West Virginia Book Festival

Scott McClanahan’s “Crapalachia”

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In this author-provided photo, Scott McClanahan reads from “Crapalachia” in New York.

The people Scott McClanahan writes about probably wouldn’t read his new book.

“These people don’t read literary fiction,” McClanahan said in a recent interview with the Gazette’s Bill Lynch. “They might read the Gazette. … Maybe.”

That’s all right, because plenty of other people are reading Scott McClanahan’s book. He’s gotten a write-up in The New York Times, where Allison Glock calls his writing “miasmic, dizzying, repetitive” and says that trying to slow it down “would be like putting a doorstop in front of a speeding train.” He got excerpted in the Oxford American. In The Washington Post, Steve Donoghue compares him to Daniel Woodrell and Tom Franklin, which is pretty lofty company. Donoghue writes that “Crapalachia: A Biography of Place” — that’s McClanahan’s sort-of memoir about growing up in southern West Virginia — is “intelligent, atmospheric, raucously funny and utterly wrenching.”

The two largest figures in the book are McClanahan’s cerebral palsy-stricken Uncle Nathan and bigger-than-life Grandma Ruby, who knows death comes for her just like it comes for everyone else, and doesn’t find that frightening in the least. As Glock writes, “McClanahan describes how his grandmother Ruby would manifest a ‘look on her face like something terrible was going to happen to all of us one day. And you know what? It will . . . if not tonight, then the next night.'”

McClanahan, a Beckley resident who grew up in Greenbrier County, got degrees from Concord and Marshall and now teaches at New River Community College. He told Lynch that he doesn’t quite know what to make of all the attention over his book. “They’re always mentioning my accent in interviews,” he said.

Meet the Author: Dean King

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Dean King
Photo © Rachel Cobb

Author and historian Dean King takes a new look at the Hatfield and McCoy feud in his latest book, “The Feud: The Hatfields and McCoys.” King’s book breaks new ground with quotes from contemporary newspaper accounts and other information that was not available when Otis K. Rice wrote The Hatfields and the McCoys in 1982. King’s account traces the conflict back to the 1850s when the families intermarried and lived peacefully and shows multiple causes for the vendetta.

King is the award-winning author of 10 books. He will speak at Elk Valley Branch Library on Monday, June 3, at 6:30 p.m., and sign books after the presentation. Copies of the book will be available for purchase from West Virginia Book Company. Refreshments will be served.

This project is being presented with financial assistance from the West Virginia Humanities Council, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any view, findings, conclusions or recommendations do not necessarily represent those of the West Virginia Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Susan Maguire, novelist

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Susan Maguire, aka Sarah Title, and her novel “Kentucky Home.” Photo by Chip Ellis.

I don’t mind telling you, it’s been a little gloomy here on the West Virginia Book Festival blog lately. So it is a real, unalloyed pleasure to report some good news.

Readers of this blog may know one of our contributors, Susan Maguire, for her love of Judy Blume, her completely different love for Jack Reacher, or her always interesting and often hilarious thoughts on any number of subjects.

As of this past Thursday, you can know her as something else: a published novelist. Her first book, the romance novel “Kentucky Home,” has been published by Kensington Books under Susan’s nom de plume, Sarah Title.

Elizabeth Gaucher interviewed Susan for the Sunday Gazette-Mail about her “double life: mild-mannered librarian by day, steamy romance writer by night.” (About that: I wouldn’t say I know Susan well, but mild-mannered is not the first adjective that comes to mind.)

Anyway, Susan talks about her book, and being a romance novelist — and the difference, or lack thereof, between that and being a novelist in general:

“There is sort of a dismissal of all kinds of genre fiction — that it’s predictable and it’s not meaningful. I don’t like to compare it to literary fiction because I think that makes both kinds of writing come out losing. I think all kinds of reading are valuable,” she said.

“People are attracted to the romance formula because it’s comforting. But, in the right hands, it’s also interesting because you know you have to get from point A to point B, and there are a lot of different ways to get there.”

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Fed from the Blade: Tales and Poems from the Mountains, 113 pages

Edited by Cat Pleska and Michael Knost

Woodland Press, 2012; $14.95

“Fed from the Blade” is an engaging collection of 28 crisp stories, tales, and poems fresh from the imaginations of authors of West Virginia, all members of West Virginia Writers Inc.

As a longtime member of the group, I searched out a copy in the vendors’ arena at last fall’s West Virginia Book Festival. As I purchased a copy, I learned 170 submission were culled before the collection took shape. The result is an enjoyable variety of prose and poetry with an intriguing title.

