In Order to Live: Writing in the Anthology of Appalachian Writers

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Anthology of Appalachian Writers Crystal Wilkinson Volume XII

I haven’t known what to say about having an essay included in the latest Anthology of Appalachian Writers. There are the simple and obvious things: This is an honor and a privilege; it means a lot to me; I am grateful.

But there are other things to say, too. Things that are more complicated and difficult.

When I saw the call for submissions, I thought of an essay I’d written five years ago while a student at WV Wesleyan College in the MFA program. I sent it in to the anthology with this note:

“This piece is about ethnic tensions between Italian and Polish immigrants in the Greenbrier Valley, WV. I recognize it might be a stretch for this anthology, but as an editor myself I know there are complexities in assembling a thematic volume or issue that really only make themselves known in the process.”

Only now, with this full book in hand, do I see how very un-stretched this essay is for this volume. In the prelude, “Everybody’s Street and Being Black in Appalachia: The Prose and Poetry of Crystal Wilkinson,” S. Bailey Shurbutt notes:

(Crystal Wilkinson says) “I’m actually haunted by the varieties of ways there are to be human in this world; and the variety of ways there are to live, to think.” The theme of madness also fits poignantly with the idea of being an ‘outsider’….

I got a bit lightheaded when I read that.

I told myself my essay was about immigrants and social class. Heck, I told the senior managing editor that. But I am reminded of Joan Didion’s words, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” And it takes some time to realize what your story is, and why you may be telling yourself a certain version at different points. When you see your story in a new way, you start to live in a new way.

My great-grandfather killed himself. And coming to terms with that has been and continues to be a long road. He’s been a papery ghost over my life, and only lately am I starting to put him to rest. As I’ve worked on truly seeing him, I’ve seen a lot of other things. Those things are not pretty, but seeing them is the first step to peace.

So back to my earlier thought. I am grateful. Just not exactly why I thought I was.

I hope you will order and read this anthology. It may help you see your own story.

News Release: Shepherd University Anthology Celebrates Affrilachian Writers

The 12th volume of the Anthology of Appalachian Writers, Crystal Wilkinson Volume has been released.  The book is part of the series of anthologies that center around West Virginia Common Read Writers at the Center for the Book and the Appalachian Heritage Writer-in-Residence at the Shepherd University Center for Appalachian Studies and Communities. This year’s anthology celebrates the work of Affrilachian poet and Weatherford award winner Crystal Wilkinson, 2019 One Book One West Virginia Common Read author.

“This is our most diverse volume ever,” Managing Editor Sylvia Shurbutt noted.  “We’re excited about the volume in particular because it reflects so well the work of Crystal Wilkinson, both a superb writer and wonderfully good-hearted person.”  

The volume, supported by the WV Library Association, the WV Humanities Council, and the Shepherd University Foundation, contains writers from across the nation and the Appalachian region, including this year Affrilachian poet Frank X Walker, WV Poet Laureate Marc Harshman, poets  Ronald Davis, Mark DeFoe, and Randi Ward, as well as fiction and creative nonfiction writers from around the state and the country.

This volume also contains the stories of WV Fiction Competition winners, Jessica Salfia, Jordan Carter, and Seán Patrick Duffy.  Crystal Wilkinson selected the winners and wrote story critiques for all the finalists.  Her critiques of Salfia, Carter, and Duffy are contained within the volume.

The book is an annual anthology, created by editors Dave Hoffman, Natalie Sypolt, and Allison Wharton.  Copies of the volume can be obtained from Four Seasons Bookstore in Shepherdstown.  During these Covid days, call Four Seasons, Monday through Saturday, at 304-876-3486 (between 10 am and 3 pm) or 304-240-9550 (you can text that number also) or shoot Kendra an e-mail at 4seasons114@gmail.com.  When Covid restrictions are lifted the book will be available at other venues.  

The WV Library Association distributes copies of the anthology to school libraries across West Virginia.  For more information or questions, see the anthology website at https://www.shepherd.edu/ahwir/anthology-of-appalachian-writers or contact Dr. Sylvia Bailey Shurbutt at the Shepherd Center for Appalachian Studies and Communities.

 

“Rattle” — Advent Ghosts 2018

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Rattle

 

First appearing to me when I was a child, it rattled past the ornament box I’d come to claim from a dark corner of our garage.

Only bones. Its back curved gently along the spine, its toes landing with a soft tap as it walked, stilting, no skin on anything. Even the tail was bare, white, hard.

It had a shyness mixed with urgency, wanting something. 30 years later I still don’t know what.

Part of myself moved with that creature.

I never told anyone. Alive and not.

