Open Mic Blog

view:  full / summary

SPOTLIGHT:Belinda Anderson

Posted on April 3, 2014 at 9:50 AM Comments comments (19)

                                                        Belinda Anderson



Writing a Middle Grade Novel: Children Who Believe


When I was a kid, my Mom had a fool-proof April Fool’s trick, at least the years when it fell on a school day.


She’d come to wake me up and announce that it had snowed. Even back then, I was not a morning person. But the promise of freedom would bounce me right out of bed and over to the window. I wanted to believe.


That’s the joy of writing for middle-grade readers. They want to believe that maybe a witch would arrive by Amtrak to create trouble in a quiet town. And that no adult suspects her, that only a kid can see her for what she is. When I tell adults the title of my newest book, I often get a quizzical look. But when I tell kids, their faces show instant comprehension. Jackson vs. Witchy Wanda: Making Kid Soup. Yeah. Makes sense. They believe this could be a witch’s mission and that it’s up to a kid to stop her.


When I visit classrooms, I’ll often read a passage from my work as an example before I encourage the students to write from their own imaginations. During one visit, we finished with a few minutes to spare. One student asked me to read further in my book. I started flipping through my reading copy. Hmm, I said, let me see if there’s a passage that wouldn’t take long, because we don’t have much time.


“Just read!” he exhorted. (Generally I recommend the use of the plain “said” for dialogue, but he really did strongly and earnestly urge.)


If your young readers become really invested in your story, be ready for interrogation. Be especially prepared for why-couldn’t-they-just questions, as in why couldn’t the villains just do this or that to succeed in their evil plots, or why can’t the heroes just do this or that to defeat the villains? I once made the mistake of saying that it really wasn’t known what effect a certain action by Wanda might have on Jackson.


“Why?” one pupil demanded. “Didn’t you write the book?”


Oh, that’s right, I’m the omnipotent author. But in that moment of debating what Jackson and Witchy Wanda might do, I was just as caught up in the story as the students. That’s when the writing process is its most joyous – when we believe in our creations.



*   *   *

Archetypes in Middle-Grade Literature

(This is a preview of a workshop on Middle-Grade literature that Belinda will lead at the West Virginia Writers conference in June 2014 at Cedar Lakes: )


Today’s middle-grade reader is pretty savvy, a trait that is reflected in the humor and real-life issues prevalent in current juvenile literature.


The best books also make use of an enduring element that dates back not only to the beginning of literature, but the very first stories told only in voice. That element is archetype.


In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell wrote “to touch and inspire deep creative centers dwells in the smallest nursery fairy tale.”


Used skillfully, archetypes can reach the readers’ primal psyche, giving a story staying power. Perhaps the best way to define archetype is by example. Consider the "Wounded Hero." The wound can be an emotional one – think of the neglected heroine in The Secret Garden, of the orphan Harry Potter. The injury can be physical – a current example is Auggie, the protagonist in the much-acclaimed Wonder. Often, the protagonist is challenged by wounds that can be seen and those that can’t. In Jackson vs. Witchy Wanda: Making Kid Soup, my book’s hero, Jackson, starts the novel as a kid isolated because of his hearing disability.


The "Wounded Hero" doesn’t have to be serious. Like Harry Potter, Mo LoBeau appears to be an orphan, but that doesn’t interfere with her comedic personality. Author Sheila Turnage, first in Three Times Lucky and now in The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing, tucks in teachable, touching moments even as she writes witticism after witticism.


The triumph over the wound is a hallmark of middle-grade literature. The wound doesn’t always disappear – Harry Potter remains an orphan, Jackson still has his hearing problem, Mo still yearns for the mother who lost her in a flood – but the protagonist has risen to the challenge and emerged stronger.


 *   *   *



Belinda Anderson is the author of four books, published by the nonprofit Mountain State Press, based at the University of Charleston. Her first three books are short story collections: The Well Ain't Dry Yet, The Bingo Cheaters, and Buckle Up, Buttercup. Her most recent book, Jackson Vs. Witchy Wanda: Making Kid Soup, is a middle-grade novel. She is serving as this year’s judge for the middle-grade level of the West Virginia Writers contest and is a state judge for the West Virginia Library Commission’s Letters About Literature contest.


SPOTLIGHT: Jane Congdon

Posted on March 24, 2014 at 10:50 AM Comments comments (23)

                                      Jane Congdon and Joseph Barnett
                               Co-Author Lessons

Jane Congdon


“I would not say ‘fret’ under penalty of death.” My brother was reacting to my wording in the latest chapter of Mr. Joe, the memoir we were writing. My ability to absorb the critique and Joe’s ability to offer it in the first place were signs of our progress.


My job as co-author was to help Joe bring his story to the page. It was not a story I knew.


