April showers bring May flowers: here’s flower lady Lynne Schwartz-Barker

Lynne Schwartz-Barker is a garden designer and writer. She wrote Gardenscape, a freelance column for the Sunday Gazette-Mail for 21 years, retiring it in 2006 to work on a novel. She and her husband Jerry own Flowerscape, a garden design, planting and maintenance company.

What prompted you to write the story, “The Climb”?

In 1989, we adopted our son Rafael who was 4 years old. We travelled to Bogota, Colombia, and spent 10 days there, hosted by a wonderful family. One afternoon, Jerry took our older son Eamon upstairs for a nap and Rafael and I were alone on the playground. He was like a little expressionless robot climbing the steps to the slide, and sliding down, then going back to the steps to repeat the pattern over and over again. I thought, I bet no one has ever caught him and went to the bottom of the slide, crouched down and held my arms out. When he saw me, a smile lit his little face and he slid into my arms. That image has stayed with me all these years and was I where I began this story.

Did you envision an audience when you wrote this piece? If so, who?

I wrote it for every Mom and Dad who have struggled with parenthood. You don’t have to pass a test to become a parent. There are no guidelines. We’re all running on faith. And at some point, that faith is tested.  How are you going to reach your child, how are you going to affect positive change? In “The Climb,” Julia, who has no parenting experience, ponders these questions and has the glimmer of an answer at the end of the story.

I know writing is not your only passion (or your first amongst the creative endeavors). Tell us about your background with your first passion.

I’ve always been a writer. I wrote for a trade magazine covering store design when I lived in New York. I sold freelance pieces and did public relations after I moved to West Virginia in 1977. But my other passion is plants and so, despite my degree in English literature, I decided to go to work for a garden center and learn all about the plant business. Customers started to ask me to design their gardens and give lectures to garden clubs. After a few years at the garden center, I left to start Flowerscape. Then I took every class and went to every seminar I could afford to learn more and of course, read books and magazines galore. After 29 years in business, I still have a passion for plants and love designing gardens.

What is your current writing project?

I’m almost finished with my novel, Blackwell. It’s set in 1895 in the southern coal fields of West Virginia. The main character is a young New York woman who journeys to the town of Blackwell to design gardens for the emerging coal barons. It’s the story of what happens to her there.

What other writing projects are you planning?

 I envision Blackwell as the first book in a trilogy. I’m also working on short stories and have submitted a new one to the WV Writers’ Competition.

What other types of writing have you done?

 Mostly non-fiction. A travel article for an airline magazine. The articles for the trade magazine I worked for. Freelance features for the Charleston Gazette as well as my weekly gardening column. And I was assistant editor for a short-lived publication called WV Arts News and wrote features and reviews.

What author(s) do you admire the most? Why?

 I seem to gravitate towards dead women authors from the turn of the last century: Edith Wharton, Sarah Orne Jewett, Willa Cather. It’s a period of time that fascinates me and each incorporates the natural world into their stories. I’m currently reading Once Upon A River by Bonnie Jo Campbell and loving it for the same reason. I’m also crazy about Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series set in Botswana, Africa. He’s made me love Botswana, a place I’d never even considered before. I’m hoping my Blackwell series will do the same for West Virginia, my adopted state that I love with all my heart.

Who has been a mentor/adviser/coach for you in writing?

Dan Harrison, my editor at the trade magazine, taught me how to write coherently and how to explain complex ideas simply. Doug Imbrogno, my editor at the Charleston Gazette, taught me not to waste my opening lines on trivia. I took two classes with Geoff Fuller and they were a tremendous help in starting to write fiction. And my writer’s group, Sundays at 2, has taught me more than I can thank them for: how to write a novel that someone will want to read.

Write to this prompt:

Musette is a writer, a cook, and a gardener. She is meandering in her garden in early spring and happens upon a clump of jonquils, the first blooms she’s seen so far. She stoops to pluck them, but hesitates. She is remembering her mother, Jacqueline, who passed away a year ago. They were her mother’s favorite flowers.

            When Musette was a little girl, her mother would dress her in her Sunday coat, hat and gloves, and take her to a mansion on top of a hill. It was always a sunny, warm day in the middle of March. Jacqueline would ring the bell and a manservant would answer the door.

“Ah, Jacqueline,” he would say. “You are here for the jonquils. And who is this little beauty?”

“Musette,” the little girl would pipe up, and he would pretend not to recognize her since she’d grown so much.

“Musette,” he would finally say, “You look like a young lady that would like some tea. Shall you take it on the back terrace?”

