Music, military family inspire Edmond professor's debut novel, ‘Along the Watchtower'

BY GEORGE LANG glang@opubco.com Published: June 26, 2011
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Packaging the past

The novel's title, which refers to the controlled life of an Army base, is derived from “All Along the Watchtower,” a song Lucinda thinks of as a Jimi Hendrix classic before her music mentor, Pfc. Nately, tells her about the original version from Bob Dylan's 1967 album, “John Wesley Harding.” As the novel's cover art makes clear, Lucinda lives for music, and thanks to Nately's voluminous collection of vinyl, she is able to move beyond the mainstream hard rock of her early teens and discover the punk and new wave that would shape her as a young adult.

Looking back on the early to mid-1980s that dominate “Along the Watchtower,” Squires' view of the culture stands in stark contrast to the version promulgated by MTV's revisionist history of the period, in which only Duran Duran, a-ha and Billy Idol reigned supreme. What kept Squires sane during her own years as an Army brat was, first and foremost, American hard-core bands such as X, GBH, Meat Puppets and Black Flag. If it was on SST Records, the label founded by Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn, it was golden for her. When Squires' family returned to Fort Sill after Grafenwohr, she would sneak out of the house and drive to Oklahoma City to see Henry Rollins and Black Flag at the Bowery or the Minutemen in Norman.

“One of the things I've noticed about how the '80s have become packaged or ‘commodified' is how I disagree with almost everything they choose,” Squires said. “You know what I mean? That music was not important when it was happening — it was not!”

Because of the transient nature of her Army brat life, music served as a constant, a foundation in a childhood in which the moving van seemed to be constantly rolling up to Squires' front door.

“I can track my military life by songs, because we'd move every couple of years,” Squires said. “Even now in my family, someone will play a James Taylor song, and they'll be like, ‘When did that come out?' And I'll say, ‘That came out in the fall of 1975, because I remember being on my way to kindergarten in Tennessee.' They (the songs) were always really important to me.”

Life in Oklahoma

But Squires, who lives in Edmond with her husband, fellow UCO professor and novelist Steve Garrison and their daughter, does not want “Along the Watchtower” to be pigeonholed as a music novel. She said it is a story in which music plays a key role in charting Lucinda's growth toward womanhood, but her real goal is to tell the story of people growing up in military families and to depict modern life in Oklahoma, a place that Lucinda, much like Squires, comes to know well in the final chapters of “Watchtower.”

“That's my hope. I read all the time, and I've often had this feeling of frustration that nobody's showing our world,” she said. “What about us? What about Oklahoma, and there's something like 1 in 10 Americans who's been an Army brat.

“What's that guy's name who wrote ‘Generation X'? Coupland? Douglas Coupland? He had that term, ‘Poverty Jet Set,' and I always really related to that, because that's what it's like being in the Army,” she said. “You're living in these fabulous European places, but it's not like you're wealthy or anything. And you go back to these other places, you go back to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and you're sort of looked down on for not shopping at the right store in the mall. But I'm like, ‘But I got these in Paris? Is that not cool?' ‘No, no it's not.'”

Squires, who will read and sign copies of “Along the Watchtower” at 7 p.m. July 7 at Full Circle Bookstore at 50 Penn Place, will embark on a book tour in late July, and soon the music-filled, chaotic life of Army brat Lucinda Collins will be known by many more people. After years of work on the story, Squires is only now getting used to her first novel being out in the open.

“It's so strange to me that it doesn't just live in my computer — total trip,” she said, laughing.


BOOK SIGNING

Edmond resident Constance Squires' first novel, “Along the Watchtower,” publishes July 5. She will read and sign copies at 7 p.m. July 7 at Full Circle Bookstore at 50 Penn Place.

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