A red-tailed hawk flies across a woodland, unaware of the political boundaries that during the Civil War created a state in the shape of a frying pan with two handles. West Virginia’s visible landscape offers shrouds of thick forest, winding rivers, fields of corn, coal excavation and other industrial sites, a few cityscapes and numerous small towns.
So begins Wolf Creek Mountain: Remembering a Vanished People. This project, co-sponsored by Alderson Main Street, began with my collection of oral histories and is developing into a narrative. My previous four books are fiction – three short story collections and a middle-grade fantasy novel. All of them pay tribute to West Virginia, a land of beauty. And stories.
Like the story of the woman on Wolf Creek Mountain who got so mad at her husband that she took to her bed and never got up again. She outlived her husband and most of her children.
Like the story of French, the friendly lion that ran the streets of Alderson until the town enacted a leash law.
Like the story of the man in Greenbrier County who was convicted of the murder of his wife by the testimony of a ghost, as related by the victim’s mother. (Check out the details at www.wvencyclopedia.org.)
Stories told to me and stories found in books filled my childhood. I grew up in West Virginia on a small farm surrounded by woodland, in a house framed around a log cabin. It was the perfect incubator for a writer. As a teen, I’d take paper and pen into the woods, find a log for a perch and scribble my thoughts. Nature and writing for me are twined like the decorative potato vines my mother encouraged to wind around the front porch posts.
Now I live in my own log cabin, where I can now sit comfortably on the back deck, scribbling and gazing at the woods behind my house. Wildlife parades through my yard and meadow – turkeys, deer, turtles, skunks, raccoons, and even a fox and a coyote. At first, spotting the coyote in the twilight through a window, I thought, wow, that fox is pretty scraggly. He looks more like the cartoon Wile E. Coyote. Pause for brain cell processing. Oh, that’s because he is a coyote.
Nature motifs frequently find their way into my writing, as in this bit from the short story collection Buckle Up, Buttercup: “Crows laughed and gossiped in the high branches of the hemlocks shading the walking trail.” Here’s a character description from the same book: “She presented the impression of a dandelion nearly gone to seed, with a head of wild silvery hair stuck on a skinny stem of a body.” The similarity of Queen Ann’s Lace to a poisonous plant is one of the key plot elements in my children’s novel, Jackson vs. Witchy Wanda.
So are the qualities of resiliency, compassion, humor and hope, traits that show up often in my writing. In fact, for my second collection of short stories, I added the fictional setting of Hope County to West Virginia’s geography.
Much of my writing voice derives from growing up with story telling rich in imagery and detail. My Aunt Reta said about my grandmother, “Mommy could whip a bear when she was younger.” In describing one man, she said, “You could use his shoes for a mirror. He never let a piece of dirt touch him. He went shining all the time.” He went shining all the time. How many writers, including me, would love to produce a sentence like that!
Sometimes my characters do. Twilight Dawn offers this wisdom in The Bingo Cheaters: “ … maybe a human life can’t be designed as neatly as a quilt. I thought about how some folks would ask to see samples of my work. I couldn’t just open a trunk and point to a packed quilt. I’d lift one out, unfold it, shake it a little to air it out, and spread it on a bed. Then the pattern could be viewed and appreciated for its beauty.
“Maybe a life has to completely unfurl before its design truly can be seen.”
Belinda Anderson, an award-winning freelance writer, is the author of four books, published by the Mountain State Press, West Virginia’s oldest literary press, based at the University of Charleston. Her first three books are short story collections: The Well Ain't Dry Yet, The Bingo Cheaters and Buckle Up, Buttercup. Her most recent book, Jackson Vs. Witchy Wanda: Making Kid Soup, is a middle-grade novel.
Her literary work was selected for inclusion on the first official literary map of West Virginia, published by Fairmont State University.
Belinda teaches creative writing workshops and makes author presentations at conferences and schools. She works individually with writers, too, having been selected as a mentor for the Monroe Arts Alliance scholarship program and a Master Artist working with emerging writers through a grant program of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History.
Visit Belinda’s web site at www.BelindaAnderson.com , where you can read a story from her first short story collection.
Belinda offers a chance to win a copy of The Bingo Cheaters. Comment here for your chance to win. Be sure to include your contact information. Thank you for stopping by!
(Material provided by author. Wildlife Photo Credits to Theresa Winstead
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Alderson-Artisans-Gallery/1745176799036052 Photos provided by Greenbrier Valley Visitors Center)