WV Writers Conference

Cedar LakesI’m SO excited to be presenting at this year’s WV Writers Summer Conference! I so enjoy talking writing and sharing what I’ve learned thus far, but to do it back home in West Virginia . . . well, you can’t beat that with a stick!

PLUS, I’m hoping I can sit in on sessions being led by some of the other presenters. Kari Gunter-Seymour (nominated for multiple Pushcart Prizes) is offering a session titled, “Food for Thought, a Taste-Based Workshop.” If you’ve read my stories, you know food plays a significant role in everything I write!

And then Rob Merritt, a professor at Bluefield College, is offering a session about Irish poets–Yeats, Heaney . . . I wonder if we can sneak in Dylan Thomas? Of course, Patricia Hopper Patterson is FROM Ireland, so maybe she can weigh in. Regardless, she’ll be talking about novel development–something I’m keenly interested in!

And then there are Michael and Carrie Kline–collectors of songs, stories, and folklore–who will talk about “Gathering Local Memory and Wisdom.” Which sounds to me like talking to the old folks–one of my favorite research techniques!

So I get to talk about writing. I get to listen to really smart people talk about writing. And I’ll be doing it at Cedar Lakes Conference Center in Ripley, WV. Shoot. I went to Conservation Camp there when I was in grade school.

I wonder if I can hike that trail we built in . . . what . . . the early 1980s?? Regardless, I’m so happy to be invited back home.

Appalachian Thursday – Mountain Monsters

flatwoodsNorth America has Bigfoot. Nepal has the Abominable Snowman. Ireland their Banshees. Everywhere you go, there are monster stories.

Well, West Virginia is not one to be left out. My home state has several mythical monsters of its own. Our uniquely Appalachian monsters include . . .

The Mothman – This is the legend that inspired a 2002 movie starring Richard Gere which may be why it’s our best known monster. The mothman is a ten-foot tall figure with massive wings and red glowing eyes. He allegedly appears before tragedies like the 1967 Silver Bridge collapse at Point Pleasant, WV, that resulted in 47 deaths. Some folks say it’s just a blue heron.

The Flatwoods Monster – This is the one closest to where I grew up. When I drive to the farm I pass through Flatwoods where a colorful cutout of the monster stands near the road. This was a one-time siting in 1952 when a group of kids saw a UFO crash and went to investigate. They say they saw a green figure that appeared to be floating and emitting a sulfurous smell. When others went to the same spot in the light of day, there were “skid marks” that might have been the tracks of vehicles investigating the kids’ claims.

The Grafton Monster – This one lurks near where my mom lives. It may be kin to bigfoot–a tall, ape-like figure with a smooth skin like a seal. It’s rumored to whistle as it stalks it’s prey. Hmmmm. Sounds like something teenage boys out to scare their girlfriends might come up with.

The Philippi Mummies – This pair of do-it-yourself mummies are less elusive monsters. The Barbour County Historical Museum keeps the mummies in glass-topped coffins in the bathroom. The weird twist is that a farmer acquired the bodies from the WV Hospital for the Insane in 1888 and tried out his own embalming solution on them. It worked and the pair toured with P.T. Barnum before being returned home. I hear you can still see them for just $1.

Finding Inspiration – Smith, Rash & Cash

App writersThe Appalachian Studies Association held their annual conference in Asheville this past weekend. Can you believe it? An entire association dedicated to the study of Appalachia.

While I didn’t have a chance to go to the full conference, I was able to attend the keynote event. It featured Appalachian author Wiley Cash interviewing fellow authors Lee Smith and Ron Rash. I mean, how could I NOT attend? If you aren’t familiar with these storytellers, check out Cash’s A Land More Kind Than Home, Rash’s Serena, and Smith’s Fair and Tender Ladies. Or anything else any of them have written.

The event was a delight and there was much worth repeating, but here’s my top takeaway–if you want to write well, hang out with the old folks.

A common theme among these wonderful authors talking about how they became writers and where they find their inspiration was spending time with their elders. I think this is common among those of us who have grown (are growing) up in Appalachia.

When I was a kid there wasn’t a youth group. There weren’t any community activities or programs for the youth. Oh, sure, when we had community events (the bean supper at Lucille’s, swimming at Aunt Bess’, or Toad’s wiener roast) the kids would run off and get into trouble together, but we always ended up back in the company of adults.

One of my most precious memories is curling up in Dad’s lap where he sat cross-legged in a room full of men talking, smoking, and playing music. The sweat would dry on my skin as the rumble of voices and laughter lulled me to sleep. I don’t remember what they talked about (oh, how I wish I did), but I think I absorbed those stories, those tall tales through my very pores.