Joseph Barnett and I were strangers, having spent most of the previous forty years apart. As children we had been united against a common enemy: our alcoholic mother. Ours was a house of secrets; otherwise, I would have known that my little brother was haunted by our grandfather’s ghost; that he was claustrophobic, yet often crawled under the dirty laundry to hide; that in his teens he repeatedly ran away.


Both of us left our West Virginia village in 1966, going in different directions and missing most of each other’s lives until a brain tumor reunited us in 2006. As we embarked on the book project, Joe’s life unfolded on my computer screen. I came to know my brother again through the haunting, challenging, life-affirming story of a school custodian known as Mr. Joe.


Every writing journey is different. Here are highlights and insights from my six years co-authoring Mr. Joe: Tales from a Haunted Life (Bettie Youngs Books, 2013).


1. Have fun.


“Have fun” is one piece of advice that’s empty if you can’t follow it and unnecessary if you can. Initially I listed it last--a postscript--but it is the most important, because the challenges will come.


Writing Mr. Joe was an adventure of discovery and bonding for my brother and me as we shared childhood memories and learned about one another as adults: workers, parents, and grandparents. We surprised ourselves by being more alike than different. We did have fun. Today we live near one another and are the best of friends.


2. Nurture your relationship.


Thanks to the Internet, some co-authors may never meet. Because Joe and I sat across a desk from one another, it was imperative for us to create a safe working atmosphere, one in which we could comfortably express our feelings. That took time. We were family, but our relationship had gone dormant, and two polite acquaintances cannot write a memoir.


3. Understand your contract with one another.


What are your obligations as a co-author? A publishing contract will likely be a boilerplate document emphasizing the publisher’s interests.


Joe and I created and signed a COLLABORATION AGREEMENT specifying our responsibilities, the order in which our names would appear on the book cover, the division of royalties, and our joint commitment to participate in the various stages of the project. Our publisher amended it to our publishing contract.


I could have been a ghostwriter, a “with,” or an “as told to.” Joe and I reasoned that neither of us could have written Mr. Joe without the other, so we chose equal billing; to us, the title identifies the main author.


4. Find your process.


How are you going to work? Do you have the tools you need? Will you have to change your schedule? I used to get up at 5:00 a.m. and write; with Mr. Joe, work began later and required me to get dressed and put on makeup.


Through trial and error, Joe and I found a process that fit our skills. His sharp memory counterbalanced my need to write everything down, and my writing experience offset his desire not to type a 91,000-word manuscript. He told his story aloud to me, and I typed it. We met in coffee houses or in one of our homes. During our sessions my job was to keep up with Joe and capture his voice. Afterward it was to massage the material into a readable narrative while retaining that voice.


A memoir is a merger of good writing and the truth. Truth can be lost to word choices, and one of my challenges was to repress my wild desire to string pretty words together in my own way.


5. Acknowledge your fears.


Writing with another person can bring up all kinds of worries. Will the workload be divided evenly? Will he or she come through? Will the finished product meet or exceed expectations?


Joe worried about other people’s reactions to his revelations, for example, that he had seen ghosts. His other expressed fear was that my writing would smother his story and it would become my version of his life, which was unacceptable.


My fear was that he would chicken out. I had to condition myself that the work might come to nothing. I hated the idea of stopping for many reasons, one being my fear that we would face a lawsuit for breaking our publishing contract. I kept that one from Joe.


6. Buckle up.


Co-authors can have totally different experiences writing a book. Sometimes your book jerks a knot in you.


Joe went through the wringer reliving his darkest moments from the past, times he had managed to forget until we dredged them up. His torture was often relentless. Mine lasted only three weeks.


We had a huge procedural issue and didn’t know it. As the stories spilled out of Joe, he assumed that only what he said during “work time” would go in the book. I assumed that he would censor himself; thus, anything he told me was fair game. The result of our clashing assumptions was disastrous. In an early draft sent to readers, I unknowingly included material my co-author presumed confidential. The trust we had built was nearly destroyed, but we did recover. The upshot: a signature line was added at the end of every chapter, and no chapter was final until Joe had signed his approval.


7. Hindsight is 20-20.


There is no predicting where the adventure of writing will take us. Only afterward do we see the whole story.


Mr. Joe was published in 2013. None of our fears came true. The bonds of family were stretched, but they did not break. In the end our voices merged on the page; Joe likes to say that he can’t tell where he stops and I begin.


One day when we were still working on the manuscript, Joe said, “I don’t care if we throw it in the fireplace when we’re done.”




“I suggested a book because I knew it would take a long time, but I didn’t think we’d really write one,” he said. “I did it because I wanted to spend time with you.”



