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Longboat Key author builds home anew in novel

Peggy Lammers returns to small town Iowa with debut novel 'Onansburg, Iowa."

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  • | 11:05 a.m. October 26, 2020
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Longboat Key resident Peggy Lammers’ debut novel, ‘Onansburg, Iowa,’ is a literary work 25 years in the making, though Lammers thinks it’s been brewing in her for much of her life. 

“This germ of an idea started in 1959,” Lammers said. 

Born and raised in small town Iowa, Lammers draws on life to build a parallel world in the fictional small town of Onansburg but points out that “no one in the story is a depiction of any living or dead or dreaded.” 

She began percolating the idea in 1959 when she and late husband, David (then fiance), took a day trip to visit friends in another small Iowa town. While on their town tour, they saw a man driving an Army Jeep on the outskirts of town. Lammers’ friend, Tiger, pointed him out and said they wouldn’t believe what people in town said about him. 

“Tiger and Marilyn (Tiger’s wife) exchanged meaningful looks, obviously meaning, ‘Shut up and don’t go there,’ ” Lammers wrote in a newsletter to the Longboat Island Chapel. “Sensing something unusual but private, David and I didn’t question further even though I wanted to do so.” 

But the glance that passed between the locals never left Lammers’ mind. She finished school at Drake University, where she studied sociology and was interested in family structure, gender roles and the division of labor between women and men. A paper she wrote was later the basis for the book. 

The novel is dedicated to Lammers' children.
The novel is dedicated to Lammers' children.

“I see small town life as a microcosm of what happens everywhere,” Lammers said “In big cities, in the small communities within big cities, but it's no different. All people have the same problems, the same issues.”

A sense of dusty despair permeates the novel, which follows hardware store owner Sonny Dawson after the death of his wife, Polly. Indeed, Lammers describes her writing process as “sort of like despair” and at times agonizing as she took Sonny through his grief and the untangling of his own mind and the proceedings of his late wife’s family.

“I've always had this narrator going in my head, maybe everybody does,” Lammers said. “I'm the narrator of the (book), the omniscient narrator and I've always done that with my life as well.”

Onansburg might not be real, but some of the settings were so real to Lammers she could walk through them in her mind’s eye. She modeled them after places and events in Corydon, her own Iowa small town. Writing was sometimes a way of coming home. 

Old Settlers, the festival event that Sonny has to focus on in the aftermath of Polly’s death, is the name of a similarly fashioned festival in Corydon and was actually the working title for the book. (Lammers changed it to bring a more mysterious air to the novel.) The main character, Sonny, lives in a Victorian house modeled after Lammers’ parents’ home, and the hardware store he owns is a mirror of one in Corydon. 

“When I describe my character's home … I can walk through that and imagine where I am the whole time,” Lammers said. “I go back to my hometown, and then I can retrace all the steps. You go out the back door of the (hardware) store and around through the parking lot and then over to Highway 17, up Highway 17 and over to the courthouse.”

The book came out on Oct. 6 and was published by Greenleaf Book Group. Lammers is holding a few book tour-esque events around town and in Iowa to promote the novel, for which her children will be present. Her daughter Liz, who’s good at voice impressions, will do book readings for her mother. 

“I told her I wanted it complete with the rubber face,” Lammers said. 

After the area appearances, Lammers will trek back to Iowa for a book event at the Prairie Trails Museum of Wayne County, a Corydon museum that Lammers’ mother helped found. Lammers will be staying in an old hotel when she visits, and spoke with the preservationist who runs it, who was lamenting that the historic town courthouse had been torn down years before. Peek at the cover of ‘Onansburg, Iowa’ and you’ll see the old structure. The preservationist was delighted, and now Lammers has another place to sell her book — the hotel’s gift shop. 

Lammers has gotten good reviews from friends so far, including one who called her with about 20 pages left to say that she had gotten such a chill down her spine at the climax of the story. 

“I think it's a good time to publish your book,” Lammers said. “More people are reading.”

Lammers is working on her second novel, for which she’ll continue to draw on life. 

“It will be gut-wrenching to write, so I have to be ready,” she said. 



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