some of my experiences in Japan that informed Asian Dreams and Training the Mountain Warrior. In the third part, I delved into the “true story” of The Lost Bunny Shrine of Annandale. The fourth and penultimate part, I talked 
about my brief experience with occultism and the wisdom of teeth that led to The Four Teeth of the Apocrypha.

DSC00484I’m from New York. No, not New York City. No, not Niagara Falls (the Canadian horseshoe looks better, anyhow). Yes, there is something in between. An awful lot of something, actually. In fact, the oldest and still largest state park in the US comprises most of Upstate New York.

Yes, I’m from the Adirondacks. But it’s more complicated.

Four of the stories in Notes from the Nineties are unashamedly set in Upstate New York.

No, not Yonkers or White Plains. To those of us in the real Upstate, those places are suburbs of NYC and therefore ineligible to be called Upstate. See “The Firebrand” to see how someone from Upstate views that area of the state (hint: incredibly attractive, overwhelmingly confusing, and best limited to brief trips to retain one’s sanity). Whereas the novel takes place all over the Upstate area, from Batavia to Glens Falls, the stories here take place in the Route 9 “corridor” that runs from the tip of Manhattan (where it is called Broadway) through the state of Albany to Montreal. (This follows an old Native American trail, by the way, for history buffs.)

“Father Knows Least” was my attempt to link this book of stories to my “literary baseball” novel, Approaching Twi-Night. Readers of the novel may recognize some character names, particularly once they figure out who the narrator is. (The new ebook version of the novel includes an excerpt from the short story…). The narrator and some of the characters reappear in “The Firebrand,” which is set in a car (basically). In this story, the narrator is home for the winter break from college in Albany, and finds out that all is not well. ’80s and ’90s cultural references abound, in between family struggles.

“Boys Will be Boys” is likewise set in Upstate, primarily in a camp site area in a rural county. This was the most difficult of the stories to write; much of it is based on personal experiences, much of it fiction, and the more I wrote, the harder it became to separate the two. Memories are triggered by smells as well as sounds; I tried to include specific olfactory and audio details to counter the emotional impact of a traumatic experience for the young protagonist. The story may trigger similar memories for some readers; it triggered me.

“Pockets” and “The Green and the Grey” were both originally in my undergraduate thesis and, unlike other stories from that time period (’93-’94) have survived largely intact. “Pockets” quite clearly takes place on a college campus (essentially the same college as “The Lost Bunny Shrine of Annandale,” although the story doesn’t specifically say so). I deliberately used third-person rather than first-person, which allowed me to insert a bizarre paragraph in italics to create a dreamlike sequence. My beta readers were confused by this section and complained that they weren’t sure whether what had happened was real or not. To which my response was, That’s kind of the point.

They also expressed some confusion at the abrupt end of “The Green and the Grey,” which is a first-person story about a conversation about war and religion on a bus ride through the lower Hudson Valley. After hearing about various conflicts in the ’90s (Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Somalia), why does the narrator react by looking out the window at snow? Does his “bag” have something to do with it? Why does he greet unnamed and undescribed friends waiting for him in a restaurant with the words…?

Ah, but that would be telling.


Hope you have enjoyed this series of previews. The ebook is now available online at several Kindle stores, and the paperback is already available at several non-Amazon stores (see the Notes from the Nineties page for all links). Don’t forget the Goodreads Giveaway! Ends May 1, 2016. Enter for a chance to win 1 of 10 signed paperback copies (sorry, I can’t sign an ebook…yes, I have been asked, facetiously…).

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