Where is Home?

Thankful for Our Readers Giveaway: Sheila is giving away a copy of A Late Frost, the newest book in her Orchard mystery series. Leave a comment below for a chance to win.

by Sheila Connolly

Writers are often asked “what kind of book do you write?” and we’re stuck either with trotting out a term that we know readers will recognize (“cozy,” “thriller,” “suspense,” “paranormal, “romance” and so on), or we find ourselves splitting hairs (“well, it’s kind of a cozy, but there are no pets and there are three bodies in the story who died gruesome deaths, but there’s a happy ending”). There is no rule book that sets the absolute standards, and even if there were, publishers change their minds a lot about how they categorize (and shelve) their books.

Those of us who write multiple series also have to try to make each series distinct. You can’t just keep writing the same story, but changing the name and the profession of the heroine and the name of the adorable scenic small town with at least two good-looking single guys hanging around and a soaring murder rate that began when our heroine moved to town.

I think I write in a sub-sub-genre: the young woman who has been slapped in the face by adversity (lost a job/a fiance/family) and comes crawling back to (her old home town/a beloved relative’s house/a place where nobody knows her) and sets about making a new life for herself—while solving murders, of course.

I have my own personal reasons for taking this route, mainly because my family moved from town to town or sometimes state to state about every three years when I was young. That meant I was always the new kid, having to figure out a new school and make new friends. (Throw in entering the teen years and things get even worse.) Plus my mother hated my father’s side of the family and refused to have anything to do with them, and on her side, she had no siblings, her mother was an orphan, her father was an only child—so the net result was no close family anywhere.

A 19th-century print of Henry David Thoreau’s house in Corcord

Is it any surprise that what I wanted most in life was (no, not another sibling—one was plenty) a place to call home? A place where I could feel a sense of belonging? And that’s not always easy to come by. So I create my own: I write about places like that. I write about women who face difficult situations and overcome them. These are ordinary women, not super-heroines, or  doctors or lawyers or law-enforcement officials. They are people who were living an ordinary life of their choice when they somehow got kicked off the rails, through no fault of their own, and they have to struggle to define themselves again, to figure out what they want out of life. And since I write fiction, in my books they succeed. It doesn’t matter whether they end up in the city or the country, or even in a foreign country: my heroines’ path is the same. They look for and find their place in the world.

I find that satisfying to write (as I said, for my own personal reasons), and I hope other people do too.

My only problem these days is that I’ve discovered not one but two “home” places: Massachusetts and West Cork in Ireland. Maybe I didn’t have much in the way of recent family members anywhere, but I have a lot of ancestors in both those places. So in a way I’m surrounded by family in either place.

This is Meg Corey Chapin’s house–which happens to be a real house in Massachusetts, built by my 7x-great-grandfather. It’s still there, minus the barn.
My Irish cottage, close to where my Connolly ancestors came from.


Tomorrow is the release day for A Late Frost, the eleventh book in the Orchard Mystery series. My heroine Meg started out according to my standard plan, but eleven books later she has a new profession, a new husband (Seth Chapin from next door) and her own niche in her small-town community. Now she’s the one people turn to, to find their way. Oh, and she’s still solving murders.

I’ll be giving away a copy of A Late Frost to someone who submits an answer to my question (by the end of Wednesday, November 8th): Readers, where do you call “home”?


65 Thoughts

  1. Massachusetts, for sure. This California girl loves the seasons, cross-country skiing, and so much more. But when I fly west and cross the Rockies, I feel like I can really breathe again. So home is the west, too.

  2. We were and active duty family and then a retired military family so home for me is where ever my spouse is. He is my North star.

  3. What a great post, Sheila, and congrats on the new release. I am fortunate to feel home where I live now. The sometimes awful winters aside, the feeling I get when I see that Mpls skyline over one of the City lakes makes me happy to be here. I honestly wouldn’t live anywhere else.

  4. Although I live in Maine right now, home is Massachusetts. Every time I go to Marshfield, MA, I always feel that I have come home. We spent our summers there when we were growing up, and even though I have lived in several towns in Massachusetts, Marshfield is always “home” to me. Can’t wait to read “A Late Frost”. Love this series!

    1. I’m glad you’re enjoying the books. My mother grew up mainly in New Jersey, but her father had a mid-life crisis of sorts and decided in his 30s that he wanted to be a dairy farmer and bought a farm in Maine. My mother hated the place and never went back.

  5. This is a difficult question. My place of birth and childhood is south Louisiana and I have many good memories. When I go back, I am torn between feeling like a native and feeling like an outlier. I spent my young married life and early motherhood years in western Pennsylvania, and I still feel a part of that place, but my closest friends and ties have moved away, too. Delaware, where I live now, took a long time to cleave to, but I have…mostly. I feel like a Delawarean, but certainly an adopted one. Which one is home? I guess it’s the one where I want to grow old. Not Louisiana. Not Pennsylvania. I guess “home” is Delaware. Who knew?

