Booklist Starred Review!

Have I mentioned that the hero of my new story is deaf? Loyal Raines is a 13-year-old growing up in 1930s Beverly, WV. And he’s deaf. He attends the WV School for the Deaf and uses sign language but I’m betting there wouldn’t have been too many people around back then who knew ASL.

I really enjoyed working sign language into the story. My second grade teacher taught us some–I can still sign the alphabet and every time “Do You Hear What I Hear” comes on during the holidays I want to sign “shepherd boy,” along with it.

Writing the story also made me much more aware of the challenges the deaf community faces. Loyal can read lips, but not everyone’s lips are easy to read. Facial hair gets in the way. People put their hands over their mouths or turn away when speaking. Slowing down and carefully enunciating things can actually make it harder to read lips. Plus, it requires a level of concentration and focus that’s tiring.

So having worked all that into the story, I was beyond delighted when I saw an early review from Kate Campos at Booklist. First of all, she gave the book a starred review (!!). Second, she used the word “brilliantly” which has earned me points around the house. But most of all, she celebrates my deaf hero and the use of sign language in the story.

So, with a nod to September being Deaf Awareness Month, here’s a snippet from the review:

“Thomas returns with an uplifting novel that strikes all the high points of redemptive love and coming of age within an historical murder mystery. Set in West Virginia during the Great Depression, this father-son tale affirms the challenges facing the deaf community. Thomas brilliantly incorporates the use of sign language throughout the novel and infuses sparkling energy in her depiction of her characters’ growing understanding. She writes with compassion and honesty as she appraises the gifts of hearing and of being heard, and offers a fresh look at the nuances and the importance of emotional intelligence.”

As Sheriff Virgil White might say, “That dog will hunt!”

Appalachian Thursday – Favorite WV Authors

On Monday I shamelessly asked you all to vote for me to be named Best WV Author for 2020. And while I really crave that title, I’m pretty aware that I’m NOT the best WV author. So who is? Well, there are quite a few to choose from. Check out the following and you choose (except I still want you to vote for me!).

  • Chris Fabry – I love Chris’ stories and the fact that he’s a WV native is just the icing on the cake. I like so many of his, but a recent favorite is The Promise of Jesse Woods.
  • Denise Giardina – Denise was Best WV Author in 2019. She grew up in a coal camp and her best known work is likely Storming Heaven about the battle of Blair Mountain.
  • Heather Gilbert – Heather lives in southern WV and writes Viking fiction and cozy mysteries with a sense of humor. Check out her clever Barks and Beans Cafe Mystery Series.
  • Patricia Harman – I got to meet Patricia at the WV Book Festival a few years ago. A midwife in real life, you know her stories about midwives will ring true! Start with The Midwife of Hope River.
  • Jeanette Walls – Her 2006 award-winning memoir The Glass Castle has sold over a million copies and shares the details of her often erratic upbringing in Welch, WV, (I dare you to find it on a map.)
  • Roseanna White – Roseanna writes mostly historical Christian romance and there are LOTS of good stories from which to choose! I especially like the Codebreakers starting with The Number of Love.

There are plenty of others–Pearl S. Buck, Jayne Ann Phillips, Homer Hickam, Ann Pancake, Stephen Coonts, and Craig Johnson (of Longmire fame). But we’ll leave the list here for now. And best or not, vote for ME!

Who’s your favorite author from YOUR home state?

Vote for me in 2020!

It’s election season and I know we’re all tired of being told who we ought to vote for. But maybe in this instance, voting can be nothing but fun!

I’ve been nominated in WV Living magazine’s Best Of series for 2020. Yup, I have the chance to be voted Best WV Author! And, let’s be honest, I unashamedly WANT this title. President? Yeah, that’s important. Governor, senator, mayor–yeah, yeah, choose wisely.

But while you’re pondering who to vote for (and how to do it!) here’s an EASY one for you. Vote for me to be named Best WV Author. My platform is simple–I promise to keep writing books that celebrate West Virginia. And I promise to be over-the-top excited if I win. PLUS–you can vote more than once and do it online. Now who doesn’t want THAT chance in 2020?