And so Musette and her mother would walk around to the back of the mansion and there would be a table set with linens. The manservant would bring them a pot of tea, china cups with saucers, and the most delicious petit four cakes and marzipan sweets shaped like little fruits. From the terrace they gazed out on a vast lawn starred with jonquils of all types, large flowered and small, in shades of yellow, orange and white. Bees would buzz through the flowers and the sweet scent would drift up to the terrace. Musette ached to run down the lawn and roll in the sweet new grass, something she was never allowed to do.  After their tea, Musette and Jacqueline were allowed to pick exactly 24 flowers.

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Laura Treacy Bentley: Poet and Fiction Writer

Laura Treacy Bentley is a poet and fiction writer. She has served as writer in residence for three years at the Marshall University Writing Project, and she is the book editor for WV Living: http://www.wvlivingmagazine.com. Poetry is her first love, but writing fiction is her newest love. She has just published The Silver Tattoo, a dark literary thriller set in mythical Ireland and is hard at work on a second novel. She was born in Hagerstown, Maryland, but has lived most of her life in Huntington, West Virginia. Check out Laura’s website: http://www.lauratreacybentley.com/thesilvertattoo.htm

 Who or what was your inspiration for “Caving”?

I had major surgery a few years ago, and it took me months to recover. My friend Eddy unfortunately had a setback, too, so we decided to do something exciting/challenging/unique to celebrate when we were better. I think I had wanted to climb a mountain or do a zipline, but since she was afraid of heights and I had never been caving before, it became our goal to drive to Laurel Cave in Kentucky. I’m pretty fearless most of the time, but this pushed me to my limits. The experience stayed with me, so it eventually became a poem that turned out to represent much more than caving.

How long does it take you to write a poem the length of “Caving”? Poems in general?

Well, a long time. Sometimes weeks or months. Every time I return to a poem that I think is complete, I revise it again. There’s one poem that I’ve been revising for decades, so I think it’s time to just let it go. Most of the time when a poem comes together for me—I get a feeling when I read it aloud that tells me it’s done. Once a poem is published, I will never change it. Some poets revise their earlier work for new journals or collections, etc., but I think they need to accept that even though they have probably grown as a poet, their earlier poems reflect their life and thoughts and emotions at that moment in time, and there’s a beauty in that.

Who inspired you to become a poet?

One of my English teachers at West Junior High, Mrs. Barrett, used to read a few poems aloud to my class. One short poem, “The Pasture” by Robert Frost, remains indelible. She read it several times with such joy and wonder that I can still see her in my mind’s eye. Frost invited the reader to come with him to see the calf with her mother when he said “You come too,” I loved the invitation, the intimacy of it all. I later wrote my first poem at West for a poetry project, and I still have it somewhere. I think a teacher’s power to capture a child’s imagination cannot be underestimated.
Tell us about your books.

Lake Effect is my first poetry collection. Although I had been published widely in the United States and Ireland, the market for poetry is very small, so I was thrilled when Bottom Dog Press wanted to publish my book in 2006. Poems represent a poet’s journey, and if the poem’s words connect with a reader, make them feel something, that’s the very best part. A poet doesn’t have to have a book or ten books or be on a map or live in New York City to be a good poet. They just need to learn Emily’s definition of poetry: “If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?”

My first novel is The Silver Tattoo, and it’s being released in early April 2013 in paperback and as an ebook. It’s a dark literary thriller set in Ireland. Talk about a roller coaster ride! You can read all about it in the Acknowledgements of my novel. Good things come to those who wait, or those who dream big!

What writers were an influence on your writing?

Oh, so many. Paula Meehan, William Stafford, Eavan Boland, Ted Kooser, Sylvia Plath, Ray Bradbury, Naomi Shihab Nye, Truman Capote, Jill Bialosky, James Dickey, Sara Teasdale, Dylan Thomas, Cynthia Rylant, Raymond Chandler, Amy Lowell, William Golding, Harriet Arnow, Charlotte Bronte, Thomas Wolfe, somebody stop me!

Do you live the writer’s life? If not, then what would that life look like?

I think I definitely do! I’ve been the book editor for WV LIVING magazine since its inception, so I’m constantly reading, researching, writing, and revising my interviews and features for “Conversations,” the name of my series in the magazine. I’ve been editing The Silver Tattoo, compiling a new poetry collection, and preparing to present two workshops at the WV Writers Conference this summer, as well as to teach creative writing for three weeks at the West Virginia Governor’s School for the Arts at Davis & Elkins. I’m also helping plan the second Word & Song Café during Old Central City Days, and I participated in NaNoWriMo and wrote a draft of a new novel this past November in one month. I think I’m obsessed, in a good way!
How often do you write?

