Darby, the Landscape

Fictional Darby is a rubix cube of farms, Colonial and Cape Cod-style houses and 19th century homesteads, contemporary suburbia, gilded age mansions, discrete villages within the town, a little lake, a land trust, a river, many brooks, rolling wooded hills, high up ledges, glacial erotics (er, excuse me; that's glacial erratics) and, as the local lingo has it, pucka brush. What is its future? Not just the future of the people, but the future of the places and landmarks. That's the question I pursue in the seven novels of the Darby Chronicles.

I based Darby on three southwestern New Hampshire towns where I have roots– Westmoreland, Sullivan, and Dublin. Anyone familiar with the southwestern New Hampshire landscape will look at my map and figure out that Darby is located about where Westmoreland is in the real world. Did I type "real world"? Let us call it the hypothetical world that we appear to inhabit during our hypothetical temporary earthly existence.

Westmoreland is located on the New Hampshire side of the Connecticut River, the little town between the bigger towns of Walpole and Chesterfield. East of us is the place where I was born and grew up, Keene, the hub and "big" city of our region. I called Keene "Tuckerman" in two of the Darby Chronicle novels, one of no doubt many interruptions of continuity in the series, since I never planned a series–it just happened, the way life just happens, and the way sentences, like this one, just don't want to end.

When Medora and I returned from California in 1970 (so she could continue her schooling at Keene State College) we rented a tiny house in the Park Hill Village of Westmoreland. I thought then that it was the most compatible place for me on this planet. I still think that, and today we live in Park Hill after building a house in 2009. We were gone from Westmoreland for more than 35 years, but I never got the town out of my system. When I started writing what would be my first published novel, The Dogs of March, I set the action in Darby, whose fictional geography was very much like Westmoreland's. Disclaimer: I've said before and I'll say it again, though Darby partakes of Westmoreland's terrain none of characters are consciously based on any past or present-day residents of Westmoreland or anywhere else in the material world.

My fictional characters are based on aspects of my own personality that I exaggerate. The nearly geographical center of Westmoreland and the site of the town hall, the post office, church, and village store is called South Village. In Darby it's called Center Darby. The Elman place is located in Center Darby about where you would find my own house on Route 63. In fictional Darby there is no Park Hill, a cluster of dozen or so homes; there is only the Elman place and up slope the Cutter place.

Westmoreland is neither a rich, nor a poor town. It's a town of working class and middle class people. It has no mansions, no shacks and no trailers–at least none that you'd notice driving its roads. I wanted Darby to contain some social classes that are not very prominent in Westmoreland; in other words Darby is culturally different from Westmoreland and those differences are visible, represented by the dwellings of the inhabitants. From Sullivan I borrowed a neighborhood of run down shacks (long since gone) and plunked them down in Darby and called that section Darby Depot. In later books the shacks disappear, replaced by a shabby mobile home park. Such places appear in various towns in the Monadnock Region, though not in Westmoreland. I built a cabin on Valley Road in Sullivan many years ago. That cabin has reappeared as the domicile of the hermit Cooty Patterson, Howard Elman's best friend.

In the early Darby books Cooty's cabin is in the town of Donaldson. I can't for the life of me remember where Donaldson is supposed to be on the New Hampshire map. In my mind it's Sullivan, but in the fiction it's supposed to be closer to Darby than Sullivan is to Westmoreland, about where you would find Walpole. This is one of those problems in continuity that one runs into when writing a series of books based on a real region. Things change from book to book, and the changes are not always congruent. No doubt there are more miscombobulations in the books, because I never checked for continuity. I should have, but I hate to look into the entrails of a book after it's been published. I can crack open any volume, point my figure, and find something I want to fix. As a long as a book is in manuscript form and unpublished it's always in a state of becoming. I can improve it, screw up, even destroy it; I am its god. Once it's published I lose control over it. I can see its flaws but I am powerless to repair them. Perhaps there is a real God/ Creator and he/she/it/them let loose the universe we live in with élan and a component of chaos so even God didn't how it would develop and now, God–poor thing–is stuck with careening out-of-control sentient beings that he/she/it/them never envisioned and beyond his/her/its/their powers to alter.

After I wrote Howard Elman's Farewell, I created a map and put Cooty's cabin at the very west end of Darby, in the woods, off a back road, in the Darby Depot section of town. In the early part of the book Cooty's cabin is moved to the Salmon Estate in Upper Darby so that Birch Latour (Howard's grandson) can take care of the centenarian. I make a big deal out of the idea that Cooty serves as a kind father confessor for three generations of Elman men–Howard, Howard's son Latour, and Birch. What they say to Cooty figures heavily into the plot of Howard Elman's Farewell.

Darby, unlike Westmoreland, includes a section where wealthy people have built gaudy and pricey houses. Picture great houses and estates in the highlands off Glebe Road in Westmoreland and you have Upper Darby. My model for Upper Darby is in Dublin, NH. My mother, Jeannette Vaccarest Hebert, was a nanny for a wealthy family that had a house in Hanover, NH, and a mansion in Dublin, a place so vast and with so many servants that one person's sole job was to polish things.

River Darby is based on the lovely landscape of farms and pleasant homes along River Road in Westmoreland and Walpole. In the Darby Chronicles River Road is the site of the Hillary Farm that plays a big role in Whisper My Name. The Hillary Farm is roughly based on a farm on River Road in Walpole, NH. River Darby is also the site of the proposed Riverboat Gambling casino and new town hall, the brainchild of Elenre and Howard Elman's youngest daughter Heather and her company, PLC (Paradise Lots Covenant). The location of the project is based on the former County jail and and county farm in Westmoreland on River Road.

It's a lot of fun, though a little creepy, when I walk by or drive by the real places that serve as models for my fictional town.