BY BILL WEAVER
Bloomington author Ian Woollen tells a tale that encapsulates the Cold War era within the lives of three generations of a Hoosier family in his latest novel, Uncle Anton’s Atomic Bomb, to be published by Coffeetown Press this September.
Woollen, who draws upon his experience growing up in Indianapolis, was planning on writing this story later in life, but everything changed when he was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2009. A week after receiving the news, he started writing Uncle Anton. “It helped me stay focused,” he says. “It gave me something to think about rather than cancer. I’m five years out now and all clear.”
Born in 1957, Woollen remembers the tension of living with the constant threat of nuclear warfare. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, “I had to pull the car over because I was overcome,” he says. “That experience gave me the desire to write a story about the way much larger things can pervade day-to-day life in invisible ways,” he says.
Uncle Anton is about the Wangerts, an Indianapolis family with a dark secret, and a mysterious CIA watcher known only as He Who Remains Classified. “It’s a fictionalized family, but there are many aspects that reflect the dynamics of my family,” he says. “The [lives of the] three brothers are ways my life could have gone.”
As in the novel, Woollen’s mother really did work for the U.S. Department of State in Moscow. “My brother and I always wondered if she was a spook,” he says. “The answer was ‘no,’ but I decided to go with the premise.”
Indianapolis native Dan Wakefield, who wrote the 1970 iconic novel Going All the Way, contributed this quote to the promotion package for Woollen’s book: “Uncle Anton’s Atomic Bomb weaves its compelling narrative in personal, romantic, and historical threads from the Cold War to the present day, linking housewives and counter-spies, disgruntled fathers and rebellious sons, creating an indelible American tapestry.”
Woollen, a psychotherapist when he’s not writing, moved to Bloomington with his wife in 1986 so she could pursue a music degree. “We’re the proverbial graduate students who never left,” he says, smiling. “There are still things I’m discovering about Bloomington.
“As you can tell, I’m very attached to Indianapolis stories,” he adds. “Place and story are intimately connected. If you have a strong feeling for a place, you can’t go wrong.”