There. That’s my campaign speech. I’m pretty sure I won’t actually have any power to affect your daily life but you’ll make my year!

Here’s the scoop: WV Living magazine is highlighting the best people, places, and things that West Virginia has to offer. You can vote from September 21-October 11. Vote by clicking the categories and selecting your favorites from the final ballot. You can vote once per day per category. The winners will be announced in the winter issue of WV Living magazine.

Thank you for your vote.

Appalachian Thursday – Bears & Bees

We live in a neighborhood where it isn’t a matter of IF you’ll see a bear but only a matter of WHEN. One day a few years back we saw SEVEN bears in one day. We’ve since stopped putting out birdseed and that’s cut down on the traffic.

Fall is a busy time for bears with lots of good things to eat like apples, grapes, acorns, hickory nuts and . . . bees!

Yup, one of my favorite things about bears is that they raid hives not only for honey, but to eat the larvae of wasps, jellow jackets and other serious stingers. Once, I suggested ridding our yard of an in-ground hive by opening the gate at night and leaving a trail of bear tempting food to it. Surely a bear would dig the hive out and make a meal of it. My husband felt that bears in the yard wasn’t a good trade for bees in the yard. Oh well.

On more than one occasion we’ve seen bears stop by covered in yellow jackets. The stinging insects swarm around them trying to penetrate that thick, thick fur. Which they can’t. BUT, bees can sting the bears on their faces and the tips of their ears resulting in lots of head swiping.

Apparently, bears have a natural resistance to bee stings.

How cool is that? God gave them a food source and blessed them with the ability to tolerate the uh, downside, of pursuing that source. They crave bee larvae and are willing to tolerate the resulting stings.

I think there’s a lesson in that for me. What do I have a heart-longing for that results in stings? The sting of rejection. The sting of failure. The sting of unfulfilled dreams.

Romans 5:1-5 – Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

What stings are you willing to tolerate in your life in order to pursue your dreams?

When a Shortcut Isn’t

I spent the past weekend at a Christian retreat in the mountains of western NC. On Saturday afternoon we had some down time and I decided to take a hike. There were all sorts of trails but the “High Falls” was listed as the most popular with it’s beautiful waterfall payoff.


It was, indeed, a lovely trail with thoughtfully built bridges and stairs to make the route easier and safer. And the waterfall was gorgeous! An excellent hike. After I finished snapping pictures I checked the map for the best route back–heaven forbid I backtrack! There was a nice, winding route that wasn’t too long but then I noticed the Water Tank Spur. Ah-ha–a shortcut! I was eager to get back to my room to do some writing so I headed that direction.

Totally ignoring the trail designation of “difficult.”

My first obstacle was a creek with no easy crossing. There were rocks, but they were too far apart to safely hop. So, I removed one shoe and sock and half waded, half rock-hopped across the little creek. No problem.

Then I came to the second obstacle. Turned out the comparitively short trail was almost entirely a steep climb up the side of the mountain through rhododendron. Did I mention it was steep?

But c’mon, can’t turn back now. I’d come too far and I’d have to ford that creek again. So up I went. And up. And up. And up. Pausing often to pant and wipe away the sweat.

I made it but slowly and in need of a shower. There went all that extra free time for writing.

And it occurred to me, being on a spiritual retreat, that this is all too often how I approach my spiritual growth. I look for the shortcuts. The quick path. And as a result I end up having to work twice as hard without getting where I want to go any more quickly.

Suffering is part of everyone’s journey through life–that is a fact. But I wonder how often we add to our own suffering by making choices that appear “easy” at the time.

I’d like to say that next time I’ll take the long way around and simply enjoy the hike. But I suspect I’ll come across another apparent shortcut ere long and will confidently strike out. Thinking to save myself some trouble . . .

