06/29/2013 04:45 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Sharing Your Life (and Your Dreams) in Fiction


I can do personal sharing well, which isn't surprising since I've published three memoirs. But I don't like sharing my stuff. Any of it. Especially books. They never come back in the same condition, they're always battered or stained in some way. So when people ask to borrow a book, I don't lie, I just tell them I didn't get good marks for sharing in elementary school, and nothing's changed over the years.

And forget about sharing my cabin in northern Michigan.

I grew up in various apartments in New York City, never saw much outside of it, even on vacations. And I grew up with the attitude that there might be plenty of cool places in the world, like Paris, but nothing beat living in New York. As a New Yorker, those cool places were definitely not west of the Hudson River, except for California.

But I fell in love with Michigan half a lifetime ago when I was driving across the Mackinac Bridge in the early spring. It was still winter up there and I was crossing at sunset. Everything but the bridge seemed white and then it all slowly turned orange and then crimson. A world of wonders. I had never seen anything that beautiful before.

I made Michigan my home and like many Michiganders wanted a cabin up north. In the mid-90s, I got one near Norwood just south of Charlevoix and right on the Lake. And even though they call it a Lake, to this former city boy, Lake Michigan is ocean enough since I can't see the other side. It's even better: no jellyfish, no medical waste washing up on the shores.

Down three miles of dirt road, the small redwood cabin on half an acre has two hundred feet of beach and the whole site is screened from neighbors with more extravagant getaways by poplars, hemlocks and white pines. It's the kind of seclusion I never dreamed of in New York, where you can't ever really get away from people.

Inside, there's one large combination living room and kitchen, with a small bedroom, made smaller by the new marble-tiled bathroom with a whirlpool. That's the most modern touch; the rest is all very 50s rec room--you know, knotty pine--except for the Gaggia coffee machine and the shelves of current and not so current summer thrillers: John Grisham, Ken Follett, John le Carré. The sunsets aren't as dramatic as the one on the bridge, but they remind me of it every time I'm up there. No surprise that people want to borrow the cabin or rent it. But the idea of them messing up my retreat nixes that possibility every time.

There's another reason: It doesn't exist.

People often mistake the first person narrator of my Nick Hoffman mystery series for me. That's a compliment. They're so convinced by the reality of what my protagonist Nick describes, they figure it all tracks perfectly with my life (except for the murders, of course). Unfortunately, Nick is the one with the cabin up north, not me.

He's fictional, and I'm real. Most of the time.