Tommytown' -- A 'mother's drama' rooted in Washington Co.
edited: Sunday, February 18, 2007
By Robert L Saunders
Not "rated" by the Author.
Posted: Sunday, February 18, 2007
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Frederick News Post Article
By Liz Babiarz
Publish Date: 08/10/03
Robert L. Saunders, a West Virginia resident, grew up in a small rural village located four miles northwest of Sharpsburg in Washington County. The secluded village, where his house was one of five, helped to develop his imagination as a child and sparked his creativity as a grown man.
His experience in the hamlet is the backdrop for his novel, "Tommytown" and the sequel, "The Boys of Tommytown." Set in the 1950s, the novel is based on true events as well as real people. Mr. Saunders calls "Tommytown" a "mother's drama" because it tells the story of a mother's struggle to raise a family on her own. In fact, the main character, Helen Foreman, who has eight children and even more hardships, is based on Mr. Saunders' own mother, Ruby.
"From these rural roots, I drew upon to reveal the true heroine of 'Tommytown' ... my mother," Mr. Saunders said. "Even while living in pure poverty before the days of welfare and public assistance, she overcame many hardships, but she never wavered in her compassion and commitment to her children."
Mr. Saunders said the inspiration for the novel came during one of his visits to his mother while she was in the latter stages of Alzheimer's disease in a nursing home.
"One Sunday afternoon, my wife and I visited my mother," Mr. Saunders said. "She was standing there in a flowered dress, fiddling with her fingers ... I thought about her having been uprooted from her home and placed in a strange setting. I thought about how lonely she must have felt... ."
The story is told through the eyes of an 11-year-old boy, focusing on the sadness he feels for his mother and his antics with his brothers. Mr. Saunders said the novel is written as a "literary monument to (a mother's) steadfast faithfulness" to her children.
In the novel, the character Helen is married to a man who makes a decent salary as an engineer, but he has abandoned her, choosing to live comfortably on his own in the city. Thus, she works nine-hour shifts at a diner in order to provide food for her children, living in a house that is "beaten down by years of neglect."
"It has always been difficult for me as a writer to balance my literary standards with the personal pain of reliving the unpleasant circumstances of poverty and the absenteeism of a loving father," Mr. Saunders said. "But Tommytown, with its vast playground of fields and trees, gave me a chance to experience that wonderful time in life -- youth."
Even though the family lived in poverty, the home was always filled with the clattering, humming and laughing sound of the Foreman children's voices. Mr. Saunders said the family's spectrum of youth, a mix of juveniles and adolescents, makes "Tommytown" a humorous and compelling read.
By the book's completion, Mr. Saunders' character Helen is faced with the decision to continue as a single-mother or marry another man, who is no better than her first husband. It takes the traumatic illness of her son, Barry, to make her understand that her husband will never take on the responsibilities of being a real father to her children, Mr. Saunders said.
"This sorrowful fact eludes Helen throughout 'Tommytown' until, in the end, she must face the awful truth," Mr. Saunders wrote in a description of the novel. "Does she do it alone or does she continue with her belief that a father, even a poor father, is better than no father at all?"
In addition to "Tommytown," Mr. Saunders has finished the sequel, "The Boys of Tommytown," which is currently under review at the publisher. Set in 1955, this novel focuses on the brothers -- Barry, Noah, Petey and Chris -- as they have new adventures driving a car, camping in the trees and meeting new people. Mr. Saunders said the sequel was written to satisfy readers' demands. The book is a more detailed drama than "Tommytown," and goes into the mother's feelings and the children's personalities.
Mr. Saunders' first novel was titled, "Quarter of a Second," a mystery about a women who encounters problems with her employer after she sees confidential documents. The woman, Susan, seeks the helps of Barry Foreman. Mr. Saunders said, "The trials, the triumphs, the romance of Barry and Susan come to life in this story describing how they join forces to overcome insurmountable odds in their battle ... ."
"Quarter of a Second" evolved through a painful experience Mr. Saunders' wife, Janet, had at her work. In that one quarter of a second, Mr. Saunders said her life was changed. After seeing Mrs. Saunders was upset over this painful experience at work, Mr. Saunders said he would write a story about what happened to her.
"I really didn't know what I was getting into," Mr. Saunders said. "I must admit that I struggled. But, I committed myself to the craft. I attended several writing courses at Montgomery College and purchased books about writing fiction."
Currently, he is working on his fourth novel, "Gathering of Cans" and plans to continue writing until he can't write anymore.
"What I enjoy is weaving the words and creating a scene from the words, and continuing to make a viable story ... so it is a story a reader will truly enjoy," Mr. Saunders said. "Even though 'Tommytown' had its painful experiences, it is still no excuse for me not to write a story that is compelling for the reader and worth their time."
"Tommytown" and "Quarter of a Second" are $25 each and available at www.amazon.com. Mr. Saunders can be contacted at 304-274-1699.