I had a charmed childhood. Not because I was privileged, or because I grew up in idyllic surroundings. No. I simply had the perfect crazy childhood for a person who wanted to be a writer.
Not every writer has the good fortune of having a mother who was terrified of being alone, combined with a father who was a traveling salesman. Irony! Learned at age five. Not every writer has the sheer luck to have an aunt who was married to a car thief, and who, when she generously invited you to a picnic, asked you to bring the food because she spent all her money on bail. Or to live on a street where the neighbors had “body painting” parties. Key parties? Ice Storm? So passé, please.
Growing up, of course, I had no idea that as my mother’s fears and phobias morphed into a complete inability to deal with injury or illness of any kind, that her panic attacks could help me form the main character of my first novel, Standing Still. All I knew as a child was that my mother was very different. I knew this because other mothers did not scream the following when one of us scraped a knee: “Don’t show me! Go get your father! If Daddy’s not home, go get the neighbor! If the neighbor’s not home, flag down a stranger and ask them if they know how to make a tourniquet!”
My friends didn’t play at my house because they knew they were taking their lives into their hands. Any of us could drown in a pool of our own blood while my mother shrieked ‘do you need stitches?’ and ‘can you drive a stick shift and take yourself to the emergency room?” from behind her mask of clenched fingers.
Yes, we all knew my mother was unique. But as I grew older, I saw her and other members of my family for what they truly were: characters. And I have had an abiding interest in creating fictional folks to rival them ever since.
Kelly Simmons, a former journalist and advertising creative director, is the author of Standing Still, in paperback February 10, and coming soon, The Bird House. She visits as many book clubs as she can (here’s a great article in The Philadelphia Inquirer about her visiting clubs). And she’s now offering an exclusive Book Group DVD to those she can’t. For more information, see her website: www.bykellysimmons.com, or email her at kellysimmonswrites(at)yahoo(dot)com.