By A. Cydney Hayes
October 19, 2018 at 11:20 AM EDT
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Credit: Polis Books

Sometimes life seems stranger than fiction. For award-winning author Joseph Olshan (Clara’s Heart, Cloudland), fiction might be the only way to make life seem a little less strange.

Olshan’s most recent novel, Black Diamond Fall, released in September, weaves a fictional story through two real-life events: the disappearance of a Middlebury College student in 2008, and the vandalism of poet Robert Frost’s former home on an outer Middlebury campus two years later. The drama that ensued near Olshan’s Vermont residence inspired the two main plot points of his latest genre-bending thriller. He fills the space between with the emotional layers of the missing boy’s grieving mother, the investigating detective, and his middle-aged former lover.

“This is the first time I’ve written deeply from the point of view of an older man who is struggling with middle-age and getting older and trying to stay relevant and powerful in his connection with a younger man,” Olshan tells EW.

Although three of Olshan’s previous novels, Nightswimmer (1994), Vanitas (1998), and The Conversion (2008), have also involved queer relationships, Black Diamond Fall marks his first foray into autobiographical writing. Openly gay himself, the two-time Lambda Literary Award-nominated writer used elements of his own life in his approach to Sam Solomon, the 49-year-old skiing enthusiast whose relationship with Luc Flanders, the college student who disappears one winter night, drives a large portion of the book.

“I wanted to write about a very intense connection I had had with a younger man and to superimpose this history on the template of the tragic story of the student that disappeared. It was a very passionate relationship that stretched over two years, but it was seamless and not at all fraught with any of the drama or strife that characterizes passionate relationships,” Olshan said. “So obviously that would have been boring to write about. I had to take this romantic history and give it hardship and darkness and rupture.”

This nonfiction foundation — of both the love story and the driving question, “What happened to Luc Flanders?” — saturates Black Diamond Fall, creating a new sort of page-turning thriller that’s spiked with real, personal stories. For those looking to settle into a cozy mystery as we head deeper into fall, this one may hit a little more intimately close to home.

Black Diamond Fall is now available for purchase.

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