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.)

 

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.