River Town #buzznuggets

Concept cover for River Town

Concept cover for River Town

In the brave new world of self-publishing (and even of traditional publishing), writers carry more of the water than ever when it comes to promoting and supporting a book.

If one is shy, or fearful of seeming self-absorbed, this can be a daunting task; fortunately, I am not much of either these days.

Following are some of my favorite moments from the 6 stories that make up the new book in which I have some short fiction, River Town. It’s getting some nice word of mouth and social media energy. Any part readers of Esse Diem would like to play in that energy is more than welcome!

Hayden Lowe may or may not have killed a man out west. No one seems to know why he’s back in River Town, though his friend, Lillian Conley, is keeping a private journal full of clues. Will Captain JD Dawson lose his beloved sternwheeler, the Miss Jayne Marie, in a winner-takes-all bet? Julia Hubbard has a secret project, Andrew Wilson is plotting on the dusty streets of River Town, and what about that strange Dame Roxalana? There is more to Roxie than anyone is willing to say. The men in the coal mines around River Town seem to be developing a mysterious condition that no one can explain, yet everyone is whispering about it. Before all is said and done, each of these characters will intersect in unexpected ways. The resolutions are as suspenseful as they are satisfying. River Town is a collection of short stories set in 1890s West Virginia. The combined work of six different authors, the tales range from adventure to romance, from intrigue to fantasy. Each story stands alone, yet together they take readers to a time along the Kanawha River just after the Civil War when families were still struggling to recover and before the railroad came through the mountains. The river was the center of everything.

From Hayden’s Return by Katharine Armstrong Herndon

“All I hear is splashing,” he said, indicating the paddlewheel.

The Captain stopped at the rail and looked down into the churning darkness below them. “Son,” he said finally, “I know every sound this river makes, and that last splash wasn’t one of my favorites. Now suppose you tell me what sort of trouble you brought onto my boat.”

From They Hold Down the Dead by Elizabeth Damewood Gaucher

Hayden never returned to the Conley property, and though Lillian wondered if she would ever see him again she was comfortable with his disappearance. The strange event in the woods had frightened her into trying to forget about the heart stone entirely, and as Hayden was the only witness it was easy to pretend it had never happened.

From Racing Miss Jayne Marie by Eric Douglas

“Mr. Hamrick, I’ll take all the power you can give me now,” JD ordered into the brass tube while keeping a firm hand on the boat’s wheel. “And now for my last trick,” he said under his breath. 

From Being True in River Town by Jane Siers Wright

“It’s just hard — hard and scary — but I hear it. I hear my real life callin’ me . . . ”

From Hearing the Past  by Shawna Christos

Andrew moved restlessly in his chair as he bit his lip to remind his mouth to speak carefully. He knew things were changing, even here in this backwoods. Things were changing, but apparently being able to choose your own path wasn’t one of them.

From Wail by Geoffrey Cameron Fuller

He parts the lace to look across the river and down over River Town. Soon it will be filled with commerce, tugs loaded with coal, gravel, the last of the salt, all of it owned by Phillips and his people, being transported on his ships, and when they get the rail lines extended, a brand new game will be underway, and with the assistance of the Great Dark, that game will be even more lucrative.

(Thanks to Jeff James, Bob Coffield, and as I recall Mark Wolfe for “#buzznuggets.”)

River Town | Creating Collaborative Storytelling

I am very pleased to contribute a character and story to the forthcoming anthology, River Town. River Town is a collection of stories edited by West Virginia author and film maker Eric Douglas; Eric is interviewed below. River Town will be available in August on Amazon.com via Eric’s Visibility Press.

My story, “They Hold Down the Dead,” centers on a 16 year old girl named Lillian Conley who lives on the hill above the river with her wealthy family and finds herself drawn into a dangerous mystery tied to Indian legend. Other contributing writers are Katharine Herndon and Shawna Christos, both of Richmond, Virginia; Jane Siers Wright of Charleston, West Virginia; and Geoffrey Fuller of Morgantown, West Virginia. I am honored to write with them.

