William Faulkner had Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi. Stephen King had Castle Rock, Maine. Scott Turow had Kindle County, Illinois. None of the residents of these places paid property taxes…or any other taxes, come to think of it. They were all as fictional as the regions in which they dwelt.

I have Onteora County, NY. Like the ones mentioned above, there’s no such place, though there was at one time a tribe of Onteora Indians that lived just west of the Hudson River. I located my fictional playground in the center of continental New York because I did part of my growing-up there, and because I’ve long felt that the New York Metro region unfairly occludes the rest of the state, which is nothing like it.

A fictional landscape presents the writer with both opportunities and challenges. It does help him to avoid unfortunate collisions with real-world places and events, but the cost – the creation of a place and a populace for it that bear some resemblance to real places and peoples – is considerable as well. It can be tough to imbue such a place with verisimilitude, especially if the writer wants to stage genuinely unusual doings there.

Onteora is physically ordinary, a central New York hinterland of “trees and rutted roads and infinite silence” (Chosen One) but remarkable in human terms, a locale that breeds both extraordinary heroes and despicable villains. At least, that’s been my intention. It seemed best to keep such a womb of drama from being identified with a real place, though on occasion readers have written to ask if I had any real place in mind in constructing Onteora.

I’ll be posting the “disconnected” stories of Onteora County – i.e., those that aren’t embedded in a novel and won’t be any time soon – over the next few weeks. Perhaps they’ll bring you some amusement.

All my best,

Fran

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