Thankful Thursdays #5: Jeffrey Webb, Karen Salyer McElmurray, Rebecca Elswick, and Katie Fallon

As November draws to a close, we wrap up our Thankful Thursdays with words of thanks from four writers in our West Virginia Wesleyan MFA family. Continue reading below to learn about two faculty members, an alum of the program, and a current student. While we purposefully paused in November to share our thanks, we remain grateful throughout the year for this community of writers and the many ways we help each other to learn and grow. 

Jeffrey Webb (Fiction '15)

I’m thankful for all the great teachers I had in school, from elementary and up. For the teachers I had who used song and dance to make their lessons stick, embarrassing themselves, sacrificing a little bit of their pride so their students could learn. For the teachers who managed to come to school each day with such great energy and compassion, no matter what. For the teachers who always set high expectations. For the teachers who brought passion to their subject and instilled that passion in me. For all the teachers who taught me more in one day than some teachers taught me in a semester or a year. I’m thankful for all these teachers who have made me the person, and teacher, I am today.

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Jeffrey Webb is a writer and teacher from southern West Virginia. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from West Virginia Wesleyan College. His work has appeared in such publications as The Pikeville Review, Red Mud Review, and Scarlet Leaf Review. He is also a blog contributor for Teaching Tolerance. His latest piece "Man Enough" recently appeared on The Fiction Pool

 

Karen Salyer McElmurray (Prose Faculty)

The first night I remember being truly thankful—a thankfulness I felt in my belly and in the veins in my hands and on my itchy tongue—I was in a hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. I had been through ten weeks of radiation and four months of chemo, and I was just waking up from surgery for colorectal cancer. Even now, when I say that phrase, colorectal cancer, people flinch. They’ve heard two “c” words, all in one mouthful, neither word pretty, one about a body part we hide, another about an illness no one wants. I remember waking up that morning just as my doctor stepped in and stood at the foot of my bed. No lymph node involvement, he said. I wasn’t thankful yet. I was stoned on morphine, and I was both heavy with sleep and sleepless, had been for months, it seemed. A week later, out of the hospital and back at home, I began to realize what thankful meant. I was going to be okay. More than that, I began to realize I was thankful for the illness itself. It made me wake up in a way I had never awakened before. I realized that life is a gift, not a bitterness. It is light and bright crimson leaves and ocean. It can be love, not loss. Even in these dark political times, I can choose that love, choose to hold it out in my open hands, offering it up as the only thing, some days, I know how to give.

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Karen Salyer McElmurray writes both fiction and creative nonfiction. Her memoir, Surrendered Child, won the AWP Award Series for Creative Nonfiction and was listed as a “notable book” by the National Book Critics Circle. She is also the author of Strange Birds in the Tree of Heaven (University of Georgia Press), a novel that won the Lillie Chaffin Award for Appalachian Writing and, most recently, Walk Till the Dogs Get Mean, co-edited with Adrian Blevins, from Ohio University Press. You can learn more about Karen and read her work on her website.

 

Rebecca Elswick (Fiction '18)

I am thankful I was born in, and still live in, the sickest town in America. Even though I learned we were a toe’s length from poverty, I grew up with hardworking people who taught me to love learning. I recently saw a panel of teachers who used the holocaust to teach students about their own cultures’ atrocities. A Native American from Montana taught the WWII Holocaust alongside the genocide of Native Americans. A Hispanic teacher taught the Holocaust together with America’s history of xenophobia. An African American teacher taught the Holocaust in conjunction with American slavery. That presentation transported me back to my mountains, and how outsiders came in and took the natural resources and destroyed the land in this place the Atlantic Journal called, “a nightmare of disability.” Not so. My town is a place where the mountains touch a bluebird sky with wedding cake clouds. Where even in winter, the mountains are rife with chipmunks and squirrels foraging for acorns and deer grazing the hillsides. A place I am thankful to call home.

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Rebecca D. Elswick will graduate with an MFA from West Virginia Wesleyan College in 2018. Her debut novel, Mama's Shoes, was published in 2011, the result of Writer's Digest Pitch2Win Contest. Her fiction and nonfiction has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. She currently directs the writing center at Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Virginia. Learn more about Rebecca by visiting her website.

 

Katie Fallon (Nonfiction Faculty)

My grateful list is long: birds, dogs, frost on rhododendron, warm horses, houseplants, coffee, coarsely chopped garlic, Riesling, unnamed ephemeral streams, my children, meadow rue, our national and state park system, readers, campfires. And you, and you. This community, these writers, these thinkers, teachers. Friends. Thank you.

