Foote: An excerpt from Tom Bredehoft’s forthcoming novel

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.

And, eventually, this one did.

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AWP sale: Save 30% (with free shipping) on works of fiction and literary nonfiction from WVU Press

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.

Discounted titles are:Read More »

“It seems like everyone today has an opinion about the South and Appalachia”: Mark Powell and Charles Dodd White in conversation

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 »

Edward Watts discusses a newly discovered novel of nineteenth-century West Virginia

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 »

Congratulations to Deesha Philyaw, winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award!

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.

“Everything feels like it’s at once past, present, and to come”: An interview with Jim Lewis, author of Ghosts of New York

Jim Lewis’s Ghosts of New York (WVU, April 1) has been called “a marvelous novel” by Rabih Alameddine and “masterful” by Richard Price. Lewis—the author of previous books with Knopf and Graywolf—talked with Claudia Acevedo of Vesto PR for our blog. You can hear him read from his new book here.

Was there a particular event that made you set out to write Ghosts of New York?

There was a series of them, not all of which are manifest, or even hidden, in the book itself: a reporting trip I took to the eastern Congo 15 years ago; the deaths of some old and dear friends and exes, and the regrets that they induced in me; my sense that it was time I wrote a novel set in my hometown, now that I no longer live there, and to write something about being an artist, in particular about being a photographer, since I write so much about photography in my other life.

What draws you to the idea of ghosts?

Well, they’re everywhere, aren’t they?  Even if they don’t exist at all, they’re everywhere.

A lot of the book feels like a memorial. The most obvious example of this is the “Ghosts of New York: A Partial Account” chapter, which is basically an obituary for dozens of people with nothing in common except for the city they lived in. Who were they, and how did you learn/find their stories?

Oh, I made them all up. A few of the background events are real, of course: the Happy Land Disco fire, the AIDS horror, 9/11, the 1918 flu, but the others just came to me, and all of the specific characters and deaths are fictional. It was great fun to write, and I could have come up a hundred more, but I had to stop or they would have overwhelmed the living population of the book.Read More »

Read West Virginia’s spring books today with NetGalley and Edelweiss

With wintry days of reading on the horizon, West Virginia University Press is pleased to make it easy to get complimentary access to two of our highly anticipated spring books. Use your free NetGalley account to read Shaun Slifer’s So Much to Be Angry About: Appalachian Movement Press and Radical DIY Publishing and Jim Lewis’s novel Ghosts of New York. Like what you’ve read? Then consider reviewing it on a site like Goodreads—authors will appreciate the positive word-of-mouth, and so will we.

And if you’re a bookseller, librarian, or reviewer with access to the Edelweiss platform, you can also read Larry D. Thacker’s Working It Off in Labor County and Charles B. Keeney’s The Road to Blair Mountain. We add general-interest titles to Edelweiss on a regular basis, so check back for forthcoming books by Renée K. Nicholson, Geoff Hilsabeck, and more. And happy reading!

“Writing characters who break all sorts of rules”: An interview with Deesha Philyaw

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Hailed by Electric Lit as one of “24 New and Forthcoming Books That Celebrate Black Lives,” The Secret Lives of Church Ladies is Deesha Philyaw’s “tender, fierce, proudly black and beautiful” (Kirkus, starred review) debut collection. Here Philyaw talks with Holly Mitchell of Vesto PR.

When did you start writing this book?

The first story I completed was “Eula,” and I started it in 2014. But at that time, I didn’t think of it as the start of a collection. There were other stories, like “Jael,” that started with just a name or an idea or a line of dialogue that I sat with for a few years before developing them as stories.

At what point did you know your focus would be on church ladies?

In 2007, I started working on a novel in which the main character is a church lady, a pastor’s wife. I worked on the novel off and on for the next eight or nine years, but I just kept stalling. From time to time, I’d turn my attention to short stories, and they all featured a church lady or someone who is what I call church lady adjacent, meaning there’s someone she’s close to who is heavily influenced by the church. I grew up in the church, and these were the women who informed my understanding of womanhood and how to be (or not be) in the world. Although I wasn’t surprised that they showed up on the page, it wasn’t intentional, at that point.Read More »