His name was Kenny, a member of the Cherokee tribe who lived out Qualla way and drove into town for a reading by a novelist he didn't know. I saw him flipping through the racks of used books at the back of City Lights and then slip into the back row as my reading began at the appointed hour. I could see his face captivated, and when it was time for questions, he raised his hand. "Where did you get that story about the Shadow Man?"
In the novel's opening, Royce hears about the Shadow Man as a young boy, a scary monster who lived in the woods who would steal the shadows of passing Indians, but especially those of little boys. Without their shadows to anchor them to earth, the Indians all blew away in the wind.
"I made it up, I believe. I don't think I ever heard anyone mention the Shadow Man."
Turns out the Shadow Man is a fixture in Kenny's family. The Cherokee elders talked about a ghost who roamed the ridges, they called the Shadow Man, who trailed after you if you went walking in a certain woods.
"Fiction is a force of memory improperly understood," John Cheever once wrote. And sometimes as a writer, you just hit paydirt, uncovering an archetype deep in the primal memory. That's part of the adventure of writing a novel and finding readers who bring their own memories and stories to its re-creation when they read your story.
I love getting questions like Kenny's and meeting readers like him, eager to go exploring.
My next sto at Accent on Books, my favorite little bookstore in North Asheville, not far from Beaverdam (no, not the one in the novel, but close enough.) I'll be there this Saturday, April 27 starting at 3 p.m. Patrick and Lewis, real bookmen, have been strong supporters of my work and good friends over the years. Accent on Books has a monthly book club as well that will take up "The Half-Life of Home" in May. So I'm psyched to meet more readers ready with their questions.
Novelist, journalist, aficionado of all things Appalachian.