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Dublin Irish Festival

Posted on June 10, 2016 at 6:15 PM Comments comments (0)

Big news! I will be a featured author and presenter at the Dublin Irish Festival this August in Dublin, Ohio.  ☘  ☘ 


Posted on March 10, 2016 at 9:45 AM Comments comments (0)

Guess where I'll be on St. Patrick's Day?! Out to Lunch!!

If you're going to be in Huntington on March 17, come and join us! I'm kicking off this new venture with River and Rail Bakery and The Red Caboose, so watch for your favorite author in the coming months. The food is to LIVE for!

If you have already bought my novel, just enjoy the delicious lunch and conversation! This themed lunch will help support these wonderful independent businesses, and the work of local authors to boot.

"We're excited to announce a new venture with local authors that allow their readers to have a themed lunch, a reading by the author, and an autograped copy of the featured book. We kick off "Out To Lunch" on St. Patrick's Day, March 17th, at noon. For March, we welcome Laura Treacy Bentley and "The Silver Tattoo!" Lunch will include Guinness Beef Stew, Guinness Cheddar Soup, salad, iced tea, and dessert! Call 304-399-1247 to reserve your seat!"



"Author in the Spotlight"

Posted on March 4, 2016 at 10:05 AM Comments comments (0)

I was recently featured on "Author in the Spotlight" at the lovely Portobello Book Blog out of Edinburgh, Scotland: /

Stop by and stay awhile :) :)

Off-the-shelf book reviews

Posted on December 9, 2015 at 10:20 AM Comments comments (0)

I was invited to be a guest blogger on Vicki Goldman Gilbert's terrific blog Off-the-shelf book reviews in the UK! My post is titled "Drive, Imagine, Write." It's for all of you writers, like me, who have written or are writing a book and have traveled that long road to publication.

Brian Selznick!

Posted on October 19, 2015 at 6:00 PM Comments comments (0)

I read everything from literary, mysteries, fantasy, thrillers, poetry, non-fiction and more, but my secret pleasures are often children's books like Brian Selznick's Hugot Cabret, Wonderstruck, and The Marvels published by Scholastic Press. They are literally works of art! I am the proud owner of four of his books, and now I have his autograph. Be still my heart!

Night Terrors

Posted on April 11, 2015 at 12:00 AM Comments comments (1)

Night Terrors: A Short Story Prequel to The Silver Tattoo

I'm thrilled to announce that Night Terrors is now available for pre-order on Amazon at 99 cents and will be released on April 16, 2015. Please help me spread the word! 8)

Writer's Block Interview

Posted on April 7, 2015 at 10:35 AM Comments comments (3)

I was interviewed by Eric Douglas on his radio show Writer's Block. I talk about The Silver Tattoo and my forthcoming short story prequel "Night Terrors." Take a listen!



Posted on February 16, 2015 at 1:15 PM Comments comments (24)

Dr. Linda Tate

StoryWeb: Storytime for Grownups


Recently, I launched a weekly blog and podcast – StoryWeb: Storytime for Grownups. Readers and listeners are abuzz with excitement about the new project, and many of them have asked how I got the idea to focus on stories.


Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison answers the question better than I can. She says:


"People crave narration. People want to hear a story. They love it! That’s the way they learn things. That’s the way human beings organize their human knowledge – fairy tales, myths. All narration."


I love Toni Morrison. To me, she is the great American writer alive today. And one of the primary reasons she’s a classic is that she understands the power of story. Storytelling – one person talking to another, spinning a yarn – is at the heart of all her fiction.


Human beings tell stories all the time, in so many ways. We tell each other the tale of what happened that day. Families pass down stories of treasured memories – the favorite in my family is the tale of my grandparents’ first date. Communities pass down lore, the history of the culture, spiritual lessons through oral storytelling. Writers convey stories through novels, short stories, memoir, poems. Dramatists write plays, and filmmakers tell stories through the world brought to life on the big screen. Songwriters encapsulate stories in short lyrics, little tale capsules. Even visual artists – painters, photographers, sculptors – tell stories.


It seems that we humans can’t stop telling stories – and as Toni Morrison says, we “crave” stories. We want to hear them. We want to read them. We want to experience them.


My weekly blog and podcast – StoryWeb: Storytime for Grownups – celebrates this human love of stories. Each week, I highlight yet another storyteller – a fiction writer, memoirist, poet, playwright, filmmaker, songwriter, visual artist, folklorist. To bring the stories to life, I feature an audio or video excerpt from the story of the week.


And when you’re inspired (and you know you will be!), you’ll find links to read the book, watch the movie, listen to the song.


