I like to say I grew up on both the north and south ends of Western PA. Born in Erie, I have a deep love for the Great Lakes region (the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth) and still visit the beaches at Presque Isle, the peninsula of 11 beaches that stretches into Lake Erie, whenever I’m in town. I actually like going out there after the first snowfall to drive through what looks like a magical winter wonderland! It’s the place my soul calls home.
My other childhood home was my grandmother’s house in McDonald, the small town southwest of Pittsburgh where my mother grew up and which is the inspiration for the setting in my 2015 novel, The Narrow Gate. At least one weekend a month and a week or two in the summers during my childhood, we spent with the Masquelier clan – my grandmother and a large flock of aunts, uncles and cousins. I loved sitting on my grandmother’s porch swing, picnics, fireworks, and consuming a seemingly endless supply of homemade bread and cookies. Those experiences left me with a deep sense of my Belgian heritage and belonging that I tried to capture in my memoir, Seven Thin Dimes.
In Erie, I learned to love and respect the environment, from the beautiful lakes, beaches and wildlife that need to be preserved, to the tough, stoic people who weather fierce, lake effect snows in winter each year.
In McDonald, I learned the comfort, unity, and sense of being that comes from being one part of a larger whole in a big, loving, extended family.
My Grandma Masquelier once told me I was a rolling stone that gathered no moss, and I admit I’ve roamed around through a number of careers and lived in a wide range of places including Philadelphia; Huntsville, Alabama; Pittsburgh; Cleveland; Phoenix, Arizona; and Chicago. As a cyber security awareness professional, I still travel the world a bit, but in 2019 I moved home to Pittsburgh, bought a house and, like a leaf that has been blowing in the wind for too long, put my feet down on Western PA soil and let those old roots stretch and unfurl.
I don’t know if all my books will be set in Western Pennsylvania, but I do know that its lush green mountains, warm sunny beaches, and salt of the earth kind of people are part of my soul, rolling up now and then to remind me of who I am and regularly cascading over into my work.
In The Storyteller, author Jodie Piccoult says, “All writers start with a layer of truth, don’t they. If not, their stories would be nothing but spools of cotton candy, a fleeting taste wrapped around nothing but air.”
I hope you enjoy my novels, you sense my layer of truth, and you come away feeling entertained, moved, and satisfied with my books.