In three of my novels…A Life Without Grace, Harmony House, and The Dreams of Teddy Schreck…I employ a neighborhood surrounding a strip of greenspace…Iske Park. The U-shaped park, isolated in a residential area of a Chicago suburb, serves as either a partial or total setting within these books. Main characters from each of them appear as secondary in the other two. I enjoyed rotating the protagonist among the novels and viewed the park as an extension of them.
I live across the street from a public park, dominated by a pond, but which also has a playground for young children at one end of it. Roughly two dozen homes surround the park, and among their residents live some of my closest friends. We’ve lived on Prince Pond for 26 years and have seen people move in and move away during that time. There’s a self-selecting quality to people who choose to live across the street from a public space. The loss of a degree of privacy accompanies the enjoyment of the area. Each spring and summer children and adults alike fish from the path that rings the pond. In winter, the park district waits for the ice to freeze to a suitable depth and then plows and polishes the surface for the ice skaters who proliferate. Long-term residence here can tempt one into feeling a bit proprietary about the view, about the property itself…”It’s my park!” That sense of community is what I had hoped to inject into the creation of Iske Park as the setting for those three novels.
I must have succeeded at some level. A friend of mine the other day, an excellent author…Cynthia Hamilton…sent me an email and referred to the park across the street from my house as Iske Park. The confusion of fact and fiction made me smile. Neighbors who have read my books recognize the artifice of the fictional park, wonder if it represents the real park, and even jump to the conclusion that perhaps one of the characters in the book reflects them. Such is the burden of an author whose friends read her or his work…constantly offering reassurances that those friends have not been lifted and dropped into a novel. The more discerning get it. They trust and respect imagination and are more inclined to see the author in the work than themselves.
But the community…in my case Iske Park…was an important aspect of each of the three books. (By the way…the name Iske comes from my wife’s mother’s maiden family name. I had hoped to honor the woman in a small way, but unfortunately, she passed away before my first novel, A Life Without Grace, was published. But the rest of the family understands.) Sense of place in a work always affects the characters and I wanted Iske Park to be both a unifying factor as well as a buffer between and among characters and their relationships. The park is secluded from the day-to-day scrutiny of the village in which they live, creating an environment for which they feel both responsibility and loyalty.
In my current work-in-progress, the themes of rooted familiarity and legacy continue. This time a family farmstead that evokes the sense of place that drives the actions of several of the characters. The draft should be finished sometime toward the end of March, with an expected publication date in mid-Spring.