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The House on the River

2010 July 8
by prgiff

For many years, we had a cottage on the East Branch of the Delaware River. I’d finish teaching in June, and we’d be there by dinnertime, to stay for the summer. My husband Jim built me a small platform in the attic and dragged up a table so I could write there, high up next to the windows. I’d push both of the windows open and cluster flies from the winter before would drift out. I’d watch my children, up on the bridge, or swimming in the shallow green water.

Paul lived down the road. He told me to put a hair in a bottle of river water and the next morning, I’d see it wigglng, alive, a hair snake. Donny told us there were mountain monkeys who lived on Wilson’s Mountain across the way. Roger, our dear friend, taught me about the beaver whose den was under the bridge, about the ice that thundered out of the river during the spring thaw, about how to tell north from south by the way the snow lay on the mountain.

That house, that bridge, that river appear again and again in my stories. I used them for the setting in PICTURES OF HOLLIS WOODS. As I wrote I felt the house enfolding me; I remembered winter weekends, seeing the mountain across the way, blurred with snow, just as Hollis saw it.

I returned to that setting in my new book, STORYTELLER, which comes out this fall.  It’s about two girls, both storytellers. Elizabeth lives in today’s world, and Zee her long ago relative, lived during the American Revolution. My house became Zee’s Eighteenth Century cottage and then Elizabeth’s cousin Harry’s centuries later. The mountains are those Catskills I saw from my door.

Writing about that place gives me the joy of remembrance. I’m almost in that attic, my elbows on the sill, looking down at the river with the pickerel gliding under the surface. I want to tell writers, especially children, to write about places that mean something to them. What a bonus it is to love the setting, to picture characters there, moving through their lives, finding their own joy.

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