Saturday, April 16, 2011

True Places (And Book Giveaway)

By Brunonia Barry, Author of The Map of True Places

It is not down in any map, true places never are.

Herman Melville

That quote is from Moby Dick, my all time favorite book. It was also the inspiration for the title of my second novel, The Map of True Places, which is out in paperback. As I embark on the paperback tour, I am talking with readers about the true places their lives, and so today I thought I'd share one of mine.

The maps of our lives have changed so much in recent years. There are the usual life changes: people are born, people die, families break apart, new families are formed. Change happens (to borrow a descriptive quote from Hemingway) gradually then suddenly. A few of our sudden changes have radically shifted our perspective: 911, Columbine, Katrina, the financial meltdown. We've recently suffered hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, and a nuclear disaster. This last week the world was literally rocked on its axis.

So how do we navigate our lives when our old maps have become obsolete? The answer, I think, lies in finding our own true places: safe havens that are home to us and make us feel like our better selves. Sometimes these places are real. Sometimes they exist only in memory and imagination. Almost always, they are connected to the people we love. The truest place in my life is a real one, a Victorian summer-house on a lake in New Hampshire. It was built by my great grandfather more than a century ago and has been handed down through the generations. The camp hasn't changed much in those hundred years, which makes it easier to conjure images of the people who have touched my life there, some who are still with me, many who have long since gone.

Standing in the old fashioned kitchen, I don't have to look far to summon a memory. Over there is the bucket my grandmother gave us to pick blueberries for the pies and muffins she always made. Here is the megaphone my father used to call us back when we swam too far from shore. There's the soapstone sink in the kitchen and the hand-pump we primed at the beginning of every summer with water from the lake. I can still hear the creaky slamming of the back door and the laughing of children as they rush in and out.

In the washroom across the hall, the medicine cabinet door won't close properly. I can see my mother's compact on the glass shelf, and I can see her too, standing in front of the mirror, her lips pursed as she applies Revlon Fire Engine Red lipstick, blots it with tissue, then puts on another coat.

In my true place, my mother still gets dressed to go dancing. She is not confined to her RA wheelchair. My father doesn't shake from Parkinson's. I don't find him scared and frozen in place in the back hall but rather out on the porch playing with the dogs or pitching horseshoes with the uncles. My grandmother, gone many years now, is still the outspoken matriarch who so frustrated her son-in-law, my father, that one day he locked her in the pan closet in the kitchen and wouldn't let her out until she promised to be nice to him, which she was from then on.

In my true place, I can bring all of the generations back to life at once. My reverie supposes that time is non-linear, and that all the characters exist in their happiest moments. People who never knew each other gather together for a weekend celebration. A favorite uncle who read stories to me when I was little reads the same stories now to my brother's grandchildren. My first dog, Skybo, rolls on the front lawn with my sixteen year old golden retriever whose hip dysplasia has miraculously healed.

Pine needles hang from their ears, and moss sticks to their muzzles. My grandmother sits on the front porch shelling peas with the great granddaughter she never knew.

My true place is always sunny and warm, except at about 4PM each day when a quick thunderstorm follows the curve of the White Mountains and moves swiftly across our little lake. We giggle and run for cover. The storm disappears as quickly as it has come. There may or may not be a rainbow.

We gather for dinner around the big oak table in the dining room, under the clock that has ticked the minutes away since the day the camp was built. When I was a child, the sound seemed so loud that it sometimes kept me from sleep. These days, its ticking is just as loud, I am told, but I cannot hear it unless I'm in the same room. The sixteen-inch rainbow trout my grandfather's brother caught when he was a young boy is still mounted above the door, and the piano, always off key from the cold that sets in after Labor Day, still sits un-tuned in the corner by the window. After dinner is over, my grandfather goes to the piano and plays any tune we can think of, in any key, and my aunt sits on top of the piano belting out God Bless America in her best Kate Smith. After that, we play canasta or go for a late swim. The little children fall asleep on the rug where they have dropped from exhaustion and have to be carried up to bed.

My truest place, though real, has the luxury of fantasy. I am, after all, a fiction writer. Fantasy has always been easier for me than reality. Still, this place, with all of its reflected memories, is more real to me than anything in my everyday world, and I hold it in my heart. If all goes well, the family will gather here again next year, and it will, summer after summer, become a true place for the next generations.

Whether real of imagined, true places are more important than ever in these times of great and sometimes devastating change. I wish for true places, real, imagined, or simply remembered for all those who are suffering today.

I've told you about the place I hold dear. What are some of your true places? Comment and you might win a copy of "A Map Of True Places." Winner announced here after 5 p.m. on Sunday.

The Winner is Katie! Please email a snail mail address to kgillespie (at) and I'll mail your book. Congrats!

As originally published on "The Lipstick Chronicles" © 2011 Brunonia Barry, author of The Map of True Places Author BioBorn and raised in Massachusetts, Brunonia Barry, lives in Salem with her husband and their beloved golden retriever, Byzantium. Barry is the first American Writer to win the Woman's International Fiction Festival's 2009 Baccante Award (for The Lace Reader). Her second novel, The Map of True Places is out now. For more information please visit, and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter


  1. My true place is my grandparent's summer cottage on a small lake in central Wisconsin. The Cottage is where I learned how to fish and waterski, where we spent 4th of July weekends watching the fireworks fall over the lake, where eagles and ospreys battle every spring over who gets the nesting box on the island, where the whole family gathers in the backyard after a day of swimming to cook hotdogs and eat gooey s'mores, and where I met my husband one hot summer morning.

