I must begin by adamantly reiterating that my novel, Fighting Kudzu, is just that. It is a novel. It is a work of fiction. I based many of the events in the book on some of my own personal experiences. I based some of the characters on people I know. I did use the bones of my own experience, but all of the substantial soft tissue that forms the shape of the story, came solely from a creative place within my own imagination. It was difficult having conversations with people that, perhaps, saw parts of themselves in the characters. The characters are all my own creations. I am not Noble Thorvald. Noble is a heroic character that faces her struggles with love and determination. I am certainly not Noble. It was difficult and emotional coming face to face with some of the negative consequences of having written this story.
I also visited a number of locations that are featured in the story. Again, emotions bubbled. I could see little Noble playing in the magnolia trees as I stood beneath them. I felt Noble's pain as I entered the "Golden Pantry." I walked the sidewalk that Noble traveled on her daily walk from school, and I felt her uncertain anxiety as she approached that house. It was a journey that I needed to take. As I'm adapting this story into a screenplay, it was important for me to freshen those visual points of reference. But, certainly not easy.
This trip home opened up a lot for me. It helped me to get a little look at the feelings people who know me have about this work. It offered opportunities to reconnect. To revisit old misunderstandings and hurts. To start to heal some of those things. To mourn missed opportunities, while acknowledging the existence of second chances. Most importantly, I was able to plant my feet on the knowledge that some things always remain.
I stood amongst the magnolia trees that I had climbed and played in 40 years ago. The very trees that became Noble's "magnolia friends" in Fighting Kudzu. There was a rusted wagon parked beneath them. That was new. Other than that, they were exactly as I remembered. They remained calm, sturdy, peaceful. Their limbs still bent to the ground, welcoming me to climb, urging me to trust them. As a chilly breeze blew, their thick leaves rustled slightly. I think they were speaking to me. I'm sure they said my name. I'm sure they said they are proud to have played a role in my life, and to now be playing a role in Noble's story. Before saying good-bye, I placed my hand against one rough branch, and I thanked them. I thanked them for being such a constant for me in an unpredictable time. I thanked them for teaching me so much. And I thanked them for remaining the same.