Author Thomas Wolfe said, “You can’t go home again.” But Thomas Wolfe didn’t grow up in Northwest Iowa.
Earlier this week, I traveled back to Sioux Center, Iowa for an author panel and book signing. It’s a place I know well. I grew up on a farm outside of Sioux Center and Hull, and if you’ve read my trilogy, The Dusty Chronicles, these places will probably sound familiar. The main character, Dusty Vermeer, begins to experience supernatural phenomena as she tries to balance out her feelings for her boyfriend and a spirit she’s never met. She goes to Boyden-Hull High School, attends a Reformed Church in town, checks out books at the local libraries, and goes on dates to the local Pizza Ranch and movie theater. The characters all call Northwest Iowa home: Dusty, Mark, Sadie, Kris, Sadie…to them it’s an amazing place to exist.
There are many locations I could have based my series, but Stephen King says one should write what you know. So, there’s a reason I chose to set my first book series in my hometown.
While I was only in town for a day and a half, I’d never felt more welcome anywhere in my life. I haven’t lived there in 30 years, but the folks are still as warm and friendly as ever. Everywhere I went, I was met with a smile and a “So happy to meet you!” People I had never met were friendly and welcoming. And, many members of my extended family still live there as well as quite a few of my childhood friends. They came out in droves to see me and support my career on Tuesday night.
While the whole reason I went back was to be a part of the Dessert with the Authors event at the public library in town, I was also determined to make the most of the short time I had there. I wanted to check out the areas that had influenced me when I was young – the same places that influenced many of the locations in my books. The first place I went was Casey’s Bakery at the mall just off of Main Street. Uncles, aunts, and cousins showed up to see me. As we all had coffee and breakfast together, I heard, “We’re so glad you’re here!” and “You’re far too skinny!” Both comments were good for my ego.
If you’ve read Imprint, you’ll remember a scene between Dusty and Sadie that takes place at Casey’s Bakery. Not only can you get cakes and donuts from there, but they also have traditional Dutch items such as almond patties and windmill cookies. After all, in a community that is primarily Dutch, it just wouldn’t be right without the Dutch baked goods. They also have an area where they serve hot breakfast items and have possibly the best coffee I’ve ever had…and as an author, I’ve had lots of coffee in my lifetime.
Later, I went back to the old homestead…the place that inspired Dusty’s farm and where she met Jack, her soulmate.
My house still looks pretty much the same. The window in the upper left was my room (the same as Dusty’s) and the upper right was my brother’s growing up. And the doorway and stairwell that leads from the kitchen to the bedrooms upstairs hasn’t changed at all: the same door, the same wood paneling, and the same carpet on the stairs. It brought back a lot of memories of sneaking downstairs as a kid and trying to listen in on conversations between my parents and older brother. As the current owner walked me through the old house, I pointed out corners and rooms where major plots took place throughout the series. It was surreal to be back, walking through a home that had given me so many memories.
Later that day, I had lunch at the Pizza Ranch in Sioux Center. That restaurant and the mall in town all played a part in my trilogy. I didn’t manage to make it to Hull’s Pizza Ranch where Dusty and Mark had their first date, but I’m hoping to make it there during my next visit.
In the early afternoon, a reporter from the Hull Index came to interview me at the Pizza Ranch. To be interviewed by my hometown newspaper was exciting and a bit frightening. The reporter, June, was wonderful and easy to talk to. I just kept telling myself not to let my “awkward” show too much because…well…I’m awkward.
The time finally came for the signing at the Sioux Center Public Library.
It wasn’t the same library where I’d spent hours upon hours as a child. Sadly, the building is long gone due to a fire. But upon walking inside this new library, the feeling was the same. And seeing my book on display as you walk through the front doors…it was a moment I will never forget. After all, the Sioux Center Library was where it all began for me. It’s truly where I discovered my love of books, and for that I will be eternally grateful.
During the event that night, I talked about my publishing journey, my books, and why I write young adult. I even talked about my #beceaseless campaign and how it came about. Friends and family showed up to support me as well as the other authors in attendance. I’m hoping to come back later this year and give a creative writing workshop to local teens. I may need to lure them in with pizza, but then who can say no to pizza?
It was wonderful being home again. In fact, it even got me wondering if I should move back there one day. Only time will. But I learned something this week. I discovered that you can go home again. Especially if your hometown is anything like mine.