The title was a sticking point until the co-editors, Pleska and Knost, attended a poetry reading and heard poet Sherrell Wigal read her powerful poem, “I Am the Daughter.” One of the poem’s phrases, “fed from the blade,” resonated with them and a title was born. Wigal’s poem opens the collection and sets the scene for a baker’s dozen of eclectic poems. The anthology closes with the poignant poem, “New Choir Choice,” by Ethan Fisher.

Sandwiched among the poems are stories and tales of all descriptions. “Pee Wees’ Playhouse,” by Belinda Anderson, provides a wry humorous touch. If you’ve ever tried to outwit a persistent bird or yard critter, this story will bring back memories of the perks and quirks of living close to the craggy mountains and their abundant wildlife.

Maybe it’s the fog or the hollows but whatever the reason, West Virginians do spooky stories really well. Some of the tales in the collection are downright hair-raising scary. “Hallowmas” by Edwina Pendarvis offers a startling twist and ranks right up there with “The Tell Tale Lilac Bush,” a classic West Virginia ghost tale. “Splinters,” by G. Cameron Fuller, and “Puddles,” by Karin Fuller, are haunting tales in the style of Davis Grubb.

No West Virginia collection would be complete without well-told stories of families, tributes to coal miners, buzzard watching, rock climbing and caving. The anthology offers these and more.

“Fed from the Blade” is sure to find its way into classroom and living rooms. There it will showcase talented contemporary writers of West Virginia. Hopefully, it will encourage even more writing right here in the mountains.

The book is available from the Woodland Press, local book stores and and via the Internet.

Chuck Kinder on writing and Pittsburgh

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Chuck Kinder. Photo by Ohad Cadji / Sampsonia Way

Blog contributor Phyllis Wilson Moore directed my attention a few weeks ago to an interview with Chuck Kinder — who is, among many other things, a Fayette County native, a Michael Chabon character basis, a Lee Maynard faux-nemesis and a longtime creative writing professor at the University of Pittsburgh (although he recently gave that up after some health problems).

The interview in Sampsonia Way magazine — which calls itself an “online magazine sponsored by City of Asylum/Pittsburgh celebrating literary free expression and supporting persecuted writers worldwide” — is worth reading in its entirety, but I was struck by his thoughts about Pittsburgh, which has always been one of my favorite cities. Kinder says:

… [T]here’s sort of a romantic aura about Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh’s the kind of city you like to walk around in when it’s raining. It’s like walking through a wonderful old 19th century photograph. It’s the lights on the street. It just has an amazing texture. It seems just like you’re walking through, beside, into, and out of history. It’s haunted in a wonderful sense. Great old houses. Great neighborhoods. And all the great jazz traditions: Billy Strayhorn. There’s just an atmosphere about Pittsburgh. It’s a wonderful city to be a young writer in.

Bethany professor wins British mystery award

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Ever since it was released in April, I’ve been hearing about Bethany College professor Wiley Cash and his debut novel, “A Land More Kind Than Home.” A few people have told me how good it is, and I’ve read some other hosannas for it, but I just hadn’t picked it up yet.

Well, I’m gonna pick it up now.

Late last week, “A Land More Kind Than Home” won the Crime Writers Association’s New Blood Dagger Award. Named after John Creasey, the founder of the British crime writers group, the award goes to the best novel by a previously unpublished writer. The previous winners include some pretty well-known names: Patricia Cornwell, Janet Evanovich, Walter Mosley and Gillian Flynn, to name a few. (Oh, and it also comes with a thousand pounds, which would be $1,602 under the exchange rate on Sunday.)

The novel is the story of two boys in western North Carolina — mute Christopher Hall and his precocious younger brother, Jess — and is told by three narrators: Jess, midwife Adelaide Lyle and sheriff Clem Barefield.

In their citation of Cash’s book, the CWA judges called it “a potent mix of religion, fundamentalism and murder in America’s Deep South … a powerfully written study of the places religious fanaticism can lead you.” That’s just the latest accolade for “A Land More Kind Than Home,” which The New York Times called an “intensely felt and beautifully told story” and NPR called “great, gothic Southern fiction.”

Cash’s reaction to the award, as recorded by the CWA? “As an American writer, it’s a shock and a real honour to win an award in a genre with such a proud British tradition.” (He was in London for the awards ceremony, so he put that U in honor.) If you want to hear him talk about the book, there’s a video from his publisher on YouTube.

Book Festival plans from the WVU Press

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For years, one of the mainstays of the Book Festival has been the West Virginia University Press, under former director Pat Conner and his successor, Carrie Mullen. Next month, the WVU Press will again have a ton of stuff going on at the festival, as marketing manager Abby Freeland told me this week.

