The story of Centerville has been germinating inside me for many years. When I was growing up, living with my family in a small Midwest town, I witnessed the bombing of a drugstore. Like one of the characters in my novel, I narrowly missed being inside the store, and later I couldnít explain why I had chosen not to enter it just moments before the explosion. Because I was a child, a few years younger than the fourteen-year-old in my novel, I couldnít begin to understand what Iíd experienced and witnessed. Later, as an adult, I would dream repeatedly about large fires. In the dreams, I was often walking the edges of those fires, breathing the smoke and witnessing the confusion of buildings that suddenly looked nothing like storefronts or offices. I was searching for something in those fires, and I couldnít find my way out of them.
When I was younger I tried, unsuccessfully, to write about the bombing Iíd witnessed in a long narrative poem, and then for years I didnít think about it. Even after a dream of fire, I dismissed any connection. Then, after viewing the repeated television images of 9/11, like many others who had witnessed a bombing or large fire, I began to relive it.
Writing about an explosion became a way of both purging myself of the memory and honoring it. Around this same time, I came across a diary Iíd kept as child. In it was my description of what Iíd witnessed, as well as a list of questions: How does something like this happen? What would make someone do something like this? What does an event like this mean? I realized my questions, years later, hadnít changed and that the book would have to form an answer to them.
The act of fictionalizing allows one to uncover larger truths inherent inside an experience. When doing research for the book, I followed my fascinations from childhood, including the existence of the mounds in the Midwest. While the person who carried the bomb into the store in the town I had lived in died in the explosion, I kept him alive in my novel, in order to answer my questions. In earlier drafts I tried again and again to explain the character Iíd invented as the killer, but eventually I realized that such a character was beyond explanation. I opted in the end to let him remain an enigma.
The opening preface of the book is my own visualization of what I might have seen if I had entered the store. While all of the characters in the novel, including the fourteen-year-old, are completely fictional, the character of the minister was initially based very loosely on my father. I had the chance to share this with him shortly before his unexpected illness. An early reader of all my books, he was touched by the connection. His sudden death, in many ways, became the emotional fire that fed the rest of the novel.
Award Winning Novelist