Almost every day, but I have lulls just like everyone else. Last year my mother, my sister-in-law, and Ray Bradbury died, so I couldn’t focus on writing for a long time. Death and disappointment became a sad refrain, but I’ve turned a corner and am excited about the future.

Write to this prompt: Dogwoods and Redbuds bloom in WV in profusion every spring. You are in a grove of these trees, a faint, early spring sun filtering through the blossomed branches. The air here is soft, and you feel almost as if you are floating. You turn and there is . . . an old woman.

Firsts

Each year an old woman marks her calendar

when fireflies first candle the dark,

when a veil of starlings

fold and unfold across the September sky,

when the mountain waterfall

finally surrenders its motion to ice,

and redbud blooms again

beside the wild dogwood.

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Patricia Hopper Patteson writes from West Virginia, but it sure feels like it’s coming from Ireland!

My name is Patricia Hopper Patteson and I’m a native of Dublin, Ireland. I have an M.A. from WVU in Education Leadership.  I received honors from WVU such as the Waitman Barbe Creative Writing Award and the Virginia Butts Sturm Award while working on my B.A. I also received literary awards from the West Virginia Writers’ competitions ranging from second place to honorable mention. I’ve been published (fiction and non-fiction) in the U.S. and Ireland in magazines, reviews, and anthologies.

Patricia is the author of “Broken Chain” in Fed From the Blade.

1.      When did you first begin writing?

I always enjoyed writing, but never took it very seriously until I started working on my undergraduate degree, which for me, happened later than most. I was already married and the mother of two children. I started out as an accounting major when I took a creative writing class as part of my core studies. I became hooked and changed my major from Accounting to English.

2.      What writer’s style has influenced you the most?

Some writers that I admire include: Deirdre Purcell, Margaret Atwood, Morgan Llywelyn and Michael Connelly.

3.      How many different genres do you write?

I write short story, novel, and nonfiction.

4.      Were (are) there other writers in your family? Who and what did (do) they write?

If you asked me how many accountants are in my family, I could probably say there’s enough to audit Fort Knox. However, they can all claim the gift of the gab, and will embellish even the worst story to make it sound good. More seriously, I have a cousin who’s a journalist, and a great-aunt who published poetry. Both my sisters are good writers and my older brother dabbles in poetry. But they’ve never pursued writing to become published.

5.      How did you come to West Virginia?

I came to West Virginia by way of Italy. My ex-husband was in the US Air Force. We met by accident when he was on TDY in Italy and stopped in Venice where I worked with tourists as a salesclerk/interpreter. We later married in Germany and I came to the States. He’s from West Virginia.

6.      Who or what in West Virginia inspires you in your writing?

I really enjoy Denise Giardina’s novels about West Virginia. She has a way of capturing the dialect, the essence, struggles and the history of Southern West Virginia. She takes you into that world, the same way that Roddy Doyle defines certain parts of Dublin where the old dialect is potent. He can speak eloquently, but when he’s around old pals he reverts to the old Dublin dialect. He portrays it perfectly in his novels and stories.

           7. Why did you send your piece that is included in Fed From the Blade?

I wrote “Broken Chain” for my family and I’m delighted to see it published. For most of her life, my mother was ashamed of her fosterage—intellectually she understood that her mother was young and naïve when she became pregnant and was disowned by her family. But my mother had trouble coming to terms with abandonment, although she didn’t find out she was a foster child until she was 14 years old. My sister wanted to give my mother a sense of belonging, which is why she set out to find the identity of our grandmother. I think most people can relate to that need for belonging in their lives.

8.   Write to this scenario: You are peacefully floating along in a canoe on a serene lake in Ireland with yourself when you were 15. Give that 15-year-old you what you want her to know about her ancestry in Ireland and about being a writer.

To be Irish is to come from a country and know her long struggle for independence and identity. To know from history if you set a goal and believe in it strongly enough you will succeed—but expect to fail at times along the way. There are living stories of mythology, Christianity, poverty, struggle and independence carved into the Irish landscape that can also be felt in the laughter and warmth of the people. As my sister said when she returned from Australia to live back in Ireland—life is softer there.

 

 

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Belinda Anderson and Witchy Wanda

Belinda Anderson is the author of a new middle-grade fantasy novel and three short story collections, published by Mountain State Press. She serves as a state judge in the national Letters About Literature contest and as a judge for the Monroe Arts Alliance’s creative writing contest for students. Belinda mentors emerging writers as a Master Artist through the West Virginia Division of Culture and History. Her own work earned her a place on the first Literary Map of West Virginia. Belinda holds a degree in news-editorial journalism and a master’s degree in liberal arts studies. Her new book is Jackson vs Witchy Wanda: Making Kid Soup.