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Katie Fallon is the author of the nonfiction books Vulture: The Private Life of an Unloved Bird and Cerulean Blues: A Personal Search for a Vanishing Songbird, and the co-author of two books for children, Look, See the Bird! and Look, See the Farm! (forthcoming 2018). Her essays have appeared in a variety of literary journals and magazines. Katie is also one of the founders of the Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving wild birds through scientific research; outreach and public education; and rescue and rehabilitation. Katie’s first word was “bird.” Learn more about Katie on her website and read some of her recent work at Shaver’s Creek.

Thankful Thursdays #4: Richard Schmitt, Delaney McElmore, and Doug Van Gundy

Today—Thanksgiving Day—we continue our Thankful Thursdays with insights from two faculty members and a current student in West Virginia Wesleyan’s MFA program. Happy Thanksgiving to all of our readers! We have much to be thankful for.

Richard Schmitt (Prose Faculty)

Today, November 19th, I am thankful Charles Manson is finally dead: an ugly reminder of an ugly era that is best put behind us. There is still plenty of ugliness to go around, of course, but also plenty of things for which to be thankful. For instance, I am exceedingly thankful that you've contacted me on the very day my new short story collection hit the marketplace. Happy reading in the holiday season. 

Richard Schmitt teaches in the West Virginia Wesleyan College Low-Residency Master of Fine Arts program. He is the author of The Aerialist and has recently published work in The Baltimore Review, Cimarron, and Adelaide Magazine. His short story collection, Living Among Strangers, is recently released and can be found at this link: http://adelaidebooks.org/richard_schmitt.html 

Delaney McLemore (Nonfiction '18)

If someone had told me five years ago, or even three years ago, that in 2018, I'd be graduating from an MFA program, married to a good guy from Oregon, and living in upstate New York while I watch my work start to get published around the country, I would have probably put out a cigarette in their eye. This year, as I recognize the Indigenous and First Nations peoples who brought their bounty to my ancestral colonizers, I find so much to be grateful for: this amazing program that has welcomed and fed me as I work on my nonfiction voice; the friends and family who support my wild-hare ideas; and the good that is still in the world, just constantly fighting to reach the surface. I hope as we reach the New Year and head into 2018, we bring the best of ourselves along and push more of that good to the light wherever we are. 

Delaney McLemore will graduate in 2018 from WVWC's MFA program. You can find more of her work in Entropy online and forthcoming from Chapman University's Anastamos

Doug Van Gundy (Poetry Faculty)

I am grateful for the quotidian things that keep me getting out of bed in the morning: family and friends who love me and accept me for the flawed person that I am. Coffee and cut oranges. Dogs. I am grateful for the basic goodness of other people, for anyone who through a kind gesture takes a step away from sectarianism and division and a step in the direction of civilization. I am grateful to be a member of a community of thinkers and learners who challenge me to be a better teacher, a better writer, a better person.

Doug Van Gundy teaches poetry in the low-residency MFA Program at West Virginia Wesleyan College, and is the co-editor of the anthology Eyes Glowing at the Edge of the Woods from WVU Press, which was nominated for the Weatherford Award. His poems and essays have recently appeared in Still: The Journal, and are forthcoming in Kestrel. His new monthly podcast, 3 Poems, will debut on January 3rd.

Left to right: Richard Schmitt, Delaney McLemore, and Doug Van Gundy

Left to right: Richard Schmitt, Delaney McLemore, and Doug Van Gundy

Thankful Thursdays #3: Jessica Spruill and Velicia Jerus Darquenne

For today's Thankful Thursday post, we share thoughts from Jessica Spruill, an alumna of the West Virginia Wesleyan MFA in Creative Writing program, and Velicia Jerus Darquenne, a current student who will be graduating this winter. We are thankful to both of them for their moving words.

Jessica Spruill (Poetry ’15)

I am thankful for love. For a deep abiding love that astounds me daily. For the all-encompassing love of motherhood. For the love in my son’s eyes every morning we wake and see each other again. For the tough and tender love I feel for my students. For the loving support of my MFA family. 

I’m thankful for words. Words that fill spaces, absences. Words that spill over the edges of my heart, the ones that make it onto the page. Kind words. Words of protest and frustration. Words that can articulate our innermost thoughts and the ones that just come close. 

I’m thankful for dirty dishes, dirty laundry, and dirty diapers—for the everyday life and provision they represent. I’m thankful for every struggle and triumph of each day and how they help me prove to myself that I am strong enough. That I am enough.