Stop by StoryWeb to learn more or visit my Facebook page at       




A former Professor of English, Dr. Linda Tate loves stories of all kinds.


After 26 years of teaching literature and writing at universities around the country, Linda left higher education to focus on her writing. She’d had a great run – she’d even been named West Virginia Professor of the Year – but it was time to write!


Most recently, her memoir, Power in the Blood: A Family Narrative, won the Colorado Authors’ League Award for Creative Nonfiction and was a finalist for the Colorado Book Award. Currently, Linda is at work on Ferguson Girl: A Memoir of Family, Place, and Race. You can learn more about the research for this book at her website and blog, The Wellston Loop.


If you’re interested in learning how Linda brings her talents to the nonprofit world, check out her Tate Communications website.


Through StoryWeb: Storytime for Grownups, Linda brings her knowledge of stories to you. She hopes you’ll be inspired to read, watch, listen, learn.





















Book Lovers!!

Posted on December 9, 2014 at 7:00 PM Comments comments (3)

Prepare to be amazed! Seriously!! Explore this innovative and exciting Virtual Reality labyrinth of books for book lovers. Turn your speakers on, take a look around, and while you're there, enter the door with my name on it: ;

Amazon UK Kindle Deal

Posted on December 5, 2014 at 8:00 AM Comments comments (1)

THE SILVER TATTOO is having its first Kindle Countdown Deal ONLY on Amazon UK from now until next Friday (Dec. 5-12) and is currently priced at 99p.

If you or your friends shop on Amazon UK, please help me spread the word. Thanks for your support!  

Ireland: Words & Music

Posted on September 13, 2014 at 8:30 AM Comments comments (2)

Join us for an Irish-themed evening: Ireland: Words & Music, sponsored by the Ohio River Festival of the Book. I'll be reading from The Silver Tattoo on Tuesday, Sept. 16 from 6:30-8:00pm at the West Huntington Library in Huntington, WV. I'll be joined by award-winning banjo player, Tim Bing! This event is free and everyone is welcome. Free refreshments, too. Hope to see you there!  

New photos!

Posted on July 28, 2014 at 9:35 AM Comments comments (1)

I've added and will continue to add many new photos to my Photo Gallery from my recent journey through Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.


Come take a look!


Posted on June 28, 2014 at 1:35 PM Comments comments (0)

I will be reading from The Silver Tattoo at The Winding Stair Bookshop in Dublin, Ireland, on Sunday July 6, 2014 from 4:00-5:00pm! If you're in Dublin, stop by!



































Word & Song Cafe 2014

Posted on June 20, 2014 at 8:15 AM Comments comments (1)











Come to the Word & Song Café this Sunday June 22, 2014, from 1-3pm on the beautiful gazebo at 14th St. West in Huntington, West Virginia. It's part of Old Central City Days. Be sure and read about our authors and look at the photos from 2013's Word & Song on their website!


For a donation of $3 or three cans of food, you will be serenaded by Jim Rumbaugh and The Harmonica Club, treated to pepperoni rolls, peach apricot iced tea, brownies, and cookies by Manchester House Tea, plus readings from some wonderful authors! Joining us this year to read and sign their books will be Cat Pleska, Robert Yoho, Christina St. Clair, Carter Taylor Seaton, Eliot Parker, and Lola Miller. I will be signing, too.


Come out for an afternoon of fun! All donations and canned goods will be given to the City Mission.


Please share this news and help me spread the word. Bring your family and friends!!! I'll see you Sunday at the Word & Song Café!


Posted on May 22, 2014 at 9:40 AM Comments comments (16)


Poetry is Meant to be Heard, Not Seen

Kirk Judd


     I always have known poetry is meant to be heard, not seen. My earliest memories of poetry go back to nursery rhymes and Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses. Nursery rhymes and Stevenson’s poems don’t dwell on the page – they come alive in a child’s ear. And they stayed in mine. I started writing poetry at Vinson High School in Huntington in the 1960’s and continued through college at Transylvania and Marshall Universities. I never quit. But, from the beginning, I always constructed the structure and form of the poem around the sound of it. The words, the line, the symmetry, assonance, dissonance, alliteration, etc. That’s the basis of all my work. Always has been.

     I come by the rhythm naturally. On both sides of my family, as far as I have gone back, there are musicians. My Father’s father played the fiddle. My Mother’s mother played guitar and piano, and her father played fiddle and banjo. That’s how they met. He had a trio called The Derby Serenaders, and they played on the first “country music show” on WSAZ radio back in the forties and fifties. So that is there. But I didn’t get the music itself, just the rhythm of it, and how it felt. Mostly I think it is the rhythm of the language of my people, and of most people here in the Appalachian region. The language has a wonderful lilt and cadence that blends seamlessly with that same rhythm of the music. Maybe one predates the other, but who knows. I just always knew they fit. And that infused my writing.