It still comes when I call. I don’t talk about that, either.

###

This is an exactly 100-word flash fiction piece for a tradition of writing ghost stories on Christmas Eve. We acknowledge a sinful and hopeless world, and welcome the dawn in full awareness that Christmas day brings us light.

Advent Ghosts 100 Word Storytelling is put on by Loren Eaton at I Saw Lightning Fall. See other entries there.

Note: I regret being unable to provide attribution for the photo. This is as close as I could get to the source.

Camaraderie and Creepy Conceits: Advent Ghosts Storytelling 2018

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Shared Storytelling: Advent Ghosts 2018 by Loren Eaton

“We hardly look at the stars anymore or even the lanterns we hung centuries before to blot out the night from our sight. The wind whistles down empty city streets whose cratered and pocked surfaces betray their long lack of use. Commerce of both the legitimate and illicit type takes place in the light-strung skyways linking the megopolis’ highest spires or in the metro tunnels beneath the ancient pavement or through the indecipherable network of hand-carved caverns chipped out by generations of subterranean squatters. But only the moneyed or mad or desperate or damned venture out much anymore. Even infants get socketed, and once you’ve pegged in to the Lattice, slipping the thumb-sized plug of hyperconductive alloy into the surgically installed socket between your C1 and skull, then you see it. The vast digital distraction sends its digital shivers shuddering down your nerves, a distraction bespoke and beautiful—at least until the signal bleeds or the power grid surges. Then the lights go out, and a district seems to shudder, to rouse itself, to move as a great beast wakened from slumber. Doors open onto balconies. Blinking forms peer out into hallways. Children scamper off into the shadows, scavenging up scraps with which to mock physical forms of their digital simulacra. And wide-eyed, jack-scrambled wanderers stagger this way and that, saying they saw those crude golems move.

People laugh, shift uncomfortably, and try not to admit to themselves that there seem to be more children frolicking in the gloom than they’d initially noticed …

Welcome to Advent Ghosts 2018, the ninth annual shared storytelling event at ISLF. For more than a century, the days preceding Christmas have been a time to swap spooky tales, building camaraderie around creepy conceits. So we write . . .”

Join us here tomorrow for Esse Diem’s offering this year, then swing over to Loren Eaton’s blog, I Saw Lightning Fall, to find links to all the 2018 stories!

“It’s Not Mama” – Advent Ghosts 2016

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It’s Not Mama

 

When she was out of town, he slept with Jack..

An unexpected, steady thump. Had she made it home? Christmas Eve. Flipping on the light, he rolled over to see the last wag. His companion’s body went rigid, he lifted his head, his ears flat against the skull.

Beyond the window there was no car. No footprints. No one. Just the snow.

“Quiet, baby. It’s not Mama, yet.”

The animal stood, emitting a nearly silent howl, sound he felt in his stomach.

Jack leapt off the bed, his face to the wall. His trembling body was the only sound now.

###

This is an exactly 100-word flash fiction piece for a tradition of writing ghost stories on Christmas Eve. We acknowledge a sinful and hopeless world, and welcome the dawn in full awareness that Christmas day brings us light.

Advent Ghosts 100 Word Storytelling is put on by Loren Eaton at I Saw Lightning Fall. See other entries there.

Bring on the Ghosts: Advent Storytelling 2016

Welcome to Advent Ghosts 2016, the eighth annual shared storytelling event at I Saw Lightning Fall, Loren Eaton’s blog about “narrative, genre, and the craft of writing.” For the uninitiated, Advent Ghosts seeks to recreate the classic British tradition of swapping spooky stories at Yuletide. However, instead of penning longer pieces, we post bite-sized pieces of flash fiction for everyone to enjoy.

Ghost Winter Flower by Henrik Thorn

To learn more about this tradition, read the article here about this “lost tradition.”

This is my fifth year writing for Advent Ghosts. In my first year I pulled some edited lines from a ghost story I wrote about meth addiction. It is called “The Escape.”

In 2012, I decided to try Loren’s model of writing one piece inspired by secular Christmas traditions, and another from sacred texts.

Unwanted explores the terror we feel when an unexplained and damaged presence penetrates the safety of our families and our homes.

For Later is my take on what I’ve always seen as a poetic and disturbing element in the gifts of the three kings to the baby Jesus.

I again used a sacred story’s inspiration for 2013’s “Vacancy.” I’ve always had a fascination with the innkeeper from Jesus’s birth story. I fantasize about a moment in which the larger narrative clicks for him, as it did for shepherds and kings.

2014 found me writing about the last heartbeat of a last creature. As natural as it would be, the feeling of loneliness in even a non-human animal felt very real to me that year.

