One day in 2017, I was shopping in the Peanut Shop of Williamsburg when the idea for my book, I Want to Go Home, came to me. If you have visited Merchant Square at the edge of Williamsburg, Virginia’s Historic area, you know that the Peanut Shop is always bustling with customers. We who live here contend that it sells the most delicious peanuts and boasts the widest range of flavor varieties anywhere, from sweet to savory. The best feature of this local treasure is that the counters are lined with samples, allowing customers to taste before committing to a purchase.
As I glanced around at the myriad samples, I began to wonder if homeless persons ever ventured in to take the edge off their hunger. Would anyone notice if a seventeen-year-old girl wandered in and began helping herself to enough free samples to stop the growling in her stomach? Could she pretend convincingly to be a normal shopper or blend in with students from the College of William and Mary who frequented the shop?
From this simple idea, a novel began to take shape and my protagonist, Abigail (Abby) Jordan, emerged. As I began the research for I Want to Go Home, I decided to set it in Williamsburg. Not only is it a town I know from living here for more than thirty years, but it is assumed to be a middle-to-upper-class community. Surely there are no homeless here. My research confirmed that, indeed, Williamsburg has a considerable homeless population, not just individuals, but whole families living on the streets or sheltered temporarily in motels.
My church participates with other local faith communities in a winter shelter program for these people, further evidence that they exist. With economic hardships resulting from COVID-19, the numbers have increased. Thankfully, the available services have ramped up in response to this growing number of citizens needing food and shelter. But such measures are temporary at best, especially in large cities where homelessness is rampant.
In my novel, I Want to Go Home, Abigail Jordan, the daughter of a college professor and a stay-at-home mom, lives in a middle-class neighborhood where her family is comfortable and her future is predictable… or so she assumes. As a high school senior, Abby is focused on getting into college where she can study to become a documentary filmmaker. She has no intention of marrying and having children right away, but when she is forced to parent her younger brothers, she must abandon her dreams.
First, I had to create a plausible scenario in which the Jordan family lost their home. Then, I set up a situation that compelled Abby and her brothers to run away. Where would I have them go, and who would they meet along the way? Would they be able to find shelter? Who would help them? These were questions I needed to answer as the plot developed.
I had fun including familiar local spots like the Peanut Shop, train station, and public library, also places I had visited in Washington, DC: Union Station, the Metro, the Smithsonian Museums, the Reflecting Pool, and the zoo, all places Abby and her brothers encounter on their odyssey. But I also enjoyed creating a fictional motel in Williamsburg and a fictional shelter, Harmony House, in DC. Finally, I needed to figure out how to restore hope for Abby and her brothers. After a harrowing journey, would these children finally find redemption and the security of a home? You can read their story here and discover the answers for yourself.
Cindy L. Freeman is the author of four award-winning essays and three published novels: Unrevealed, The Dark Room and I Want to Go Home. Her latest book, After Rain, is a collection of devotions offering comfort and peace in times of trial. Website: www.cindylfreeman.com; Facebook page: Cindy L Freeman. Her books are available through amazon.com or hightidepublications.com