Madam’s Creek

“In the tradition of New York Times bestseller Cold Mountain, Reeder delivers a richly satisfying  tale set in the hills of what would soon become West Virginia. Madam’s Creek explores the power of love and the sting of betrayal in a land shattered by war. The magnificent landscape of the New River serves as a backdrop for the tender love story of Marcus and Maylene, fully human characters sure to win your hearts.”

–Donna Meredith, author of The Glass Madonna and The Color of Lies

“Betsy Reeder’s Madam’s Creek is real and organic, as if she lived through that time period. The characters feel authentic. The natural world is as it must have been. As one who has also chased authenticity attempting to infuse life into local history, I am in awe.”

–Jon Averill, writer/producer of Averell’s Raiders & the 35th Star and Passing Thru Sandstone

“I thoroughly enjoyed reading your book; I tend to prefer novels with strong characters and detailed descriptions and Madam’s Creek definitely satisfied those requirements.  Plus, there’s the added bonus of a sense of humor, the historical and geographical context, and the depth of understanding about what war does to people (and not just the soldiers).  Thank you so much for writing it!”

–Shalom Tazewell

The author, Betsy Reeder, was able to create a time and a place in my mind taking me back to life in the 19th century in the mountains of West Virginia. A life that was innocent in childhood with loving families trying to make a living in difficult terrain that were then bombarded with the divisiveness of the civil war. The author very nimbly takes the reader through the complicated paths of people’s hopes and dreams with the reality of what life can offer. A very good read.

–Anne Meadows

P.S. from Betsy–If anyone who read Madam’s Creek enjoyed it and feels so inspired, I am deeply grateful for reviews on Amazon. A million thanks for those willing to put in a plug. On the other hand, if you didn’t like it, I’m equally grateful if you don’t say so. :o) (Same goes for Broomstraw Ridge.)

Broomstraw Ridge

In a sprawling post Civil War sequel to Madam’s Creek, Broomstraw Ridge will transport you to the mountains of southern West Virginia where you will stand shoulder to shoulder with the Lilly family as they marry, raise children, and bury kin—along with their long-held secrets. Reeder shows her talent for weaving together the great and small, the building of railroad bridges alongside clusters of Dutchman’s breeches, the perfect details to ground a story firmly in place and time.

–Donna Meredith, Associate editor of Southern Literary Review and author of The Glass Madonna

The mountains of southern West Virginia, by their rugged nature, are resistant to change.  They breed a certain rough-hewn individualism amongst the people who still cling to the beautiful mountain farms. In Broomstraw Ridge, Betsy Reeder takes us back in time, as we live with, laugh and cry with, people who feel like they must have been the ancestors of those who still know the ways of the hills.

–Jon Averill, writer/producer of Averell’s Raiders & the 35th Star and Passing Thru Sandstone

Broomstraw Ridge captures the nuances that color life in a post-Civil War family. Reeder brings life to the hills and hollows of West Virginia creating a sense of place that is as much a character as any living person in this intriguing world. Each chapter unfolds deliberately, carefully intertwining characters as she reveals the saga of an Appalachian family facing loss, love, betrayal and the struggle to survive and thrive. Broomstraw Ridge places timeless human struggles and triumphs in a setting so alive the reader can nearly smell the fresh hay, and feel the chill of the first snow in winter.

–M. Lynne Squires, Author of Looking Back at Charleston and Letters to My Son–Reflections on Urban Appalachia at Mid-Century

“…there was mistake…. And there was contrition and regret, and there was confession, absolution and forgiveness, and finally there was reconciliation.  All this human condition that told a powerful story. Really a great read…. It’s one of those kinds of books that sticks with you for a time after you’ve read it, ya know?  And I tell you that because all the time I was reading this book and witnessing the human condition in it, I was thinking, that’s our life, all of our lives. Mistakes, the wrong we do … feeling contrite or depressed …. and then forgiving those around us who have wronged us in one way or another. And mending those broken relationships, reconciling them.” Fr. Stan Holmes, Episcopal Priest

Interview for Southern Literary Review


Donna Meredith interviews Betsy Reeder for Southern Literary Review. Reeder is the author of an historical trilogy: Madam’s Creek (2017), Broomstraw Ridge (2019), and her latest, Salt in Boiling Water (2022). These stories center around the lives and loves of characters caught up in vivid events of the Civil War and its aftermath in southern West Virginia.

DM: All three of your novels are set in the New River area of West Virginia. What attracted you to this particular region?

BR: I lived there for twelve years, having moved from Maryland in 2007. I have never lived anywhere that enchanted me so much. The scenery is stunning, and the people are strongly tied to the natural world. Very quickly I was struck by the blending of past and present. People often speak of their ancestors as well as events that happened in earlier centuries. One example is the story of Mary Draper Ingles, who was kidnapped by the Shawnee, taken to Ohio, and made her impossible way back home to Virginia by following the Kanawha and New Rivers across hundreds of miles of Appalachian wilderness. I had never heard of this legendary woman, but everyone seemed to speak of her as if she was a familiar neighbor.

DM: Your trilogy follows three generations of the Lilly family. Did you set out from the beginning to write a trilogy?