Why did you answer the call for submissions for Fed From the Blade?

I thought it would be great to be included in a showcase sampling from the membership of West Virginia Writers, Inc., an organization that has been very important to me. I also responded because I knew Cat Pleska was going to be the senior editor, ensuring a quality product.

How did you decide what to submit?

I’m probably best known for my short stories. I thought it’d be good to stretch a bit, and so I sent in a piece of nonfiction, a humorous first-person essay.

Make a one-sentence synopsis of your first three books.

My short story collections are about ordinary people who experience the extraordinary, with bits of hope and humor.

What is your newest book about? Is this going to be the first in a series?

My newest book is a middle-grade fantasy novel. It could be a series, though the story does come to a resolution. As a reader, I really dislike coming to the end of a book, only to find it breaks off in mid-action. But I really liked my characters and would enjoy plotting with them again.

Why did you decide to write this different genre of book?

A couple of reasons motivated me to write for a younger audience. Elementary schools started inviting me to make presentations because of my short-story collections. Even though I wrote those books with adult readers in mind, the vocabulary is pretty accessible. I discovered that I really liked interacting with the students and started thinking it would be wonderful to write something for them. At the same time, I was starting to buy books for my great-nephew. As I previewed them, I discovered that I really liked these books myself. I truly enjoy this genre as a reader.

Who is your literary hero? Why?

What an intriguing question. Louisa May Alcott immediately comes to mind. As a child, I was inspired by her character of the budding writer Jo in Little Women. As an adult, I was inspired by how she faced adversity in her personal life.

Who or what in West Virginia inspires you in your writing?

The land and its people. The land, because of its beauty and its ancient energy. The people, who personify the trait of perseverance that I admired in Louisa May Alcott.

Who is the most famous person (in your opinion) you’ve ever met? What did you say to him/her?

Hmm, the first name that comes to mind is Sam Walton, the founder of the Wal-Mart chain. As a young newspaper reporter, I was sent to interview him when he came to the opening of a new Sam’s Wholesale Club. At the time, he was listed as the richest person in America.

But the most thrilling meeting with a famous person would have to be encountering George Takei at a book signing in California. Most of us know him from his role of Sulu in the Star Trek television series, but he also wrote a very moving account of being a Japanese American child relocated to an internment camp during World War II.  When I had the chance to speak with him briefly, instead of raving about how much I loved Star Trek, I found myself asking him about his parents’ citizenship.

Pretend you are in the fifth grade. Write a book report on Jackson vs. Witchy Wanda as a 5th grader might.

What a fun prompt! I’m inspired by comments made by one of my great-nephews when he was in fifth grade. He told me he likes a mix of characters: “some evil, some good, some mysterious, some devious.” He was also explicit about this element: “No romance.” I’m also inspired by the entries I’ve been reading as a state judge for Letters About Literature, in which children write to authors about how books have changed their lives. Here we go:

If you like books with action and suspense and funny stuff, read Jackson vs. Witchy Wanda: Making Kid Soup. If you’re like me and Jackson, you’ll be suspicious of that woman in the dark robe getting off the train. And, if you’re like me and Jackson, you’ll want to know what she’s up to, especially with “making kid soup” in the book’s title. And what’s the deal with the dummy in the department store window? Read Jackson vs. Witchy Wanda and find out.

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Frank Larnerd: Mr. Ghoul

Frank Larnerd was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, and spent much of his childhood engrossed in weird stories of monsters, mutants, and other worlds. He has worked as a morgue night watchman, shoe salesman, and color commentator for IWA: East Coast wrestling.

Although he is best known for his unique blend of traditional Appalachian folklore and unsettling horror, Frank has also published numerous science fiction and crime stories.

Currently, Frank studies Professional Writing at West Virginia State University, where he has received multiple awards for fiction and non-fiction.

He lives in Putnam County, West Virginia.

When did you begin reading consistently and what authors and genres did you like?

I was reading independently at 5 or 6. My mother was a huge reading advocate and encouraged me to explore the library and checkout anything that appealed to me. As a very young reader, I liked Shel Silverstein, Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy Drew, and the Hardy Boys as well as nonfiction books on the supernatural.

How old were you when you realized you wanted to be a writer? What made you realize you wanted to be a writer?

I have always wanted to be a storyteller, whether it was as a comic book artist, filmmaker, or writer. I think that anyone who has ever been inspired, frightened, or moved by a story can’t help but wonder what stories they could tell.

Who else in your family writes creatively?

