A while back at a concert here in my home town an older woman I knew told me that she was reading my book. She said she had only 30 pages to go and liked it so much she had wanted to skip the concert and finish reading it, but her husband had insisted that she come.
And then this woman in her seventies asked, “Do those things really happen?”
I told her that the book was not based on any actual events, but that, yes, nasty things like I portray in the novel do happen.
And they do. Worse things. And they happen in our little town, on which the Candlesberg of my novel is based.
Since publication of the book late last year, in my hometown of eighteen thousand some residents: an 18 year old woman was stabbed in the back and her throat cut, allegedly by the father of her two year old child; a 20 year old woman died of a heroin overdose and her two “friends” are charged in her death; a local young man was recently convicted and sentenced for holding up a drug store this past summer at gun point to steal narcotics to feed his addiction; another young woman, pregnant, was doused with gas and threatened to be lit on fire, and then punched in the stomach by the father of the child she was carrying.
The things the villain Jake does in the book are shocking and perverse, but they are not out of the realm of credibility. In a strange echo of Jake’s cluelessness about the evil of his own actions, the accused in the last instance cited above told authorities that he and the young woman had been “fooling around and maybe things got a little physical.”
Friends have said they wondered what I was thinking when I wrote those nasty things Jake does. I remember that when I first came up with one of the little “jokes” that Jake perpetrates on Angie, I thought it was funny, or at least very clever. As I wrote and rewrote though, I realized that what Jake had done wasn’t funny but was actually cruel and abusive. If I wanted to write reality based fiction I had to deal realistically with the consequences of those “jokes” and the real harm they would do. I left those things in—along with the vulgar language he and other characters use— because they help to define his character and make what he does later believable if not inevitable.
As a result though, A Girl in the Dumpster is a much darker book than I originally started out to write. But I think in giving a realistic, these-things-could-have-happened edge to these evil deeds, I also gave a less purely sentimental, more realistic edge to the kindness and love and justice that the book also presents. I wanted the good that people were trying to do also to be things-that-really-could-have-happened.
I think it worked. I don’t think that woman in her seventies would have been so eager to finish the book otherwise.