     And that continued. I started into Appalachian Studies at Marshall, and found myself reunited as a fraternity brother with Mike Bing, an old sports rival. We like to say we graduated from different high schools together. His family also contained musicians, and his brothers were already playing fiddle and banjo, and Mike was just beginning on the mandolin. It turned out that we both had a mutual friend in Pocahontas County, another musician named Sherman Hammons.

     I had met Sherman in 1971 on a fishing trip to the Williams River. He was part of the legendary Hammons Family, the subject of studies by many traditional cultural entities and whose tunes and stories were recorded by the Library of Congress. The Bing family had known the Hammons family for years, and was then beginning to learn some tunes from him. I was lucky enough to spend 17 years watching that exchange. More importantly, I watched as Sherman taught not only how to play the music, but how to feel about playing the music. It was an incredible experience and remains the most influential period of my life.

     Since I’ve always known poetry is performance, I’ve always treated it that way. And I had some great influences other than Sherman. In the early 70s, I was a volunteer assistant asked to work on the Hillbilly Festival held at Morris Harvey College in Charleston. It was a creation of Bill Plumley, who would go on to become one of the founding members of West Virginia Writers, Inc., the largest state-wide writers’ organization. I was in that group, too. Bill introduced me to Muriel Dressler, a wonderfully talented poet from St. Albans. She was a performer! She flowed across the stage and recited her work from memory. Very dramatic. And right on the money. I was thrilled. Then, in 1979, I was asked to read at the installation of Louise McNeill Pease as the Poet Laureate of West Virginia in a ceremony at the Capitol Cultural Center in Charleston. I had already devoured everything I could find from Louise, and was ecstatic to meet her. We became friends, and she was the greatest poetic influence on me.

     Other influences may seem a little unusual for a poet. My parents loved music. I grew up listening to and watching the great ballad singers – Bing Crosby, Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Rosemary Clooney, Perry Como, Peggy Lee, Dean Martin, Brenda Lee, Bobby Darin, etc. I was always impressed with the way they interpreted the songs. It was more than just singing. There was transference of emotion between the performers and the audience that transcended just the sound. It was an act of giving. Nothing is more important in spoken word poetry than timing. The best way to understand how to deliver lines with perfect timing is to watch comedy and stand-up comedians. And I did. Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Carol Burnett, The Smothers Brothers, Bill Cosby, Bob Newhart, Lucille Ball, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Jonathon Winters, etc. By far the best was George Carlin. Impeccable timing and rapport with the audience. He could have the house in the palm of his hand and on the same page with his first two lines. That is amazing talent. And I still love to hear and watch singers and comedians. And I still learn from them.

     So that is a little of my background and how that factors in to the creation of the project. The project itself is a labor of love 40 years in the making. The title of the book, My People Was Music, comes from a refrain in one of my most popular poems, "The High Country Remembers Her Heritage." Most people always call the poem that, so I just decided that would make a good, recognizable title. And it fits with the theme. There is little separation from my poetry and the influence of music, heritage, and the rhythms of life in West Virginia. I started putting poems to music 30 or 35 years ago. I had spent so much time listening to the Bings, Sherman, and other traditional music that it just seemed right. I recited "The High Country" to a cassette recording of the Bings playing a neat old fiddle tune called "Grumblin Ol Man and Growlin Ol Woman." I was stunned by the fact that it fit perfectly. Perfectly. I told them about it, we started doing some other poems and other tunes, and found that they all fit! It is more than a little spooky. A genre was born. So I’ve been doing that ever since, and the idea of the CD included with a poetry collection was a natural. The studio recordings are great. It is better live, but the CD is pretty darn good. The musicians all are so good. I am always humbled and honored by their incredible talent and generosity. It is amazing to work with them and experience the way it all comes together. Magic.

     The photographs also are pretty magical. Dave and I have been friends for a long time, and he started taking the creative writing class at Allegheny Echoes many years ago. I have watched him work and progress on his photography, and I think he is one of the most talented photographers in the state, and West Virginia has some pretty fine photographers. His photos fit as well with my poems as the music. I am proud to have those photos in the book. We collaborated on the choices, but mostly Dave knew which ones would work. Just like the music, once you realize the fit and connection, you can’t see or hear it any other way.

     The poems are the poems. Some of them are over 40 years old. Some of them are new. Some were collected in my two previous chapbooks, and some have been published in literary magazines, but this is the first light of day for many of them. They pretty much represent my life’s work. This project constitutes what I’ve done. It is basically a love letter to West Virginia, her music, her art, her culture, her attitude, her tragedy, her story. If there is a rhythm in this state, I hope I have given voice to it here.