I come from a long line of fibbers, tall tale tellers, fabulists, bards, and spook story enthusiasts. My parents are both gifted chroniclers and talented writers in their own rights. My brother Dan Larnerd is my writing partner and usually the first person to read a new story. He’s an accomplished published writer, who writes amazing short stories. Sebaston my youngest son also has the writing bug; he had his first publican at 12 and has been writing ever since.

Describe your writing space.

My four year old has taken over my office. Currently, I have been exiled to the back bedroom.
As bad as that sounds, it’s got a TV, a chair, and my laptop. What more could a writer need?

Where do you see yourself as an author 5 years from now? 15 years? 50 years?

In 5 years, I’d like to have some moderate success with a few anthologies and novels. In 15 years, I’d like to transition into screenwriting and film making. In 50 years, I’d love for my work to be known for its quality and less for who created it.

If you could meet any author living or dead, who would it be and why? What would you say?

Mark Twain because of his humor, vast experience, and depth of heart. I wouldn’t say anything to him though, I’d just listen.

What makes you afraid?

As a writer who writes a lot about monsters, you might think I would be afraid of ghosts, vampires, or something like that. Honestly, the things that scare me are very human things. Are my kids safe? Am I a good husband? Is my temper out of control? What if something horrible happens? Those fears drive my writing. Many times, stories are a way for me to confront my own fears; the reader just gets a front row seat.

Where do you think you fit within the literary history of West Virginia literature?

I don’t think I do at the moment. The writing community here is very close knit and expects a lot out its writers. I hope to keep on plugging along and little by little impress them, until they have no choice but to notice me.

Write to this prompt:

There’s a knock at your door. When you open it, a young man, clearly nervous, is standing on the other side. He doesn’t speak at first. Just stares at you. Finally, he stammers. “Take the blue pill, whatever you do.” And then he bolts away.

 

All right, here you go. Quick and dirty…

Lick My Lizard

“Y’all ain’t got nothing on me,” I said into the headset.

Using the controller, I scooted my car on the TV screen past a roaring green stock-car and grinned.

“Rubbing is racing, fellers.”

It was Sunday, a little past eleven. The gray September light had just started to creep into the trailer’s windows, along with the whoops and hollers of the neighborhood brats.

I was still dressed in my boxers and bathrobe; a half-eaten bowl of Captain Crunch sat on the table across from me.

Holly lay beside me on the couch, asleep, dressed in bright pink panties and one of my Metallica t-shirts. She looked like a dreaming pixie princess with her pale, sparkling skin and electric blue hair.

The TV roared as I swung my car around the next curve. A red stock car nosed around me, cutting me off. I was pointing the controller after him, when there was a knock at the door.

I ignored it and squeezed the buttons on the controller, watching my car soar down the track. As I neared the lead car, the knock came again. On the screen, the cars slammed together. There was a crunch of pixels as my car slid off the track and exploded.
Cursing, I switched off the PlayStation.

After undoing the security chain, I opened the door and blinked into the daylight. On my porch was a young guy dressed in a faded flannel shirt, his Sycamore Landscaping ball cap was pulled low, hiding his eyes. Behind him, I could see the neighborhood kids horsing around. I barely noticed their wet pant legs, or the buckets they slogged to an empty spot between two vacant trailers.

The young guy leaned in close, his breath like butane. “Take the blue pill, whatever you do.”

As soon as he said it, he bolted off around the corner of the trailer.

My cousin, Donnie Withrow. Half-crazy, half-stupid, and a hundred percent trouble.

“Donnie,” I growled. “Get your butt in here ‘fore the neighbors see you.”

His face peeked around the edge of the trailer, a grin showing under the shade of his hat. I rolled my eyes and went back inside.

I threw a speckled afghan over Holly as Donnie clomped in, slamming the screen door behind him. I put a finger to my lips and motioned for Donnie to follow me back to the bedroom.

Once the door was closed, I lit a cigarette and sat down on the bed. I rubbed at my stubble and asked, “What the hell you want, Donnie? Don’t you owe me twenty-five dollars? Ain’t no way you’re gettin’ a front.”

He sat down across from me at Holly’s makeup table. “Come on, cousin,” Donnie said. “It ain’t like that; I’m here to give you something.”

I blew out a cloud of smoke and noticed the rectangular blue Tupperware box in his hands, hands that were pale and sweaty looking.

“You back on the crystal?”

Donnie tugged at the brim of his ball cap, lowering it further. “Naw, it ain’t like that, man. This stuff is way better, and it’s natural and legal.”

“What you got there?” I asked, nodding at his Tupperware box.

“Something special. I’m tryin’ to tell you.”

