I’m often asked if ANGEL is autobiographical. The story itself is pure fiction, but Angel and I grew up in the same time and place, and even if my family bears no resemblance to hers, her childhood was a lot like mine in many ways. We meet Angel as a teenager in the early seventies, and like me, she had grown up through the era of assassinations, Viet Nam, campus riots, psychedelic drugs and the struggle for civil rights. But in our our small east Tennessee town, nestled in a valley along the southern Appalachian mountain chain, children and dogs were still free to roam– often times together. No one worried about us much as long as we came home in time for supper. We traipsed the streets, the hills and the valleys, explored the ravine, walked the creek, rode bikes in vacant lots, snuck over fences and fled when caught, played tag games that spanned blocks and ran for home base like our lives depended on it. We came inside on summer nights covered with dirt and grass stains, breathless from running to kick the can or chase lightening bugs. We also got worms from going barefoot at the barn, stubbed our toes and stepped on nails. We breathed the polluted air from the chemical plant and the paper mill deep into our lungs, skinned our knees, broke arms, knocked out teeth and got stitches, but we survived–and thrived.
There was lots and lots of time, so much more then there seems to be now. When we weren’t running around, we read, listened to records and played games. We watched TV, too– Dick Van Dyke, I Love Lucy, Andy Griffith and Gilligan’s Island stand out in my memory, but I also spent hours alone in my room with books and dolls and imaginary worlds in the window sill or in my small wall closet. I once made a bed for a tiny three inch man out of rolled up toilet paper and sticks, inspired, no doubt, by Thumbelina’s little leaf boat. Reading stories fueled the desire to make up my own, and as time went on, to write them down.
So much has been said and written about how childhood has changed in the last half century, how air conditioning, television and computers drove us all indoors and created a separation between our day to day lives and the natural world–and how over scheduling has robbed an entire generation of cultivating an interior life, of discovering the power of imagination. There’s always been nostalgia for the ways of the preceding generations, as if what came before was always better. I don’t think of it that way because those now coming of age are bringing their own abundance of gifts into the world, however they grew up. But I do wonder what made us all so afraid, collectively, to let our children out of our sight, or just leave them alone to do nothing. I have hope that whatever this was, perhaps it can in some ways be healed by remembering, and that my grandchildren will have many a summer night of chasing fireflies and playing Kick the Can– all over the neighborhood.
P. S. ANGEL will be available in mid November in both paperback and ebook versions through Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and wherever books are sold. Look for my website and ordering information coming up soon!