Welcome to the Literary Road Trip and my Spotlight On . . . Jonathan Sturak. I love starting out the week featuring a Pennsylvania author. Today help me welcome Jonathan to this edition of the LRT project. His debut novel is Clouded Rainbow, which is a romantic suspense story that takes place within 24 hours: When a night on the town ends in a horrific accident, Roger Belkin must search the city to find his lost wife.
For many people, the Poconos mean time off for outdoor sports. But for Jonathan, they mean something completely different.
It was a long journey into the unknown. The floors rocked. The smell of salt lingered. Food disappeared. Some wouldn’t make it, yet everyone was willing to try. This is not the plot to some fictional suspense story, but rather the real life voyage my great-grandparents made from the former Czechoslovakia to America in the 1910s. Many Americans can cite a similar story of their ancestors’ trip to the New World greeted by the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. My great-grandparents continued a little farther, finally stopping in the beautiful Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. Northeast Pennsylvania has an eclectic mix of Eastern Europeans who had settled only 90 miles west of New York City.
Growing up, I can remember my grandmother fixing pierogies, haluski, and babalki dishes for family get-togethers on holidays. This was my life in Hazleton, Pennsylvania as I grew up in the 1980s and 1990s. Life seemed straightforward, with familiar faces around every corner in this old coal-mining town populated by about 20,000 people from countries that were a part of the former Soviet Union.
But things quickly changed as I moved away after graduating from Penn State. I witnessed a world vastly different from everyday life in Northeast PA. Eastern Europeans were the minority in most every other city I lived in. Gone were the Byzantine Catholic churches, mailboxes with names ending in a hard sound, and of course the many meals made with starch.
I love writing stories about life and the human condition where characters find themselves by going back to their roots to overcome obstacles. In my debut romantic thriller novel, Clouded Rainbow, the main character, Roger Belkin, is a successful businessman with everything going for him, who quickly regresses to a street bum after a horrific accident steals the light from his way. Only after Roger goes back to his familiar surroundings—a place in his life and his mind that comforts him—can he begin to put the pieces back together. We all have this familiar place, that childhood house, favorite vacation spot, or the memory of our first love that still lives in our heart.
I currently live in Las Vegas, one of the most transient cities in America, where I have embraced the culture and diversity. But there still exists something inside me that yearns for the gem nestled in the cold, snowy Pocono Mountains. I visit there every now and again and nothing changes, which I welcome in a sometimes overly changing world. While Hazleton is less than 2 hours away from America’s oldest and most populated cities, including Philadelphia, Boston, and New York City, it might as well be 200 hours away, with its concealed culture, distinctive dishes, and gracious grins of Eastern Europe’s children.
If you do make the trip to the Pocono Mountains for some skiing, relaxation, or just a break from the bustle, make sure to stop to talk to the locals. You might be surprised who you meet and the journey their ancestors had made.
Thank you, Jonathan. I know that for me, so many memories of my family and the holidays are centered around ethnic foods. Although three of my grandparents were born in the United States, we loved hearing stories of my grandfather's escape from the Russian revolution. It's hard for me to imagine a greater contrast between life in the Poconos and that in Las Vegas. No wonder you need a break from time to time.
Here are the covers of Jonathan's books—paperback and Kindle.
Jonathan Sturak has a website where you can learn more about him and his book, see a video of one of his readings, and catch the schedule for his book signings.
Jonathan Sturak is the author of Clouded Rainbow, a new suspense novel about an ordinary man lost in his tragic world. A writer and an entrepreneur, Jonathan grew up in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. He is a Penn State University graduate and holds degrees in Computer Science and Film. He currently lives in Las Vegas where he uses the energy of his firsthand experiences to craft stories about life and the human condition.
For more posts in the Literary Road Trip project, visit the LRT link page. Thanks to Michelle of GalleySmith for hosting this fabulous project.