Maynard Teacher’s New Novel Recalls Blizzard of ‘78
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Fowler School teacher Sean Conway writes about his recent travels on his blog, Map & Compass, but one long-ago trip in particular had always felt too big and too important for just a blog post: a 1978 road trip with his family to California, a trip that began ominously with the infamous Blizzard of ’78 barreling up the east coast. After toying with how to write about the experience as a short piece of nonfiction, Conway ultimately used the memory as fuel for his new novel.
In Land’s End, 12-year-old Jerry Digby and his little sister are essentially kidnapped by their estranged father on a January morning in 1978, the father promising adventure and fun. What starts as a suspiciously unplanned road trip soon reveals itself as something more sinister, as Jerry gradually learns of his father’s true motives the closer they get to the east coast and the looming blizzard.
While Conway had long carried around the seeds of the novel in the form of the memory of that cross-country trip, it wasn’t until a 2014 drive from San Diego to San Francisco, through the winding cliff-top roads of Big Sur, that he began dreaming up the novel in earnest.
“We stopped at the Steinbeck museum in Salinas, California,” Conway recalls, “and they had his original green camper truck, the one he toured the country with in his memoir, Travels with Charley. I remember staring into the back of it, imagining Steinbeck sitting back there, drinking coffee, petting his dog, pecking at an old rickety typewriter. And then I thought again about my family’s own cross-country adventure, all the pitfalls—getting lost, running out of gas, and the blizzard, of course. I didn’t really know it then, but my new novel was beginning to take form right there in that museum.”
Conway has been teaching 8th grade English at the Fowler School for 17 years, and loves using memory as a jumping off point with his students to get them writing. “I use my own memories as starters for my writing all the time,” he says. “And so I have my students do it, too. It’s a great way to get the pen moving, and can often take students in unexpected directions and even lead to other types of writing: a short memoir, but then perhaps an essay, a piece of fiction, or even a poem. You never know. I'll encourage the student to take it as far as it can go. It's fun to watch the evolution."
Certainly it was just this type of free-writing activity that jump-started his novel.
“One of my mentors, Andre Dubus III, whose writing I love, often talks about the word remember. He asks his students what the opposite of remember is, and of course the students almost universally reply with forget. He’ll shake his head and say the antonym of remember is dismember, as in to take apart. If dismember means to take apart, then remember, with the re- prefix meaning again, means literally to put back together again. I love that idea: that the act of writing can be taking all these loose fragments of hibernating memory and reassembling them into a cohesive narrative. Giving them new life. That’s beautiful.”
Land’s End is available on Amazon or through the author’s website at Sean-Conway.com. His travel blog, Map & Compass, also has a home on his website.