Concept cover for River Town

Concept cover for River Town

You have an interesting project in the works right now with several other writers. What is River Town all about, and how did it develop?

When I was an adolescent, I read the Thieves World series, edited by Robert Lynn Aspirin. It was a great series where a group of writers created characters for a location and then they shared them with each other. They all wrote about that same location using those same characters and it was the most amazing dynamic. You got to see the same characters from different writers’ perspectives.

I moved home to West Virginia after being away for nearly 14 years, and I thought it would be a great chance to put something like that into play here. I had never written fiction about West Virginia and wanted to try it out.

Five writers and I have each thrown characters into the pot and we are writing about River Town. It is essentially Charleston, circa 1890. We have the dynamics of the “frontier nature” of the area and the marked differences between the coal barons, miners, and townspeople. I’ve really enjoyed reading the stories my fellow writers have put together. It has been so much fun to watch as they used each other’s characters.

Sometimes writers get a bit proprietary about their characters. Characters  are like our children in our minds! When another writer has my character doing something, I think to myself, “He wouldn’t do that!”  Then I step back and say, “Perception is reality.” Another person in the town might see his actions differently.” As writers, we have these characters in our heads, and we see them doing things and reacting to events, but our readers might not see those same characters the way we do.

I am really pleased with the stories we have in this first set. After we publish River Town as an anthology of the short stories, I hope we will do several more. We can add other writers as new characters come to town. It could be a whole series!

(A version of this interview first appeared on a blog by Heather Isaacs.)


Nowhere to Stop | a short essay on place

I prefer the road to the left after crossing the Kanawha River. Today a spiral staircase appears out of the rock face, and the last step drops just in front of my car.

My eyes have seen these delicate tiers, must have seen them, thousands of times. I was conceived in these hills. Only now on this autumn afternoon do the little elevations register.

Gorgeous golden sandstone, sculpted beyond pure function into art, I realize I have missed them all of my life because they are nearly one with the rock, tight to the white line of the road.

One has to have distance to see them.

I promise myself I will return, slow down, but when I go back I can’t pause. There are people behind me. They are pushing me along.

Next time, I will make it happen.

Next time, I will look for a place to pull over and take a photograph, but next time I realize there is no place to stop. One side is rock and one side is guard rail. There is no margin.

Who built you?

I drive this Appalachian road up from downtown Charleston because I can. There are other ways but I choose this one every time. It winds in unsurpassed beauty each season across water, over railroad tracks, gently up and up into layers of gracious homes and luscious trees. Every yard travelled pulls me more deeply into a sensed but barely visible past. At one turn there is a tiny set of graves. I must stop, unless turning right. If I turn right I may miss the dead, so focused I am on the Children’s Consignment Fair sign or the Old Colony Real Estate sign.

I promise myself this time, this time, I will focus. I will see those stairs to the top. I am sure they must no longer connect to anything, the mansion they once served long gone. I am certain the stairway’s connection has dissolved.

As I pass, unable to stop – there is nowhere to stop – I see where they lead.

They still climb to a house. I see young, contemporary dark wood in shocking contrast to the one hundred year old organic mineral steps; this is not their builder’s home, but I recognize this place. It is the home where my father’s friend lay dying for years, unable to live in this world and unable to find purchase in the next.

When I passed on the road above I would avert my eyes from this place. The pain was alternately dull and ripping to be outside looking in. I stopped looking. I stopped seeing. I stopped passing on the road above.

The road below brought me the staircase. I drive as carefully as I can, the visual distractions now equal between the captivating winding stairs and the dangers of looking too long.

There are others behind me, and nowhere to stop.

The #PowerofMany: Confronting Cancer as a Community

There are many statistics that paint the picture of cancer’s advance on the people of West Virginia, but this is one of the most powerful:

Patient Visits to David Lee Cancer Center at CAMC (2004):  17,000
Patient Visits to David Lee Cancer Center at CAMC (2011):  39,000

When I was a little girl, “cancer” was a whispered word. I didn’t really understand at the time, but now I appreciate that people are loathe to say out loud the things they fear the most. There is good reason to fear cancer, especially if you live in southern West Virginia. The reality is that most residents of our region will either be diagnosed with some form of cancer or see someone they love diagnosed with the disease.