Appalachian Thursday – Signs of Autumn

Fall is my favorite time of year. And as I get out and take Thistle for walks, or write with the windows open, I’m definitely seeing signs that it’s right around the corner. Now that it’s September, I thought I’d take a moment to list some of my favorite blessings of autumn in Appalachia:

  • Cool, crisp air that makes me want to breathe deep and turn my eyes to the sky.
  • That brilliant, blue sky!
  • Gorgeously colored leaves standing in sharp contrast to the expanse of blue.
  • Those leaves that land on the sidewalk and leave rusty outlines behind.
  • Building a fire–in the fireplace inside (okay, we have gas logs, but there’s a REAL fireplace at the farm!) or the firepit outside.
  • Scuffling through crunchy, crackly leaves. Maybe even jumping into a pile of them! (Although I’m no longer a fan of bits of leaves in my underwear.)
  • Apples! Apple pies, applesauce, apple chutney, apple cider . . .
  • Goldenrod, joe pye weed, ironweed, and asters growing along dusty roads.
  • Milkweed pods send seeds floating through the air.
  • Finally being able to wear sweaters again. (Next spring, I’ll be glad to finally put the sweaters away, but let’s live in the moment!)
  • Trading the lawn mower for the rake. (Ummmm–my husband trading the lawn mower for the rake.)
  • Pumpkins and mums everywhere!

I could go on–and on and on! What’s your favorite thing about fall?

The First Review – Phew!

Just ahead of the release of a new story, authors can expect reviews to start trickling in. There are ARCs (advanced reader copies) along with services like NetGalley providing early readers and reviewers with access.

It’s nerve-wracking.

No matter how confident I am when I submit those final edits, I always begin to wonder . . . is it really any good? Will readers like it? Did I get the idea across??


Thank goodness for Rachel McMillan! Rachel is an author, agent, and avid reader. I’m pretty sure one of her top callings is encourager-of-authors. And she posted the very first review of The Right Kind of Fool yesterday.

A gorgeous tapestry of words and a cadence recalling Delia Owens, Chris Fabry, and Charles Martin inform this character driven piece set in 1930s Appalachia. When a deaf teenager finds a dead body he is unexpectedly reunited with the father who abandoned him and his mother long ago. And as family is reforged so are the secrets of a small community exhumed.

More than just a mystery, though the shooting (inspired by a historic one) definitely has many tenets to untangle, this is a book of quiet wisdom and of love: a couple reunited, a father learning to love his son through his fears of inadequacy, and a love for the still, beautiful land of the ridges and mountains, customs and quirks of small-town West Virginia.

While Loyal and his mother Delphy are lovingly dimensional, this is Creed’s story. It takes a talented pen to weave in the compassion needed for this man whose selfish actions in the name of protection drove him away. As it takes the same gift to sew in the grace that Loyal shows his father again and again. In a quiet look, in an exchanged hug, in the slow but sure way that Creed begins to learn his son’s new language

Expertly researched, skilled and soft,
The Right Kind of Fool winnowed into places this reader hadn’t known she wanted to discover and unravel. And like the best kind of books, I will live with these characters now and wonder about them and how their worlds go on and on without me now that I’ve closed the chapter I was allotted to see of their lives.

Thanks, Rachel. I think I can relax a bit now!

P.S. Check out Rachel’s latest release, London Restoration!

Appalachian Thursday – Two Months To Go

Two months from today, on November 3, my sixth full-length novel will release. If you’re looking for something OTHER than the election to look forward to, you’re welcome.

If you want to support this latest release, here are a couple of things you can do while you wait:

  • Mark the story as “Want to Read” on Goodreads. Thus far, 88 people have added it. I’d love to see that number climb over 100!
  • Preorder a copy–the Kindle version is less than $10 on Amazon right now! Of course, if you want a print copy, you should totally order it from my favorite bookstore, Sassafras on Sutton!
  • Grab a copy of the image above and share it on social media–or just share this post! Isn’t my friend Valerie’s photography spectacular?!?
  • Mark your calendar to attend a virtual book launch via Zoom on November 19 at 7 p.m. Co-hosted by Sassafras and the Black Mountain Library, we’re planning some great giveaways and a very special guest. More details on that coming soon!