                                   *    *    *


Jane Congdon and Joseph Barnett are members of West Virginia Writers, Inc. Natives of Glen Ferris, West Virginia, both now live near Cincinnati, Ohio. After retiring from a thirty-year career as a textbook editor, Jane published the memoir It Started with Dracula: The Count, My Mother, and Me (2011, Bettie Youngs Books). Mr. Joe is her second book and Joseph’s first. It's available in paperback and e-book formats from Amazon and Barnes & Noble online.


Posted on February 22, 2014 at 3:05 PM Comments comments (32)

Cat Pleska

The Never-Ending Story


I’m not sure when I became words. Maybe it was like Franz Kafka’s character who wakes up as a bug. But I know my metamorphosis was not overnight. I suppose it began while growing up, an only child. My father struggled with alcohol and my mother’s depression seemed linked to my father’s problems. I have never been able to separate her state of mind with his state of sobriety. It was a tango strangely out of step: he drank, she cried. They spent most of their lives in a whirling dervish life, leaving me to navigate the duality of their reality: calm and chaos.


I loved them both. They both loved me. They taught me to be empathic, attuned to every mood and nuance of their lives. Leaning heavily on the calm times to sail me through the chaotic times, I learned to cope. While it was never easy, and I failed sometimes to cope, 90% of the time I played like a normal child. I did well in school, I had a safe home, I dreamed of what I would be one day.


I was never angry with either of them, not then and not now. I am grateful for these two intelligent, creative, larger-than-life people. They augmented my inborn talent to observe then ponder. They inspired me with the verve and spirit to write from the heart, the soul.


The truth is, neither parent was able to finish high school—lack of food and clothes drove them each to work. But, oh, they were writers and storytellers extraordinaire. My mom penned poems and song lyrics and the start of a novel. My mother told me all my life: you must become a writer. My father seemed to have the patois of most older generation Appalachians, West Virginians. His musical dialect, coupled with his ability to tell stories was the stuff of poetry. Both parents were voracious readers, and books were as common as a cup of coffee and a cigarette in our house.


Near the end of my father’s life, he told me about how aluminum plants work (he retired from Kaiser Aluminum): describing pot rooms and rolling mills, painting vivid images in my mind. I can still yet see the sparks, feel the heat that was 180 degrees up to a man’s shoulder. Not that he knew his facility with language was inspiring. 


Somewhere around 12, when I’d inadvertently met the great Pearl Buck and figured out authors were real and not some machine or a hundred monkeys somewhere banging on a typewriter, I started writing in earnest. I put on paper what I saw in my mind, what I remembered of everything I’d seen and heard. In my family, I was witness and sin eater, and eventually you know that stuff has to come out somewhere, and fortunately for me, it became a creative outlet, a saving grace.


Life consumed my parents eventually, my mom in 2000 and my dad in 2003. Before either died they said, “Tell my story.” And from there began the real work, the planting of the butt in the chair to write. In a sense, I am the generation that is finishing what they could not: a fantastic story. But I have learned that I have my own to tell, too.


Through the last 40 years, on my unsteady route toward writing, I never had a mentor (until fairly recently) as many do, so I chugged along, that out of step tango I learned a long time ago. I was out of high school for 18 years before I got up the nerve to go to college and major in English. Then I earned a master’s degree in humanities: I figured: well, there is no place nearby where I can get a straight up writing degree, but a humanities degree offered a context into which to put my words, helping me discover the past and present, cultures and history, the stuff of background and universality.


In 2002, I began my, to date, best odyssey in writing: my MFA degree in creative nonfiction from Goucher College in Baltimore. It was low-residency, so I could stay home and take care of my family and continue to work. But it was a life-altering experience. The mentors there helped me take my writing to its next zenith and their support echoed that of my parents. 


Since graduating in 2004, I finally began to meld life and writing. I veered into other creative activities such as re-enacting historical characters, but I developed into a magazine feature writer and radio essayist. My memoir seems to be a never-ending story, but I’ll get there. And too, I am finding time to mentor others, both students at my university and writers in my community. I live and breathe writing every day. I am never one step away from it, one nano molecule separated from the continuing dream.


Where am I on my path right now? I’m squiggles, marks on paper and on the screen, spoken into the air and ether. I can no longer find the dividing line. Here I am, right in front of you. On this page.


When I die, hopefully many years hence, there will be a gravestone that says: Here lies Cat: mere words.


                                *  *  *  *


Cat Pleska teaches writing and literature at West Virginia State University and is the new president of Mountain State Press. She is an essayist for West Virginia Public Radio and a regular writer for Wonderful West Virginia magazine. She lives in Scott Depot with her husband, Dan, her dog, Lexi, and her cats Charlotte Bronte and Virginia Woolf.  