His oily white hands caressed the box, searching for the corners. As he peeled back the top, the smell of dirty, stagnant water escaped. Inside the box, something splashed and slithered about.

Carefully, Donnie reached inside. There was more splashing as his hand latched on to something. He brought the struggling thing up and held it to my face.

“Check it out.”

It was nearly three feet long, dark brown with loose leprous-looking skin that pulsed and undulated in a strange, alien way. It had a long paddled tail and four stubby legs. The thing’s head was flat with tiny, milky gray eyes that were barely visible. Its mouth was wide and fat like a frog’s, and it was trying to bite Donnie’s fingers.

I crushed out my cigarette. “What I want with a snot otter? Rather you just give me my twenty five-bucks.”

“Snot otter?” Donnie smirked as the salamander wriggled in his fists. “Is that what it’s called?”

The thing’s mouth opened and closed, snapping at the air while its tail flopped around, dribbling slime on my carpet.

I said, “Daddy called ‘em hellbenders. Heard folks call ‘em mud devils, or Allegheny alligators. Used to see a mess of ‘em back when I would go crawfishing out at Paint Creek.”

“You know they’ll get you high?” Donnie asked.

“Bull… if that’s true, how come nobody ever noticed it before?”

“Maybe it’s a mutation from all that crap they put in the water, or maybe they’re evolving, or maybe it’s always been that way, but nobody’s ever been brave enough to try it.”

“Donnie,” I said. “You’re about one brain cell from a talking monkey, you know that?”

“The kids at the other end of the trailer park showed me. Levi, Shaun, and Mary Katharine’s boy, they was all them doing it. They say it’s more popular than Justin Beiber. Now, just give it a couple licks and… whew, I tell you son, it will send you up like a rocket.”

Donnie held the hellbender out to me. “Go on, try it.”

The mucus-covered thing fidgeted and flopped in front of me, thick ropes of slime dripped from its rotten-looking flesh. It smelled awful; a mix of fish, funk, and rot.

“Like hell, Donnie,” I said. “I ain’t gunna do no such thing.”

Laughing, Donnie brought the salamander up to his own face. “I done it twice now, it don’t hurt none.”

He stretched the creature out, exposing its belly. I tried to turn my head, but I found myself looking.

Donnie swiped his tongue over the thing’s stomach. He slurped at it like it was a vanilla ice-cream cone, savoring the taste as the slimy thing squirmed and snapped in his hands.

After four good licks, Donnie set the hellbender back in the blue Tupperware box. He leaned back, eyes closed, as an expression of bliss washed over his face. Thick strands of cloudy mucus hung from his lips, dripping down over Donnie’s feeble goatee. Trembling slightly, he let out a deep breath and smiled.

I lit up another smoke and asked, “You good?”

“Beautiful,” Donnie said, his eyes still closed.

Donnie’s pale skin seemed to go almost translucent. I could see veins and arteries pumping wildly beneath the surface. Donnie’s neck bulged out on both sides, inflating into a fat ring.

I stood up. “Dude, y’alright?”

Donnie started to shake in the chair. His arms flailed at his sides while his feet kicked out spastically.

I snapped my fingers at Donnie’s face. He continued convulsing; foam rose up from his throat.

“Donnie!”

I grabbed the collar of his shirt and shook him. His hat fell off backwards onto the floor as did most of his hair.

Oh God, his face.

Donnie’s skin was waxen and droopy, like a basset hound. Most of the hair on his head was gone, leaving his scalp ruddy and scabby looking.

I yelled his name again and Donnie’s eyes snapped opened.

His eyes were a cloudy gray now, inhuman with no detectable emotion. Donnie shrieked and launched himself at me.

I tripped over my bathrobe, and we fell together onto my bed. Donnie’s skin knotted and blistered into sickly coarse warts as he hovered over me. His teeth snapped inches away from my face. I held him back with one hand, his skin foul and slimy to the touch. He held my right hand down against the mattress with a webbed-clawed hand, his nails slicing into my skin.

In my fingers was my cigarette.

Donnie’s mouth opened, a long black glistening tongue rolled out and flopped on my face. I screamed as it retracted back into Donnie’s mouth, pulling a hunk of my cheek along with it.

I yanked my hand free, ignoring the deep scratches his claws made. Jamming one hand under his jaw, I pushed up, locking his teeth together and stabbed the cigarette into his spongy gray eye.

“Donniemander,” or “Saladonnie,” or whatever you want to call him fell back and onto the floor. He pawed at the smoldering filter, kicking and screeching in pain.

I grabbed the baseball bat next to the bed and stood over him.

“Sorry, Cousin.”

After five or six swings, it was over.

