One Town, One Book

I read in Stettler, AB this past week, scene of the mass murder that figures so centrally in my latest book, The Boy. While I was delighted to be invited by the Stettler Public Library, I was more nervous about this reading than about any I have ever done. I was keenly aware during the four years I worked on this book, the numerous times I drove to Stettler to interview people with memories of this 1959 horror story, my visits to the Stettler Museum where some of the material including police photos is archived, that this is a story that belongs to a community. And that the slain family belongs to the community as well. I dealt with my early sense of trespassing — I’m a writer, this what we do — but I still wondered about the community reaction. What right do I have to tell their story, what purpose to digging up painful memories and sifting through the dust of a lost family?
Fifty-some people crowded into the reading corner at the library, some from Stettler, some from surrounding towns, an audience mostly my age and perhaps a little older, almost all of them with their their own memories of June, 1959. I sold every book I’d brought with me, including my reading copy, and I talked with almost everyone in the room by the end of the evening. This was a warm, welcoming, interested audience, and an experience rich beyond my imagining. “It was as though you told the story for them, and they came to thank you,” one of the librarians told me the next day. Does it get any better than that for a writer? Well perhaps a bit better. The Stettler Public library is planning a “One Book, One Stettler event to promote the joy of reading. This community-wide book club will celebrate The Boy and give everyone in the community the opportunity to discuss the book. Watch for more news about this book club, but while you are waiting, pick up a copy of The Boy and start reading!” Stettler Public Library I will go back to Stettler in October and meet even more of the community. A town reading The Boy. I love it.

2 thoughts on “One Town, One Book

  1. Dear Betty,
    I have just finished reading your facinating novel, The Boy. I loved it.
    My family did not come from Stettler, but we had close relatives that lived very near to the murder of the Cook family. As children we spent many holidays in Stettler. I was too young to remember the Cook murders but was often told about it by my father. He recalls that when Robert Cook was on the run that we were travelling to Stettler and he was so frightened by this man that he carried a knife under the back seat of our car in case we encountered him. The many years that we stayed in Stettler, I was always terrified by the Cook story and spent countless nights laying awake at night thinking about it. We also visited the Cook home to peer into the backyard and to look at the garage. I do not know if this man committed the crime but it has had a profound effect in my childhood memories.

  2. Thanks for this, Penny. I knew when this memory of the Cook murders came flooding back, that the story must be lodged in the memories of many others. But I could not have imagined how deep that memory lies, and how many people would come forward to tell me “I remember.” The writing of the book was a journey, but this other leg, the response from readers, is another road and one I am so pleased to travel.
    All best,
    Betty Jane

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