SPOTLIGHT: Eliot Parker

Posted on January 26, 2014 at 3:55 PM Comments comments (14)

Eliot Parker

 One Writer's MFA Journey.


I’ve always wanted to be a writer; however, I did not begin writing creatively until I was in college when I needed a break from the rigors of academic writing. After I graduated with my Master's Degree in English from Marshall University and began teaching full-time at Mountwest Community and Technical College in 2007, my creative writing was stifled by the requirements of class preparation, grading papers, office hours, and committee work. Yet, I renewed my passion for writing during summer breaks.


I had read about MFA programs in several writing magazines and even consulted with some classmates from my days at Marshall who had gone on to pursue an MFA at other colleges and universities throughout the country. For a while, I refused to even consider getting one since I had been out of school for too long and wondered if I could balance the responsibilities of work and being a student. In the Fall of 2010, I decided to apply to the Bluegrass Writers Studio at Eastern Kentucky University Not expecting to be accepted, I was thrilled when my portfolio of work was reviewed and I was offered a chance to attend.


As a student in the program, I was prepared academically as well as artistically for the field of fiction writing. I had a chance to study and analyze materials written by other writers in addition to polishing my own craft. Moreover, the winter and summer residency opportunities in Lexington, Kentucky, and Edinburgh, Scotland, gave me a chance to immerse myself in my writing and focus on craft. In addition to becoming familiar with two wonderful cities like Lexington and Edinburgh, I was able to workshop my writing with other classmates, visiting writers, and faculty. I met and was mentored by award-winning authors, including Jim Grimsley, Amanda Eyre Ward, Kristin Iversen, and others. 


The low-residency program at ETSU helped me maintain my full-time job and work toward completing the degree. The experience helped me further realize my strengths and weaknesses as a writer. I found my classes to be intellectually stimulating, and my classmates and professors created a classroom culture of openness and acceptance which allowed me the confidence to experiment  with my writing and not be afraid of subjects and themes that had long been percolating in my subconscious. Many of my fellow classmates are also my best friends today.


The guidance and coaching I received during my two years at EKU have been invaluable to me as a writer. I still maintain relationships with those writers who mentored me, and the faculty at EKU make themselves available anytime I want to talk about writing or seek advice. I left the program a more confident and capable writer, reader, and learner. I was able to successfully balance teaching full-time with the rigors of the program which made me even stronger in areas of time management.                              


An  MFA might not be a good fit for everyone, but if family obligations and full-time employment can't be avoided, then a low-residency program is a good option to consider. I’m glad that I set aside my doubts and concerns and made myself apply in 2010. Completing my MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction) was one of the best experiences of my entire life.


Eliot Parker is the author of the novels The Prospect, Breakdown at Clear River (nominated for a Weatherford Award in Outstanding Fiction in 2012) and the upcoming novel Making Arrangements (Spring of 2014 from Sunstone Press). He currently teaches writing and literature at Mountwest Community and Technical College in Huntington, West Virginia. Learn more about Eliot at his website



SPOTLIGHT: Jennifer Stapleton

Posted on December 30, 2013 at 6:45 PM Comments comments (13)





Jennifer Stapleton
Teacher, Writer, Dreamer





I’m a








                 lifelong learner




                in an old, yellowed, lace glove

                in a forgotten, silk lined pocket

                of a scratchy wool coat

                in the cobwebby attic of a house


I’ll never own.


                                       * * *

A few weeks ago, a dear writer-friend posted on Facebook a question: What happens to a dream deferred? My mind immediately whispered, “It dies,” but that is too sad to post, too sad to be true. I responded what I hope happens, that the dream plants itself in the heart and waits for the sleeper to awake. I’m a dreamer by nature. I always have been. I dream dreams for myself. I dream dreams for others. I dream dreams of others, those who have lived in lives passed, and of those who I’ll never know except for in my dreams. Growing up, my family always called me a dreamer and worried that my feet would never touch firm ground. It is this dreamer mind that gave me my writer’s heart, that drove me to become a teacher. 


I wonder if other professions hear, “Oh, I’ve always wanted to be a …” as much as I have. I wonder what stifles the dreams of those who want to become teachers. We are all teachers in our own ways, whether we want to admit it or not. We teach our children to be polite, to mind, to lie, to steal, to die – all without ever having a content standard or a lesson plan to guide us. We teach others how to do the things we love, how to fish, crochet, build, create. We teach others how to get out of the things we hate, cleaning, laundry, homework. All the things we teach, all without standards, all without tests. 


