Local author Michael Bunnell discusses his latest novel “American Gypsy”

When the failed economy of 1939 and the destruction of the middle class meet the worlds of carnivals and Gypsies, Michael Bunnell’s historically and socially accurate novel, “American Gypsy” is born.

Bunnell is a local, Pacific Northwest author who has been writing professionally since the age of 18.

He has vast expereince in print journalism, from column writing, sportswriting, and special features to broadcast media, and has played the roles of radio DJ, program, sports and news director.

He also has published hundreds of essays, has articles in national and regional magazines, dozens of other assorted pieces, two poems, television and radio programs, commericals, promotional material for print and broadcast media, ghost-written two memoirs and published two earlier novels.

Bunnell said “American Gypsy” was released within the past 5-6 weeks, and has a more serious tone compared to his last humorous and historical novel, “The Friendly Little War of Lyman Cutler.”

The inspiration for his latest novel came from the stories and perspectives he heard from his personal acquaintances with carnies and Gypsies, including a family that had three generations living together.

The eldest woman in the family had been a teenage girl in the years just before World War II and ran off to join a carnival. When her daughter had a child that was in Bunnell’s class — he was teaching at the time — he came to know the family and its members, hearing about stories of Gyspies and carnivals.

Over the years, Bunnell met more people that were involved in carnivals and had the chance to visit one of the major Gypsy camps in Louisiana.

Bunnell said these experiences were the “seeds” that sprouted his idea for writing, “American Gypsy,” but the direct inspiration to turn his ideas into a story also came from what he saw as parallels between class divisions today and the conflicts of class divisions back during the Great Depression.

“I made the year 1939 because I thought it was a pivotal year in American history,” he said.

Bunnell explained that in the past couple of years when he was finishing the novel, he felt the current events affecting American society today is another pivotal point in American history.

“The erosion of the middle class is similar to what happenened in the Depression; nothing happening today is as vivid and as catastrophic as the 1930s, but the trajectories are similar.”

“American Gypsy” features two protagonists: 18-year-old Lorene Harper, who is fed up with the shame, poverty and judgment of her community and is later taken in by the Gypsies; and Dan Murphy, a World War II flying ace with unpleasant memories of his wartime experience who becomes a prime figure in one of the carnivals. The two end up coming together and developing a romantic attraction toward each other.

Then there is a family of Gypsies, comprised of a young couple and their children, and a grandmother who is the matriarch of the Gypsy clan.

Bunnell said the the disconnect between the mainstream society and the Gypsy and carnival culture is illustrated through them.

“Most of the book is about characters looking for respect, acceptance and of course love,” he said.

Bunnell hopes that readers will learn to be more compassionate after reading his book.

“I think America is woefully lacking in compassion and I would hope that this book would trigger a little bit of that,” he explained.

On top of his writing career, Bunnell also enjoys growing organic vegetables, performing music at local venues — from Celtic folk songs to American Folk Revival to classic country — and hosts Open Mic at Olympic Theatre Arts on North Sequim Avenue.

“American Gypsy” is available for purchase on Amazon.com and can be found locally at Nourish restaurant and Nash’s Farm Store in Sequim, and at Port Book and News and Heatherton Gallery in Port Angeles.

Reach Erin Hawkins at ehawkins@sequimgazette.com.

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