The best writing comes from that place deep inside, unknown until it is set free. So it is with my new novel, NEELIE’S TRUTH. I did not plan to write a book that was controversial. I met Neelie James sitting on the back step of her family home.
I stood behind her and followed her gaze. Her father, who trapped to earn extra money, was skinning muskrats. He’d sell the dried pelts. There was nothing new for Neelie–she lived in rural Connecticut at the cusp of change, the late 1950s. And so the story began. I wrote around 270 pages. By the time I’d said good-bye, written the last page, Neelie had lived through violence and loss. A child deserted by her parents, Neelie struggled to defend herself.
She had picked up a rifle, also part of her life, and used it.
NEELIE’S TRUTH came out post Sandy Hook, and in the midst of still more shootings. Seattle Pacific University and Southern California just joined the list that no one wants to be on. As I’m working on this blog, the news about killings in Las Vegas has been running all morning. The refrain that runs through my mind is: Not One More.
But I wrote NEELIE’S TRUTH almost 20 years ago and left it stored in my hard drive. When I pulled out the manuscript in 2013, it was so old that I had to convert all the files from WordPerfect to Word. Not until I finished a full, intense edit did I understand what I had written. I stared at the stack of printed paper, marked up with pen and Post-it flags. I wanted to give my character a different, easier life. I wanted to take it back.
For Neelie James, there was always a full gun rack in the house. From deer hunting to shooting woodchucks in the cornfield, guns were the answer in her time and place. Unfortunately, in our time and place as well, against ourselves.
Readers are using worlds like “disturbing” and “thought-provoking.” I welcome your thoughts and reviews.