During my first full-time job as a teacher, I began to teach my students to write stories. I was a silly, new teacher who naively assigned my students to write stories by saying, “Write a story.” The first question was how long did I want the story to be. A page. A page was a good length. A page sounded official. A page sounded writerly. The “stories” I received were anything but writerly and reading through an entire page was painful, though at times laughable. I had a problem. I had to teach my students how to write a story and I had no idea how. I found a book in the closet of my classroom that featured pictures of people and scenes on overlays. Pulling the cart with the overhead projector into my room, the class began writing together. I put a picture on the overhead and we created names for the people, discussed their personalities and characteristics. We dreamed up and argued their stories. What would they have to tell us, if they could speak? Together we outlined their stories and wrote each on the board. After writing this way with my students for weeks, I slowly began to realize my students were telling their own stories through the pictures. 


Soon, I realized students told their stories in all kinds of ways. A student running into the room saying, “You’re not going to believe what happened!” was greeted with, “Stop and write it down! You are not allowed to share or tell anything that isn’t on your paper.” Students told their stories through jokes, moaning over problems, sighing aloud when a certain someone seemed to be ignoring them. My students turned into walking stories. I gave them a place to voice their stories. Each day I would give them a writing prompt. The prompts were usually authentic, such as Tell me what you did this weekend or Tell me about your first love. Yet, not until I became a Writing Project teacher did I see myself as a writer teaching others to write. 


I joined the Three Bridges Writing Project at Marshall University in the summer of 2007. It was a hot sweaty summer, where I sat in my house trying desperately to put something on paper I thought others would want to hear. June was the longest month that year. June was also the month where I officially introduced my dreamer self to my writer self and each, in turn, to my teacher self and they merged– somewhere during long, intense days of writing groups–into the same person. It was this new person who returned to the classroom to teach writing that fall. 


I can’t tell you, at least not in one blog post, the ways my teaching writing changed. It did not change all at once and still changes even today. For instance, this school year changed everything about how I teach writing. The implementation of the Common Core State Standards and the Ohio Improvement Process brought fear into this dreamer-writer-teacher heart. Staff meetings informed me I didn’t know how to teach writing, nor could I teach it without extensive worksheets and graphic organizers. I threw everything I thought I knew about writing and teaching writing out the window. Flash forward to December, quarter exams and the narrative paper. Although I gave my students daily prompts and every graphic organizer I could find, when the time came to write a narrative no one believed they had a story to tell. The narratives were the poorest writing I have seen from my students all year–and I ain’t talking grammar either. 


Worry filled me. Looking at my students, I became angry. I had reduced writing to a formula, a set of graphic organizers, a meaningless test. I had left behind the beautiful words and phrases of authors. I had left behind the amazing craft that authors place in their works to open our eyes. I had left everything that was important to writing out. I had to make this right, had to make my students truly write. I began to bring in my favorite works. I read stories aloud to my students and we discussed what made the writing “good.” After reading Cynthia Rylant’s In November, each student picked a month to describe using her text as our “graphic organizer.” Did you know that in July food is a red, white and blue color, tastes like the gunpowder from a firework, and melts on your tongue? After reading The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, students chose their own fairytales to retell through the villain’s eyes. Who knew that Ursula was actually Ariel’s nanny and Flounder was a shark who proved to be a bad influence? Imagine our surprise when Cinderella’s stepmother told of finding out that Cinderella had eleven little brothers and sisters. Eleven! No wonder Cinderella had to help with the chores. 


I’m still nervous. Just last week I put out a call to my fellow writing project teachers for books they use to teach writing. I’m not nervous about meeting content standards or the ability of my students to write. I’m nervous that I’ve wasted so much time worrying about how to do what those who aren’t writers were telling me to do. I’m nervous that I so easily doubted what I knew to be best, that I may do it again one day. I’m nervous that I didn’t teach my students to listen to their dreams, that instead I encouraged my students to defer their dreams. I’m nervous my dreamers will fail to wake this year and fully see themselves as writers.


                                     * * *


Jennifer Stapleton lives and teaches in the Ohio River Valley. Aside from reading and writing, she loves to spend time with her son, Trey, and their two rescue cats. In the growing world of technology, one of the things Jennifer finds to be hardest is trying to keep up a blog–she has started several and has yet to maintain one for more than two or three posts. 







SPOTLIGHT: Rita Sims Quillen

Posted on November 15, 2013 at 1:40 PM Comments comments (11)

          Rita Sims Quillen (photo by Ashley Briggs)   
 Appalachian Writer's Workshop:Finding Her Tribe                               


     “Hindman,” ETSU professor Tom Lane said. “They have the Appalachian Writer’s Workshop there every summer. You should go.” It was a strange name, a stranger idea that I should go to a writer’s workshop. What exactly is that? I studied the brochure intently. That August in 1980 I packed up my little Toyota Corolla and set off through Pound Gap over into eastern Kentucky. As I drove, the mountains seemed to move closer and closer, the road became more narrowed and crooked. I pulled across the wooden bridge over Troublesome Creek and walked toward the log house that said “Office.” I got all the paperwork, my information packet, my name tag, and went over to the main classroom building next door. As I watched people come in and get ready for the opening meeting, I was suddenly paralyzed with self-doubt and anxiety.


