In October 2012, West Virginia’s premier independent press, Woodland Press, released a new anthology–Fed From the Blade. It is a collection of stories, tales, and poems chosen from members of West Virginia Writers, Inc. members. As the senior editor, I received 170 entries, from which I chose 28 pieces. To expand on the richness of the content of the anthology, I have invited authors of the pieces to talk about their writing, themselves, and to provide other surprising information. Please welcome the first guest to answer a few of my questions and to provide a creative response to a writing prompt. Kathleen Furbee, author of “Christmas Cards” responds:
Kathleen Furbee is a West Virginia native who writes short stories, long stories, essays, and poetry. Mother of two grown daughters, she works as a nurse and case manager, and lives with her husband, dog and two cats in Preston County.
Why did you submit to Fed From the Blade anthology?
I felt several of my stories might fit the general Appalachian theme of the anthology. And it was a nice opportunity to get a story published.
Why did you choose this piece, “Christmas Cards”?
I thought the setting and mood of the story might fit the anthology.
What is your favorite genre to write?
Creative non-fiction and essays, although I do like to write short stories too. Writing my novel was fun, but it was challenging to stay with it, keep a consistent voice, and make all the pieces fit together.
I love writing poetry, although I’m not “educated” at all in writing poetry, and don’t generally win prizes or publication with it. But, I like distilling the essence of experience down to a few chosen words on a page. I’m finding that more appealing these days than telling long tales.
When did you first become interested in writing?
I read a lot as a kid, and stories have always been important to me. I started keeping a daily journal at about age ten, and by seventh grade I believe I was sort of known as the “class writer.” In high school and a few years afterwards I wrote mostly poetry and songs. Then I got busy living and didn’t write again until I took a creative writing class with George Lies at the Monongalia Arts Center in the early 90’s.
How do you talk about this particular piece when describing it to others?
It’s kind of hard to describe. An old lady gets hit by a car.
Now that it is published in this anthology, do you plan to submit to other anthologies?
Planning, yes. Doing? I hope so.
Speak to other pieces in the anthology: what pieces stood out for you? What kind of
tone or mood do you think the anthology promotes?
I think the basic tone of many of the stories and poems in the anthology is a little melancholy, and vaguely mysterious. There is a sense of loss, but a certain kind of beauty in the loss.
If you were to submit to this anthology all over again, is there anything you’d change about your piece?
The first sentence. I altered the original first line on submission but do not like how I changed it. I’m a slow writer and sometimes need to let things sit awhile before I can see how they ought to be.
Do you know anyone like the old lady in your “Christmas Cards” story?
I didn’t have anyone specific in mind when I wrote “Christmas Cards.” However, during my years of nursing, and in particular home health nursing, I encountered many elderly women such as Genevieve, who lived alone, in rural homes similar to the one described in the story. The story is actually one of my older ones, written I believe in about 1999.
Do you have an extensive Christmas card list or no?
I don’t send many Christmas cards. When my children were small we would make homemade cards every year out of weeds and scraps of cloth or spices or whatever we could find and send them to relatives and special friends. I like to think they were works of art! Now the kids are grown and the Christmas card project is no more.
What is your next writing project?
I am slowly working on a memoir. Several years ago I received a writing fellowship from the WV Arts and Humanities council in the memoir category and I am trying to complete the project. I also write essays, creative non fiction pieces, short stories and occasional poems. I have a finished novel I would love to get published, and trying harder to get it published really ought to be my next project, but I seem to avoid doing that sort of thing in favor of creating new stories which I can then put in drawers or leave in the computer and not send out either.
Who is your favorite writer?
It changes, and I tend to go on “author jags,” but Louise Erdrich has consistently been a favorite, with Barbara Kingsolver a close second. I love our own Denise Giardina too.
How do you stay inspired to write?
I think just being alive and paying attention is inspiration enough. When I take the time to settle down and actually write, and have enough confidence to make writing a priority over all the other things that call for my time and attention, I usually find inspiration ready to roll out onto the page. It’s having discipline and confidence and direction that I often lack.
Respond to this prompt: You were secretly shopping in WalMart for a relative who hates WalMart. You gave her the present, forgetting to remove a WalMart tag. Write the dialogue from the moment she spots the tag.
(Here’s a scene instead.)
Gloria managed to hold her tongue but couldn’t contain a sigh. “Thank you, Charles,” she spoke sweetly, she hoped, after a moment’s pause. She chose not to make an issue of it. Not yet. Instead, she held the gift up for everyone to see, a very pink “Ladies Tool Kit,” turning it so the WalMart price tag, $14.99 marked down to $9.99, was visible only to her. But Charles had noticed her notice, and he blushed miserably before her, even as he stammered a polite, “You’re welcome.” The blush only accentuated the pimples spread across his face, and Gloria had the urge to grab the child’s nearly man-sized hand and flee the capitalistic den of consumerist iniquity other wise known as her son and daughter in law’s home, with its smells of chemically scented potpourri and its perfect artificial Christmas tree glowing in its elegant corner. She wanted to go into hiding with the boy, this boy, her only grandson and heir to all the experience of her life time’s work for political and economic justice. WalMart, of all places. She had just been picketing at WalMart, and now, this?
“We hope you like it,” her daughter in law spoke up perkily. The daughter in law stood and moved beside the boy, trying awkwardly to put her arm around him. The boy was a full head taller than his mother now, and Gloria saw a look of annoyance cross his features and his shoulders tighten as he subtly tried to move out of her grasp. The mother’s red nails dug into his arm, and he ceased to struggle.
“Charles thought you might like it, didn’t you Charles? We saw that little tool set the other day while we were out shopping and thought how perfect it would be for you. I know how handy you are. ‘She can fix just about anything,’” The daughter in law aimed this comment towards her own parents, sitting across the room, stiffly, like bookends on the shelf of the couch. “I don’t know how Justy missed learning at least a little home maintenance from you. Maybe I will have to get another tool set for Charles so you can teach him instead, and maybe we can get a few things fixed around here.” This comment sounded to Gloria as if it was intended to land a barb first in her son’s flesh, but she realized she needn’t have been concerned.
Justice, her son, sat in the farthest corner of the room, totally engrossed in his I phone. He appeared to have tuned out the entire Christmas gift exchange extravaganza just as successfully as he had tuned out most things in his life, Gloria’s attempts at political and economic justice education and car and home maintenance lessons included. Despite this, or perhaps because of this, he had managed to move himself from the bottom one percent of the economic spectrum, to which he had been born and raised, to the top one percent. A thought came to Gloria, surprising and unwelcome. “They could have afforded something nicer. They didn’t HAVE to shop at WalMart.” Gloria put the thought away, quickly, appalled, and agreed that yes, she would love to teach Charles everything she knew about how to maintain a home.
Justice snorted, loudly, from his corner. Then he put a handkerchief to his nose, as if he were covering up a sneeze. He did not break eye contact with his phone, and nobody offered a “Gesundheit.”
“Well,” the daughter in law said brightly, releasing her son, “Who’s hungry? I think it’s time to eat!”