We are pleased to publish Kristen Gentry’s debut short story collection Mama Said this week. The linked stories in Mama Said are set in Louisville, Kentucky, a city with a rich history steeped in tobacco, bourbon, and gambling, indulgences that can quickly become gripping and destructive vices. Set amid the tail end of the crack epidemic and the rise of the opioid crisis, Mama Said evokes Black family life in all its complexity. Maggie Henriksen from Carmichael’s Bookstore said about the book, “The characters contain a depth not often seen in a collection of stories, and readers are sure to be thinking about their lives and relationships long after finishing the last (tear-jerking!) page.” In this Q&A below, Gentry talks with Holly Mitchell of Vesto PR.
What drew you to short fiction?
I gained an appreciation for short fiction in undergrad creative writing classes where I was introduced to stories by ZZ Packer, Junot Diaz, Jamaica Kincaid. That appreciation grew during my graduate study at Indiana University. I love the way characters in a short story can be sharply drawn and feel known, but the form and its economy (of language, plot, setting) create just enough mystery to leave readers wondering about the characters, the motivation for and effect of their choices, and the world they inhabit long after the story ends.
To celebrate the annual meeting of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, all of West Virginia University Press’s new and recent works of fiction, literary nonfiction, and poetry are 30% off with free shipping through April 30, 2023. This discount applies to paperback and electronic editions.
Our exhibit at the AWP meeting will feature display copies for perusal, with all sales handled online at our website. Just use code WVUPAWP2023 at checkout. This sale is open to all, regardless of whether you’re attending the conference.
Courtney Sender’s braided story collection In Other Lifetimes All I’ve Lost Comes Back to Me—described as “fierce” by Danielle Evans, “a stunner” by Deesha Philyaw, and a book that “upends . . . what it means to tell a love story” by Alice McDermott—is available now. Sender talked with Vesto PR for the blog.
When did you start writing the stories in this book?
I am a structuralist at heart—or at least, my instinct is to look at structure second only to voice—so I wanted to create a collection that reads like individual stories at first and like a novel by the end.
So this is a braided collection that becomes one story by the final word. Characters recur and offer refractions against each other. One set of characters shows one outcome when a lost lover comes back, and another set shows a very different outcome.
Most of all I view the book as existing in three parts: “In other lifetimes,” which is the longing and the recourse to magic and the spiritual; “All I’ve lost,” which is that deep loneliness that I know so well from being single throughout my twenties; “Comes back to me,” which is the longed-for thing. And the question is whether, after all those longing and loss, the longed-for thing is even what we want or can accept anymore.
The stories have changed so much as I’ve shaped them into a unit for a book project. To me, they all feel new in the terms of the words on the page. That’s a testament to the work and vision of my editor, Sarah Munroe, who helped me think about the relationships of one story to another. I went through and matched last lines to first lines, and created an emotional arc from story to story by drawing a thread from one to the next.Read More »
This fall, West Virginia University Press will publish Rachel King’s first collection of short stories, Bratwurst Haven. Over the course of these twelve interrelated stories, King gives life to diverse, complex, and authentic characters who are linked through work at a Colorado sausage factory. Rajia Hassib, author of A Pure Heart, said about the book: “These all-too-relatable struggles make the stories not only engrossing but also an intriguing and tenderly rendered study of this flawed world we call home.” Here King talks with Vesto PR’s Caitlin Solano for our blog.
When did you start writing this collection of interrelated short stories? What inspired you to center the stories on low-wage workers at a sausage factory?
