Writing about what he knows

From the Register-Mail:

In his recently published book “Snakewoman of Little Egypt,” Robert Hellenga sticks to the author’s adage of “Write what you know.”

Local readers will smile while reading references to a natural food store named Cornucopia and a grocery store called Hy-Vee. And one of the novel’s central characters, Jackson Carter Jones, seems to be a lot like Hellenga.

Jackson is an associate professor of anthropology at Thomas Ford University in west-central Illinois while Hellenga is an English literature professor at Knox College (also in west-central Illinois.)

“I put a lot of myself in Jackson, of course,” Hellenga said last week, sitting on his apartment porch surrounded by potted plants and flowers. “But I’ve never had Lyme disease, never been to Africa.”

The sixth novel of Hellenga’s career, “Snakewoman of Little Egypt,” describes what happens when Jackson becomes intertwined with Sunny, a woman recently released from prison in Little Egypt, a non-fiction locale in southern Illinois. Unlike most of his books which have Italian connections — Hellenga lived in Florence with his family for a year — this book mostly takes place in Illinois, where he’s resided since the late 1960s.