BR: No, I had no intention of writing a trilogy, but after I finished the first book I missed the characters so much that I wanted to spend more time with them. After writing the second book, I felt quite sure the Lilly-Farley-Cook story was finished. But then two friends asked me about Jenny Lilly, and I began to think about her and wonder who she was and how her life would unfold. I began writing without much idea where I was going, until Jenny and Caleb took charge and told their own story.

DM: Each time period in your novels feels authentic. Please share a little about the three time periods and the research you did.

BR: The first novel required the most research because it involved a lot of historic events surrounding the Civil War. I wanted to insert as much factual information as I could, and I was able to find quite a bit: some from the local library, some from online sources, some by word of mouth. My greatest regret is that I didn’t spend time with the local historical society, which was gathering, unbeknownst to me, material for a book about the Civil War in that region.

The next two stories also involved historical research, but it was less extensive. The second one involves the Industrial Revolution’s first real impact in the area, with the advent of the railroad and a new town it spawned, Hinton, West Virginia. People were becoming more mobile, and that mobility plays into the story.

For the third, I did research about the early suffrage movement, as well as 19th-century Charleston and Lewisburg, West Virginia. Set in the late 1870s and early 1880s, the time period foreshadows much coming societal change. Women were beginning their long, slow revolution as they organized and took advantage of better educational opportunities. I didn’t get into the devastating setbacks the Black community faced at that time, at the end of Reconstruction, although I considered it. (Some of that is in my recent nonfiction effort.) I didn’t think Jenny and Caleb, in rural Appalachia, would have had much awareness of that aspect of their era.

DM: Was each era equally difficult to immerse yourself in or did one stand out as harder to discover appropriate details to include?

BR: I think the third novel represented the biggest challenge in terms of finding appropriate historic details. But sometimes something just lands in your lap. For example, when I researched the Female Institute in Lewisburg, I came across an actual tuition schedule. That was hugely helpful to me because without it I would have been only guessing what classes were offered and how much they cost. I was also very fortunate to have been to Organ Cave and that my daughter saved the photos she took there.

DM: It’s not only the historical details that stand out in your novels. The setting is enhanced by specific descriptions of plant and animal life in southern WV. How did you develop such a sharp eye for the natural setting?

BR: It’s nice of you to say so! I was one of those “wild-child” kids who wandered the countryside. And my background, career-wise, is biology. I’ve spent a lot of time wading in West Virginia rivers, exploring the woods, birdwatching, and otherwise enjoying nature. I consider myself greatly blessed in that regard.

DM: Do you have a favorite character from the latest novel, Salt in Boiling Water? What do you see as his/her strengths and weaknesses?

BR: It’s hard to choose between Jenny and Caleb, but I think I would say Caleb. He has so much to overcome, especially his low self-esteem and lack of confidence, compounded by life events. Yet he never fails to have a good heart and good intentions. To me, he is genuine, through and through; I trusted him from the start.

DM: Tell us a little about your antagonists in this story.

BR: There are several, primarily Caleb‘s father, Lila, and Otis. Caleb’s father returns from the Civil War as an abusive figure Caleb and his mother must endure. Lila turns Caleb’s head but keeps secrets…. Otis is the antagonist we get to know best and he is a bit of a puzzle. I don’t want to give away too much detail here, but Otis presents Jenny with the first great relationship challenge of her life. I’ve never liked for an antagonist to be strictly villain, and Otis is not that. His greatest fault may be immaturity, or it may be something much worse. I leave that for readers to determine.

DM: What do you hope readers take away from Salt in Boiling Water?

BR: As I wrote Salt in Boiling Water, I kept thinking about teenagers and how terrifying it can be to step out into the world of adult relationships and responsibilities. Add to the mix poverty, lack of education, personal loss, childhood traumas…. It’s a recipe for mistakes and hard lessons. I hope adolescent readers will come away with a sense of how they deserve to be treated, and how to trust both their instincts and latent strengths. I hope adult readers will enjoy a journey into the past, when life was simpler in some ways yet presented many of the same coming-of-age challenges we all remember. Mostly, I hope readers find inspiration somewhere in the pages. It inspired me to spend time with Jenny and Caleb.

DM: What question do you wish someone would ask you about your writing that isn’t covered here?

BR: Maybe, “What’s the hardest thing you’ve written?” The New River trilogy was nothing but unadulterated joy to write. Before starting the third novel, as I waited for a story seed to germinate, I compiled-more-than-wrote a biography about a great-great grandfather. It felt like the world’s longest homework assignment, and I would never have finished it if I hadn’t gotten so interested in John A. Broadus. He was a well-known Southerner in his day, especially among Baptists. I’m not saying this because I share an (insignificant) amount of DNA with him, but the man-on-fire was fascinating. His life, from the antebellum South, through the Civil War and well beyond, was lived in the fastest of fast lanes, which is not what we associate with the 19th century. A remarkable number of his letters have been preserved; I had a difficult time sorting through them and pulling together a biography. I hope it does the preacher/teacher/writer/speaker justice. I will never attempt such a thing again! (This labor of love, Broadus Unbound: The Oversized Intellect, Will, and Influence of a Small Baptist, was published December 2021.)

DM: Thank you, Betsy, for sharing a little about your writing process and for bringing these uplifting stories to the world.