In most of my work as a writer—the vast majority, I should think—the neighborhood where we grew up is never far away. As a child, I lived pretty much smack on the line separating the beat up industrial city of Lawrence, Massachusetts from blue collar, suburban Methuen, Mass. The neighborhood was approximately a half mile in area, studded with majestic oak trees though bounded by asphalt; crowded three-deckers at the lower end of the hill, spacious brick homes at the apex. Families within a stone’s throw (and we sometimes threw stones, at squirrels, cars, and one another) spoke Portuguese, Italian, French, Spanish and Arabic. One of my grandmothers had a working class English accent, and the other an Irish lilt.

At one end of the neighborhood was a tiny cemetery, several of the graves pre-dating the Revolutionary War. Old stone walls, narrow bands of forest, marsh, and swamp: these shadowy locales invited us back in time, and we were happy to go there. Two rivers crossed through town near where we lived, the Merrimack and the Spicket, and the house opposite ours contained the prettiest blue-eyed girl I have ever seen, before or since.

When I collected these stories, most of them published in magazines over the past few years, I realized that my old haunt was the starting point for nearly all my characters. It was a neighborhood of steep hills, rickety houses, and long lazy afternoons spent waiting for my father to pull into the driveway. Call it Tauvernier Street or something else, we all came from there.