  2. My true place is the Brown County State Park in Indiana. Our family went there every October to see the beautiful colors of the trees, orange, yellow,gold and red. My father grew up near Gnawbone, Greasy Creek and Nashville, Indiana. In the park, there is the Nashville Art Museum. An art colony named 'La Boheme used to come to the area to paint. My great grandfather was a member of them. He had a farm across from T.C. Steele (another painter). The T.C. Steele residence later became the home of the art museum but it burned down. My grandfather's home was much higher off the fround than Mr. Steele so they used to send messages to each other by switching the headlights on and off (morse code).
    After the fire, only one painting from my great grandfather remained, A door on which all the artists of the colory painted their faces.

    Close to the park, they sell, pumkins, apples, squash, apple butter, tomatoes and all sorts of wonderful things to eat. We always stopped there. And now whenever and my second husband go back to Indiana, we go there and I feel so at piece. It still has't changed with the rolling hills and abundance of autumn.

  3. Great post! I loved THE LACE READER.

  4. Ditto what Brenda said! I loved THE LACE READER and enjoyed this post so much. I never thought about a true place being one from my memories, but I really like the idea of it. That way we can call back the people from our past that we love and miss in our present. Although my real true place is right here, at home with my husband and the fur-kids. I feel so safe and loved. :-)

  5. Such a gorgeous post. I do have a few true places, and sometimes I am so aware (and get very emotional) of making a true place right here and now with my son in our little house in Maine.

    Congrats on the paperback release. I'm a huge fan.

  6. Oh, my, I loved this post when I first read it and loved it all over again today. My true places? My front porch. My old dog snoozing, his tail wagging as he dreams, my sons clambering up the steps, their faces telling me all i need to know about their day. My husband pouring us a glass of wine as we swat away the mosquitos.

    So many of the important things in my life happened there from falling in love with my husband to him proposing. Taking first-day-of-school pictures of my sons from kindergarten through heading off to college.

    Too many sweet memories.

  7. I find myself always going back to my grandpa's old lumber yard. He was a carpenter for many years and built up his business from scratch. As a child, I would walk from school to the gas station and pick up a snack and then walked across the train tracks to meet my mom who kept the books. 20 years have passed and my grandpa's lumberyard is now someone else's lawn and garden center and my mother has been gone 17 years. Still, anytime I need, I can go back to that place and run around the stone piles scraping my knees and elbows, through the lumber yard smelling the cedar and oak and mapple, and sneak into the glass shop and hear the scratching of cutting glass as my grandpa worked. My mom sat at the desk in the office, fingers tapping away at the calculator and pen scratching away at the ledger as I sat in the shop and played with the old-fashioned register. I loved that place, and I still do.

    Thank you for this wonderful post! It's always good to have someplace to go that is truly yours.

  8. My true place is wherever my family is.

  9. My true place is the shady forest alongside Glacier National Park's Lake Josephine. That's what I visualize when I relax. Two of my novels use that place for several scenes.

    I like the sound of your true place.

  10. easy- my grandparent's home and land. we spent so much time there growing up. i even wrote about it in college for a class on finding the sacred.

  11. My true place is the home I lived in as a child. Even though I haven't been there in many, many years, I will always think of that house as mine. It was the first house I ever lived in, and I have so many great memories of it. We moved out when my parents got divorced, and I have always wished we could have kept that house. Sometimes I drive by just to remember the good times spent there as a family. My brother and I always say we will one day own that house again. I hope that is true.

  12. Beautiful post! Growing up, it was my grandmother's house. She would be up stirring in the early morning hours, have laundry hanging to dry,fried chicken cooked, a german chocolate cake baked for an early dinner, all by 5:00 am. Now,I would say it's not an actual place just being with family and feeling their love.

  13. Wow this post was so beautiful and moving! After reading it, I can imagine it in all it's glory and wish I could visit. What is so beautiful is that this "true place" will continue to exist for your family despite time. The memories are just too plentiful for it not to exist.

    Got me thinking of my own true place and although I don't have something as permanent as yours, I really seem to find myself and my thoughs when I am walking alone in the woods. Any woods will do. Perhaps it's being alone, listening to the birds, seeing the sunshine filter in through the canopy, swatting away those pesky gnats :). I always feel "at home" in my memories while I am a enjoying nature - nothing refreshes my soul and attitude more!

  14. Lovely post!
    My true place is at night, when we're putting the kids to bed. Often they'll want to curl up in our big bed for a cuddle, and then the dog will jump in. Surrounded by all that warmth and love, I usually fall asleep, too... and wake up an hour or two later to the sounds of my husband trying to carry the kids back to their beds.

  15. My true place is actually the campus of Smith College. I visited last year for the first time in the 11 years since I graduated and I was shocked to discover that I still knew exactly how to get around. As soon as I stepped foot on campus, I felt more confident, smarter, and like I could do anything I put my mind to -- so glad I went there.

  16. Beautiful post!
    My true place is my whole family sitting around my dining room table that is filled with homemade Christmas dinner & enjoying everyone's company!

  17. To find out more about the real tunnels in Salem read Salem Secret Underground:The History of the Tunnels in the City and then take the cool Salem walking tour about them. Learn how 144 people hid behind the creation of a park to build a series of tunnels in Salem utilizing the nation's first National Guard to build them so a superior court justice, a Secretary of the Navy, and a bunch of Senators could avoid paying Jefferson's custom duties. Engineered by the son of America's first millionaire.