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.

Mustard Seed Faith – At Last!

mustard seedFor a long time now I’ve assumed, based on Matthew 17:20, that my faith is pretty pitiful. Not even a mustard seed’s worth. That scripture suggests that if my faith were as much as even a BB-sized seed, I could move mountains or cast mulberry bushes into the sea. And I can’t. Goodness knows I’ve tried.

It’s long been a discouragement.

And then I heard Susie Larson talking about planting apple seeds. She talked about how one seed produces a tree with, say, 100 apples. And each of those apples has multiple seeds with the capacity to produce another 100 apples. And so on and so on until you have millions of apples.

And just like that the light bulb lit! I had been focused on the SIZE of the mustard seed and had overlooked the fact that it’s a SEED. What do you do with seeds? You plant them.

In other scripture Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a mustard seed. It’s something tiny that grows into a tree as much as 20-feet tall and almost that wide.

So, in order to move mountains, it’s not about summoning up a tiny seed’s worth of faith. It’s a question of where I plant what faith I have. Jesus didn’t say the mountain and the mulberry tree would move TODAY.

I do have a seed’s worth of faith. Lots of seed’s worth of faith. And I can plant them wherever I go. At work, in the community, among friends and family. And some of those seeds will take root and eventually produce fruit. And then their seeds will do the same. And so on until mountains have shifted and entire forests have been cast into the sea.

Like so much of what I learn on this journey, it’s not about me. My role is small and often goes unnoticed. But taken as part of God’s glorious, intricate whole—it’s integral. Planting seeds matters.

Come sow with me. Nothing is impossible.

He replied, Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” – Matthew 17:20

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!)

The Pleasure of Boring Days

snow dogWell, we didn’t quite get the foot and a half of snow predicted, but I’d rather the weather forecasters overestimate than under. Still, it began snowing Saturday and there was a lovely layer of snow when we woke Sunday morning. The result was a delightfully quiet day at home.

In light of the forecasts of impending doom, I did my usual weekend shopping on Thursday. And church was cancelled on Sunday. Which meant . . . most of my typical weekend tasks were off. Which meant . . . the chance to experience a bit of boredom.

Of course, being bored REALLY means doing the stuff I’d like to do every day. I read (Where the Crawdads Sing), I tromped around in the snow with my husband and dog, I began a jigsaw puzzle, I worked a crossword, I plotted a new story, I cooked and ate, I put up Christmas decorations . . . in other words, I just did what I felt like.

Being bored is LOVELY.

Of course, it’s lovely because it doesn’t happen very often (and because we didn’t lose power). I suppose it might get old after a week. Or two. But, for now, I’m grateful for a bit of boredom.

Favorite Books of 2018

reading 2018I often say the biggest downside to writing books is the way it cuts into my time to READ books. Still, I manage to squeeze stories in! I aim to read a combination of Christian fiction, Appalachian stories, books that are getting lots of hype, and nonfiction. Keeps me entertained as well as informed about the current market!

And while I’ll still read a few more books in December (Where the Crawdads Sing is next), I thought I’d share some of the stories I’ve particularly enjoyed this past year (with a runner-up in each category).

Christian Fiction – The Lacemaker by Laura Frantz. Sigh. Laura writes romance SO well. I’m actually reading less traditional romance these days, but I know Laura will always come through with all the sighs. And she did! There’s a reason this book won a Christy Award. (I also enjoyed Send Down the Rain by Charles Martin–but then, I enjoy MOST of what he writes!)

Hyped Book – A Man Called Ove by Frederick Bachman. I adored this story although I probably would have given up on it if I hadn’t been listening to the audio version. Ove is what you call an unlikeable character and the other characters weren’t thrilling me all that much, either. But as Ove’s history and heart was slowly revealed I fell in love. Like much of the rest of the reading world. (I also came late to the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society which, while a tad adorable, captured me utterly!)