I wrote the first story in this collection in the summer of 2016, a few months after I moved back to my hometown of Portland, Oregon. My spouse has worked at a sausage factory, so many of the physical details of the space came from there. Each story’s main character and plot came to me in a different way, however—a composite of all I’ve imagined, observed, heard, and experienced. I didn’t admit I’d written a linked collection until I was done; I just wrote one story, then hoped I could write another one.Read More »
This summer, West Virginia University Press is pleased to publish Tom Bredehoft’s Foote: A Mystery Novel. (While the official pub date is August 1, the book ships now when ordered from our site.) It’s a tale of a private investigator in Morgantown who has a secret he dares not reveal: he is a bigfoot living in plain sight, charged with keeping his people in the surrounding hills from being discovered. Jordan Farmer said of the novel: “Part mystery, part fable but all original, Jim Foote is sure to be one of your favorite literary detectives—cryptid or otherwise.” Here Bredehoft talks with Vesto PR’s Caitlin Solano for our blog.
What inspired the story about a bigfoot private investigator?
My wife and I came up with the idea on a walk along the Mon River Trail in Morgantown, looking up at some of the rock formations and idly thinking that they might make a good hiding place for a cryptid. Neither one of us remembers clearly who said the actual phrase “bigfoot PI,” but as soon as it was out there, I knew I could have fun with it. She says that she’s had lots of conversations when someone has said “That could be a novel!” but I think she was surprised when I actually wrote it.
What kind of research did you do for this novel? Were you able to find a comprehensive history of bigfoot sightings in West Virginia and the greater Appalachia region?
I don’t think I did any research on bigfoot at all! I have often heard the old advice to “Write what you know,” and so I just told myself at the very start that no one could know any more about my bigfoot (and their history and place in the world) than me, so I pretty much felt free to go my own way. I did do some small bits of research on West Virginia history here and there to make the setting seem right.Read More »
In the space of one weekend in Morgantown, West Virginia, private investigator Big Jim Foote finds himself at the center of two murder investigations. Suspected of one killing at a local festival, he locates the body of a missing person immediately after. The cops are watching him, and Big Jim has a secret he dares not reveal: he is a bigfoot living in plain sight, charged with keeping his people in the surrounding hills from being discovered.
Coming August 1 from WVU Press, Tom Bredehoft’s Foote: A Mystery Novel has been called “a tale about humanity wrapped in the garment of an excellent hard-boiled thriller.” Jordan Farmer adds: “Part mystery, part fable but all original, Jim Foote is sure to be one of your favorite literary detectives—cryptid or otherwise.” We’re pleased to share an excerpt here.
It was a drizzly morning in April, and all I knew was that someone was standing outside the door. That was all right. Sometimes folks need a few minutes to get their courage up, to really convince themselves that they need my kind of help. My office, to tell the truth, isn’t exactly inviting from the outside: it’s just a plain metal door, bracketed by a couple of windows with the blinds closed. And the door itself stands in a little blackened brick building crouched beneath the PRT tracks, not too far from the downtown stop. That also makes it not too far from the county courthouse, as a matter of fact.
The sign on the door says “Big Jim Foote: Private Investigator,” and I know well enough that that doesn’t always encourage the curious to come in, either. Even the mailman rarely says hello. If someone really needs me, they open the door. They come in.
To celebrate the annual meeting of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, all of West Virginia University Press’s new and recent works of fiction, literary nonfiction, and poetry are 30% off with free shipping through April 30, 2022. This discount applies to paperback editions.
Our exhibit at the AWP meeting will feature display copies for perusal, with all sales handled online at our website. Just use code WVUPAWP2022 at checkout. This sale is open to all, regardless of whether you’re attending the conference.
This spring West Virginia University Press will publish Mark Powell’s novel Lioness and Charles Dodd White’s essay collection A Year without Months. The two authors agreed to chat on our blog about writing and region.
Mark: We’ve been friends for a long time, and in what is most definitely a happy accident, we have books coming out at the same time. How did that happen?
Charles: I think we both pay attention to books about the region that stand out, so it’s natural we would pay attention to WVU Press. The books have been getting attention by the writers community for a long time, so it’s always been one of those places I’ve wanted to connect with.
Lioness is being described as an eco-thriller. How would you define a book like that and what goals did you have for it, aesthetically, politically, and otherwise?
