N: Thank you for taking the time to talk! Let's start with something easy, and something I'm sure you've answered before. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
R: I was born in an impoverished West Virginia family in 1951. My father suffered from PTSD and had night terrors and rages. Due to his World War II related disabilities, he couldn't hold down a job. As the oldest child, I felt a duty to protect and support my family. A lot of my writing draws on this early experience.
The next school year after my father died in a house fire, I won the 8th grade short story contest: God Sent, the story of a semi truck driver so consumed with theological debate the he caused a terrible accident. Looking back, I'm sure that my father's death influenced this story. My father, when intoxicated, would quote Bible verses.
After winning the writing contest, I began to dream of becoming a rich and famous author. However, as it often does, life got in the way. I never finished any more stories. Except for a couple of poems that were published in college, my writing and my dream were on hold. Instead, after I earned a Master's in Social Work degree in 1977, I wrote children's social service models, grants, research, statistical reports or child abuse and delinquency -- the stuff that aspiring fiction writers produce when true love is denied.
N: So what was it that finally got you to write this novel?
R: I've worked in the field of children's advocacy for over forty years. In 2012, I started a job as a psychotherapist at our local mental health center -- an intensive day program for kids with serious mental health issues, most of whom had been traumatized, some sexually abused.
N: And your job inspired the creation of Lacy?
R: In 2006, my life changed. A skinny little girl with stingy brown hair was admitted to the program. During group therapy sessions, rather than talking about her traumas, she spoke of her hopes and dreams for the future -- finding a permanent family that would love and protect her physically and emotionally. The Lacy Dawn Adventures project was conceived that session: an empowered female protagonist who took on the evils within the universe.
Not only did I get the chance to speak with Robert, but I got to speak with the main character herself, Lacy!
L: My name is Lacy Dawn. I'm eleven and I live down the hollow. All my family live in West Virginia, but my mom and dad have been out of state. My dad went to Iraq -- that's where he got so messed up. After he came back, I still remember the day, they moved to Cleveland. That's where I was born, but I don't remember nothing 'cause I was just a baby.
I'd never been anyplace except the hollow until I met this guy. Now, don't get all worried, 'cause it's not like that and I'm only eleven -- not old enough for a boyfriend. He's got a weird name, but I call him Buddy after my cousin who lives on the hard road.
Buddy lets me get on his computers and I've been tons of places that way. It's almost like going there in person cause he has a bunch of TVs on his walls and I can see all the angles. I've been way back in time and seen stars, met people that don't even look like people, but Buddy said they are just like me.
Buddy said that I'm not really eleven. He said that I'm really, really old. But, you look at me. Do I look old? Heck no. I'm just a kid, a regular kid like everybody else in school. Buddy lives in a spaceship and he's going to take us all out of state. He said that it's part of my training for a real important job that I don't understand yet, something about saving the universe. It's supposed to be a long way from the hollow.
N: Wow! That sounds pretty cool to have gone back in time. What was your favourite time to visit?
L: Every time and place that I've been outside of the hollow feels weird to me. Maybe it's 'cause I'm not used to it -- all those buildings, and strange plants and the people -- gosh, you can't imagine how many bodies that a person can be inside.
Anyway, I'll tell you about one place that I went on Buddy's computers. It was a really, really strange trip 'cause he told me that I was in that movie, I didn't believe him at the time, and got mad. Now that I've grown up a little bit, I know that it's true. I can't explain how, but I just know it.
It was like a huge jungle with these giant plants everyplace. We weren't walking, kind of zooming in. Then, I heard stuff, not like talking, but it was people noises -- grunts kind of. When we got closer, there was a bunch of people and they were naked! I'd never seen naked people before, except Buddy and he ain't got no private parts, so I got scared. My mom raised me up right. Know what I mean?
There was a humongous green bean that had grown into a tent type thing where those people lived. I saw some of them hunting like my daddy -- I helped him once and drained it and cut it up. It was gross! There's still some in the freezer. Are you hungry? My mom will make you something. There some apple pie left over from grandma's birthday. No? Okay.
Anyway, I went inside the green been casserole, it was alive, yes a live plant that these people lived inside with great big beans. It was filled with people and stank bad. Right in the middle of the floor, there was a cook stove. I told Buddy that it was impossible 'cause there wasn't any electric back then. My mom wants an electric stove.
This stove didn't have no fire, or smoke, or nothing, but meat and green beans sure were sizzling on top. I got in line for some food. When it was my turn, instead of filling up my leaf with grub, this really tall guy conked me on the head!
He did it again a couple of times, but after I kept getting up and holding my leaf to him, I finally got some food. I gave it to some skinny, hairy women and kids. I wasn't really hungry anyway.
That's one really weird place I went. I was glad to come home. Buddy said that it was hundreds of thousand of years ago and that was when I was born. Weird, huh?
N: That is weird! That sure is a long time ago to be born. You really don't look that old!
L: The kids at school say that I'm slow growing up. Some of the girls are starting to grow boobies. You know. I'm glad that I'm not. I've seen what it's like to be an adult, and I know about stuff, adult stuff that's gross -- I learned it from the computers. I'm in no hurry to grow up.
My dad got hooked on beer -- he's grown up. My mom's teeth are rotting out -- she's grown up. Tom, our neighbor is just plain weird, something about Bipolar Disorder but I bet that he was okay as a kid. I don't really trust any grown ups except for mom. You seem okay. Are you cool?
I'm in no hurry to grow up. That's for sure.
N: Well, I think I'm cool. But that's my opinion. I think everyone has a little something different about them. I'm glad you're not in a hurry to grow up. But you sure have seen a lot for someone your age! Do you have a favourite memory of you and your friend Buddy?