First, they’re sponsoring one of the opening sessions of the festival, Betty Rivard talking about “New Deal Photography: West Virginia’s Gift to National Books and Museums” at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 13. Her new book — “New Deal Photography in West Virginia, 1934-1943” — isn’t even available yet, but Abby says it will be at the festival, and Rivard will sign copies of the book at the WVU Press booth (in the marketplace) from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Oct. 13 and 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. Oct. 14.

Also, Abby says: “All of our latest publications will be available for purchase at our booth, including Lee Maynard’s Crum Trilogy (‘Crum,’ ‘Screaming with the Cannibals’ and ‘The Scummers’), John Antonik’s ‘The Backyard Brawl: Stories from One of the Weirdest, Wildest, Longest Running and Most Intense Rivalries in College Football History’ and Karen Osborn’s ‘Centerville,’ a fictionalized account of a bombing witnessed by the author in Ohio during the 1960s. “

Lots of previous WVU Press offerings will be available as well, including John Allen’s “Uncommon Vernacular: The Early Houses of Jefferson County, West Virginia, 1735-1835,” Marie Manilla’s “Still Life with Plums,” Bonnie E. Stewart’s “No. 9: The 1968 Farmington Mine Disaster,” and the new series of West Virginia Classics published with the West Virginia Humanities Council.

And then there’s this: All WVU Press books will be available for purchase at a 25 percent discount at the festival. So as they say on the late-night commercials, there’s never been a better time to buy.

Review time! “Wonderland Creek” by Lynn Austin

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There’s a lot to love about this book, but I may be prejudiced: it features a heroine who is a librarian and who loves reading so much that she eschews everything else in real life.  Not that I can relate.  Ahem.

Anyway, Wonderland Creek by Lynn Austin is a sweet, funny story set during the height of the Depression.  It opens with Alice Ripley, a young librarian in small-town Illinois, getting dumped by her funeral director fiancé when he catches her reading during a particularly boring funeral.  (In her defense, the deceased was a great library patron, and she felt it was a fitting tribute.)  Then, due to budget cuts, the library has to let go of the most junior member of the staff – who is, of course, Alice.  While she would prefer to view this as an opportunity for more reading time, her preacher father tells her she needs to do something.  She decides to make good on her promise to Leslie MacDougal, a librarian in a poor Kentucky town.  But instead of shipping the books she has collected, she hitches a ride with her boozy aunt and uncle (on their way to White Sulphur Springs for the water cure) to deliver the books in person.

Can you guess if things go as planned?  Of course you can, and of course they don’t.  She arrives in Appalachia to a few startling discoveries:  there are no hotels in town, there are no toilets either, and Leslie MacDougal is not a woman at all, but a gruff mountain man.  He receives her donations with pleasure – he loves books, after all – but receives her presence a little less favorably.

Yes.  Mack is a Guybrarian.

You see, Leslie “Mack” MacDougal is something of a rabble rouser.  He is from the tiny town of Acorn, Kentucky (although Alice wouldn’t deign to call it a town), and when he went away to college he got some funny ideas about how the coal mine operators were treating its workers.  So he started writing.  Then, the day after Alice arrives, somebody shoots him.

Alice reluctantly (very reluctantly) stays on to take care of Mack and Lillie, the ex-slave who raised Mack when his parents died.  Lillie has incredible knowledge of natural healing, although her own health seems to decline dangerously whenever Alice threatens to leave.

On the surface, this book is terrible!  These people are horrible!  Alice is spoiled and whiny; Lillie and Mack are manipulative and selfish.  But then…they’re all sort of not.  They all have traits that redeem them, and Austin manages this so subtly that you hardly know you are forgiving their flaws.  Sure, Mack tricks Alice into staying, but then he gets shot and he really does need her help.  And he loves books.  (I might be the target audience for this book…just a little.)  Lillie is probably the trickiest of all, but she’s so smart (without falling into stereotype – which I very much appreciated), and besides, she’s 100 years old and lived through a hundred lifetimes of heartache.

Yes, Alice is a brat, but she loves books (like all good people!), and soon she learns to love sharing books with the very appreciative (and largely illiterate) people of Acorn.  And as she grows from abject horror (they don’t even have electricity) to an appreciation of a people who do for themselves, she doesn’t lose her sassy, opinionated tone.  At the end of the book, she is still the same Alice, even though she has grown and changed from her experience.