Jessica Spruill is an assistant professor of English at Alderson Broaddus University in Philippi, West Virginia. She earned her MFA in poetry from West Virginia Wesleyan College. Jessica is a poetry editor for Heartwood, and she also founded and curates Wordstock Wednesday, a literary reading series which hosts local and Appalachian authors. Her piece "Birth/Butchery" recently appeared in Burnt Pine Magazine, and her poetry has also appeared in the Pikeville Review and Still: The Journal.

Velicia Jerus Darquenne (Fiction ’18)

Today, I’m thankful I have so much to appreciate. I’m thankful for submitting the first deposit of my thesis, my cats who give me sanity, my family and friends who told me I could do it when I was no longer sure, my cohorts and faculty who have the ability to save the world with their words, and the mountains that raised me. 

But mostly, what I think is often neglected, I’m thankful for myself. I’m thankful for the person I have become, the challenges I’ve conquered, and that I’ll continue to grow because of the people surrounding me. 

Velicia Jerus Darquenne is from Clarksburg, West Virginia. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Fairmont State University, and currently attends West Virginia Wesleyan’s MFA program. Her piece “Immaculate Conception” recently appeared in Pretty Owl Poetry (see page 30). She is the media editor for Kestrel, and has also been published in Whetstone and Crack the Spine.

Left to right: Jessica Spruill and Velicia Jerus Darquenne. Photo of Spruill taken by Doug Van Gundy, WVWC MFA poetry faculty. 

Left to right: Jessica Spruill and Velicia Jerus Darquenne. Photo of Spruill taken by Doug Van Gundy, WVWC MFA poetry faculty. 

Thankful Thursdays #2: Mary Carroll-Hackett, Shauna Hambrick Jones, and Vincent Trimboli

Today we continue our Thankful Thursdays series with Vincent Trimboli, a poet and WVWC MFA alum, Mary Carroll-Hackett, a WVWC MFA Faculty member, and Shauna Hambrick Jones, a nonfiction writer and WVWC alum. They share, in their own words and styles, what they feel most grateful for:

Vincent Trimboli (Poetry '13):

“There you go/ walking in the woods/ as usual/ ignoring the trees…”

                                                                                                                 Maureen N. Mclane

Today I am grateful for [   ].

As writers it is easy to jump to the broad picture. Today I am grateful for:       Love

Beyoncé

Socioeconomic Status

Privilege.

To truly value gratefulness as an emotion, to truly use it in a way that is translatable as writers of anything other than an epic tale or poem we must take time to dissect daily gratefulness: The minute moments, clepsydra rhythms, the small. Today I am grateful for the spider at my feet in the shower, the moment you crossed my mind, the keys in my hand.

Here’s a link to Vince’s work on the San Diego Readerhttps://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2017/jun/07/poetry-when-your-head-went-through-windshield/

Mary Carroll-Hackett (Poetry Faculty):

I'm thankful for bread, and birds, and books, for the blessed details that weave each day. I'm so grateful for my children, my grandson, my family, my four-leggeds, for their wisdom, their humor, their commitment to living lives that serve others. I'm thankful for my students, for their energy, their big beautiful hearts, their curiosity, and their laughter. I'm thankful for the opportunity to learn, every day, from everyone I meet. I'm grateful for the Love I have been fortunate enough to know in this life, and even for the grief that continually leads me back to gratitude.

Mary's Website: https://marycarrollhackett.com/

Links to read samples of Mary's work:

Superstition Review: https://superstitionreview.asu.edu/issue6/poetry/marycarrollhackett

Writing for Peace: https://writingforpeace.org/poems-from-the-night-i-heard-everything-by-mary-carroll-hackett/

Cultural Weekly: https://www.culturalweekly.com/mary-carroll-hackett-three-poems/

Shauna Hambrick Jones (Nonfiction '13):

As these mid-November days bring less light, I’m thankful for the warmth of words. 

At the college where I work, lots of students are tired, anxious, dealing with dark thoughts. I’m thankful for the art of providing encouraging words, whether they are my own, or a quote, or a line of poetry, or a song lyric.

I’m thankful for our MFA writing tribe—our mishpocha—that supports each other’s work.

I’m thankful for my son, a high school senior, this man-child who can write a decent paper and doesn’t seem to mind doing so.

I’m thankful for words, stories, breath.

