Author Constance Squires grew up in a military family and loves rock ’n’ roll.
Her main character, Lucinda Collins, also grew up in a military family and also loves rock ’n’ roll. But, Squires said, although she shares a lot with her character, the two are very different.
“There’s not a single event in the story that actually happened,” she said. “But I feel really comfortable with Lucinda’s voice. There’s a lot of it that’s coming out of myself.”
Instead of actual events, she drew on her experiences growing up as a so-called Army brat to write her debut novel, “Along the Watchtower,” which follows her main character from the divided Germany of the 1980s to Fort Sill.
“I wanted to tell the story of all the Army people coming back and forth from Germany to Fort Sill for all these decades,” she said. “It wasn’t so much that I made the trip from Germany to Fort Sill because that’s what happened to me, but it would be unrealistic otherwise.”
“Watchtower” follows Lucinda Collins from the age of 13 into adulthood, from Germany to Oklahoma, as she struggles to understand her family and her place in the world. The novel jumps in time, often feeling like poignant vignettes of one family.
There’s a reason for that: Squires’ debut started life as a series of short stories she completed for her dissertation.
Like Lucinda, Squires moved to Fort Sill with her family and graduated from Lawton High School. She completed her undergrad at the University of Oklahoma, then earned master’s and doctorate degrees at the University of Central Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University, respectively.
“I just sort of moved up Interstate 35 collecting degrees,” Squires said.
From that dissertation, one of her short stories was accepted by The Atlantic to appear in its annual Summer Fiction issue. At the behest of her agent and editors, she turned her collection of stories into a single novel.
To knit the story together, Squires weaves certain elements throughout. One of those is music — rock ’n’ roll, to be precise. In the beginning, Lucinda equates music with religion; like religion for some, music is a constant in her life.
“Rock ’n’ roll is so important to her, and that has everything to do with growing up as an Army brat overseas. Her external environment is really unstable; she can’t trust that things are going to stay the same around her,” Squires said. “It’s funny, because rock ’n’ roll is usually about freedom, but the way it functions in this book, it is a source of stability for Lucinda. A song is like a room you can walk into, and it’s the same every time.”
“Watchtower” is very much a focus on one family and how it changes over time, and while Lucinda’s taste in music also changes, it remains a touchstone on which she can rely.
“It’s just something that she trusts,” Squires said.
“Everything else around her is in flux, but the music is always the same, it’s always there. Also, it’s sort of a counterbalance to the military rhetoric.”
She said she had a lot of fun picking out the right music for the story. It was important, she said, for the songs and lyrics to which Lucinda refers to be evocative and give meaning to the story.
“I have plenty of people in my life that don’t know rock ’n’ roll, and I wanted them to be able to read it and get the mood of the music or what was important about it without having to know it,” she said.
But it wasn’t always easy. “In various drafts, I tried to give her way cooler taste,” Squires said, “but it just seemed phony to me. I tried to give things that sort of gave a feeling for the mood of the culture at the time.”
Putting together the original story collection that became the novel was a lot like assembling an album, she said.
And while Squires loves short stories — she teaches them as part of her position as the director of UCO’s master of fine arts program in creative writing — she said she’s looking forward to writing more novels.