When: Wed., March 16, 7 p.m. 2011
After reading the inside flap of Witches on the Road Tonight, you still may not be able to discern what the book is actually about. The book focuses on three characters that span three different time periods, and though they are all related, the only thing that really connects them is the concept of fear. But once you realize that Witches is not really about witches, or folklore, or even families, it's easy to understand: The book is about the nature of fear, and what it makes people do.
And once you get where the author is coming from, it makes perfect sense that she would write a book so centered on fear. Seven years ago, Sheri Holman gave birth to twin boys, one of whom had cancer. In the countless doctor visits that followed the diagnosis, she was never sure what they would find next. "Until then, I had never known the real meaning of fear," Holman told the Indy in a recent interview. "But living through that, I thought a lot about how sustained stress erodes belief and sanity. I think I got the smallest glimpse of what it is like to come through war; to see the fragility and randomness of life all around you and how fundamentally changed you are by the experience."
Her harrowing experience spurred Holman to observe the nation's events in a new light. Watching the nightly news and its 24-hour cycle of frightening the American public became increasingly difficult.
"Before, I'd sort of roll my eyes at the anxiety and aggression fostered by American culture," she said. "But after having lived through such a time of personal helplessness, I grew increasingly angry at those who make a game of keeping others afraid. It's a cheap kind of power, one that we should outgrow as kids, and I felt many didn't comprehend that they were playing with fire."
Once Holman paired that contempt of fear-mongering with her interest in ghost stories, the novel was born. She tracked the nation's obsession with fear back down to the Roosevelt era, when Americans were told they had nothing to fear "but fear itself." Naturally, she started her novel there, which also worked well because the Works Progress Administration projects of the time yielded great folklore, some of which make appearances in Witches. Holman reads and sign books at 7 p.m.—Lauren Shute