My hometown once consisted of two hills, one hollow, a creek, and a zip code. Two hundred people lived there among a whole big bunch of holes in the ground from long-emptied mines. The Daniel Boone National Forest surrounded my life. As a child, I was no good at sports and too smart for the schools. My interests were utterly unavailable in Appalachia—art, theater, poetry, music, dance, architecture. The only movie theater was ten miles away and showed one movie per month.
I read two books a day, sometimes three. Eventually the county bookmobile began stockpiling books for me, bringing them over dirt roads as rough as creek beds. The imaginary world held tons more promise than the everyday circumstances of walking a deer trail through the woods to school. In the hard world of the hills, language was my only defense.
For many years I deliberately limited my vocabulary so as not to stand out, kept a book hidden in my lunch bucket on various jobs, and wrote only longhand in hundreds of spiral-bound notebooks that I never showed anyone. Writing was a secret world that helped me live.
It still is.