I have a well-worn copy of The Secret History on my bookshelf. It’s written by Donna Tartt and, as far as I’m concerned, is far superior to her recent novel The Goldfinch.
From the book’s jacket: “Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality their lives are changed profoundly and forever, and they discover how hard it can be to truly live and how easy it is to kill.”
That description makes it sound like a cheap thriller, but really it’s a thoughtful, philosophical work of literature.
The Secret History is an intriguing study of otherness, narrated by a young man looking from the outside in. The narrator is Richard Papen, an aimless college student who has escaped his lower-class life in California and becomes enamored of his wealthy classmates.
I think one of the reasons I like this book is that I identify with Richard’s background. I was raised in the mountain coalfields of Appalachia by poor parents. Many of my fellow students at the University of Virginia were wealthy—some were filthy rich—and the lives they led confounded me. My college years were marked by a distinct feeling of being out of place.
Richard spends most of the novel watching his classmates without investing his true self in his relationships with them. I understand that as well. Often I felt as if I needed to be someone else in order to be accepted. Certainly that’s a feeling a lot of college students have, but I think those who “grow up hard” experience it with such intensity that they struggle throughout their undergraduate journey.
Here’s an excerpt from The Secret History.
The Lord of the Rings is my favorite book. Of all books. Of all time. I've read it at least fifty times.
My uncle gave me my first copy of the trilogy plus The Hobbit when I was eleven. I was hooked immediately. Although I've owned several versions, including some collector's editions, I still have that first set. The tattered covers are held fast by clear tape.
There is so much to love about Middle Earth. Growing up, I daydreamed a lot about living in the treetops of Lothlorien or navigating the dark passages of Moria. I developed crushes on Faramir and Legolas. I rooted for Sam Gamgee and wept for tired, pitiful Smeagol. I pondered the origins of Tom Bombadil and his lady Goldberry. I shuddered when Frodo and Sam crawled through the Dead Marshes.
LOTR taught me important lessons about loyalty and true friendship, perseverance, courage when all seems lost, and integrity. It also showed me that hope and light can be found in the most unlikely of places.
Here's a link to the official online bookshop for Tolkien.
Recently I called on Facebook followers to give me ideas for this blog.
It was suggested that I should blog about needing ideas for my blog, making the process part of the final product. So that's what I'm doing.
Believe it or not, it's a lot easier to come up with ideas for short stories, poems, and novels than it is to think of interesting topics for a blog. A blog needs to have the right balance of content.
One purpose of this blog and my website is to share news with readers, including news about upcoming publications, speaking engagements, and purchasing information. Herein lies the balanced content problem. I could make every blog post a sales pitch: Buy my books! Attend my reading! Click on this link! That wears thin. After all, who wants to be subjected to a constant stream of sales pitches?
Because I don't want to bore or alienate my readers and followers with self-serving content, I try to include other interesting topics. For example, I have a series of posts about authors I love. Other posts include articles about Appalachia or advice on writing. Sometimes I share excerpts from my work or links to complete pieces.
I don't know if I've achieved the right balance, but that's my aim. I guess what I'm saying is that I want this blog to be a site you enjoy visiting.
I love it when I can say one of my favorite writers is someone I know.
Rita Quillen is a native of Scott County, Virginia. She is a poet and novelist. Her work includes several collections of poetry, the novel Hiding Ezra, and contributions to a number of anthologies.
Rita was a semi-finalist for Poet Laureate of Virginia a few years ago. She has received numerous accolades for her work, including two Pushcart nominations.
She is a musician, has been a teacher, and is one of the coolest people I know.
Here's a link to some of her poems that are published by The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.
I've been a guest on several radio programs but my favorite experience has to be the first time Henry McCarthy interviewed me. He's a master of putting his guests at ease and he really digs deep with his questions. He's funny and charming and very knowledgeable about writers and writing. He's also a poet.
Henry's show Poets and Writers is broadcast on Emory and Henry's radio station, WEHC 90.7 and as the name implies, it showcases poets and writers.
A collection of recordings from Henry's show is found in The Southern Folklife Collection at the Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Below are parts 1 and 2 of my first interview. This took place in the spring of 2010, I believe. I performed readings from St. Peter's Monsters and Sawmill Boys, but the conversation also veered onto topics such as The Beatles, Charles Bukowski, and Edgar Allan Poe.
I guess her most famous work, widely read in schools, is her short story "The Lottery."
I'm fond of her books, particularly The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle.
THoHH is by far my favorite haunted house tale, but it's much more than that. It's a study of Eleanor, a young woman who's a bundle of neuroses. Eleanor has developed a daydreaming habit as a coping mechanism. Her inner world is quite rich:
“I could live there all alone, she thought, slowing the car to look down the winding garden path to the small blue front door with, perfectly, a white cat on the step. No one would ever find me there, either, behind all those roses, and just to make sure I would plant oleanders by the road. I will light a fire in the cool evenings and toast apples at my own hearth. I will raise white cats and sew white curtains for the windows and sometimes come out of my door to go to the store to buy cinnamon and tea and thread. People will come to me to have their fortunes told, and I will brew love potions for sad maidens; I will have a robin...”
Ultimately Eleanor's fanciful thinking takes her down a path of darkness
The other memorable character that Jackson created is Merricat Blackwood, the teenage narrator of WHALitC. Like Eleanor, she is extremely troubled. She's also an unreliable narrator. Jackson introduces us to her in grand fashion:
"My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the deathcup mushroom… Everyone else in my family is dead."
If you haven't read any of Jackson's work since reading "The Lottery," check out her novels. You won't regret it.
I wish I had the opportunity to meet Lou Crabtree. She was a native of Washington County, Virginia.