A few decades ago, that meant a lot of whispering.

Philosophers say that courage is not absence of fear, but mastery over it.Today, the fear is still real, but the courage is growing. The courage is growing because our knowledge is increasing, and our awareness of prevention as well as treatment options is growing exponentially. This time of year, for example, it’s common for friends of my generation to wince in mental anguish remembering how we used to slather ourselves in baby oil and lie on light-reflecting blankets to “tan” ourselves as teenagers. We know now how dangerous that is, and how it damages skin cells often to the point of abnormal growth. We have friends who received a melanoma diagnosis, most of whom survived with the outstanding treatment of oncologists and first-rate cancer care facilities.

At Charleston Area Medical Center (CAMC), the most common cancers seen in women are breast, lung, uterine, colorectal, and kidney; in men, it is prostate, lung, colorectal, kidney, and urinary/bladder. There is a dramatic need to increase and improve outpatient services to these patients, and CAMC is rising to the challenge with its campaign to build a  new state-of-the-art facility for patients in our region.

The odds are, if you live in southern West Virginia, you or someone you love will be served by this center one day. If you are reading this from another part of the world, you may face similar odds for a cancer diagnosis. We all need to get involved in turning this ship around.

We don’t whisper about cancer any more, we say it out loud. We speak its name and we write about it to call it out of the shadows where we can see, as a community, what we plan to overcome.

Receiving a cancer diagnosis and pursuing treatment will, in most ways, always be about the power of ONE. One person’s body, one person’s choices, one person’s courage. Holding the hand of that patient, strengthening her in the process, increasing his choices, and improving treatment availablity is about the power of MANY.

During the social media awareness week (May 27 – June 2, 2012), information about the new cancer center and the Power of Many Campaign will be shared by the CAMC Health Systems and CAMC Foundation social media accounts.  You can simply repost or retweet from CAMC social media accounts, or create your own personal messages. Esse Diem invites you share your thoughts on this blog if you do not have your own; simply comment here or email me at edg@longridgeeditors.com and I would be pleased to send you some post ideas and stats.

(If you want to do something extra easy, just use the social share buttons here and pass this post along to your network.)

Thank you for any support you can lend to the cause. You can make a real difference in this community effort to change the course of a cancer diagnosis.

Esse-a-Go-Go: The Post Office Story

When I buy stamps, I always ask for “the writer stamps.” It’s usually a pretty simple request. I ask for the writer stamp du jour, the clerk provides it, I buy it, the end.

On a recent trip to the main office of the U.S. Postal Service here in my hometown, I encountered something different. I’m still not sure what it was, but this is what happened.

The waiting line was long, long enough to engender awkward silences between me and the people standing next to me. We’d start some small talk with the assumption that we wouldn’t be standing there long, and then five minutes later when we were still standing there it was uncomfortable. Every incremental push forward in our line was one breath closer to social relief.

At the window, I made my standard request for the writer stamps. The clerk looked in the drawer and shrugged, “I don’t see any.”

“That’s OK,” I said, wary of upsetting the waiters behind me. “I’ll just take…..”

“Let me go look in the back,” he said.

Well, that’s right nice of you. Hurry back.

Except he didn’t hurry back. He was gone a long time. The people behind me starting pawing the earth. I glanced back repeatedly, smiling weakly and suggesting that I had no idea what the clerk was doing or why.

When he finally reappeared, he had stamps in hand but they were clutched to his chest so I couldn’t see what the images were.  He looked and me and said, “OK, I found some stamps. We do have some.”

What’s the drama?

“First, I want to show you these,” he said. “These are so beautiful and they are some of my personal favorites.”

He showed me a very pretty stamp from the American Treasures series. It was an Edward Hopper painting of a sail boat.