Appalachian Fiction – Bearskin by James McLaughlin. NOT my typical story, but oddly captivating. It’s set in the mountains of Virginia and includes some seriously bad men running drugs across the border from Mexico. Several wildly violent scenes. But it also has lyrical writing that celebrates the mountains I love so much. And a wonderfully optimistic ending. A book I was surprised to enjoy so much! (And while it’s non-fiction, Dreama Berkheimer’s Running on Red Dog Road reads like good fiction–her growing up years in Beckley, WV.)

Non-fiction – Folks, This Ain’t Normal by Joel Salatin. Okay, I’m a bit obsessed with how awful our industrial food system is. Joel is a Christian-conservative-environmentalist-farmer who cares passionately about quality food and takes God’s command to steward the earth seriously. This book is fantastic and just might change the way you look at food and farming forever. (And I thoroughly enjoyed Praying with Jane by Rachel Dodge–a 31-day walk through several prayers written by Jane Austen. What a delight!)

 

The Christmas Heirloom – A Thanksgiving Excerpt

quoteWhile our novella collection—The Christmas Heirloom–is mostly set during the Christmas season, I couldn’t resist working Thanksgiving into my story. I mean, my heroine is handy with a rifle and the Monday before Thanksgiving is the opening day of deer season.

Romantic? Maybe not, but it sure fits my Appalachian stories! So, in honor of the first day of deer season, here’s a Thanksgiving excerpt from A Shot at Love, my contribution to The Christmas Heirloom.

Hank expected to miss being with his sister Molly and her family for Thanksgiving, but the Markley clan was keeping him well occupied. After a quick breakfast of biscuits with molasses, they set out through a skiff of snow with James intent on getting his first deer. When they spotted a four-point buck, Judd and Hank fell back while Abram led his twelve-year-old son in taking down the animal with a single shot.

James looked like he’d won the biggest prize at the county fair. Abram tousled his hair. “Good job, son. Quick and certain, that’s the way to do it. Don’t take the shot if you’re not sure you can make it. Few things are worse than wounding an animal and having to track it down.”

James nodded. “Yes sir. Can I dress it out?”

Abram hid his smile. “We might help some, but any hunter worth his salt dresses his own deer.”

James pitched in and the four of them had the deer ready to drag home in short order. Hank was grateful there were four of them to take turns dragging it out over rough and rocky terrain. Once they got to the house, they hung the deer from the limb of a massive pine to let it cool in the chill, November air. There was plenty of work to be done yet, but for now it was time to join the ladies for a Thanksgiving feast.

The turkey Hank won at the shoot sat as the centerpiece of a laden table. Lydia and her mother Rose had toiled for two days preparing fluffy yeast rolls, sweet potato soufflé, fried cabbage, mashed potato and rutabaga, cornbread dressing, creamed onions, something called leather breeches which appeared to be a sort of bean, and three kinds of pie. Hank couldn’t imagine who would eat it all until he saw Judd and Abram tuck in. He hoped they wouldn’t think less of him for not eating half a pie all by himself.

“And now, in longstanding Markely tradition, it’s time for an afternoon nap,” Judd announced after they’d helped the ladies clear away the remains of the meal.

Even James, who had likely slept little the night before in anticipation of their hunting trip was more than happy to sprawl in front of the fire and close his eyes. And Grace, although nearly nine and prepared to fight napping, didn’t argue near as hard as she might have on another day.

Hank settled with the family in the front room where lazy conversation gradually gave way to soft snores. And yet, he found he wasn’t the least bit sleepy. The pleasures of the day filled his spirit in a way that made him want to simply spend time appreciating being invited so fully into the bosom of this good family living in this beautiful place. Finally, he stood and tiptoed to the back door, letting himself out into the bracing air. He’d see if he couldn’t walk off at least a little of the huge meal he’d eaten. He also wanted to ponder those life changes he’d been carrying around in the dark corners of his mind.

Thirty minutes later, Hank realized he’d let himself become so lost in thought that the roll and sway of the mountain land had lured him into . . . getting lost. It was a hard thing to admit and he wasn’t quite prepared to consider his cause hopeless, but when he’d crested this most recent hill the view wasn’t at all what he’d been expecting. He thought he’d be able to see a curl of smoke from the Markley’s chimney beyond the next rise, but instead there was a mountain looming that really shouldn’t have been there. A blue jay sat on a bare limb cocking its head his way and jeering in that coarse way jays do. For a minute, he had a notion to follow it when it flew, but decided not to grasp at straws.

