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.

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.

Show Don’t Tell (a new take)

DeskIt’s a common refrain among writers. Don’t tell readers what’s happening–show them. Imagine the difference between watching a movie and having someone tell you about it. The telling can get tedious fast, but watching it . . .

And so, when writing a story, the trick is to pull readers into the action so that they’re seeing it unfold in their imaginations.

I try to keep that in mind as I’m writing my stories. But what about when I’m living my life?

Last week I read I Peter 2:11-12 – Dear friends, I urge you . . . to abstain from sinful desires . . . Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

And it occurred to me that this is the biblical version of “show, don’t tell.” Sure, it’s important to share the gospel. To tell people the good news. But it’s even more important to live it in such a way that people SEE the gospel.

I can tell people all day long what God says about love, but how much more will they understand it if I, in fact, reflect his love through my treatment of them?

We live in a world where people are eager to tell each other how to live. Everyone has an opinion and altogether too many platforms for sharing it. Wouldn’t it be nice if we stopped telling it each other what to do and simply lived out our beliefs?

Showing instead of telling.

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!)

Appalachian Thursday – Weeeeeelllll

Grandmas and me

Grandmothers are masters of taking a single word and imbuing it with a world of meaning.

A friend and I were talking recently about our families–mostly the senior ladies in our Appalachian families–and how they can take a single word and communicate a wide range of meanings. The perfect example is the word, “well.”

Depending on the accompanying tone and expression, “well” can express a variety of messages. Here are a few:

  • Well. (Short, clipped, with lips pinched.) An expression of disdain suggesting that you can think that if you like but you’re completely wrong.
  • Weeellll. (Smiling, drawn out, sly sideways look.) I know what you’re getting at you devil, you!
  • Well. (Blank expression, flat tone.) I never would have thought it of you, but there you have it.
  • Well-ell-ell. (Laughing with a jolly expression.) Aren’t you the cutest thing I’ve ever seen?
  • Well. (Downcast eyes, soft voice, a little breathy.) I guess that’s all there is to say about that.

I don’t suppose this is exclusive to natives of our mountain region, but it’s surely been perfected here. And it’s one of my frustrations in writing. It’s so hard to share the full range of meanings on the printed page. I often end up editing out a slew of “wells” that really don’t convey what I’m after without the finer nuances of body language.

Which is frustrating.

But oh well.

Appalachian Thursday – A Tough Funeral to Preach

mamieIn researching my current novel I stumbled across a story about a 1932 murder in West Virginia (ah, rabbit trails, writers love ’em!).

A 31-year-old woman named Mamie Thurman was found dead on Trace Mountain in Logan County that June. A deaf-mute boy found her while picking blackberries (seriously, you can’t make this stuff up!). Her ghost allegedly haunts the road there.

A local banker and politician, Harry Robertson, was questioned along with his black handyman Clarence. Turned out Harry had been having an affair with Mamie (both of them were married to other people). Clarence had been key in helping to facilitate meetings.

There was ample evidence found in the Robertson home and car pointing to a murder and transfer of a body. There was also plenty of talk that Harry wasn’t the only prominent person having an affair with Mamie. Ultimately, Clarence was tried for the murder and found guilty with a recommendation of leniency. He died in prison about ten years later.

There’s a lot more to the story, but the bit that really caught my attention was the account of Mamie’s funeral. It was attended by 550 women and 30 men. Rev. B.C. Gamble delivered the “sermon” during the service. He read scripture from the book of John about the woman caught in the act of adultery.

John 8:3-7 – The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Once he finished the reading he said, “This is the text. Develop your own sermon on that basis.” Then someone read the obituary and they closed the service.

I may have to take up writing murder mysteries . . .

When Silence Sings Cover Reveal 2.12.19

teaser wssMy next novel, When Silence Sings, releases November 5. I know, I know, that’s SO FAR away. It’s like my birthday, Christmas morning, and vacation all rolled into one big, long WAIT.

Of course, I also know my grandmother was right when she told me that time picks up speed as you get older. And my mother was right when she told me not to wish my life away. So, I don’t really mind the wait.

Plus, there will be fun mile markers along this last leg of the journey to publication. The book will go up for pre-order. I’ll get the final pages for one last edit. The cover will begin appearing in catalogs. And there might even be some early reviews!

Ah yes, the cover. I’ve seen it. And it’s taken all of my discipline not to show it to everyone I know along with several strangers. Not only is it lovely, but it’s the milestone that tells me this is really happening!

And on February 12, I get to show it off! I’ll release it to my newsletter subscribers first and then will share it here on my blog. If you want to get the newsletter, sign up HERE.

I’m still working on edits for the novel, tightening up some loose threads, weaving in a new character (a rough and tumble police chief), and getting rid of about 58 uses of the word “just” that aren’t needed.

I’ll try not to bore you with details, but I may mention the book now and again. I’m pretty excited about it!