You’d be hard-pressed to find a family that doesn’t have a few skeletons hanging out in their closet.
Drunk uncle. Perverted grandfather. A distant ancestor who owned slaves or served time in prison.
Bethel Park author Ann Hawley used an enlightening family revelation as the basis for her first novel.
One day, many years ago, her grandmother received a surprising package in the mail—a relative sent her the Ku Klux Klan robe her father wore when he was a member of the white supremacist organization decades ago.
“I remember how upset I was,” Hawley said. “I always remembered that painful feeling. And I thought about this story for a long, long time.”
She added: “There are all kinds of skeletons in every family closet and we don’t realize how common it is.”
This startling and unwanted grain of family history inspired the book Memory of Cotton, which was published in May by Propertius Press. The fiction, aimed at young people, tells the story of Shelby, a 15-year-old girl who travels to North Carolina to try to solve a mystery surrounding the activities of her great-grandfather, a clansman, in 1956. This is Hawley’s second book after her 2014 memoir, Confessions of Virtue Gone Bad, in which she recalls the struggles of growing up in a button-down Christian conservative family amid California’s declining cultural mores in the 1960s. and the 1970s.
Hawley has had a varied career, working in California in television—she was an assistant to Matlock producer Dean Hargrove and worked regularly with Andy Griffith on the series’ script notes—and more recently as an administrator at a public accounting firm. She is a regular contributor to Pittsburgh Parent magazine and also writes for Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Bicycle Times and other publications. A recipient of several writing awards, Hawley teaches writing classes at the Allegheny County Community College community education program and also conducts weekend writing retreats.
Hawley admits that the transition from writing articles to writing fiction has been somewhat of a challenge.
“It wasn’t easy at first,” she explained. “It was definitely not an easy transition for me… It was very hard at first. It was very difficult for me to move to a different style of writing.”
But then she warmed up, driven by the fact that she could write “anything I wanted.”
“Memories of Cotton” is aimed at young people, and Hawley has a soft spot for the genre. She recalls being an avid reader when she was in the youth fiction target range, which is for readers aged 12 to 18. In fact, Hawley said she still enjoys reading youth fiction.
“There is simplicity in stories,” she said. “I’d rather read a book for young people than a romance novel.” She has a second adult novel in the works. It doesn’t have a name yet, but it’s about a 10-year-old boy in heaven who teams up with his teenage sister’s former pet rat to try and prevent her from getting into trouble on Earth.
“Memory of Cotton” touches on historical LGBTQ issues as well as issues of race, which would theoretically make it a target for book banners that have targeted books on these topics. According to Hawley, “I am absolutely horrified by these efforts. They are wrong and short-sighted… I am proud if my voice upholds the basic dignity and rights of man.”
She added: “It won’t stop me from saying what I think is the truth.”