Splattered with gore, I stumbled into the living room, calling Holly’s name, telling her to call 911.

She wasn’t on the couch. The speckled afghan was on the floor, along with a spilled bowl of Captain Crunch.

I looked up. The screen door was open, squeaking in the breeze. Outside, I could hear screams, gunshots, and the gurgling laughter of things that used to be children.

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Sherrell Wigal

Sherrell Wigal, long time West Virginia Poet from the Parkersburg area, answers some questions about her writing habits and what inspires her. You’ll find her answers inspirational as well. And speaking of inspiration,  Sherrell’s poem “I am the Daughter” fed the editors the anthology’s title and the poem’s mood and tone speaks to the sensibilities of the works included.

Where is your favorite place to write?

This may sound a little crazy/dangerous but I do a lot of traveling and this leads me to do a lot of drafting while driving.  The majority of the drafting is in my head, and I do carry a portable recorder to get a few initial thoughts down.  I then do most of the “work” on my computer at home – In a nice quiet room upstairs, a room overlooking the street where I currently live.  Sometimes this makes me feel a little like The Lady of Shalott (Tennyson was one of my first poetry loves early in my life).

What inspires you?

Wow, what a wonderful question.  There are so many things that inspire me, but I guess if I were to try to distill it down I would say that I am primarily inspired by life, the sun, the moon, the seasons and their constant turning and then by  people who participate in this life and their reactions to their everyday lives.   I am also greatly influenced by the resiliency of the people from this area (because these are the ones I know on a personal basis).  To quote John Lilly I would say “the extraordinary lives of ordinary people.”

What made you decide to perform poetry?

From an early age my Mother’s family also loved poetry and would recite poems from their childhood.  Long poems, short poems, epic poems, even poems they had written themselves.  I fell in love with the cadence, rhythm and words.  One of my favorite later memories was sitting on a farm porch, my Mother was in her late 80’s and my Uncle, her brother, was past 90.  They spent the entire afternoon as a thunderstorm was rolling in reciting poetry back and forth between each other.  If one forgot a word or line, the other would chime in with the missing phrase and they kept going for almost three (3) hours.  Poetry is meant to be spoken, to be an audio and emotional experience!

Performance poetry was not something that I consciously made a decision to “take-up,” and I do not consider myself a “performance poet” but rather a poet who also performs her work.  Performance seemed rather to fall into place for me.  I believe you must put poetry in your own mouth in order to experience it completely.  That poetry lives best beyond the page.  I have always loved poetry and when one hears a poem directly from the poet’s voice (or anyone’s voice, for that matter) it opens so much more to the experience as I then experience the breath of the reader and their inflections for each word.  Once I hear someone else read their work, if I then read it on the page I always hear that voice, inflection, cadence, accent, and breathing in my head.   Also, whenever I read a poem on the page, I then like to read that poem out-loud as it brings even more to the poem.  On several occasions in the past, I experienced someone else reading some of my poems out-loud, and I was a little disconcerted, not with the reading but rather, with the inflection given various words.  So I knew that if I wanted a reader to breathe when I did and inflect when I did, to know my cadence, I’d have do it myself first.  Kirk Judd definitely was an influence in my deciding to “go public” with my own voice, and he was a great encouragement to me and provided me my first opportunities at performance work.

Tell us about your current/recent class(s) in poetry.

I have taken many poetry classes throughout my lifetime.  I have also conducted several creative writing workshops throughout the State of West Virginia over the years.  Currently I participate in a weekly poetry workshop in Parkersburg, West Virginia, with the Sacred Way Poets which is moderated by Susan Sheppard.  This workshop has been one of the most beneficial workshops I’ve participated in over the years.  This workshop focuses on work in progress, rather than completed work for which one is seeking approval.

Who do you write about the most?

This is a difficult question to answer as it varies each time I sit down to write, but I guess I can say that whatever the subject, I seem to draw on my family and my life.  I am drawn to writers who speak to the spirit in everything and try to use that a lot in my writing also.  Nature and people seem to be a central theme in my writing.

Speak to this: Rust/gold leaf just floated past you on a soft-spoken West Virginia wind. Who or what is it?
The soft-spoken wind which winds sometimes through West Virginia,

Carries every breath and memory, every tear and joy,

Every gospel tune and ballad.

And once on the ridge of an un-named hill, a rust leaf floated down

Into the holler carrying my name, as only my family can call it.

