How do you temper the darkness inherent in writing a book about lynchings in Alabama?
For Fort Wayne native B.J. Hollars, writing a humorous collection of short stories based on growing up in the Midwest was the antidote.
Hollars, who attended Lindley Elementary School and Canterbury middle and high schools and now lives in Wisconsin, will be at the Aboite branch library Saturday to discuss his newest book, “Sightings.”
Now an assistant professor of creative writing at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Hollars attended the University of Alabama, where he received his master's degree in creative writing.
While there, he became interested in the 1981 lynching of a black man, Michael Donald, in Mobile, Ala. That interest turned into a thesis, which evolved into a book, “Thirteen Loops: Race, Violence and the Last Lynching in America.”
But writing such a “hard, dark story” required taking a break sometimes, which led to a collection of short, quirky coming-of-age stories. And living in Alabama, “I kind of became nostalgic for the (Midwestern) landscape again,” Hollars said.
The result is “Sightings,” a collection of 10 stories that push the boundaries of realism in a uniquely Midwestern setting.
Hollars describes Fort Wayne as “a place I can't get away from,” and it shows up often in his book. The first chapter is titled “Indian Village,” and it's set in the real Indian Village neighborhood off Bluffton Road. Hollars didn't grow up there, but he described it as “always a neighborhood that amazed me,” and his family had a membership at the neighborhood pool there.
While Hollars said “Sightings” isn't in any way autobiographical — he joked that he never had a Sasquatch on his basketball team, like one of the chapters in the book does — “the emotions and the feelings (in the book) are very real and could be relatable to anyone,” he said.
While Hollars was working on “Sightings,” which he said took close to five years, his mentor at the University of Alabama was another Fort Wayne native and accomplished writer, Michael Martone, who has written more than a dozen books, including “Fort Wayne Is Seventh on Hitler's List.”
“He was the teacher in the workshops where most of these stories were written,” Hollars said.
Although Hollars has been gone from Fort Wayne for about a decade, it's “certainly a place I love to visit,” he said. His and his wife's parents both still live here. When they come back, he likes to visit Coney Island and take in a Fort Wayne TinCaps game.
After being away for so long, Hollars realizes he sees Fort Wayne in a “sepia-toned,” nostalgic sort of way.
“It's certainly not the same place I remembered,” he said.