Here is a link to Shauna's essay “Physical Graffiti,” which was one of seven finalists for the 2017 CNF contest in Still: The Journal: http://www.shaunahambrickjones.site

Left to right: Vincent Tromboli, Mary Caroll-Hackett, Shauna Hambrick Jones

Left to right: Vincent Tromboli, Mary Caroll-Hackett, Shauna Hambrick Jones

Thankful Thursdays #1: Jeremy Bryant and David Evans

As we head into November and prepare for Thanksgiving and the coming holidays, we are taking this opportunity to share words of thanks with our readers. Today’s post is the first in a series we are calling “Thankful Thursdays.” Each Thursday in November we will introduce readers to some of the talented individuals in our West Virginia Weslyan MFA family and share links to their creative work. In the spirit of giving thanks, each highlighted individual will respond to the following question: What are you thankful for?

Jeremy Bryant (Nonfiction ’17) 

During this month of giving thanks, I am grateful for my MFA family. How incredible it is that we all unconditionally support one another. We praise each other’s accomplishments, pick one another up after rejections, and always celebrate our love of writing. I am blessed to be a small part of this coterie that genuinely cares about both the art and the artist. My MFA family has helped me develop as a writer and as a human, and I cannot imagine my life without them. These wonderful writers will always have a special place in my heart.

Bryant graduated from the WVWC MFA in Creative Writing program in 2017. He currently lives in the woods of Virginia where he writes poetry, watches birds, drinks hot tea, and thinks about the divine. His essay “Coming Kingdom” recently appeared in EOAGH, and his words can also be found in Prism, The Pikeville Review, The James Dickey Review, and New Verse News. Bryant works at Lynchburg College in Lynchburg, Virginia.
 

David Evans (Nonfiction ’18) 

I am thankful for all those versions of myself—that inner crowd—clamoring inside my head, demanding to be heard.

I am thankful to trace the nature of memory, explore the role of past loves and influences, cope with loss, and search for grounding and equanimity. 

I am thankful for my reservoir of personal recollections, shifting perspectives, and evolving expectations.

I am thankful I do not hunger for revenge.

I am thankful for those who have forgiven me.

I am thankful I have no doubt about the power of writing.

Evans is a life-long student and septuagenarian who retired from another life and lives in the mountains of eastern West Virginia. He will graduate this January from the WVWC MFA in Creative Writing program. His essay “Why We Build” just took Judge’s Choice in the nonfiction contest hosted by Still.

Left to right: Jeremy Bryant and David Evans

Left to right: Jeremy Bryant and David Evans

MFA BLAST: October Publications and Readings

As a community of Wesleyan MFA writers, we celebrate each other’s achievements and spur one another on as we each continue to hone our craft. In today’s post, we highlight five of our WVWC MFA alumni and faculty on their recent (or upcoming!) accomplishments. Check out their work at the links below! 

Publications

Jeffrey Webb (Fiction ’15) recently had two of his pieces accepted for publication. On October 15, his short story "Clutch" appeared on the Scarlet Leaf Review website, and prior to that, his article "Celebrating Freedom Means Celebrating Defiance" appeared on the Teaching Tolerance website.

Also in October, two stories by CM Chapman (Fiction ’15) appeared in the journal Unlikely Stories: "Signs" and "Various Acts of Rage or Despair."

Looking ahead, Richard Schmitt (Fiction Faculty) has a collection of short stories, Living Among Strangers, due out this November from Adelaide Books.

Readings

HeartWood Poetry Editor Jessica Spruill (Poetry ’15) coordinates Wordstock Wednesday, a monthly reading series featuring local poets and authors at the Market Place in Philippi, WV. Spruill shared a selection of her poetry on October 4, and Amanda Jo Slone (Fiction ’17) will be the featured reader Wednesday, November 8, in the Funkhouser Auditorium on the Alderson Broaddus University campus. If you are in the area, be sure to attend!

CRAFT FOCUS: Thacker on a 365-Day Poetry Challenge

For this craft focus, poet and fiction writer Larry Thacker (Poetry '18) goes beyond the month-long writing challenges and tries writing a poem every day for a year. His commentary below on the lessons his personal challenge taught him can inspire all of us to add challenge to our everyday. We are writers, and we must write, after all.

Poem-A-Day: For A Year

The headspace where writers live is a strange and fascinating country. Once we realize that

Yes, I am a writer, and I must write!

we set about establishing a little homestead in that land in our minds and are there, whether physically at the keyboard or with pen in hand, much more than people ever know.

I’ve just returned from what feels like an uninterrupted year-long foray deep into that backcountry where poetry runs wild in the hills.   

