I recently read two books that took place in PA, one fiction, the other non-fiction. Baker Towers is the story of a Polish-Italian PA family, which was intriguing since I’m from a Polish-Italian family (except in my family the husband was the Italian, not the wife, & they met in Brooklyn, not PA). I found it lacking because there were historical inaccuracies – there were no Magic Markers during WWII, women used eyeliner to draw their stockings’ seams, – and because the writing was competent, but not interesting, and the characters were so arm’s-distanced that it was hard to feel for them.
The other, called The Day the Earth Caved In, was about the Centralia mine fire, & while it was good, it was â€“ also kind of dully told.
You’d think a mine fire – and a mine disaster – would be easy to make interesting. Maybe thereâ€™s something about writing about PA that people feel they canâ€™t be a little flash when they write.
& I say all that because I’ve written two novels (as yet unpublished) that deal, to a large or small degree, with PA, and with coal towns, and even with WWII. Jennifer Finney Boylan tells me there is a whole literature surrounding the Centralia mine fire these days, and that Harper’s Magazine even did an article about it. (Ms. Boylan has also written two books, The Planets, and The Constellations, that take place in PA, & involve mine fires).
I feel sometimes like a reverse snob; I donâ€™t care for literary writers much, except when they’re very very good (like Tolstoy, like Calvino). I’d like to be a writer who sells books. Honestly, trying to be literary probably set my writing back quite a few years. I look back at some of the stories I wrote before college & they have clearer voices than some later stories (but, like most juvenilia, they have almost no authority to them.)
Anyway. I think Twain said once, never let literature get in the way of your writing. Or something similar.