On Sundays we went visiting. We’d sit in family members’ living rooms wearied by the drone of adults talking about weather and people and politics and even religion. And while there was many a Sunday when I would have given the last slice of chocolate cake to be set free, now I recognize how precious that time was.

When I write these days, it’s almost as if my fingers on the keyboard are tracing out voices imprinted deep in my memory. I don’t write stories so much as I find them again. As if I were sitting, once more, among the old folks.

Only this time I’m listening . . . and writing it all down.

Appalachian Thursday – Onion Sets & Sweet Peas

farm market

It’s officially the time of year when seed catalogs become irresistible. I pore over gaudy pictures of corn with luxurious silks, scandalously red tomatoes, strawberries glinting like jewels, and squash that make me wonder why I don’t eat vegetables ALL the time.

And I begin to dream of gardening.

Of course, the dream is nothing like reality. There’s no thought of the tractor breaking down while disking the garden. I forget the bazillion rocks we “harvested” from the freshly plowed rows on the farm each spring. And weeds? Come on . . . as long as we don’t let them get ahead of us . . .

But my husband is the voice of reason. And he reminds me that I’m not even very good at gardening. Last summer I estimate that I got at least $15 worth of cherry tomatoes from the $14 plant I kept in a pot out front. (We won’t talk about the cost of potting soil.) And my herbs are certainly a savings over buying those plastic packs at the grocery store. As long as I remember to use them. Last summer’s potatoes were certainly a savings since I just planted some old, store-bought spuds that had sprouted in the pantry. I at least broke even on that one.

And yet . . .

When I see the sign at Southern States advertising onion sets. And picture sweet peas flowering on a trellis made from baling twine . . . well. Thank goodness for nostalgia. I think it’s mostly what sells my books.

Appalachian Thursday – Maple Syrup Season

maple-syrup-set-4734523Vermont gets most of the maple syrup press, but Appalachia produces it’s fair share of the sticky, sweet stuff. West Virginia has 75 or so farms producing more than 2,500 gallons of syrup in a given year. And February into March is harvest season.

The trick is to tap maple trees when the days are getting warmer and the nights are still cold. This makes the sap rise and you can literally drill a hole in the tree, stick in a spout (spile), and let the sugar water run out into a bucket. Then the water is reduced into a syrup (or even further into maple sugar).

Of course, if you’re thinking about drilling a hole in the maple tree in your backyard you should know that it takes 40 to 50 gallons of sugar water to make one gallon of syrup.

My home was far enough north that folks in the area made syrup and celebrated at the Maple Syrup Festival in Pickens, WV. The event has been happening for decades and will be held March 16 and 17 this year. The festival includes crafters, music, a quilt show, wood chopping, ax throwing, and–of course–pancakes, pancakes, pancakes!

There are pancake “feeds” at various locations from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days. Of course, there’s also a bean supper (it IS West Virginia) on Saturday evening. And you can buy West Virginia hot dogs all the time. Even for breakfast if you get tired of pancakes with maple syrup.

If you can’t make it to Pickens in March and you’d like some West Virginia maple syrup, here are a few links:

Appalachian Thursday – Cover Reveal

Earlier this week I sent out an e-mail with the cover of my next novel. It’s a sweet sort of torture to see the cover and then not be able to share it until the book is available for pre-order. But as of Tuesday this week, readers can add When Silence Sings to their shopping carts. Yippee!

And I can show the cover, which I pretty much ADORE!

silence sings final

Evocative is the word that sprang to mind when I first saw it. I know I’m biased, but I think it’s pretty terrific!

Here’s the back cover copy:

Colman Harpe works for the C&O in the Appalachian rail town of Thurmond, West Virginia, but he’d rather be a preacher and lead his own congregation. When a member of the rival McLean clan guns down his cousin and the clan matriarch, Serepta McLean, taunts the Harpes by coming to a tent revival in their territory, Colman chooses peace over seeking revenge with the rest of his family.

Colman, known for an unnaturally keen sense of hearing, is shocked when he hears God tell him to preach to the McLeans. A failed attempt to run away leaves Colman sick and suffering in the last place he wanted to be–McLean territory. Nursed by herbalist Ivy Gordon–a woman whose unusual appearance has made her an outcast–he’s hindered in his calling by Serepta’s iron grip on the region and his uncle’s desire to break that grip. But appearances can be deceiving, and he soon learns that the face of evil doesn’t look like he expected.

Coming soon to a bookstore near you! (And by soon, I mean November 5, which isn’t that soon at all, but it’ll get here!)