OLD TAPPAN, N.J. -- Ghosts are explored through the emotional turmoil of grief and addiction at an author reading Friday and Saturday at Old Tappan and Hillsdale libraries.
Dana Cann will discuss and sign his debut novel "Ghosts of Bergen County" Nov. 11 and 12 and talk with readers about the essence of his fictional story.
The backdrop of the literary mystery centers on a married couple coping with the aftermath of losing a child to a hit and run driver.
Wall Street equity trader Gil Ferko impulsively tries heroin with an old high school acquaintance. His wife Mary Beth, a lawyer turned stay-at-home mom, becomes agoraphobic, clutching prescription drugs. The story is set during the summer of 2007, a time when the financial crisis bubble was just beginning to burst.
"The book is really about grief and overcoming grief," said Cann, who spent almost five years writing the first draft before searching for an agent.
He said the initial concept for the book came to him in a dream, and other aspects were areas he's always wanted to explore as a writer.
"In the dream, myself and a friend were in a mall doing heroin and shoplifting and being chased around by mall security," Cann said. "It was a bizarre and explicit dream and I felt it was important and decided to explore it. It took awhile to get there, but once I did, it worked nicely."
Digging into the tragedy of a hit and run is something he always wanted to analyze.
"I think it’s one of those crimes that’s common but people who do it aren’t seasoned criminals. It's not premeditated."
He's never seen a ghost, but his wife's Bergen County family has a lot of stories. "They are very Catholic, very mystical, spiritual people and have lots of stories. It’s fascinating to me."
It is his wife's roots in Glen Rock and his work experience in Manhattan that placed the story in the fictional suburbs of Bergen County.
"My wife and her family grew up in Glen Rock. In my other (non-writing) life I work in corporate finance and restructuring, and spend a lot of time in New York City, in that finance world and know the private equity people who buy distressed companies," said Cann. "I knew Glen Rock and Ridgewood. The town (in the book), while fictional, has a real geography base and a lot of towns I mention are real, like Ho-Ho-Kus and Paramus."
The aspect of ghosts he approached differently than traditional tales of apparitions.
"I’m very much a realist writer. A lot of ghost stories are fantastical. I don't approach my writing my way," he said. "It's a very non-fantastical ghost. I tried to make her (the ghost) as real as possible, but with a few things off. I wanted to present her first and foremost as a real girl."
Making the aspect of heroin use real in his book was important to him since it was something he himself had never done.
"I struggled with that. And I originally came at it from a stereotypical heroin use kind of place," he said. "Ann Marlowe’s memoir 'How to Stop Time: Heroin from A to Z,' is where I found fully functioning people who happened to use heroin. This revelation helped immensely."
The hardest part of writing "Ghosts of Bergen County," however, was the ending. "I don't write with an outline but at that point I made a list and looked at all the plot points I had to tie up. Then in 2012 I embarked on an agent search that was ultimately unsuccessful; she said the ending didn’t work."
He spent another year just on the ending alone and an agent in Austin, Tx grabbed his book in 2014. "Even then it went through a number of rewrites. I had an editor who really edited. My book is so much better because of her."
The Old Tappan Library is located at 56 Russell Ave. The talk is Friday and begins at 1 p.m. Call 201-664-3499 for more information.
The Hillsdale Library is located at 509 Hillsdale Ave. The talk is Saturday and starts at 1 p.m. Call 201-358-5072 for more information.
Dana Cann's short stories have been published in The Sun, The Massachusetts Review, The Gettysburg Review, Fifth Wednesday Journal, The Florida Review, and Blackbird, among other journals. He has received fellowships from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation. Dana earned his M.A. in Writing from Johns Hopkins University. He lives in Bethesda, Maryland with his wife and their two teenage children.