Constable: Warm memories, dark mysteries fuel Hawthorn Woods, the novel
Nestled in the nature separating Mundelein and Vernon Hills from Lake Zurich, the bucolic suburb of Hawthorn Woods has more trees than people. In August, it was named an International Dark-Sky Community because of its lack of artificial light at night.
"It was great growing up in Hawthorn Woods. I have great memories of this place," says Patrick Canning, a 34-year-old author whose latest novel is set in the suburb and even uses the title "Hawthorn Woods" instead of some made-up name.
"This is what I'm writing about. Why not keep it exactly what it was?" says Canning, whose descriptions of woods and houses are straight from his childhood. "The layout is largely as I knew it, but all the characters are invented."
That explains the dark twists and mysterious residents, who each come with dark secrets in this book Canning describes as a thriller along the lines of the Liane Moriarty novel "Big Little Lies," which was made into an HBO miniseries,
Born in Milwaukee, Canning moved to a split-level house in Hawthorn Woods in 1985 as a baby with his parents, Elizabeth and Terry, and older brother, Nick.
He went to St. Francis de Sales Catholic School in Lake Zurich. His father was a manufacturing rep for Walgreens, and his mom occasionally filled in as a teacher at local elementary schools. Hawthorn Woods is basically a character in his novel.
"It's all based on the rosy memories of childhood I had," Canning says. "The greatest benefit was the space you got."
He writes about the main character, a recently divorced woman named Francine, "watching barefoot children chase each other around the patio's ring of citronella candles." He compares the outdoor activities to "a living Normal Rockwell painting."
"It's still all about the words, but the way I think about things may be from a cinematic view," says Canning, who graduated from Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein in 2004 and then received a film degree in 2008 from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, where he still lives with his dog, Hank.
"I was dead-set on directing," Canning says. He actually co-wrote and directed a film called "Sleep Debt," which is available on DVD.
"I did a little bit of everything," says Canning, whose credits include editing, cinematography, postproduction work, visual effects and some screenwriting.
"It's very different from novel-writing," he says, noting screenplays are just a piece of the puzzle. "Novels are cool because that's the end product."
Unable to find a publisher, Canning started patrickcanningbooks.com and published his first novel, "Cryptofauna," which he describes as "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" meets "Alice in Wonderland."
His second novel, "The Colonel and the Bee," is about a female acrobat in a 19th-century circus who hops aboard a hot-air balloon with a daring adventurer.
"It's more of an old Jules Verne adventure novel," Canning says. "I have three books out, and each one is a completely different genre and style. I just like a good story and I'm pretty flexible as to genre."
The pandemic has been beneficial in some ways.
"It's been me and my dog stuck in the apartment all year. I count myself lucky because I've been able to write at home," says Canning, who generally writes in two-hour chunks, preferably in the morning when he's fresh. "We could get some great novels out of this. We'll see."
His life in the Westwood neighborhood, near the UCLA campus, is far different from his old life in Hawthorn Woods, but Canning does hold on to a part of his past in one way -- the background he uses when he writes on his computer.
"It looks like a yellow paper pad," Canning says. "For some reason that makes it a lot more inviting."