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The Beloved Wild

GCC professor pens first novel, inspired by Genesee Valley history

By Maria Pericozzi

Melissa Ostrom, an English literature professor at Genesee Community College, describes the Genesee Valley as having a big sky and rich soil.

She is originally from Jamestown but learned to love the area where she taught, which inspired the location for her first historical fiction novel. “The Beloved Wild” will be hitting the shelves on Tuesday, March 27.

“I think it’s beautiful here,” Ostrom said. “I had a beautiful teaching experience here. I love the landscape.”

In 1807, Harriet Winter, a 16-year-old headstrong girl, disguises herself as a boy in order to escape her overbearing parents. Her mother died during childbirth, and she is raised by her stepmother and father. She questions things around her, and travels to Western New York with her stepbrother, where she disguises herself as a boy. She uses the opportunity to see what she would normally be denied of, because of her gender.

“It’s not a fairy-tale with a bad situation,” Ostrom said. “She is cognitive of how the one path available for women is really not just narrow but comes with risk.”

Ostrom did research about the area, discovering information about Holland Land Company and the Genesee Valley.

“That was in my mind, wanting to tribute this place,” Ostrom said. “Conversations with friends in local history inspired me.”

Ostrom previously taught at Kendall High School for 11 years but decided to teach part time when her daughter was born, which gave her an opportunity to explore writing.

“I had done quite a bit of poetry writing in college,” Ostrom said. “I was interested in trying other forms and I started experimenting in fiction and that’s what I’ve been doing. Teaching a little bit and writing a lot.”

Although Ostrom had no connections in the publishing world, she built up her resume by publishing short stories, establishing her credibility. When it was time to send her novel, it gathered a lot of interest, Ostrom said.

“I think I had prepared myself with failure before that I wouldn’t go anywhere with it,” Ostrom said. “I got immediate request for manuscripts, and the agent I went with was the most enthusiastic.”

Ostrom will be celebrating the launch of her first novel at 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 14, at Lift Bridge Bookshop, located at 45 Main St. in Brockport.

Macmillan Publishers gave Ostrom a two-book deal, so she is currently working on a contemporary book with serious subject matter but is set on Lake Ontario. The novel will be coming out next year.

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