* * *

     Kirk Judd has lived, worked, trout fished, and wandered around in West Virginia all of his life. He was a member of the Appalachian Literary League, a founding member and former president of West Virginia Writers, Inc., currently serves on the board of the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace Foundation, and is a founding member of and creative writing instructor for Allegheny Echoes, Inc., dedicated to the support and preservation of WV cultural heritage arts. Kirk is widely published and the author of three collections of poetry: Field of Vision, TaoBilly, and My People Was Music. In addition he was a co-editor of the widely acclaimed anthology, Wild, Sweet Notes: 50 Years of West Virginia Poetry 1950-1999. Kirk is internationally known for his performance work combining poetry and old time music, and has performed poetry in Ireland and across West Virginia at fairs, concerts, and festivals for the past 35 years.

     On May 21st of 2014, Mountain State Press released this announcement about the publication of My People Was Music, “…a stunning collaboration of poetry, photography and music/spoken word performances written and produced by Kirk Judd, one of West Virginia’s best-known poets and literary personalities. The book contains 70 original poems by Judd, 11 beautiful photographs by Huntington photographer Dave Lambert, and 26 performances on compact disc featuring Kirk with well-known West Virginia musicians and artists. Included on the CD are The Bing Brothers, Danny Arthur, Dave Bing, Mike Bing, Tim Bing, Bob Shank, Pops Walker, and Sherrell Wigal. The performances are recitations of the original poetry recorded live in the studio with musical accompaniment. One of the pieces is a dual-voice spoken word performance with Judd and Wigal. The CD was produced at Otter Slide Studio in Preston County, recorded and engineered by well-known musician Bob Shank.

     The book is an incredible collection of superbly crafted poetry as well as a celebration of West Virginia cultural heritage arts. Judd combines wonderfully written words and images of his beloved home state with just the right feel of the traditions of spoken word, song, story-telling and inspiration of the natural world of West Virginia. The collection spans 40 years of a life spent working in, living in, experiencing, and writing about this complex state. Judd expresses profound respect, mixed with sorrow, loss, renewal, joy and hope for this land.

     The combination of poetry and music is a unique and incredible blend of soaring emotion and indelible impact on the reader/listener. This is a must for any lover of West Virginia and poetry.” For more information contact Mountain State Press at  

     I would like to thank Laura Bentley for asking me to share some thoughts about my new poetry collection My People Was Music. It is my response to inquiries from Mountain State Press and others.



SPOTLIGHT:Christina St. Clair

Posted on May 1, 2014 at 10:25 AM Comments comments (11)

     Christina St. Clair  

A Writer’s Voice: Deepening Journeys



Writing, when I started out years ago, seemed a way I might quench a longing I couldn't even name. I certainly didn’t understand there was such a thing as voice which I now realize is an important aspect of becoming a writer.



Voice is defined as the author’s style and is something many fiction-writing teachers believe emerges over time. I would add that finding one’s voice is more than learning to write well: for me it’s been about meaning, purpose and personal authenticity.



When I was at my father's funeral in England, I began telling stories to my small nephews. It seemed to me perhaps I could turn this interest in story-telling into a energizing way of making my living. My job as a chemist no longer satisfied me. It never really had. It paid the bills though. How hard could it be to write for children, I thought? I became convinced my words would be worthwhile enough for people to pay me money, enabling me to live freely, roam the world, and never again have to work in a nine-to-five job. Success would surely come, but perhaps what mattered most, though I did not see it at the time, was not money but a deeper life.



Learning the “trade” is an important way to hone one’s skills and understand the publishing process. I began with children's novels which I wrote feverishly, full of excitement. I studied the genre, I attended workshops, I went to writers' conferences, I joined the SCBWI, and I constantly read the best in children's literature.



Submission to publishers includes targeting your market, and writing great cover letters. I learned this the hard way, often randomly out sending manuscripts and not creating remarkable cover letters to pitch my work. I got better but in spite of years of effort, the result was hardly any affirmation, and certainly no novels accepted for publication by major publishers. I did get a monetary award for a YA historical fiction novel, which convinced me my novel would find a good publisher. It did not. Could it be that my voice hadn’t emerged? Perhaps. Or maybe my goal of earning a living by writing novels was unrealistic? Probably.