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Eddy Pendarvis

Edwina Dawn Pendarvis

Born in Weeksbury, Kentucky, Edwina (Eddy) Pendarvis spent her childhood in coal towns in eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia, until the family moved to Florida—part of the out-migration of Appalachians that has gone on for the past three-quarters of a century. Now retired from Marshall University, Eddy lives in Huntington, where she does some adjunct teaching and consulting, free-lance writing and editing, and serves as book review editor for Now & Then: The Appalachian Magazine.  Her poems, essays, and stories appear in anthologies and periodicals, such as Appalachian Heritage, Appalachian Journal, Café Review, Indiana Review, and Louisville Review. Her most recent poetry collection, Like the Mountains of China, and a book of family memoirs, Raft Tide and Railroad:  How We Lived and Died, were published by Blair Mountain Press. She has written several young-adult biographies of Nobel Prize Laureates in Literature, published in dual language editions by Shanghai Foreign Language Education Press. Her writing in these and other works reflects her commitment to the Appalachian region and its egalitarian spirit.

Explain “Hallowmas.”

Hallowmas is an old word associated with Halloween. It referred to October 31, now our Halloween, and the two days after it.  These church feast days honored the saints (on November 1, All Saints Day) and, more broadly, all dead loved ones and, later, all the dead, beloved or not (on November 2, All Souls Day). The pagan traditions that cling to Halloween suggest that it was an ancient celebration that predated the masses and rituals established by the church.

 What inspired you to write this story?

An image of a pale, beautiful teenage girl with black hair blown in strands across her face as she stood on a front porch on Halloween night came to me for some reason.  I think she appeared like one of the supernatural creatures from the world beyond this one to right some wrong.  There’s little in the story to suggest that the people she hurt deserved to be hurt.  I’m not even sure she hurt them on purpose or knew what happened to them as she washed their clothes.  But I think that the three parts of the story—her appearance out of the night, her boiling the clothes on the stove in the kitchen, and the priest who blesses her with the sign of the cross at homeless shelter—are linked to the three days of Hallowmas and especially to the idea that the church co-opted an older, pagan celebration when it declared those as holy days.  This is a long explanation of a very short story!

 Have you written other Halloween/spooky-type pieces?

No, my nightmares stay mostly confined to my sleeping hours.  I usually write realistic stories set in the mid-twentieth century and based on real life in the eastern Kentucky coal fields.

What other types of writing do you write? Tell us about your other publications.

I write mostly poetry, essays, and book reviews.  Poetry comes most naturally to me, though, and any other kind of writing is a real struggle between my natural laziness, fear of failure, and the desire to put into words on paper the things I think are beautiful or important.  A list of my publications would include nine nonfiction books, authored or co-authored; two poetry collections; and hundreds of poems, essays, and book reviews—these numbers mostly just let you know I’m old!

What inspired you to write about Pearl Buck?

I read The Good Earth years ago, in college, and admired it; but when I read it again, about ten years ago, after visiting Buck’s birthplace in Hillsboro, West Virginia, I was amazed at how modern her thinking was.  She was so far ahead of her time, and yet also in possession of an old wisdom.  A little later, I happened to observe a classroom—I think it was in a middle school in Richwood—and the students were reading Buck’s story “The Old Demon.”  Those eighth-graders cared so much about whether the old woman died at the end that I knew the story had to be powerful, so I found it and read it.  To me, it’s one of the greatest short stories any American author has ever written.  I wanted everyone, especially young people in West Virginia, to know about her.  I was busy with other projects, so, I tried to convince Christina St. Clair, who had written an article on Pearl Buck for Wonderful West Virginia magazine, to write a children’s biography about Buck.  Christina kept being stubborn and not doing it (she had other projects too), so I finally told her if she wasn’t going to write it I was, but I’d like for her to write it with me. And she did!

 Why did you decide to send this for consideration in Fed from the Blade?

I selected this story mostly because I wanted to submit things that were a little different from what I usually write.

How often do you write creatively and where is your favorite place to compose?

The creative part is debatable, but I write almost every day, usually in a focused way in the morning and just editing—between other chores—in the afternoon.  My desk sits in front of a beautiful Japanese screen, black with greens, blues, gold, and some touches of white and brown.  When I look up from my work, I see a lovely and mysterious world with bamboo fronds, mountains in the distance, and one bird perched on a branch in the foreground.

What advice would you give someone who wants to write a spooky story?

One piece of advice I’d give West Virginia writers especially is to read Davis Grubb’s collection of stories, You Never Believe Me, which has some fine spooky stories in it.  Another good collection is the anthology, American Gothic, which includes among many great stories, one by Hawthorne, one by Melville, and one by Breece D’J Pancake, from Milton, West Virginia!

Do you think you’ll write more spooky stories in the future?

The teenage girl in “Hallowmas” intrigues me, and I think she’ll haunt another story or two.

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