This will be Alice, once she quits being afraid of the horse.I don’t know much about Lynn Austin (although I will get a chance to learn at the West Virginia Book Festival in October), and I don’t think she has a connection to Appalachia.  Still, she writes with a real appreciation for the culture and history.  She manages to include rural packhorse librarians, moonshine, music, storytelling, and the Mine Wars in a way that feels completely natural to the story.  She has the same subtle touch with the religious elements of the story – Alice gains a greater appreciation for the mysterious works of God, but there’s no over-the-top-Pollyanna conversion scene.

In short (yeah right), this book is a lot of fun.  If you’ve never read an inspirational book before, but you like lighter women’s fiction with a strong heroine’s point of view, this book is for you.  And if you are a reader of inspirational fiction, the woman on the cover staring off into the distance will clue you in to what’s inside:  a sweet story about a woman whose life changes as she finds herself.

Iconic New Deal photos collected in new book

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Betty Rivard

After a 25-year career as a social worker and planner for the state, Betty Rivard became an award-winning professional fine art landscape photographer. When she discovered more than 1,600 photographs that were taken in West Virginia by 10 government photographers on the Library of Congress website, she was inspired to share these photographs and their story. The resulting book is “New Deal Photographs of West Virginia, 1934-1943,” published by West Virginia University Press.

Rivard will speak about the process of creating her book and present some of the most iconic images in the collection during her talk at the West Virginia Book Festival on Saturday, Oct. 13, at 10 a.m. Her program is sponsored by West Virginia University Press.

Rivard has a  photography business, West Virginia Homeplace, and two part-time jobs: secretary for the WV House of Delegates and producer of the FestivALL Charleston art fairs. She lives in Braxton County.

Charlaine Harris, best-selling urban fantasy novelist; Craig Johnson, author of the “Longmire” series of mystery novels; Dan Chaon, former National Book Award finalist; and Tamora Pierce, author of 28 fantasy novels for teens, have already been announced as part of the line-up for the festival, which will be held Oct. 13 and 14 at the Charleston Civic Center. The annual, two-day event celebrates books and reading and offers something for all age groups. A variety of authors will attend, participating in book signings, readings, workshops and lectures. Activities for children include special programs and a section of the Marketplace filled with children’s activities. Admission to the festival is free.

The event is presented by The Library Foundation of Kanawha County, Inc., Kanawha County Public Library, West Virginia Humanities Council, The Charleston Gazette and the Charleston Daily Mail and is sponsored by The Martha Gaines and Russell Wehrle Memorial Foundation; Pamela D. Tarr and Gary Hart; the Friends of The Library Foundation of Kanawha County; West Virginia Library Commission and West Virginia Center for the Book; BB&T West Virginia Foundation; Books-A-Million; and William Maxwell Davis. For more information, visit www.wvbookfestival.org.

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Marc Harshman

In May, Marc Harshman was named West Virginia’s seventh Poet Laureate by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, replacing Irene McKinney, who died in February. A resident of Wheeling, Harshman will present his inaugural reading since his appointment at the West Virginia Book Festival on Sunday, Oct. 14, at 12:30 p.m.

In addition to reading his poems, Harshman will reflect upon the rich legacies of Louise McNeill and McKinney, the Laureates who most immediately preceded him. Harshman’s program is sponsored by BB&T.

Harshman is also a storyteller and author of 11 children’s books. He is a recipient of the West Virginia Arts Commission Fellowship in Poetry, has won an award from Literal Latté and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He has degrees from Bethany College, Yale University and the University of Pittsburgh. His storybook, “The Storm,” was a Smithsonian Notable Book, and he has new children’s books forthcoming from Macmillan/Roaring Brook and Eerdmans.

Charlaine Harris, best-selling urban fantasy novelist; Craig Johnson, author of the “Longmire” series of mystery novels; and Tamora Pierce, author of 28 fantasy novels for teens, have already been announced as part of the line-up for the festival, which will be held Oct. 13 and 14 at the Charleston Civic Center. The annual, two-day event celebrates books and reading and offers something for all age groups. A variety of authors will attend, participating in book signings, readings, workshops and lectures. Activities for children include special programs and a section of the Marketplace filled with children’s activities. Admission to the festival is free.

The event is presented by The Library Foundation of Kanawha County, Inc., Kanawha County Public Library, West Virginia Humanities Council, The Charleston Gazette and the Charleston Daily Mail and is sponsored by The Martha Gaines and Russell Wehrle Memorial Foundation; Pamela D. Tarr and Gary Hart; the Friends of The Library Foundation of Kanawha County; West Virginia Library Commission and West Virginia Center for the Book; BB&T; Books-A-Million; and William Maxwell Davis. For more information, visit www.wvbookfestival.org.