Monday Meanderings – Ginseng Season

I have several “pet” ginseng plants. I know where they grow and I’m not telling anyone. I like to check on them to see how they’re doing and when they produce their red seed pods around this time of year, I plant them to spur future growth. Seeds need 18+ months to germinate so if ‘m lucky, this year’s seeds will sprout in the spring of 2022.

Ginseng is not for those in a hurry.

The native plant is prized for all kinds of curative properties from preventing the flu to acting as an aphrodisiac. In the Orient, the fact that the root is often shaped like a man with a body, arms, and legs, makes folks believe it has all sorts of body-related benefits. Another name for it is manroot. It’s relatively common in Appalachia, although the fact that you can get $500 or more for a pound of the dried root has caused over-harvesting.

Enter sang hunters.

There are lots of regulations around how and when the roots can be harvested. Plants should be five years old or older before they’re harvested. If you plan to export the root, it has to be 10 or more years old. How do you know how old a plant is? The first year, there will be just one, compound leaf typically with three leaflets. After about five years, the plant should be at least a foot tall and will have four or more leaves each with five leaflets. The plant pictured above with three leaves, each bearing five leaflets is probably three or four years old. Not ready for harvesting.

If you look closely, you’ll see a wee crown right in the center. That’s where tiny flowers gave way to red berries with two seeds each inside. They’ve been planted now.

Ginseng found its way into my latest story. Even in the 1930s digging it was a way to raise some extra cash. And it’s ripe with story potential–poaching, stealing, the solitary act of hunting through the woods, the art of digging the plant so as to keep the root undamaged and intact . . . it’s an art and a mystery.

Just the sort of thing I love to write about.

Appalachian Thursday – Greasy Cut Shorts

I was NOT a fan of green beans when I was a kid. I liked the green okay, but not the bean! These days, though, I’m a big fan. Especially now that I’ve gotten the hang of how to cook them. I struggled to get that wonderful, tender, cooked-down quality. So I consulted my Foxfire cookbook and turns out the trick is to not quite cover them with water and then cook the water way down. I’d been adding water when I needed to let it cook away–delicious!

Last night we had a mess of purple string beans with potatoes and butter. They lose their pretty purple hue in the cooking but they’re easier to pick on the vine because you can see them so easily.

We typically grew half runners or pole beans. Which I thought, for a long time, were pretty much all the choices. Then we came to western North Carolina and I kept hearing people go into rhapsodies over “greasy cut shorts.” What in the world?

Apparently, this is the pinnacle of beanness. There are greasy beans–so called because they have smooth, shiny hulls that appear slick with grease. And there are cut short beans which feature seeds that outgrow the hull so that the seeds touch and make the bean appear square or rectangular. Put them together and you achieve bean perfection!

But there’s even more to bean terminology. Here are a few other terms for your green bean edification:

  • Bush beans – These are low growing and sturdier than their climbing cousins. They also are rumored to be less prolific.
  • Half runners – These beans grow from three to ten feet high and need supports–often a trellis.
  • Pole beans – Also known as cornfield beans. These are simply climbing beans that are often planted on poles shaped liked a teepee or in a cornfield to grow up the stalks.
  • String beans – Including many heirloom varieties, these have strings running along each seam. You break the tips and pull the string off before eating. I have strung many a bean and the old-timers often scorn beans without them.
  • Snap beans – Again, most any bean that you break. Once you remove the strings they easily snap into bite-size lengths. It never would have occurred to my grandmother to cut her beans and I still feel overly “fancy” when I do it to the poor, stringless varieties from the store.
  • Leather britches – This is a term for preserved beans. To make them last through the winter, gardeners would string them then run a darning needle with stout thread through them to hang up and dry. You then cook them until they’re rehydrated. They’re also known as shucky beans.
  • Shelly beans – You might guess this one–fresh, shelled beans. They cook much faster than dried beans and you can freeze them to cook quickly over the winter.

If you want to know more so no one can ever accuse of not knowing beans about beans, check out the Sustainable Mountain Agriculture site.

How do you cook your beans?

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