Persistence, mentoring, and networking are important aspects of marketing. I am stubborn which can be a good trait in terms of persistence, yet after twenty years of effort, I was ready to throw in the writer's towel, heartbroken at all the rejections, convinced of the utter futility of continuing. I’ve been ingrained to always give rather than receive but part of my journey towards voice--aka authenticity--was to accept help, to receive. I’m not much good at net-working, but we need friends and mentors to encourage, teach, and lead the way.



Along came Eddy Pendarvis, teacher and friend, who like me is a big fan of Pearl Buck's work. It aggravated us that Buck never received sufficient acclaim for her writing achievements. In spite of winning a Nobel Prize in literature, Buck’s work was strongly criticized by the literary establishment. We wanted to find ways to promote her best works, to acclaim this woman of high achievement, and high principled altruism. We were deeply interested in promoting her as a role model for other women. Because of our interest and commitment, we wrote Between Two Worlds: A Biography of Pearl S. Buck, which was eventually released by the Shanghai Foreign Language Education Press in China as an English/Chinese reader. The published book, beautifully illustrated on good stock, delighted us.


Validation is an important encouragement to writers. A well-established writer once told me it is important to get your work into print, be it newspapers, the church newsletter, magazines, e-books, anywhere. She was right. The publication of the Buck biography gave me energy: I rewrote, reformatted, revised, and sent out tighter versions of two young adult novels. I gave up worrying about the outcome, I stopped needing anyone to tell me my work was good enough, and I accepted whatever happened. At last, two publishers offered me contracts. Instead of Harper Collins or Simon and Schuster, my books got taken on by e-publishers: DoubleDragon and Rogue Phoenix Press.


The big publishers didn't want my novels, which certainly humbled me, but these e-publishers with funky names said yes. At first, I felt despondent: Double Dragon, I muttered to myself, who are they? But, you know, it's been a wonderful experience and taught me to get over my need to be main-stream respectable. My editor, Christine Young who founded Rogue Phoenix Press, greatly improved readability of my novels: I’m excited about my next book, Ten Yen, the prequel to Ten Yen True. It’s due out in August.


Now that your book is published, even if you are fortunate to have been taken on by a big publisher with marketing money to spend, you will have to promote it. You must decide what is effective and what is not--a rule of thumb for me is to only do things which I like, and since I love to experiment, I’ve tried lots of things: blogging, twitter, reviewing, e-tours, press releases, linking to other sites, facilitating workshops, book signings, giveaways, advertising, postcards, bookmarks. The latest event I participated in was a Facebook Party on Rogue Phoenix Press site. I offered a free autographed copy of one of my books.


I've also self-published on Kindle. There can be serious issues with self-publication, so if you decide to go this route, make sure you’ve (or someone competent--not your granny) revised thoroughly and copy-edited not just once but several times. You don’t want to publish a novel that becomes an embarrassment. Somerset Maugham’s first novel was such a bust he tried to unsuccessfully buy back all the copies. I have one. It’s awful. Fortunately, he was Somerset Maugham.


I have been surprised to recently discover my voice emerging through blogging. I love writing short quirky anecdotes about all sorts of things that interest me. It is not only a good way to promote work, but also a forum for ideas and suggestions for others. I now have over fifteen hundred people who are registered on my blog. I have not seen an upsurge in book sales, but it is energizing to have a readership.  


It took me years to learn to trust myself and to trust the process. Little did I know when I began writing, I would have so many hurdles to overcome: grammar, spelling, competent writing, rejections, daily grind, lack of validation, no payday, marketing, self-promotion, schmoozing, and on and on. I’m better at some things than I am at others. When I write now, it is with confidence. I am still not happy to receive rejections, but they don’t floor me. I don’t much like schmoozing, but the Internet and social media make it less painful for a solitary soul like me to reach out. I’d still like to earn money as a writer but am happy to have my work validated and realize the greatest reward is in the process.


You never know in what way your writer's path is leading your unique voice to emerge and what it will teach and how it will strengthen you. Your emerging voice might begin small, squeaky-clean, or dark and gritty. Over time it will change and become who knows what in a deepening journey of challenge and discovery.


Good luck, writers! Don't give up!



                                                * * *


Christina St. Clair, a Brit-American, loves multi-cultural mixed genre books, especially those that explore human relationships, spirituality, and mysticism. Her work is influenced by her upbringing in England: Emily’s Shadow and its sequel Blue Caravan are fantasy/mysticism/historical set in post WWII England; Unexpected Journey, a historical fiction novel, began with a character in England who ends up in colonial Philadelphia; her latest series of contemporary novels (Ten Yen…) are multi-cultural, with characters from Japan, from England, and from the U.S.





SPOTLIGHT:Belinda Anderson

Posted on April 3, 2014 at 9:50 AM Comments comments (21)

                                                        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 (41)

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 (20)

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