I took a break in 2015. Before Loren took the reins over the more graphic content, I was feeling out of place with the tone of some of the pieces.

But this year, I’m back. I love the restriction of the 100 words — no more, no less — and how it pares down the writing to something essential. No frills! Plus, there’s nothing quite like being part of reviving a lost or fading Christmas tradition to get my inner nerd all a-tingle. Charles Dickens, I love you.

Enjoy this year’s submission, which will post not long from now, and if you like creepy little tales be sure to visit Loren’s blog, too! Just when I think I’ve read the most shiver-inducing tale, they get, well, more shivery!

 

“The Last” — Advent Ghosts 2014

Photo by P. Koskela, Finland

Photo by P. Koskela, Finland

Earth was silent, dark, dense beneath the enormous frame.

Heartbeats grew further apart, the slight tremor of ice shards like glass in long lashes and shaggy coat. A dozen bitter winters, this the first when it is too much to stand.

Thump.

An eyelid raises, cracking its frozen seam to see a bright line in greenish-yellow against the sky’s ink.

No sound or scent of footed life, only the patient gathering scrapes of talon and wing.

The eye is open, the chest is now silent. He draws a breath.

The circle tightens. The sky’s line glows.

One soul rises, absolved.

###


This is an exactly 100-word flash fiction piece for a tradition of writing ghost stories on Christmas Eve. We acknowledge a sinful and hopeless world, and welcome the dawn in full awareness that Christmas day brings us light.

Advent Ghosts 100 Word Storytelling is put on by Loren Eaton at I Saw Lightning Fall. See other entries there.

River Town Holiday #buzznuggets!

Following are some of my favorite moments from the 6 stories that make up the 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!

Oh. and there’s this. River Town makes a nice holiday gift . . . You can buy it here. And if money is tight, you can follow the authors on Twitter. That’s like gold to us some days, too!

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.

Every storyteller has his own style, her own approach, and a unique way of operating a character. To see the same characters driven by different people was like seeing the same person from other perspectives. The characters’ personalities were fuller and better developed. I got to know them better than I could have if they were all written by one author. I was hooked.

— editor/Author Eric Douglas

Rufus had a lot to say, but he’d only say it if he trusted you. That was the way of River Town in general.

— Author Eric Douglas

From “Hayden’s Return” by Katharine Armstrong Herndon (@kaherndon)

Hide in the woods?
For a minute he wondered if the Captain could get him off the boat without being seen. But then he remembered Jack had seen him, and the old woman, and probably someone else he hadn’t even recognized.
It was too late for hiding.

 

From “They Hold Down the Dead” by Elizabeth Damewood Gaucher (@ElizGaucher)

The two adventurers walked in silence for a few minutes. Then Hayden said, “You’re brave. I thought you were. I really came up here to find out if you want to see something I found, but it’s not for cowards. Do you want to see it?”
Lillian realized that, no, she really did not want to see something like that, but it was too late now.
“I’m not a coward, she said. “What is it?”

 

From “Racing Miss Jayne Marie” by Eric Douglas (@BooksbyEric)

Glancing up from his log book, JD saw Winthrop, the owner of the Miss Jayne Marie, standing on the dock with his personal secretary, Phiillips . . . “Phillips” was all JD ever heard Winthrop call the man. JD had never heard Phillips speak.

 

From “Being True in River Town” by Jane Siers Wright (@JaneSiersWright)

Dawson nodded. He was in Julia’s debt and it was clear to him she was about to call in the favor.
“I have another such student who needs to reach Parkersburg in order to catch the B&O train to Harper’s Ferry.”
“Why Parkersburg and the B&O? She could go south to Beckley over land to catch a train from there.”
“A southern route would not be the most convenient for this passenger, Captain.”

 

From “Hearing the Past” by Shawna Christos (@ywrite) of James River Writers, “Hearing the Past”

His hands shook as he hunted for the latch. Andrew tried to remember if it had made any sound when he entered ahead of his captor.
He couldn’t remember but it didn’t matter. He had realized there would be no turning back. None for the man his father had hired, and none for Andrew on his present course.

 

From “Wail” by Geoffrey Cameron Fuller (@GeoCamFuller)

At his oak desk in Mr. Winthrop’s house — for the last time, in all likelihood — Francis Treet Phllips swings the ledger closed and runs his palm across the aged leather. A full accounting. The pieces are all arrayed in their places, each and every one. To Mr. Winthrop, the game begins tonight, after the race, but Phillips knows it is already finished.)

 

Enjoy these snippets? Read more here: https://essediemblog.com/2013/08/14/river-town-buzznuggets/