She died in 2006, just as I was starting to think of myself as a real writer.
Some of her poetry boggles the mind. For her biography and more information about her work, click here.
One of my favorite poems of hers is called "He Cut My Garden Down." Its stark imagery and matter-of-fact verse convey how a wife can come to hate an abusive and oppressive husband.
The Commonwealth of Virginia declared her a Laureate of Literature in 1988.
I'm honored to have a short story accepted by Still: The Journal, a literary site founded and edited by Silas House and Marianne Worthington.
I'm not sure when it will be published. February, maybe.
Article by Joe Nutt, on Spiked-Online.com.
"Words are so quickly and so easily traded that they are in danger of appearing just as grubby and manhandled as common currency. Technology has contracted the period between thought and expression to the mere seconds it takes to stab a few words out on a keyboard."
"In poetry we road-test words to destruction; squeeze impossibilities out of them and combine them to form beautiful structures unimaginable in any other context."
Authors I Love: Ron Rash.
I'm in awe of this writer. His poetry is wonderful and his novels stay with you.
One Foot in Eden is my favorite of his works. I've read it three times. In fact, I once read it aloud to a person who told me he didn't like to read.
I encourage all you young writers out there to keep plugging away at it. Don't get disheartened.
For every success I post here, I have multiple rejections.
If you are a writer, you WILL be rejected. Develop a thick skin. Learn from constructive criticism and ignore the rest. Especially ignore the little devil on your shoulder who tells you to give up because you're no good.
Finally, do your research before submitting your work. Make sure you're sending it to the magazines, agents, and publishers most appropriate for your style and subject matter. Be methodical in your submission process and keep track of everything.
My story "Once You've Been a Fox" appears in Quail Bell Magazine. Read it here.
"Quail Bell Magazine is a multimedia publication that explores the imaginary, the nostalgic, and the otherworldly through the highest quality creative and journalistic content. This includes culture, commentary, original literature, and many oddities."
I'm excited to share the news that my work will appear in Shepherd University's 2018 Anthology of Appalachian Writers, Wiley Cash Volume X. It's scheduled to be published in April 2018.
I'm thrilled to share the news that I've been awarded a fellowship for the Bloodroot Mountain Writer-in-Residence Program.
The residency will allow me to spend a week in a quiet writing space amidst 17 acres of forest farm in Tennessee. Sometime this spring or summer I'll be writing and meditating in a converted timber frame barn.
Bloodroot Mountain is a project of New York Times bestselling author Amy Greene and her husband, poet and writer Trent Thompson. I'm grateful to them for the opportunity to think and write in such a beautiful setting.
I'm happy to report that one of my poems, published years ago by Bluestone Review, will be republished by a different journal in 2018.
This journal focuses on our engagement with the natural world and the resulting environmental crises.
Thank you, Dominique Traverse Locke, for inviting me to speak to Castlewood High School students. They were attentive and curious and fun. I really enjoyed it! I also enjoyed the works of the other authors, Willie Dalton and Rebecca Elswick.
I'm pleased to announce that one of my flash fiction stories has been published by Pif Magazine. Read "Remodel" here.
An excerpt from “Bobby Boyd’s Bad Eyes.” Inwood Indiana: Reaping (August 2016).
I had to apologize to Izzy for doubting him. Sure enough, that pony could play.
His name was Molasses and that’s what color he was, although his mane was as black as Bobby’s eyes. He stood just outside the back of the house with his head poking through an open window. We sat at a round table pushed up against the wall. When it was Molasses’ turn to play, Bobby would hold the cards up to him and he would nuzzle one to throw down. Every so often Bobby would feed him an apple slice or a baby carrot from a bowl under the table.
Now, a poker-playing pony is an amazing sight, but one that wins the game? I have to say, it was a little humbling. I’d never been a great poker player anyway, so I took it all in stride. Cal, on the other hand, got really mad. He had laid out a full house, sure that he had the winning hand. When Bobby showed the table Molasses’ straight flush, Cal turned as pink as a cat’s tongue. He cussed and shoved his chips across the table. One bounced up and hit the pony on the muzzle.
Bobby came across the table at Cal. The man would have gotten an ass-shining for sure if Izzy and Dennis hadn’t pulled Bobby off him. That kind of put a damper on the whole proceeding, so Dennis and Cal struck out for home. Izzy made as if to go too, but I hung back.
“I’ll bring her home,” Bobby told him.
I could see Izzy wasn’t comfortable leaving me there but I didn’t care. I grinned and waggled my fingers at him. Hit the road, Cuz!
I watched the jeep’s taillights disappear into the darkness, then stood on the porch listening to the crickets. The sound washed over me, followed by a tidal wave of despair. For a moment, I felt the urge to run up the long, rocky driveway. I changed my mind, Izzy, I wanted to shout.
Tom Petty was right. The waiting IS the hardest part.
This is a screenshot of my Submittable queue. Some of these pieces have been "in-progress" since June.
If patience is a virtue, I'm a wicked woman.
Like many writers, I hoard words and phrases.
I keep mine in idea notebooks. I have about twenty of them tucked away in drawers and on shelves, in my purse and in my car, and in my laptop bag.
You never know when inspiration will strike and you'll need to record it. Sometimes I use the memo app or voice recorder on my phone, but I prefer to put pen to paper when I receive a message from my muse.
This notebook is unusual. It contains typed ideas. Sometimes I write bits of verse or prose on scraps of paper, old envelopes, sticky notes, or faded receipts. Those are hard to keep up with (they flutter away like confetti at a parade), so I transcribe them into a Word document and print them for future use.
I added a little flourish to this photo to show how magical it feels when I open one of my notebooks for an unused idea.
How do you keep track of your ideas?
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