The Wrap Shack will host Hawthorne native Tommy Wiggins on Tuesday, Dec. 28, from 5 to 7 p.m. for an author meet and greet.
Wiggins has published five books, including “Disabled Leadership,” “The Spirit of the North” and his most recent release, “A Hope for Hawthorne.”
“A Hope for Hawthorne” was released in November and follows” A Happening in Hawthorne,” which came out in 2020.
Question: Could you explain your connection with Hawthorne?
Wiggins: My family has lived in Hawthorne (technically one mile north of city limits) for as long as there has been a Hawthorne. I was raised on Bristow Farms which sits on both sides of US Highway 301 at the 219A junction. I attended Shell Elementary and graduated from Hawthorne Junior/Senior High School.
Much of my family still lives on the farm or in Hawthorne and are active in the community. I have been inspired by the dedication of my friends and family to seeing our hometown thrive. Writing about the magic is my meager contribution from afar. I only left Hawthorne in 2001 to join the Army in response to 9/11. Now I count the days until my Army retirement when I can return to Hawthorne.
Q: How has Hawthorne inspired your writing?
Wiggins: “A Happening in Hawthorne” began during a weekend visit in 2019. I had spent the entire day working with my uncles cleaning up the property and I slept hard that night. I dreamt of my childhood on the farm having adventures with my sisters. The following day I walked around the farm reliving some experience of my youth. I was inspired to write it down. Not for myself but for my children to know what a truly amazing place Bristow Farms is. It was also an effort to let my remaining farm family know how much I appreciated them. When I first started writing the story, I did not even know what type of story it would be. I just began writing what it felt like to return to the farm and be flooded with wonderful memories.
With the popularity of “A Happening in Hawthorne” I received dozens of messages asking if there would be a sequel. I had not intended a series at all, but it occurred to me that the town of Hawthorne and its residents have been just as kind to me as my own family. I do not hold a single bad memory.
Hawthorne has a Facebook page named Hope for Hawthorne and I thought it would make an awesome title. While “A Happening in Hawthorne” primarily focuses on the farm and family, “A Hope for Hawthorne” examines Hawthorne’s hay day in 1928. More importantly, it helps us to think about the future of Hawthorne. In the story I describe Hawthorne (the intersection of US Highway 301 and State Road 20) as the intersection where the past meets progress, and they live in harmony. I truly believe that Hawthorne is on track to set an example for the region, and indeed the state, of the power of small communities. Hawthorne can grow and thrive while maintaining its small-town charm.
Q: What can readers expect from your books: “A Happening in Hawthorne” and “A Hope for Hawthorne?”
Wiggins: Both stories are written as Young Adult fiction. While there is a lot of truth in both stories, I hate to inform readers that I have not actually time traveled to 1928. Although the genre is YA, I have found that both stories have resonated and been quite popular with the older crowd who long to relive the good ol’ days for a while.
“A Happening in Hawthorne” has a bit more of a paranormal or spooky feel and “A Hope for Hawthorne” is perhaps a little more sci fi/time travel/historical fiction. Both books are full of southern charm that will take readers back to a simpler time. If you enjoy quick yet suspenseful reads, then you will enjoy these stories.
Q: What do you enjoy most about the writing process?
Wiggins: Some people run and some people read to escape. I write. I have had a need to create since I was a child on Bristow Farms with not much more than my imagination to play with. I enjoy just leaving the real world behind and creating my own. I have also written a couple of non-fiction books and dozens of articles, but I have found my joy in writing fiction. This Hawthorne series was born because I cannot be in Hawthorne physically right now, so I spend a lot of time there in my imagination. I dream about days past and more importantly what the future will look like.
I always knew that I wanted to be a writer. The nice thing about writing is that anyone can do it, but most people are afraid to. We all have a story in us. I love thinking about children at Shell Elementary reading a story about their hometown written by someone just like them.
Perhaps it will inspire them to write their own stories. We need more of that. I say less blogs and more books! The biggest challenge I faced, beyond mechanics, is finding my truth. As I am creating a story, I used to worry about how true it was. Then I took a Master Writing Course from Neil Gaiman and he fixed me forever when he said, “Storytellers don’t concern themselves with the truth.” That changed everything for me. Creating stories became easy. Now I just have to master the writing. Editing is the worst part of writing for me because my typing and grammar are atrocious.
Q: Your website tells how you write so that your words might travel further than your voice. How does it feel to see that happen through your books?
Wiggins: When I included that line on my website, I had one thing in mind: my family. I have family in Oregon and family in Florida and I currently live in Kansas City, Missouri. Due to my hearing loss, I cannot communicate on the phone. I communicate almost exclusively through writing, whether that be texting, emailing, writing a letter or yes even a book.
The other piece of that is also leaving something behind. A legacy if you will. Something my children can give to my grandchildren and even great grandchildren one day. A piece of me. Hopefully it will be something my family can be proud of. I write to share stories with my family, friends, and community.
As I completed “A Hope for Hawthorne,” I recognized my writing improving. I hope that I get a little better with each book. I have recently set a lofty goal for myself that I recognize is likely decades away, but my goal is to write the first Great American Novel of the 21st Century. I don’t mean James Patterson or Stephen King popular but something that will truly stand the test of time and change peoples lives. I think that is a worthwhile goal.
Q: Is there a third Hawthorne-set book in the works?
Wiggins: Yes. The third and final book of this trilogy will be titled “The Heart of Hawthorne.” It will tie up the loose ends and tell the story of Samuel Hawthorne (who we found in the swamp on Bristow Farms). This story will capture the essence and great history of Hawthorne’s service and sacrifice. In “A Hope for Hawthorne” readers learn that Samuel earned a Silver Star during WWI. “The Heart of Hawthorne” will tell the story of how he ended up on the front lines in Europe as a 14-year-old boy and what “foolish” thing he did to earn a medal for heroism.
Hawthorne will have to wait a little longer for book three. I have promised my 11-year-old son Gunner that I will write a story with him this year. We are already two chapters into his story which is titled “The Legend of the TommyGun Gang.” I would expect “The Heart of Hawthorne” in late 2023 or perhaps 2024.
Q: How excited are you for the author meet and greet?
Wiggins: I don’t even think that I can put into words how excited I am to launch “A Hope for Hawthorne” on December 28th in Hawthorne. I had hoped to launch both books during the Hawthorne Christmas parade 2020 and 2021 but the ongoing pandemic has ruined that idea. I am happy to partner with The Wrap Shack in downtown Hawthorne for this event. We are expecting to have a nice turnout.
Typically, when I visit Florida, I am on a tight timeline and running around to visit as much family as possible. I feel like this is the first opportunity I have had in a long time to see many childhood friends and hopefully make some new friends in the process as well. As excited as I am to see everyone, I am equally as excited for them to read this story and I hope it inspires the town to continue rebuilding the community for our next generation.
Q: What can participants expect from the event?
Wiggins: I think that the real draw will be the great food and beverages from The Wrap Shack under the sprawling oak trees and twinkle lights. I will try my best to do my part too. My goal is to talk to as many people as possible and just catch up. I intend to share my background and some backstory to the Hawthorne books. I will allow time for a question-and-answer session and try to avoid spoilers. Lastly, I will be signing books. I will also have a limited number of copies of “TommysTales” complete works for sale. I will be selling these copies virtually at cost for $10 a copy. My goals are to encourage kindness and encourage reading in the community.