Blog: Ancient New (River) Meanders

I thought I’d begin by saying a little about how this project got started. There were probably countless triggers, but two stand out in my mind. One was a comment from the wife of a cousin, who, when I asked how we used to get through the hours of endless commencement ceremonies without our cellular devices for entertainment, said, “We had active inner lives.” I got to thinking, “Use it or lose it.” And I was afraid I’d lost the vivid imagination of my youth, which once kept me occupied by the hour, especially at night when I had trouble falling asleep.

Another impetus was a book a friend sent me called The Man Inside the Mountain. (I’m sorry I’ve forgotten the author’s name.) It is a post-Civil-War story set in the Appalachian mountains, and it launched a whirlwind of thought. I couldn’t stop chewing on it, especially the aspect of men coming home changed. . . . And that the world people knew would have been a very long time–if ever–returning to normal.

I’d always thought it would be great fun to write a novel, if only I had a story to write. Then a narrative began taking form like a fetus in me and wouldn’t leave me alone until I got it typed. That was a fun part. Then came revisions, editing, and a long search for someone to take an interest in Madam’s Creek. It got quite tiresome and discouraging. But I never lost faith in the story, which somewhere along the line took on a life of its own and made me feel I was telling a truth, not a fiction.

So maybe somewhere there was once a couple who had an experience like that of Marcus and Maylene. If so, I hope they are happy their tale has been told.

(The reason I call this blog “Ancient New” is because the New River is said to be one of the oldest rivers on Earth; hence its name is quite a misnomer! And it meanders almost as much as anyone’s thoughts.)

February 7, 2023

Well, it’s “done,” if you don’t count the revisions and corrections still needed. And it has a title: Tupper’s Coins. Tupper was a real person who suffered the fate described. Nannie was his real sister. But I don’t want to offend the many, many descendants of their/our family, so I’ve changed their last name. It has been fascinating to learn many facts about my ancestors, who suffered what many others did: war, loss, grief, theft, relocation, poverty. If there was ever a time of complete mayhem in our country, it wasn’t the 1960s, as I once thought. It was the 1860s. The aftermath wasn’t exactly a bowl of cherries, either, not for the South, not for the freed slaves, not for the children of war. Tupper’s Coins follows Nannie through the Civil War and Reconstruction as she attempts to help her family, only to find herself backed into a corner she never anticipated. Her choice makes all the difference (especially for her many descendants, including this one. :o)).

I’ll post something here and on FB when the book is “out.” Thanks!

October 7, 2022

You know what they say: “Never say never.” I was never going to revisit the Civil War–I’d had enough of it. I thought I might try something cotemporary, but found myself incapable…. Then I kept thinking about a great grandmother, whose earliest memory, spawned in Charleston, SC, was a war memory, U.S. Civil War, of course. And down the rabbit hole I’ve gone again. It’s not a comfortable thing to have slave-owning ancestors, but it’s a reality I can’t shed. It’s not a comfortable thing to stare down the kind of loss and anger that can destroy people. But it’s interesting to explore some of the ways calamity can turn into healing, if not for everyone, at least for those who believe life holds such a possibility.

A work in progress…. ! Title needed. More research…. I’m going to stick it out.

January 19, 2022

A couple of things…. One, it is with tremendous RELIEF, and also gratitude to Debbi McNeer and Lynda Helmer, who worked through the thorny forest of formatting, that I offer Broadus Unbound: The Oversized Will, Intellect, and Influence of a Small Baptist. Here is the description on the back cover:

Called by the famed Charles Spurgeon “the greatest of living preachers,” John A. Broadus left an indelible signature not only on the Baptist denomination but on a generation. Emerging from the U.S. Civil War as a voice of reason and reconciliation, he traveled, wrote, and tirelessly trained clergy for the urgencies of his time. Compiled by a direct descendant and based on the words of Broadus and his intimates, Broadus Unbound reveals a complex and unforgettable personality, ablaze with unshakable faith and indomitable willpower.

Also, I’m honored to have been interviewed for Southern Literary Review. I’ve added the transcript under “Reviews” on this website. Or, see

Stay well, Y’all. That’s a tall order these days.

