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Monday
Jan072019

* * Why I write

 

I was the happy beneficiary of several pleasant, affirming experiences over the New Year’s Day holiday.

On New Year’s Eve, I attended an outdoor party, warmed by a blazing bonfire. I met a man who lives in central North Carolina and is here visiting relatives. When I introduced myself, he said, “I know who you are. I read one of your books.” He'd read my first one, The Spine of the Virginias, published back in 2008. He continued, “I wasn't that excited when my wife handed it to me to read,” he said, “but I was enthralled. It was well-written and educational. You have a nice conversational style that made it fun to read.”

The next morning, I got a note from a friend in Roanoke. She said she’d had brunch with old friends, and one of them mentioned that he was reading and enjoying my newest book, Chasing the Powhatan Arrow.

Later that afternoon, I attended another gathering – this one an open house with friends in Giles County. There, I met a couple who are in the process of building a house in the area, moving here from New Jersey. A few months earlier, they were having dinner on one of their scouting trips at the Palisades Restaurant in Eggleston where they found my first novel, Union, WV on a table, and she started to read it. After dinner, they left it behind but were already enthralled and when they returned home, she ordered it on-line.
Both of them read and enjoyed it. Then they bought and read my second novel, Providence, VA, about which they also raved. Union, WV and Providence, VA are my first and second novels. We had a long conversation about it, the story line and the characters.

I mentioned these happy occurrences on my Facebook page, and another friend commented, “I read War, WV while my husband was driving us through West Virginia today. I couldn't put it down!” War, WV is my third novel.

I started writing my books back in 2008 when I sold our family printing business and had some time on my hands. In that and each of the following seven years, I finished and published another, eight total. Each one seemed to follow naturally from the prior, and I was always motivated to continue. Which brings forward two essential questions: how and why?

When I began my first book, The Spine of the Virginias, my motivation came from the historic question about the formation of West Virginia from Virginia. I knew from my Civil War history classes and reading that the split happened during the war. But I didn’t know the motivation or the process. At that time, I had had no formal education in writing beyond high school English classes. But I’ve never been afraid of tackling big projects.

Over Memorial Day weekend in 2017, I was invited by the Virginia Museum of Transportation to ride six excursion train rides pulled by the famous Norfolk and Western 611 steam locomotive. I remember speaking with a girl of perhaps 10 or 11 who was on board with her grandmother. She was impressed that I had written books and asked me about the process. I said, “There are three steps. First, you have to find a topic that really engages you, because you’re going to spend lots of time with it. Second, you have to begin writing. Third, you have to not quit until it’s finished.” In hindsight, this strikes me now as more profound than when I said it. Too many would-be authors never write the first paragraph of the book they’ve always wanted to write. Too many others start but then never finish.

The “why” is a bit more elusive. Cumulatively over the years and the various titles, I’ve sold between 6000 and 7000 books, not including those sold on-line by Amazon and Barnes and Noble. While this doesn’t provide a living income, it’s been a nice supplement. I’m far from being on the New York Times’ Bestseller List.

While working on my third book, Harmonic Highways, I was interviewing lots of musicians on the Crooked Road. I asked one about the money side of traditional Appalachian music. He said, “There are a few people who have done extremely well.” To hit the big time, he said, “You need to be really talented, you need to work really hard, and then a miracle has to happen.” I concluded it was the same for writers.

Not being the beneficiary of a miracle yet, I gain acclamation and satisfaction in the process and in those kind comments people make. I write because it moves my soul.

Thanks to all who have read and enjoyed my books!

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