     “What was I thinking? There are all these famous writers here and college professors; I’ve never published anything or even finished college! I’m going to make a fool of myself!!” But I’d already paid my money and driven all the way over there; it was too late to back out now. And thank God for that.


     Out of the next 6 days, which is 144 hours, I think I slept somewhere between 8 and 10 hours total. The daytime heat index hovered between 95 and 100, and this was in the days before air conditioning, but we were too enthralled to notice much. During the day, I was in classes taught by James Still, Cratis Williams, Harriette Arnow, and Jim Wayne Miller; in the evenings I listened to them and other wonderful writers read from their work, including new work. The special guest reader that year was Wilma Dykeman, and I got to meet her. I was in awe and star struck disbelief—I was getting to actually meet and talk to favorite authors. In the evenings we played and sang the old mountain songs, talked and talked, entertaining each other with stories and wordplay. I had gone from feeling so out of place and self-conscious to knowing that I was exactly where I needed to be.


     When it came time for my first manuscript conference with my teacher, Jim Wayne Miller, I was so nervous I thought I was going to throw up. But when I sat down at the table in the dining hall next to him, he smiled and said, “There you are. I’ve been waiting to meet you. Reading your manuscript and meeting you will be the highlight of this workshop for me.” I was too stunned to speak. I now know that Jim was the kind of person who probably showed lots of young participants that kind of generosity and kindness. But his encouragement, which was then echoed by the other poetry teacher Richard Hague, gave me something I thought I needed then—permission to think of myself as a writer. I had told people since I was in 4th grade that I was going to be a writer, but adolescence had caused me to scoff at the notion that someone like me could actually be that.


     I left there a changed person, part of a new family, strong as blood, and our bond continues to this day. We have grown old together, grieved over many who’ve gone on, and maintain an understanding and bond that is hard to explain.


      By the time I finally got home that weekend, the exhaustion had fully engulfed me, and my husband came home to find me sound asleep on the carpet in the middle of the living room floor, right under the little window air conditioner. “Wake up and talk to me,” he said. “I want to hear about it. Did you have fun?”


    “More than fun,” I said. “I found my tribe.”



                                *  *  *


Rita Sims Quillen’s novel HIDING EZRA is forthcoming in 2014 from Little Creek Books; it was a finalist in the 2005 DANA Awards competition, and a chapter of the novel is included in the new scholarly study of Appalachian dialect just published by the University of Kentucky Press entitled TALKING APPALACHIAN.


One of six finalists for the 2012-14 Poet Laureate of Virginia, her poetry received a Pushcart nomination as well as a Best of the Net nomination in 2012. Her most recent collection HER SECRET DREAM, new and selected poems, is from WIND Press in Kentucky and was named the Outstanding Poetry Book of the Year by the Appalachian Writers Association in 2008. Previous works are poetry collections OCTOBER DUSK and COUNTING THE SUMS, as well as a book of essays LOOKING FOR NATIVE GROUND: CONTEMPORARY APPALACHIAN POETRY.


Rita lives and farms on Early Autumn Farm in Scott County, Virginia. Visit her Author Page:   



















































Posted on August 2, 2013 at 6:00 PM Comments comments (0)

One huge highlight of this year so far was when I was interviewed by award-winning novelist Zoe Ferraris. She is the author of the literary thrillers FINDING NOUF, CITY OF VEILS, and KINGDOM OF STRANGERS. She is also a good friend and mentor whom I admire and respect, and I was honored to be featured on her blog. Watch for her simply amazing fantasy novel THE PYXIS in the near future.


Here is the link to her interview with me.

WV Governor's School for the Arts

Posted on July 22, 2013 at 11:15 AM Comments comments (0)

Four talented  students at the 2013 West Virginia Governor's School for the Arts, an actress and three dancers, interpreted my poem "Monday." It doesn't get much better than this =)


Posted on February 14, 2013 at 10:40 AM Comments comments (7)

My first novel, THE SILVER TATTOO, has just been released in print and as an ebook. It is a dark literary thriller set in mythical Ireland. ;

SEVEN: S. G. Redling

Posted on January 31, 2013 at 5:55 PM Comments comments (13)

                                 S. G. Reding



S.G. Redling is a veteran of morning radio, an avid traveler, and a more avid wine drinker. The thriller Flowertown (Thomas & Mercer, 2012) was her first novel. After only six weeks on Amazon, Flowertown broke Kindle's top 10 and sold more than 50,000 copies. Her second novel Damocles (47North, 2013) hits the sci-fi shelves May 28th, 2013.