    1. Ramona, I know what you mean. (I did spend some early years in Delaware, in Red Lion and then Newark, but my memories are kind of fuzzy.) My life has been pretty evenly split between suburbs in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. But I have at least two family plots in Massachusetts, whenever I might need one.

    1. I’ve never been there! My family moved (without me) to Kentucky when my sister was in high school, and she’s still there and doesn’t plant to leave (although she does enjoy the occasional trip to New York City).

  6. Like you, I grew up a military brat. “Home” for me has always been a little town almost smack dab in the middle of Nebraska, where I went to grade school 1-6. But my heart resides in New England. Lived most of my life in Missouri, where I never felt at home. I currently reside in Oklahoma, which is quite nice, actually.

  7. I’ve lived in Virginia for over 40years, but central Pennsylvania will always be home. Every time I drive into the Allegheny mountains, I can’t believe how beautiful it is.

  8. Following my husband with job changes our family lived first in Texas, then South Carolina and after that Wyoming. We loved each place and met some great folks. Now we are “home” back in Texas, although vacations in the Rockies always feel like going home, too! Thanks Shelia for telling us about how your childhood influences your writing. Maura is a very favorite character of mine!

    1. Let’s see…since we married, my husband and I have lived in North Carolina, California, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts (full circle, back where we first met). He grew up in Indiana, but has never wanted to go back there.

      But I think everybody wants (and needs?) a happy place to remember or visit, no matter how long it’s been since you were there.

  9. I come from a very large family. We used to be prone to huge gatherings but as we all age we like to keep it smaller so we can really connect with each other. I consider “home” to be wherever I am with my closest friends or family. It isn’t a physical location, it’s more of a feeling of being loved and not judged.

  10. Congrats on the release, Sheila. It’s taken some time, but southwestern Pennsylvania is definitely home now. Something about the trees and the hills is so reassuring.

  11. I have two places I call home. Where I live now in Tennessee. I grew up here and have raided my family here. I also call our family home in Chicago home. It’s in all my memories of growing up and I want my kids to have some of those same memories. 🙂

    1. Definitely. Our daughter was born in California but she has no memory of it (we moved when she was two), so she spent all her school years in Pennsylvania (and then went off to Massachusetts for college). Sometimes I wonder if there is such as thing as a hereditary memory.

  12. I call Knoxville, TN home. I’ve lived here almost all my life. The past couple of years I have been wanting to find a small town to live in. Knoxville has gotten too big for me. I will stay though, because anywhere my mom is, is home.

    1. I wrestle with that with Maura in the Co. Cork mysteries. She was raised as a city girl with only her grandmother as family, and then she finds herself in a very small village where everybody knows her entire family history. It’s kind of unsettling for her, but in a good way (I hope!).

  13. I’ve lived in the same house in Maine for 42 years so I guess this is my house. But I grew up on Staten Island in the house my great great grandfather built and inherited it only to realize I had to sell it as I live in Maine . This I shall always regret for NYC is whence I come. So I’m using it as the location for my latest work

    1. When my grandmother left her husband (as a result of his farming fantasy), she headed straight to New York and lived the rest of her life there. (She grew up in Providence RI but never felt any attachment to it.) My sister and I were lucky to visit her regularly in the city. It should be a great location to work with!

  14. My home is where my family is, and for me, that’s Texas…it’s where I’ve lived my whole life life.

  15. Anchorage, Alaska. When I bought this house, my first house with a heated garage and a garden, I bought a bunch of big, heavy furniture. I have no intention of leaving here unless it’s feet first. But, an aside: I was driving the Ring of Kerry (westerly) and just coming up on Derrynane, when spotted a little white-washed cottage like yours tucked into a valley and heard a male voice behind me in the car say “this is my home.” It was real as Inspector Rutledge’s Hamish. I’ve been over three times and every time I leave, I’m depressed for a year. I don’t know how you handle leaving.

    1. It isn’t easy. But the flip side is, when I visit I feel like I’m coming home. That’s been true since the first time I saw the country, and the village of Leap. And I’m happy to believe in the local spirits!

    1. I’ll admit I kind of miss spending time near the ocean (yes, it’s not far from here, but I never seem to get there)–my family used to spend time on Long Beach Island. Oddly enough, when we introduced our daughter to the ocean in California (where she was born), she hated it.

  16. Riverside California, my Mom was born in Richman Kentucky I always wanted to go back and see it, I’m still hoping I can some time, great review thank you

  17. That is a good question. I was born and raised in Texas, lived in Virginia and in the D.C. area for several years and am now living in Colorado. Most of my family is still in Texas, but they like to come up here. I’m glad you found family connections in Ireland, Sheila, and congratulations on tomorrow’s release of A Late Frost!