Nov. 20, 2021

With a mixture of delight and relief, I announce the arrival of Salt in Boiling Water, the concluding novel in what I never imagined would be a trilogy. Here is the blurb on the back cover:

Although Salt in Boiling Water concludes Betsy Reeder’s trilogy of New River novels launched by Madam’s Creek and Broomstraw Ridge, it stands on its own legs as a tender coming-of-age story set in late-nineteenth-century Appalachia. After surviving a series of calamities and shocks in childhood, unexpected circumstances propel Caleb Wallace and Jenny Lilly from their home nest on the Lilly farm, one orphaned and insecure, the other suffering a crippling phobia. If they are to overcome these limitations, as well as poverty, lack of education, and—in Jenny’s case—gender inequality, they will need all the grit of their mountain upbringing. Will they serve or thwart each other’s goals as they pursue the love and success that seem ever out of reach?

Jenny and Caleb turned out to be perfect pandemic companions–they really helped me get through the long, slow months of relative isolation and inactivity. If you chose to read their story, I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

June 29, 2021

I’d like to take a moment to thank everyone who has written a review on Amazon or elsewhere. It’s gratifying beyond words. It may be a little unsurprising when a friend offers supportive words, although I never take such a kindness for granted and am always thankful. But when complete strangers take the time to comment, I’m truly taken aback, in the best possible way. Thank you, everyone, for reminding me that people are thoughtful and generous. And also for inspiring me.

Stay well and enjoy SUMMER.

March 2, 2021

Well, who knows where the last 6 1/2 months went. I’ve completed the novel I was sure I wasn’t going to write, another sequel…. It’s called Salt in Boiling Water and follows Jenny Lilly and Caleb Wallace as they grow up, leave home, and slam into a world that is less than welcoming. It’s a coming-of-age novel that explores issues of identity, rejection, and self-actualization. Among other challenges, Jenny confronts societal constraints on females, while Caleb grapples with his lack of education and confidence. Jenny and Caleb can help or hinder each other as allies or adversaries.

Here’s a piece of information I’ve just learned from the new book produced by the Summers County Historical Society: The Civil War in Summers County, West Virginia (sure could have used it when I was writing Madam’s Creek!!): Broomstraw Ridge got its name from the “broom straw” raised as a cash crop by broom-maker William Bennett, brother of Jefferson Bennett, who was murdered in the novel Madam’s Creek and also in reality at the close of the Civil War.
I’m enjoying the book–thank you, Ben Vest & the Historical Society!

August 16, 2020

There are two stories about the origin of the name Madam’s Creek. One is that there was once a brothel that moved across New River to the mouth of Madam’s Creek when a city ordinance banned such establishments. People will tell you where the relocated brothel with its “madam” stood.

However, it turns out that the name Madam’s Creek predates the town of Hinton and the railroad by at least several decades, as evidenced by early maps. Local historian and filmmaker Jon Averill says the actual source of the name was a dog named Madam who drowned in creek!

(At some point, the apostrophe was dropped from Madam’s.)

As for Broomstraw Ridge, I can only guess. A familiar grass called broomsedge grows throughout the East, and I’ve seen it on Broomstraw Ridge. It may go sometimes by the name broomstraw, or simply broom? I’ve no doubt it’s been used for centuries to make brooms. Its stiff stems are avoided by grazing livestock, which means it’s often the only grass left waving in autumn winds, by which time it  has dried to a pretty peachy color.

There you have it, what little I know about the sources of these local geographic names….

Stay safe everyone! And enjoy the waning days of summer.

Mar. 26, 2020

How the world and our lives have changed in the past month! My heart goes out to anyone feeling alone, scared, generally UPSET. And very much so to those who have lost a job and/or a loved one. May we be a family.

I’m hunkered down like almost everyone, proofreading the biography I’ve been working on about two years, off and on. It’s titled, Broadus Unbound: The Oversized Will, Intellect, and Influence of a Small Baptist. John Broadus lived during the 19th century and is one of my great-great grandfathers. If you have any interest, you can find him on Wikipedia, but that site doesn’t give a clue as to how frenetic and challenging his life was. That being said, I really don’t think anyone didn’t have a challenging life in the 19th century….

I’m afraid many (most?) of us can relate to that right now. 😦

Wishing you health and peace (and all the toilet paper you need), Betsy

Feb. 26, 2020

Here is an article about Hinton, WV.

Nice photos, too, including the New River and the train station. The bridge shown in one photo is nearly in the location of the old ferry.

