“To some extent … [Jo Joe is]… about a boy I once knew, who worked for us part-time after school, doing odd jobs around the house — when it wasn’t football season. Bob wasn’t very bright, at least not in those things I had been taught to measure intelligence. But once I explained to him what I needed or wanted, with clear step by step instructions, he would absorb those directions within himself. And even though Bob was taciturn — apparently not trusting in his ability to form the words to explain himself — after he thought a while about what I had said, he would tell me his ideas about how to make the work easier, better. Then, he did whatever it was I needed. Quite well.
“As long as it was something physical that needed doing, something he could see in his mind as involving his hands and body, Bob was quite competent. That’s why, while he did poorly in school, barely passing, he was the high school’s star halfback.
“Bob dreamed of avoiding the rut of a life that loomed before him. “The answer, he decided, was that he would join the Navy right after high school. The Navy would give him his chance to make something of himself in a way his father and mother and grandparents never had. When he talked about the opportunities — the wide world that the Navy would open up to him and the skills he would learn — his eyes sparkled and words flowed from him.
“About ten years after we moved away from that town, I was driving through and pulled into one of the gas stations. And there was Bob. Grown up and beaten down, filling my gas tank. He had been injured in a high school football game, and the Navy simply wouldn’t take him, because he was broken.
“For those of you who have already read my novel Jo Joe, you’ll recognize the story. That boy who really did exist was the inspiration for Joe Anderson. No, Joe Anderson is not Bob. But I did take pieces of details that I remembered about Bob and layered them onto Joe, fleshing him out, much as a sculptor adds slabs of clay to a skeletal armature before working it into shape.
“My novel Jo Joe was first born when I was out walking with Watson, our Golden Retriever, along the dirt road that follows the stream behind our home. I can tell you exactly when I had the first flash of inspiration that sent me running home, to quickly write down the idea. But I can’t tell you the precise germination of the story, because it was a convergence of so many influences.
“Bob was part of it.
“However, like all my stories, Jo Joe also evolved out of my confusion over the way the world works and how cruel people can be to each other. I often picture a hospital newborn nursery…”
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