Monday, October 2, 2023

First-Time Author Pens Story About Blue-Collar Family

First-Time Author Pens Story About Blue-Collar Family

By Karen Knight

Ryan Rex, of Ambler, Pennsylvania, spent summers in Avalon and used his experiences there to form the basis for a book that’s just been published.
Ryan Rex, of Ambler, Pennsylvania, spent summers in Avalon and used his experiences there to form the basis for a book that’s just been published.

Avalon Summer Experiences Basis for Book 

AVALON – Using techniques he learned in therapy when younger, Ryan Rex fulfilled a lifelong dream of writing a book, using his experiences from summering in Avalon, growing up in a family of plumbers and mechanical tradesmen, and being surrounded by colorful people. 

“American Dysfunction: The Ballad of Alex Walker” was written by Ryan Rex, who spent summers in Avalon. His family had a house at 24th Street and the bay, which was sold in 2015. “The town has never left my heart,” said Rex. Half the book takes place in Avalon. 

“American Dysfunction: The Ballad of Alex Walker” is called “magical realism” by his publisher, according to Rex.  

“The book is about growing up in a dysfunctional blue-collar family,” according to a press release from his publisher. “Alex Walker learns to navigate life, carrying heavy emotional baggage from years of abuse and neglect. Trouble follows Walker through the hills of suburban Philadelphia to a rural trade school where he travels down a dark path. While on probation, Walker joins a ragtag ‘90s cover band, which teaches him that life doesn’t have to be so dramatic.” 

“I found my love for writing while I was in tech school, writing specs and term papers,” Rex, 44, the father of two children, said. “I wrote three pages as a senior and knew I had to refine it, but it was a start.” 

Rex described himself as a “rebellious” teenager, whose behavior was “atrocious.” As a result of his behavior, he went to therapy, but “it didn’t take.” 

He resumed therapy in his 20s, and that’s when he learned what he called “auto writing.” 

“My therapist told me to put a pen in my hand and just write whatever I was thinking,” Rex explained, “to get it out and on paper; don’t worry about punctuation, grammar, anything. I started reading more books, wrote some poetry and was published. I started to fill the void of my behavior with my writing. It took me three years, but I figured out how to take those thoughts and make them into something. Now, I’ve trained myself to make a story out of those thoughts.” 

Rex spent 35 summers in Avalon, in a home originally owned by his great-grandfather and grandfather. Although they sold the bungalow eventually and it was torn down and replaced by another home, Rex used some of his summer experiences and real life as the basis for parts of his book.   

For example, the main character comes from a family of plumbers, the same as Rex. He also created aspects that were not part of his experience, such as using the Mafia to bring in a crime aspect to the story. 

“Although our house was sold in 2015, the town has never left my heart,” Rex said. “Half my book takes place in Avalon.” 

Over the years working in the construction trade, Rex, who now lives in Ambler, Pennsylvania, found himself blogging about “green” building, advocating for corporations “to step up above government to take care of the planet’s environment.”  

He wrote for trade journals, as well, but his idea for writing a book was never far from his thoughts. 

“I joined a men’s book club and a writers group, which was made up of mostly college professors,” Rex recalled. “I had written about 10-15 pages but kept throwing it away and rewriting.” 

Feedback from his colleagues on the first chapter shaped his final product.   

“I had a lot of characters, and someone suggested writing each chapter from each character’s perspective,” Rex said, “like they did in ‘Game of Thrones.’ So that’s what I did.” 

Five months and 95,000 words later, Rex finished the book. He took some of the heroes of his first book to feature in a second book in eight weeks. 

“I’m a survivor,” Rex said about his experiences growing up and writing his book. “I put a pen in my hand and just stream whatever I am thinking about. I edit what I don’t like or don’t want, and now can make a story out of it.” 

Contact the author, Karen Knight, at 


Karen Knight is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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