Nov. 23, 2019

Well, another book has been “launched” into the world. That word amuses me because I think of a rocket heading for outer space. Broomstraw Ridge isn’t likely to go that far, but I want to thank everyone who attended the party. And everyone who brought food! Your support is heartwarming beyond words. Thanks to others, too, who were unable to be physically present but attended in spirit with generous words of encouragement. And thanks to my daughter for updating the photo banner!

I submitted the manuscript over a year ago, so I’ve had plenty of time to work on the Broadus biography. NONfiction is HARD!! It’s going slowly…. I must belong in the fiction genre. Note to self: What were you thinking??

Wishing everyone the very best of holidays and a terrific launch into 2020.  –Betsy

Oct. 12, 2019

Well, I hope (probably overly optimistically) all the typos and other issues are resolved and it’s a “clean” manuscript going to print. Even more, I hope it’s a tale worth the telling and the reading. I’m so very grateful for those who have helped with proofreading at the last minute. I’m grateful for the chance to write another story. I’m grateful to my publisher. And I’m eternally grateful I lived long enough to realize my dream of a home in a place so beautiful it not only inspires me to write but is sacred to me.

September 15, 2019

Here we go into Fall. I’ve been eagerly anticipating this season, not only for the delightful weather it brings but because my second novel, Broomstraw Ridge, is becoming a reality, due to be released Nov. 1! I’m relieved and grateful.

Meanwhile, I’ve spent the past 11 months (waiting for the final edit on Broomstraw) sporadically working on a biography of John A. Broadus. He’s an ancestor who found his way onto Wikipedia a hundred or so years after his death. This feels like the most gigantic homework assignment ever, and makes me long to dive back into fiction ASAP. But if I can keep my nose to the grindstone, the man does have a story, an interesting, hyperactive life, including involvement in the Civil War and extensive travel. I’ve invested too much effort to give up now, although I’m tempted almost every day.

So, wish me luck if you will! And happy FALL to one and all. Today the trees in this neck of the woods hover on the brink of going to sleep with their spectacular color extravaganza. Nature’s Mardi Gras.

August 15, 2019

I’d like to thank the Lilly family, once again, for hosting me at their reunion. The weather was delightful, and the people–even more so. It is fascinating to talk to people who know their history and return to (or still live in) the place their ancestors settled roughly 250 years ago–a beautiful landscape that spawned a close-knit family that will never forget its Appalachian heritage.

BTW, I’ve begun to see monarch butterflies all around my mountain home. They belong to the next-to-last generation, and they are laying eggs on milkweeds in the hayfield behind the house. Their offspring will emerge next month and head south, migrating all the way to Mexico for the winter. When I see them on their way, I can hardly believe a single one will make it–they look hopelessly fragile and rather haphazard, stopping to feed on clover blossoms. Godspeed, my undaunted friends!

July 23, 2019

The second weekend of August, the Lilly Family Reunion convenes for the 90th consecutive year at Flat Top, WV. (I’ll be there selling & signing books.) Marcus Lilly may be a fictional character, but there’s nothing fictional about this family, now spread across the globe, with deep roots in southern West Virginia. The state was Virginia when the first Lillys arrived in Central Appalachia and carved out subsistence farms in virgin forest. Now, well over 200 years later, those who carry the name, or descend from those with the name, may be only a small percent “Lilly.” But they and their spouses and friends continue to celebrate a place that remains beautiful and beloved, and ties that remain unbreakable. In that regard, the Lilly family maintains a tradition as old as the hills, honoring family and place year after year. I applaud you, Lilly family!

July 4, 2019

Okay, so I’m tired of scrolling and I’m moving back up here near the top. Everything below is old stuff. Someone said a blog should have a name, so now it does. Because both novels are set in the New River region, I chose the New as part of the label.

Happy Independence Day! Are we independent? What does that mean? The older I get, the more I distance myself from ads, media in general, shrill voices of all sorts. I feel independent when I can think for myself, and that’s not easy to do when bombarded by a thousand voices, all saying, “Listen to ME!”

Certainly Marcus, in Madam’s Creek, is forced to give up his independence when he is drafted into the Civil War conflict. We know “freedom isn’t free,” and our democracy been won and re-won and improved at great cost, but when you zero in on the cost to one life, somehow the price becomes even more ghastly. (My father was a WWII veteran, and virtually never spoke of it–what were the stores he didn’t tell?)