“Now I also have these,” he said.  He revealed the second stamp, a Black Heritage series stamp of John H. Johnson (1918-2005).  I realized to my dismay that the clerk was afraid.

He was afraid to show me a stamp of a black man.

What did he think, that when I said writer I really meant sailboat? That I don’t think African-Americans are writers? That girls only like purty things with pastels and sunshine? That I would call his supervisor for daring to try to sell me a Black Heritage stamp when I’m white and I said I wanted a writer stamp so surely I must have meant a white writer?

The truly strange thing is that to this day as I write this, I’m still not angry with this clerk. He went out of his way to help me. He did what I asked him to do. What stays with me is that he assumed I didn’t want this stamp.  What he did was make me want this stamp even more, and make me want you to want it, too.

Forever stamps are always equal in value to the current First-Class Mail one-ounce rate.

This man was incredible, and I never knew his name before my Post Office story. Thank you, strange clerk. You helped me more than you know.

John Johnson. Forever.

(Right about now, I wonder what’s happening at Karan-a-Go-Go…….)

In 2012, the Postal Service® is pleased to honor John H. Johnson, the trailblazing publisher of Ebony, Jet, and other magazines. Johnson overcame poverty and racism to build a business empire embracing magazines, radio stations, cosmetics, and more. His magazines portrayed black people positively at a time when such representation was rare, and played an important role in the civil rights movement.

His unwillingness to accept defeat was a key to Johnson’s success. When he was unable to buy a lot in downtown Chicago because of his skin color, he hired a white lawyer who bought the land in trust. Thus, Johnson became the first black person to build a major building in Chicago’s Loop, where Johnson Publishing still has its headquarters.

As Johnson’s influence, accomplishments, and fortune grew, he received many prizes and honors. He joined Vice President Richard Nixon on a goodwill tour of Africa and served as a Special United States Ambassador for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) awarded him its prestigious Spingarn Medal in 1966. Six years later, in 1972, his industry peers named him publisher of the year — a prize Johnson compared to winning an Oscar. In presenting Johnson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996, President Bill Clinton lauded him for giving hope to African-Americans during difficult times. A panel of experts polled by Baylor University in 2003 named Johnson “the greatest minority entrepreneur in American history.” That same year, Howard University named its journalism school after him.

The John H. Johnson (Forever®) stamp, designed by Postal Service art director Howard Paine, features a color photograph of Johnson taken by Bachrach Studios. The photographer was David McCann.

The U.S. Postal Service has recognized the achievements of prominent African-Americans through the Black Heritage series since 1978. This stamp honoring Johnson is the 35th stamp in that series, which highlights outstanding individuals who helped shape American culture.

The stamp is being issued as a Forever stamp. Forever stamps are always equal in value to the current First-Class Mail one-ounce rate.

2 Women. 1 Town. 10 Stories.

If you love to write, then you know how it goes.

One day you’re writing, drinking French wine and smoking imported tobacco in a garret, showering the village with sheets of your glorious thoughts and tales.

The next thing you know, Old Jed’s a Millionaire is about the most brilliant thing you can think of and you find yourself hiding from your own blog and taking pictures around town of things like this:

What to do….what to do….you love to write. You love your blog. You need inspiration.

I say try what my friend Karan and I just did. Go to lunch, talk about everything under the sun, maybe even talk about writing, but don’t over-analyze it.  Then drive home from lunch while the sun shines, listen to some music, blur the mind’s eye and — ta da! Receive a gift of energy and inspiration.

Karan and I both cherish writing, and we both find ourselves thinking and talking about writing a whole lot more than we are actually WRITING.

So here’s the deal: Starting on Monday, we will trade stories about life in Charleston, West Virginia. Our writing prompts to ourselves will be simply our experiences around town. Those experiences may be sad, happy, funny, enraging, or anything at all.  What they have to have in common is that they are real.  One of us will post, then punt to the other writer. We will share each other’s stories with our networks and encourage your thoughts on our posts.

We are going to tell you some real stories, and we hope you will come along for the ride.  We call it Esse-a-Go-Go.

Are you ready?

Let’s go!