He peered around in all directions, unsure of where to go next and wondering if maybe he should just stay right where he was until someone came along. This surely looked like a path that would be used regularly. It wound through the edge of a field near the tree line. A cow stepped into his field of vision. Or, it might just be a cow path. Still, where there were cattle, people couldn’t be too far off.

Still weighing his options, Hank sat on a fallen log to give himself time to think. The tree had fallen years ago, and its stump was almost hollow—rotted from the inside out. It was the sort of timber that looked good from the outside, but failed to produce. It made Hank ponder what his life would amount to if it were measured in board feet. He’d been feeling a bit hollow lately—like the heart had gone out of him. If he were honest, he’d have to admit it had something to do with seeing Judd and Larkin so happy. They had a child now—the main reason Larkin hadn’t come along on this trip. Little Lavonia was barely walking, and the young parents agreed traveling with a child not yet two would be a trial for them all. Sweet Lavonia had wormed her way into his heart just like James and Grace were quickly doing. Maybe there was more in this world for him than playing second fiddle for the Waccamaw Timber Company.

The jay he’d noticed earlier landed on the punky stump and dipped his head as though peering inside. The bird snatched a fallen leaf in its beak and flew to a low branch, tilting its head to consider Hank. He’d known jays to be curious, but he’d never known one to take such an interest in him.

“You act like you’re after something,” he said aloud.

The bird dropped its leaf and bobbed along the branch, eye now focused on the stump. Hank turned his attention back to the hollowed wood and noticed that the leaves inside didn’t look natural. They looked more like someone or something had piled them there—stuffing them in. Could it be a nest of some sort? Hank wondered if they had critters in these hills he didn’t know about. He poked at the mass with a stick, finding the leaves formed a sort of cap that came away revealing . . . what appeared to be a gun cleaning cloth. He fished it out and something tumbled onto the ground at his feet. He picked the lump up and found it to be an embroidered cloth pouch with a weighty something inside. Tipping the bag, a piece of jewelry—really beautiful jewelry with intertwined hearts and a glinting purple stone—dropped into his hand. Well now. Had he stumbled upon someone’s secret cache?

Distracted, Hank didn’t notice the soft sound of footsteps approaching until they were nearly upon him. He startled and caught himself before toppling off his log as Fleeta Brady hove into view, head down and muttering to herself.

Letting Go – When Silence Sings

Sarah Thomas (1)

There I am with the Thurmond, WV, depot behind me. Covering the same ground my characters did.

I submitted my latest manuscript to my editor over the weekend. After the hours of writing, re-writing, and editing you’d think I’d be glad to turn it loose and move on.

But releasing a story is surprisingly hard.

I think this is a good story. Maybe the best I’ve written. And as long as those 87,750 words are sitting on my hard drive, I can keep thinking that. But once I release them . . .

No one told me that being a writer would require me to be this vulnerable. Oh, I was warned to develop a thick skin, but it was hard to understand what that meant until I submitted a manuscript and got back those pages of editorial notes.

They’ve always been GOOD notes–thoughtful, inciteful, helpful. Well, except when my editor said churning butter in 1970s West Virginia seemed out of place. Shoot, I helped my mother churn butter many a time and I wasn’t born until 1971.

But that’s not the point.

The point is, turning a story loose is what I imagine it must be like to send a child away to school. You know your child is amazing, wonderful, exceptional even. But you also know that she likely has a few flaws you’re too biased to see. And odds are pretty good someone is going to point those out.

It was hard to hit the “send” button, but now that When Silence Sings has landed in my editor’s in-box, I feel better. He’s going to help me find any weaknesses and strengthen the story. And if it really IS good, well, then it’s about to get even better.

Within the year I’m looking forward to introducing you to Colman Harpe, Serepta McLean, Ivy, and little Emmaline. I expect they’ll all do a bit of growing between now and then and I’m excited to see it.

Mostly 😉