When I wrote As If You Never Left Me, I had been living in Colorado for a few years, but I was still discovering things about my adopted state. It seemed like everywhere I turned there was something new. Many of these things found their way into the book as I was writing.
I moved to Colorado after seven years in New Jersey, so it was a bit of a culture shock. In another way, though, it wasn’t, because before New Jersey, I lived in a small town in Illinois. The small-town atmosphere was similar to what I found in the Colorado mountains, but it’s different just because of the setting. A small town in Illinois is very different from a rural area in Colorado—the way people interact in both settings is defined by the landscape. You can’t just skip to the neighbor’s house in my area of Colorado for a cup of sugar, because often the neighbor is a quarter mile or more away.
In As If You Never Left Me, Joely finds independence in this setting. Unique things about Colorado define several scenes in the novel: Rey, Joely’s not-quite-ex husband, having to depend upon her when he succumbs to altitude sickness; Rey and Joely making love in a Jeep on a high mountain pass. Joely’s studio where she sells ceramics was inspired by a tiny studio in Shawnee where we were able to see the craftsmen working on hand-thrown pots. Her little house, isolated and a little primitive by Rey’s big-city standards, is loosely based on the home of a family I knew. The prevalence of wood-burning stoves for heating in the mountains seemed strange to me when I first moved here, and Rey finds it just as perplexing as I did at the time. I drove over Guanella Pass a short time before I wrote the scene that’s set there (though unfortunately without the naughty fun times that happen in the story). It’s a beautiful trip but a little harrowing—I was glad we were in a four-wheel-drive vehicle, that’s for sure.
Although I could have set the book in a different place, I think the surroundings of the Colorado mountains provide a meaningful backdrop for Joely’s story. There’s a certain level of self-sufficiency that comes with living here, just because houses tend to be farther apart and you often have to make an effort to connect with other people. Joely finds a great deal of growth and courage in this setting—it’s different from what she’s been used to and it helps her move forward in her quest for independence. Rey learns from Colorado, as well, but his lessons aren’t quite the same as Joely’s.
In many ways, I think I’ve learned many of the same things Joely learned in her sojourn to Colorado. I have a little house (not heated with wood, though—that’s a little more than I was willing to take on), my own business creating art (with words, though, not ceramics), and I’ve learned a lot about myself in the years I’ve been here. When it comes to writing what you know, I did much of that in this book by writing about Colorado. But I also wrote a lot of things about myself—but without actually knowing it at the time.