By LANDON JAMES
Iris Wight is a 16-year-old girl who has faced the unimaginable. After being abandoned by her abusive mother and the death of her father, Wight hops around from one abusive relationship to another. Initially, family friends take her in, but problems soon arise forcing her to leave Maine and spend time with extended family in North Carolina.
She ends up staying with a terrifying aunt and violent cousin who continue the trail of abuse that seems to follow Wight everywhere she goes.
That is the riveting premise of University of Mary Washington English Professor Steve Watkins’ newest novel What Comes After, his most recent work of young adult fiction.
In 2009 Watkins received the Golden Kite Award for Fiction for his celebrated coming-of-age novel Down Sand Mountain.
“I’m interested in people’s struggles to do the right things,” said Watkins.
In one scene, Wight is taken out to the woods and violently assaulted at the hands of and under the supervision of her caretakers. It is a tantalizing story about Wight facing and overcoming struggle, while showing her ability to connect and interact with the community around her.
Watkins wants every book of his to present a new challenge. The self-proclaimed literary realist said What Comes After is no different.
The novel is loosely based off of an article Watkins read in a November 2008 copy of the Free Lance-Star regarding a young lady involved in a brutal assault case, but in no way is What Comes After a continuation of the circumstances surrounding the event.
“I didn’t want to be limited by what actually happened, but i also didn’t want to tell her story,” explained Watkins. “The story is about Wight being completely unmoored at the mercy of the waves and finding herself.”
Drawing from his extensive involvement and experience as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), Watkins has witnessed the destruction that abuse and neglect can have on children and young adults firsthand.
“It’s very easy to get cynical about people when you see the worst of the worst,” Watkins said. “You just got to remember that there is hope even when a lot of time there isn’t.”
CASA recruits and trains volunteers to work with abused and neglected children to represent their best interests and help them when they need support the most, noted CASA’s official website.
According to the website, CASA volunteers “watch over and advocate for abused and neglected children, to make sure they don’t get lost in the overburdened legal and social service system or languish in inappropriate group or foster homes.”
From his still active involvement in CASA, Watkins has gained a unique perspective on the troubles of child abuse and neglect he incorporated into What Comes After, making it a truly moving and emotional addition to Watkins’ collection.
On April 5, Watkins will read some of his favorite passages while revealing even more insight into the inspiration and making of his newest work.
The reading will start at 5 p.m. at the “Mansion” on the corner of College Avenue and William Street. Watkins promises it will be an afternoon of moving writing, followed by a book signing and settling a deep-seated score between Watkins and the rodents he detests the most.
“I hate ferrets and I get my ferret revenge in this book,” Watkins explained.
Do not miss your chance to hear Watkins give an exceptional reading and have your own copy of What Comes After signed by Watkins himself.