THE BLOG

Leaving New York and Finding Myself

09/25/2012 12:05 pm ET | Updated Nov 25, 2012

I said yes to Michigan three decades ago and have never regretted it.

That's not what you'd expect a native New Yorker to say, but I fell in love with the state within days of arriving to start a PhD at Michigan State University. I came in the spring and the campus was unbelievably lush and beautiful. But better than that, within weeks, a new friend and I were driving north to the Upper Peninsula.

I crossed the Mackinac Bridge at sunset and the icy water and the snow everywhere in sight turned orange and then red. I'd never seen such a spectacular sunset, and I was overwhelmed by the beauty. Unlike most New Yorkers, I had fun here right away: exploring the Traverse area, camping on the Lake Michigan and Lake Huron shores, visiting Marquette, the Keewenaw Peninsula, Copper Harbor. For this city boy, it was wild and wonderful.

But it's not just the scenery that changed my life, because in Michigan I acquired the perspective to come into my own as a writer. I'd published only one short story up until that point, in Redbook, and a terrible drought of five years followed. In Michigan, the rain came. I could look back on the family history that inspired some of my early work, look back at New York itself, with the distance that I needed. The very first story I wrote here about that past was published quickly and I began to rise from what I dreaded were the ashes of a fading career.

I truly blossomed in Michigan, writing in genres I never expected to master, like the mystery. My Nick Hoffman novels set in "Michiganapolis," are consistently among my most popular books. I didn't just make it as an author in Michigan, I became a reviewer at the Detroit Free Press for 10 years and Michigan Radio in Ann Arbor for five. For a while, I even had my own interview show on WLNZ where I interviewed people like Salman Rushdie and Erica Jong, and I currently review on a public radio station in East Lansing, WKAR. Those experiences haven't just deepened me as a writer, they've knit me more deeply to this gorgeous state.

I've now lived in Michigan more than half my life, and it's felt like the better half by far.