I recently wrote a book set in Appalachia (West Virginia, to be precise), entitled This Will Never Stop. It was a labor of love. What was not a labor of love was writing the press release. The publisher’s words were immediate, demanding, blaring from the white of the page.
THIS FORM IS ESSENTIAL.
YOU MUST COMPLETE THIS QUESTIONAIRE WITH AS MUCH INFORMATION AS POSSIBLE.
CLEAR INFORMATION HELPS THE COPYWRITER CRAFT THE BEST POSSIBLE RELEASE FOR YOU!!!
I offered that copywriter a copious amount of detailed information, sweating bullets. What came back was this:
“West Virginia is currently trending in Appalachia,” followed by some blather about women walking to their mother’s house to find out about life.
I sent an email back that said, “This will never do.”
What came back was better but not good, and on the third rewrite I settled for something not embarrassing. The following is the original press release, the only difference being that I have shortened some questions while eliminating others. As for my responses, they are the same.
What inspired you to write this book?
Rejection. The late Philip H. Schneider of Wichita State University flatly rejected my original thesis, which, if memory serves, was titled something like, How I Won the 2004 McFann Squash Wars, and included squash/zucchini recipes from all my great-aunts. Actually, he refused to even pronounce the title. I had to get busy fast, so I wrote about what I knew: West Virginia and its women.
Summarize your book in one to three sentences.
This Will Never Stop explores the generational ties, the near pathologies, that exist between family members in a sub-culture all it’s own — a small West Virginia town. Four women wade through their mother’s lives in order to find themselves and, in the process, lose the naive assumption that as you move toward tomorrow, you shed yesterday.
What is the overall theme of your book?
The underlying theme of TWNS is connectedness, whether in overcoming or in trying to maintain; the theme always rests on the backs of these four women and their relationship to each other. Connectedness, no matter how painful, intrusive, or even loving, and the lengths we go to make sense of it.
Where does this book take place?
TWNS takes place in a fictional town, somewhere in West Virginia.
Who are the main characters and why are they important to the story?
Lorraine: a woman abandoned by her mother.
Carmen Amber: the mother who abandoned her.
Jenna: daughter of Lorraine, who senses her mother’s imminent departure and, in a desperate attempt at reconciliation, falls flat into a reality she never imagined.
Lizzie: mother of them all, who speaks from the grave and directly into the ear of her great-granddaughter.
Why do you think this book will appeal to readers?
Appalachia, particularly West Virginia, is a current literary trend. We are the last marginalized culture to be examined, but this sudden interest also brings hacks who string together stereotypes in order to make a quick sale. Stereotypes are easier to sell to the public because that’s what readers expect. It doesn’t matter that this speedy writer hasn’t set foot in West Virginia, knows no one from the state, and doesn’t intend to visit because . . . they’ve Googled! Any culture which has been marginalized knows the harm of prejudice, and West Virginia has been harmed plenty. This book will appeal to the truth seeker, the reader who is not satisfied with superficial characters and a slick plot with a couple of mountains thrown in.
How is your book relevant to today’s society?
The mother/daughter relationship will always be relevant as long as we have families.
Is there any subject that is currently trending in the news that relates to your book?
Fossil fuel (coal) has been an issue for the past several years and is more likely to get more attention in the upcoming election. We’ll wait and see what shakes out. West Virginians are great at waiting. That’s because we don’t know what you’re going to do to us next.
What makes your book different from others like it?
This Will Never Stop is a different novel about West Virginia because I mean my characters no harm. They’ve been given normal names, not demeaning monikers like Grunt, Razor, or Daisy Chain. When they find themselves in situations that the mainstream American can’t identify with (for example, Carmen is 28 years old and doesn’t know how to buy a bus ticket), it’s because the situation has never presented itself, not because they’re innately stupid. I am a native West Virginian. I knew early on that we were different, and I learned mostly through travel. Other children in other states had grandmothers and grandfathers. I had Mammaws and Pappaws, far away, for them, wasn’t yonder, and nobody seemed to know where we were from. “How far are you from Richmond?” “Not Virginia, West Virginia,” my father would answer, and the clarification would be met with a laugh or a blank stare.
The difference wouldn’t manifest itself into contempt until I went to college. “Have you ever eaten pizza?” “I don’t expect you to understand because statistics show that IQ here is lower than in other states,” “Is there a middle class in West Virginia?” and the best yet, “West Virginia literature is an oxymoron” which was stated in a graduate level multicultural literature class. The professor laughed. When I vigorously protested this statement on Blackboard, ending my post with a quote from Sherman Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, in which a marginalized Indian character says, “Go ahead and tell me none of this is supposed to hurt.” the professor emailed back with “Who would have thought that (remark) would get such a response from you?”
What the hell did she expect?
This Will Never Stop was written without one cheap trick. I tried to preserve the speech patterns and customs peculiar to this region as I know them. The women presented in this book are fully fated, strong women, yet adaptable. They’re aware of the importance of education and social structure, try to mind their manners, and have teeth, which they use, if offended, to bite back.
What do you want readers to take away from your writing?
I want the reader to feel that my characters have been talking to them only, telling the reader what they want them to know, but all the while undressing, revealing their scars, blind spots, inconsistencies — their lies, loneliness, and pain. I want the reader to walk away with the sense they’ve met somebody, even if they wouldn’t want them to live next door.
How did you learn about the topic?
I left West Virginia for 22 years, and when I came back, the strong, multilayered female structure of my family had vanished. All the grandmothers, great grandmothers, and great aunts were gone. Though now stilled, their voices ring in my ears. They were great storytellers, though they wouldn’t have called it storytelling. They wouldn’t have bothered to call it storytelling at all, except sitting on the front porch of the home place and stringing beans. They’d snap half-runners and talk of their lives and the lives of their neighbors, tales that were astonishingly accurate (and deeply personal) because none of them had left their small town. They remembered the DPA (Department of Public Assistance), when women wore dresses made from patterned flour sacks, and their introduction to oleo during the Great Depression. They remembered when the gas lines were laid about the town and the unfortunate family of girls who went “gas men crazy.” They remembered where the old orchards used to be and a time when everyone had a garden. They defined history for me, told to the sounds of snapping beans and the creak of rockers. I got my voice sitting on the porch of a 125 year old house in West Virginia, and I’d go back again.
Is there a passage or line you’d like to utilize?
The line that comes most readily to mind occurs in the first story, “Silver Bottle.” Lorraine is arguing with her husband, Royce, over church attendance for the children. He wants them to go, she doesn’t. Finally, in exasperation, she snaps, “Religions isn’t like cleaning a chicken. You can’t take the messy parts out.”
Thanks to all who’ve stayed with me. My next blog will be about my friend, Pat Chapman, and those who suffer in a broken world.