  18. Congrats on the new release!! I was born and lived in Indiana for 22 years and don’t care if I never go back. I’ve lived in Connecticut for a short while, Massachusetts for 18 years, and have lived in Pennsylvania (east and west) for 25 years. I’m very happy being retired in Lancaster. This is definitely home. For over 25 years I also traveled to Peru on a yearly basis. Cusco was a second home during those years.

    1. My father lived outside of Lancaster (Willow Street) in his last years. (He hated Amish buggy drivers and was very vocal about it!) What took you to Peru? Must have been fascinating.

      1. The first time was for dream come true vacation. I fell in love with the country and the people. I eventually visited much of Peru, made a lot of close friends and became a godmother to 4 children from different families.

  19. I’ve lived in So Cal for 22 years now, the longest I’ve lived anywhere. Also, my entire adult life. So this is home.

    Yet, I will be going home for Thanksgiving and Christmas – north to where I grew up and where my family still lives. So, like you, I have two homes.

  20. That’s a hard question to consider. I was born in Brooklyn in the East New York section and lived in three separate places there. Mommy Dearest shlepped me down to Miami where I had my 7th. birthday (she needed to get Fla residency so she could get a divorce from my father). We started out in a nice hotel, then when school started we were living in a garden apartment with a Murphy bed. Finding she couldn’t afford the rent there we moved to a boarding house where the owners kept an eye on me. She remarries and we move twice more before I met my partner (now my wife) we lived in a walk in apartment in Sheepshead Bay Brooklyn. We were able to buy into a co-op and our apartment was a 1 bedroom. Now 40 some years later we are in a 3 bedroom apartment filled with memories and over two THOUSAND books.. I guess this is home. LOL

  21. Home is where you make it. For me, my hometown is Tulsa, but I’ve been able to make a nice home and be happy when I’ve lived in other places.

  22. I have a 14’x48′ trailer that is just barely big enough for the cat and me and all the books, yarn, and fabric, which replaced the 30 year old trailer I shared with my late husband, which replaced the trailer that was on the lot when we bought it 43 years ago.

  23. Like you, I moved a lot. Well, not that much, but between moves, redistricting, natural progressions and a late switch to private school, I went to nine schools in nine years. My parents moved to northeastern Pennsylvania when I turned thirteen and it just never “took.” I think mentally I had one foot out the door even as I arrived.

    I went to college in Philadelphia, met a man from Boston and the die was cast. I felt instantly at home in Massachusetts. Which is funny, because a) I was born there (Chelsea Naval Hospital), and 2) I also had ancestors who started out there. Now we’ve moved full-time to Maine after many years of seasonal residence and it’s still a little weird to answer, “Maine,” when people ask, “Where are you from?”

  24. I call wherever I live home. This comes from being an Army brat and a career service member who then married another career service member. kckendler at gmail dot com. Love your series. Any chance you’ll do another Atwell book?

  25. I’m surprised to see several people from Tennessee here! Home for me is also in Tennessee. I have lived all my life here and LOVE the Smoky Mountains!

  26. Home for me is the town my grandparents live in. I’m never there for more than a week & sometimes am not able to visit every year. It just always feels “right” when I’m there.

  27. Home for me is Pennsylvania. Even though I have lived in Oklahoma it still does not feel like home. I miss the autumn leaves and the winter snow and the mountains and……

  28. Harrisburg, PA, for 66 years and counting. I used to travel a lot when I was younger and visited places that I felt a kinship to like England, Germany, and Switzerland but coming home to Pennsylvania was the best part of traveling. Whenever I see the Susquehanna River, I say “You’re the prettiest river in the world”.

  29. We moved, thanks to the Air Force at least every four years, but when I got to the University of Alabama at 18, and began working in Birmingham after my grad degree from the same school, Athens, Alabama, home of my dad’s mother, my aunt’s, and , after retirement, Athens became my home. I could count on blackberry cobbler, caramel cake and Southern food from my grandmother, then laughter and counsel from my single aunt’s, then homemade cooking from my stepmother and literary discussions with my uncle. Everything happened in the small town around the square. Holidays were times to be absolutely accepted and greeted with joy simply because I was a member of the Whitt clan. Now every one of these relatives is dead. Athens is a ghost town of memories of experiences that won’t return. At 74 I am in some way homeless as I was as a young child, but wiser and less lost. I try to look forward, but miss these folks and I am grateful I had them.

  30. Cheyenne, WY is home to me now, though it started out to be NY. Like many others, growing up we moved a lot. Maybe that’s why when I chose to put down roots and stay in one place.

  31. I’ve always considered myself a native NewYorker, having been born and raised there. And there will always be a special place in my heart for NYC. But I’ve been in NC for 14 years now, and I love it here just as much, for very different reasons. So…I’d have to say I call NC my home. No matter where I go now, it always feels good when I get back home to NC. (I consider the Smoky Mountains my second home because they’re so beautiful!!)

  32. Physically, my home is in Portland. emotionally….well, home is with my husband, in a theater, or in a bookstore. Thank you for this post and for the giveaway!

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