In Broomstraw Ridge, Joseph emerges as a loner, an independent man. But underneath his individualism is a man silenced by prejudice and mistreatment and loss. He isn’t nearly as “free” as he appears. How do we regain our voices when they have been squelched? How do we preserve freedom without compromising integrity? How do we remain free and independent without losing unity as communities, as a nation? (How did we get so fractured?)

These are questions too big for one novel, or two. But I’m thinking of them today, on the 4th of July. Happy 4th! I do feel lucky to live in this country founded on the principle of freedom.

Nov. 29, 2017

I can’t possibly thank all of you sufficiently who came out on the 11th, many bearing gifts of food and drink, and all bringing such warmth and support–I was overwhelmed by your generosity. I THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart.

I’m never crazy about being in the spotlight, but you made it a cozy light, and got me over my nerves. I couldn’t live in a better community or have more dear, supportive friends. I am so grateful.

P.S. I think some of you hoped for a more historic tale of the early Madam’s Creek community. Mainly, I used Madam’s Creek as a setting, without delving much into its history. There was a Charlton Mill, and there certainly were floods, as there still are. The Baptist church was borrowed from the church near the bottom of Beech Run–I simply put a church where I wanted one to be. There’s no telling how many small log churches once existed. Like the old schoolhouses and mills, most are long gone. But we can be sure people gathered on Sunday mornings and used the New for baptisms. Some things haven’t changed. And we also know the Civil War called boys and men from farms throughout the area, tearing families and young lovers apart. Madam’s Creek would not have been spared.

Feb. 3, 2018

Several people have asked me about a sequel. Normally, I’m not a huge fan of sequels, but I haven’t gotten some of these characters out of my system–they keep coming back and nudging me. So… yes, I’m working on a sequel. Wish me luck, y’all. I don’t want to botch it.

Mar. 7, 2018

Still plugging away…. Tentative title is Broomstraw Ridge. The time frame is the 1870s. The railroad arrives, and a new town is born across the river from the mouth of Madam’s Creek. The landscape remains largely unchanged, but men are already being pulled from their farms to take railroad and mining jobs. The timber boom is yet to take off. But it’s inner changes and challenges, as always, that create the heart of story. What unexpected loss and rail delivery collide with the Lillys’ lives on the flank of Broomstraw Ridge?

July 13, 2018

I must be the world’s worst blogger. Broomstraw Ridge is at the publisher’s for thumbs up or down, and I’m holding my breath. I wasn’t sure I liked the story until it was finished and I read it–I do! Not that that means it’s a great or even a good story, but it and its characters felt real to me, which was a relief. When the players start telling their own tale, you get to relax and follow along. Once again, I got attached to the Lillys, etc., and I don’t like letting them go. But it’s time to move on.

(If the book gets published and you happen to read it, Hinton is a real town, born with the arrival of the railroad in the 1870s. It sits on a bench above New River, across from the mouth of Madam’s Creek. It did not exist at the time of the Civil War.)

September 19, 2018

I’m delighted to report that Wendy, my publisher, loved Broomstraw Ridge! I’m waiting for her to send back her editorial improvements, as well as a cover design. I sent some pictures taken a stone’s throw from Broomstraw Ridge. The Ridge itself is disguised by forests and undulations of the landscape, with access limited by private property–I couldn’t figure out a way to get a good shot of it.

So, I hope it won’t be too much longer before any of you who would like to spend more time with the Madam’s Creek characters will have that opportunity. There are a few new folks–one in particular–to meet and love, or not, as they deserve.

Your support, as always, is greatly appreciated.

October 30, 2018

Many thanks to those who stopped by Otter and Oak the past two weekends! It was great to see friends and meet visitors from WV, NC, OH, KY, and MD. I sure do admire the vendors who braved the cold, wind, and rain outside!

December 4, 2018

I’d like to thank everyone who has attended events this year (and last) and for so many words of encouragement. It is an act of generosity to read a new writer’s work and then go to the trouble of telling her you hope she writes another novel! Broomstraw Ridge stands alone but also serves as a sequel to Madam’s Creek. It should (I say with hopeful expectation) be released in the spring of 2019. Marcus and Suzanne Lilly are main characters, as well as someone new. The time period is the 1870s, and the New River region near Madam’s Creek is in a state of flux as a new county seat takes form along the recently completed C & O railroad. The Lilly family is in for a shake-up.