L: Except for mom, Buddy is the only person who has never been mean to me. I love my best friend. Her name is Faith, but she is a sour puss sometimes. I think its because her family is so messed up. Her daddy does stuff to her that I can't tell you about and it makes her mad at the world. She takes it out on me sometimes, but doesn't really mean it. I understand.
Daddy switches me and mom. You know what that means. Look, see that scar. He was drunk then and apologized for it when he sobered up. I love him but he says spare the rod and spoil the child so much that I'd rather be rotten. So would mom. She gets it worse than me sometimes. So did grandma, both sides. Daddy says that it's in the Bible, but I've read that book four times and I've never even seen the word "switch" in it.
I love Buddy. He's going to be my boyfriend for when I get old enough to have one. He's a doctor, sort of. He has a beautiful living room in his spaceship. It's not that I only care about money, but it does help if a man has a little. When I'm really, really old, like twenty or after I graduate from college, I don't know when, but Buddy and I are going to get married. I ain't going to let him touch be in a bad way before then, 'cause I know better. He don't mind at all. He ain't no pervert, and that's another good thing.
One of the best times with Buddy was when he helped save me and my mom from getting switched worse when Daddy was really drunk. My other best friends, the trees in our Woods, helped too. I can talk to them and they tell me what to do sometimes, but they are not smart like Buddy.
Buddy makes me do too much homework. I mostly study when I visit him. But, everytime that I go there, it's fun, so all my memories are good. I'd invite you except he don't want other people to know where he lives.
N: That's a very good thing. I'm sorry Faith isn't always nice to you, and about your daddy. I'm glad you have a friend like Buddy. And I like that you said you might graduate college. If you could be anything when you grow up, what would you be?
L: I've got a dog. His name is Brownie cause that's what he stole off the table, instead of a weiner, when we went to the family reunion last year. I've had other pets before and I'll tell you this -- don't ever have a pet that could end up on your plate for dinner. I've been there and done that - two duck, a chicken, a turtle... I don't want to think about it.
Anyway, ever since I was a little girl, a long time ago, I've wanted to be a Veterinarian. I know better now, but I think that it started when I wanted to fix one of my dead pets, bring him back to life. That's silly, huh? I would still love to be a Vet and there are a bunch more animals in this universe than I ever realized. I've been plugged in and learned the name of thousands.
Oh, I forgot to tell you. Buddy put this port in my neck, see under my hair. I don't have to study like regular. He just plugs me in and there it goes, inside. That's how I learned about all those animals, and a bunch of other stuff on other planets. Some of them are soooooooo cute? Like an Olein. It looks like a fuzzy ball until the eyes peep out from under its hair. I'd love to have one, but I've have to explain where I got it and that would be hard.
Anyway, I'd still love to be a Vet, but Buddy said that I have a really important job to do first -- to save the universe. I don't understand what he means yet, but I'm learning fast.
Sometimes I wonder if my brain might just explode if it gets so full. Buddy says no way and I trust him. Maybe after I save the universe I can be a Vet. I love animals.
N: Maybe you will! If you think about it, saving the universe would be taking care of all the animals in it and making sure they're safe. When Buddy tells you that you have to save the universe, do you believe him?
L: I sort of believe Buddy about saving the universe, but I don't see how. I know that he would never lie to me, not on purpose. I'm just eleven. I can't even save myself. How can I save the universe? He seems so sure that I'm the one, something about monitoring my evolution and that now I'm ready. I'm not going to argue with him about it, but I have doubts. Maybe he got me mixed up with someone else. I don't want to tell him that or he might leave and go looking for a better savior of the universe. I'm sure there are lots of people who would do it better than me. Please don't tell him, okay?
N: I won't tell him. Promise. But I think he's shown you how you can, by showing you all those cool things, and taking you places. Everyone has doubts, but all you need to do is believe in yourself. Buddy believes in you, and I think everyone else does, too.
L: Thanks. I've always made straight A's in school. It's important for Mommy to have something to brag about because she ain't got much else. She brags about me all the time. I've never even missed a day of school since I started. When the roads are slick, I have to catch the school bus at the top of the hill and that's a long walk. If I can do that good in school, maybe I can save the universe. It couldn't be THAT much harder.
N: I think you're right. How much harder could it be? Lacy Dawn, I'm so glad you were able to talk to me today. I just have one last question for you, if that's okay. It seems like you've been through a lot, with your daddy coming back from the war and being mean. What would you like to say to other girls who might not have a friend like Buddy?
L: There are many fake boys in this world and on every other planet. I've learned all about it. Fakes don't really love you, maybe they don't love anybody but themselves. My advice to girls is to be careful. I just got lucky, or maybe it was destiny like Buddy said. I met someone who was true. Just because a guy is cute, doesn't mean he has a good heart. Buddy is cute but that's not the main thing.
I'm not just talking to girls. Everybody, love should not be painful, self- deprecating, told you that I know big words, not that I like to use them. Love is built on mutual respect. Cute has nothing to do with it no matter what gender. Buddy ain't really got a gender except the one he decides to use, including no gender if that's what helps get the job done. I'm lucky that he's starting to love me. Give me a little time and I'll have him wrapped around my little finger, but I'll never take advantage of his love for me in a bad way. I learned how to do that from my mommy, not from computers.
If someone cares about your best interests, that's love. It's stronger than just caring about what you want to do because sometimes you may want to do something that's harmful to yourself or others. If that person loves you, he will not tell you what to do with your life, but will help you rethink things on your own. I hope everybody makes a good friend like Buddy. You can't have him. Sorry, he's taken. He's mine!
To read more about Lacy Dawn, you can buy the book here, and author proceeds are donated to a child abuse prevention program.