Discover seven cool things about S.G. Redling! She will be answering your questions for the next two days, so stop by and take advantage of this great chance to learn more about her writing journey and deepest, darkest secrets for creating riveting thrillers and sci-fi novels.


~Seven Things You Probably Don’t Know About Me~ 



                             S.G. Redling




 1. My Great-Uncle Pat is an important figure in the history of Lawn, Newfoundland. He alerted the town to head to high ground when he didn’t like the look of the sea. A tidal wave rolled in hours later, wiping out most of the town. No lives were lost.


2. I played an extra in Melrose Place (the original show!) Jack Wagner showed me his nipple and I lied to Rob Estes about my job. I worked in radio at the time but I told him I ran a personal karaoke service. (What? Did you think this was going to be deep?)


3. I was the first female PA announcer in the East Coast Hockey League.


4. I met Andy Warhol.


5. I worked as a sheepskin packer in Truckee, California.


6. I am an ambidextrous watercolor painter.


7. The sight of a bat flying overhead will instantly reduce me to a flop-sweat-soaked quivering mass of terror. I’m not crazy about rabbits either. Guinea pigs, however, are awesome.




 "Flowertown is a high-intensity conspiracy thriller that brings the worst-case scenario vividly to life and will keep readers riveted until the final haunting page."


Are you superstitious?

Posted on November 17, 2012 at 10:45 AM Comments comments (1)

                        c 2012


Are you superstitious? I know that I am. I hope the Morton's Lite Salt I just threw over my left shoulder works!                                    


What are some of your good luck charms and rituals? Do you always carry or wear something for good luck?


Do your read your horoscope every day? Have you ever been to a fortune teller or used Tarot cards, etc., to predict the future?

Pen Names

Posted on October 15, 2012 at 10:05 AM Comments comments (6)

  White Shadow/Black Beauty?  

c 2012


What do Dr. Seuss, Boz, George Eliot, Lemony Snicket, Mark Twain, Silence Dogwood, and Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell have in common? They all used pen names.


Not so long ago, women had to resort to using a man's name to get their work published. Think the Bronte sisters: Charlotte/Currer, Emily/Ellis, and Anne/Acton Bell. Even today, J.K. Rowling was told to use initials instead of Joanna (her first name) because her publisher thought her book would "sell better if she disguised her gender." She didn't have a middle name, so they gave her the middle initial of "K." Obviously, that strategy paid off in gold bullion!



Some writers today use pen names when they switch genres, so their devoted fans don't turn on them. Writers like actors tend to get typecast (think John Boy, Julia Roberts, Stephen King (Richard Bachman), and Patricia Cornwell) so if they want to break out and write a pop-up book (which I adore!) or something, they might adopt a clever pen name to publish incognito.



I ran across a wonderful discussion of pen names in The Atlantic and learned a number of facts about author's names that I didn't know:



Are pen names really necessary in the 21st century? What would you change your name to if you had to make up a pen name? Don't be shy!

Book Buys?

Posted on September 16, 2012 at 9:35 AM Comments comments (11)

Quick book survey:


1) What's the title of a recent book that you purchased?


2) What's the title of a recent Kindle/Nook/ebook that you purchased? 


Posted on September 3, 2012 at 12:25 AM Comments comments (4)


In the last few years things have been changing at a lightning pace in the publishing industry. For the first time UK Kindle sales have surpassed Amazon print sales:   


Would you or did you ever have an ebook published? Would you do it again? If so, what would you do differently?   


Do you find that you read more books now because you own a Kindle, Nook, etc., or do you only buy and read print books? Or both print and ebooks?


Writer's Block

Posted on August 11, 2012 at 9:35 AM Comments comments (15)

Ah, the dreaded writer's block . . . Call it creative exhaustion, fear of failure, or just coming up empty, we've all had it. So, what are some of your home-grown solutions that helped you declutter your keyboard and get back to what you love to do?

Celebrity Novels/Memoirs

Posted on July 26, 2012 at 5:30 PM Comments comments (14)



I recently took a poll on Facebook and ask some of my friends what  controversial or writerly issues they'd like to discuss next on my blog. Many great ideas were shared, and I will get to them all over the next few months.



I thought I'd kick off our discussions with the topic of celebrity novelists and fake memoirs. Snooki's novel A Shore Thing comes to mind as does Frey's A Million Little Pieces, but there are many others out there that haven't been in the headlines as much.



I've provided a few sample questions below to help get us started:

* Have you ever bought a book written by a celebrity or a writer who has fictionalized their memoirs?

*Were any ghostwriters used to write or co-write these books?

*Were the books entertaining/informative/life changing/compelling/fun/worth your money?

*If you have not read any of these kinds of books, tell us why not. 