Mark: The writer Bob Shacochis said once that he writes entertainment for people who are paying attention. I’ve always tried to work in a similar vein, writing novels that are (hopefully) exciting while also being engaged with the political moment. There’s plenty we should be paying attention to, but climate change is surely at the top of the list.
You wrote A Year Without Months over a number of years. What was it like revisiting work that spans nearly a decade?
Charles: It can be kind of bracing to look back at something you’ve written in the past and see how much distance has interposed between Then and Now. There was certainly a sense of that in this book. Though most of the essays were written over a single year, it required me to go back and retouch some of those earlier pieces so that there was a fundamental coherence that you have to have if you want the book to work as a whole.Read More »
Based mostly on his own experiences, Theophile Maher’s local color novel Cannel Coal Oil Days challenges many popular ideas about antebellum Appalachia, bringing it more fully into the broader story of the United States. Written in 1887, discovered in 2018, and published now for the first time, it offers a narrative of life between 1859 and 1861 in what was then western Virginia as it became West Virginia. The novel’s protagonist, a mining engineer, works closely with a Black family to organize the local abolitionist mountain folk into a Union militia to aid in secession from Virginia.
We talked with Edward Watts, editor of WVU Press’s edition of the novel, which will be published on August 1.
Tell me about how you discovered the manuscript, and about your personal connection to it.
The 390-page manuscript for my great-great-grandfather’s novel Cannel Coal Oil Days, handwritten on a series of steno pads in 1887, was given to my mother by members of another branch of the Maher family. I found it among her papers after her death in 2018. I read it and decided to pursue editing and publishing it, not only as a means of preserving family history, but also because, as a literary historian, I saw its value in the traditions of realism, Appalachian fiction, abolitionist and Civil War narrative, and mining history. My family still owns the Michigan land that Theophile bought, and stay in his daughter’s cottage there.
When people hear “coal” and “West Virginia,” they immediately have certain ideas. But what’s cannel coal?
Cannel coal is a soft malleable coal found throughout the Ohio River Valley. While its only current use is hand-molded sculpture in arts and crafts, in the middle of the nineteenth century its distilled oil was developed as a replacement for whale oil in lighting American homes. Over-fishing had made whale oil scarce and Victorian-era homes had been fitted with oil burning lamps and chemical and mining engineers such as Theophile set to work on producing safe, clean, inexpensive, and non-odorous oil for that market. Read More »
In another first for any book from a university press, Deesha Philyaw’s The Secret Lives of Church Ladies has received the PEN/Faulkner Award, given annually to the best work of fiction by a living US writer. Previous recipients of the PEN/Faulkner range from established luminaries (think Updike, Patchett, DeLillo) to leading newer voices like recent winners Chloe Aridjis and Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi. The Secret Lives of Church Ladies was one of 419 submissions this year from 170 publishers.
“I’m deeply honored and thankful to receive the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction,” said Deesha Philyaw in her acceptance statement. “I wrote The Secret Lives of Church Ladies in hopes that Black women would see and hear themselves in my characters who are all, in some way, striving to get free.”
The Secret Lives of Church Ladies was previously named a finalist for the National Book Award, and it was the first book from a university press (or small press of any kind) to win the Story Prize. Philyaw’s collection is also a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize in the first fiction category, with the winner to be announced on April 16, and it is currently being adapted for the screen for HBO Max.
The PEN/Faulkner Award has several connections to West Virginia. John Knowles of Fairmont won the Faulkner Foundation’s original prize, then known as the William Faulkner Foundation Award, for A Separate Peace. And the award in its present iteration was founded by Mary Lee Settle, a novelist born in Charleston whose fiction was often set in West Virginia. The staff at West Virginia University Press are proud to honor and extend this prestigious award’s relationship to our state, and we’re grateful to Deesha Philyaw for trusting us with her extraordinary book.
The PEN/Faulkner Award ceremony will be held online on May 10, with free registration available here. The event’s sponsors include West Virginia University.