*Many public figures get book deals because they make money a lot of money for the publishers. If a talented writer has no platform, do they, too, deserve to be published?

*Do these kinds of celebrity/faked memoirs generate enough money for the publishing companies so that some debut writers waiting in the wings can now get published?

*People have always been fascinated with celebrities, so do you think this trend will continue? Will there always be a reading audience for them?

*What motivates a memoirist to lie and embellish their work? Money? Fame? Greed?

*How do these kinds of books impact your life? Do you feel cheated in any way? Betrayed? Uplifted? Informed? Bored? Transported?

*What does the popularity of these kinds of books tell us about ourselves, our society?

*Doesn't everyone deserve to be published? Why or why not?


Posted on July 3, 2012 at 6:55 AM Comments comments (20)


If you are a writer or an aspiring writer, I thought it would be beneficial for us to read about one of your writing regrets, a little known writing success, and something that keeps you going when the writing life throws you a major curve or just seems impossible/hopeless.


I think we could learn something from each of you. Who's going to jump in the water first?! 

Gift:Ray Bradbury

Posted on June 18, 2012 at 8:35 AM Comments comments (6)


                                In memory of my friend Ray Bradbury


My measure of greatness is not celebrity but how someone treats humanity, the humble, the working class, and, yes, even a simple poet like me. 


Ray Bradbury's greatness, therefore, is beyond stellar in my eyes. His creative powers, telepathic vision, and literary legacy are treasured, but what I remember the most about Ray was his friendship, his inspiration and fervent support, his love of life, his devotion to family, and all that's truly important.


My friendship with Ray began in 1993 when I sent him a heartfelt fan letter, and he wrote back. That began our long correspondence, sharing books we liked, poems, cartoons, good times and bad. The first time I sent him one of my poems, he wrote "Send it somewhere---The New Yorker? The American Scholar?---to be printed!"


His enthusiasm was contagious. He used exclamation marks more than me, and I loved that about him. He advised me to "Write every day from now on. A poem a day if possible, or one every two or three days. I don't want to force you. Act natural. Have fun. Be beautiful." His letters were always signed with an exclamation mark: "Love! Ray," and I've kept all of our correspondence, emails, and Christmas poems that he wrote each year and shared with his friends.


I met Ray in 1997 for the first time in Eureka, Illinois. I was star struck and a nervous wreck. I did manage to buy him a pear at a local market in honor of that beautiful passage from Fahrenheit 451: "A glass of milk. An apple. A pear." I got to ride in the same car with Ray as he was escorted back to the airport in Peoria and managed a shy conversation but often found myself at a loss for words---the moment, both profound and unnerving.


I composed this poem in my head as I drove 500 miles on my way home to West Virginia. Loren Logsden, the editor at Eureka Literary Magazine, published it in 1997. When I sent it to Ray, he said it was beautiful, made him cry. This time I'm crying, but not for too long. I have to write a poem today.


"A glass of milk, an apple, a pear."

Fahrenheit 451


April 1997: Day Meeting for Ray Bradbury


What I meant to say,

became a pear

I placed in your hand.


What I meant to say,

you had already answered.


On that Illinois road

that divided empty cornfields

with a new silence,

I wanted to give you immortality.


But how can I give,

what is already yours.






Poem for Mom

Posted on June 12, 2012 at 8:50 AM Comments comments (3)

A poem in memory of my mother Laura Moore Treacy






My neighbor hangs wet laundry in the sun.

             Wooden clothespins turn in her hands.



Like a supple dancer she bends

and stretches her arms over her head.



The clothesline gently sags;

the wind catches the weight.

Her hair floats like milkweed.



At night she irons mended clothes

              with swollen hands.



Standing on varicosed legs,

white hair clouds her face.



The hot smell of starch and steam

fills the dark kitchen.

Her windows are painted shut.



But in the morning the dancer returns.

             Winds play in her hair.



Hands become swans;

feet rise en pointe.



A new ballet in the wash of days.



 (First printed in Controlled Burn and collected in Lake Effect)

Montcoal,WV:April 2010

Posted on May 26, 2012 at 4:45 PM Comments comments (2)

Since this is Memorial Day weekend, I've decided to publish my poem online in memory of the 29 miners who lost their lives at Upper Big Branch Mine in 2010.


Montcoal, West Virginia: April 2010


Night after night of this cruelest month,

porch lights beckon the miners home

and wait for a truck to top the hill.


Each evening they keep watch,

listening for the crush of tires on gravel,

the bark of a faithful dog.


But the men aren’t coming back,

tonight or any night

from Upper Big Branch mine.


Deep underground

twenty-nine headlamps

have long gone out,


but families hold vigil and pray,

and somehow the miners

hear each whispered word,


see all those porch lights

candling the darkness,

calling them home.