On this past 15th of September, I successfully completed a 365-day poem-a-day personal challenge. No one dared me to do it. I hadn’t lost a bet. I wasn’t threatened.

I’d participated in month-long challenges before such as during National Poetry Month in April. But last September, while engaged neck-deep in my MFA studies with West Virginia Wesleyan College, I realized I was managing good writing time. The framework for what resembled a poem a day, or two, was the result on many days. All of them great? No. But I was writing and holding my momentum as a writer, something we all cherish.

What if I tried this daily? A poem, every day, for a year? Was it possible? There might be a good reason people only tried it for a month at a time, after all.

Being prone to crazy ideas anyway, I committed, ran down a few early partners to trade work with every day for accountability and got started. I didn’t wait until October 1st. That would have been too long to think on the mountain to come and back out. September 15th was as good a time as any.  

You can imagine my immediate anxieties.

Sure, a month, maybe two. After that, what the hell was I going to write about? What about when I’d suffer from writer’s block? What if it was all junk? Was this purely a self-indulgent project? Isn’t this putting quantity over quality? How would I know? I’m biased. What if I couldn’t find any partners to help along the way? What if I’m too lazy to keep it up? How awkward would it be if I said I’d do it and couldn’t keep going? And the question we all ask ourselves all the time: What if I fail? 

There were a lot of excuses for not doing it.

Nevertheless, a year is passed, the project complete. The poems accumulated day after day, sometimes more than one a day. Having attended two MFA residencies and numerous festivals and seminars, the overall count is well over four-hundred poems. 

Though not the only things getting me through the ordeal, two factors helped most: partners and a routine.

I was never alone. One or more writers were alongside me the entire time. Knowing another poet was wandering around out there waiting for a strike helped with the frequent loneliness of the project. I knew I’d be hearing from someone before the day was out, that I’d be reading their work, influenced by them, encouraged and energized.

A routine was essential, of course. And it wasn’t simply, go write. Unless something drastically interferes with the day, I get up early (usually 6 a.m.). I’m at my desk by 7 a.m. On these poetry days, I’d have something written resembling a poem by 8 a.m. But I wouldn’t end the writing day there. I would at least revise, read, and submit something, usually by 9 a.m.

Of course, my schedule isn’t the same as others. I’m lucky for having those hours free. But as you know, life has a way of being an abstract obstacle to writing.

Without these partners and a routine, the rest of life – a double MFA (poetry and fiction), helping manage an antique and vintage store, running my own small vintage business, and the responsibilities of family and home – would have surely ruined my chances of doing this one important thing every day. 

I’m still writing daily, though more fiction is creeping in, and since I’m dead center in my final MFA semester (thesis), I’d best be about the business of collection and revision, huh?

Yet it’s difficult to break routine. I’m still out in the backwoods of that headspace where literally everything is mined for potential poetry.

Many believe it takes twenty-one days to establish a habit. If that’s the case, how long will it take me to shake this practice of turning to new poetry every morning?

I’m not sure I want to. 

Editor's Note: Larry D. Thacker’s poetry can be found or is forthcoming in over a hundred publications including The Still Journal, Poetry South, Tower Poetry Society, Mad River Review, Spillway, The Southern Poetry Anthology, Mojave River Review, Town Creek Poetry, and Appalachian Heritage. His stories can be found in past issues of The Still Journal, Fried Chicken and Coffee, Dime Show Review, Vandalia Journal, and Grotesque Quarterly. His books include Mountain Mysteries: The Mystic Traditions of Appalachia and the poetry books, Voice HuntingMemory Train, and Drifting in Awe. Visit his website at: www.larrydthacker.com

READING NOOK: What We’re Reading This Fall

As a diverse bunch of readers, WVWC MFA faculty, alums, and current students enjoy everything from memoirs to poetry to teaching textbooks and more—even Dr. Seuss. Periodically, we will share some of our latest literary finds on this blog. Here’s just a peek into what the WVWC MFA community is reading this fall. Check back in the winter and spring to find more recommendations, and to see our program's list of suggested readings in craft, poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, just follow this link.

Dee Sydnor (Fiction ’15) - As is typical for a teaching semester, I am reading from the Norton Introduction to Literature. Today's selections were "Lady with the Dog" by Anton Chekhov and "A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner. I am impressed by the timeless quality of good literature. My students range in age from 16-49, and all enjoyed discussing the philanderer Dmitri Gurov and his mistress Anna, with the understanding that what happens in Yalta stays in Yalta and that love, timeless as literature, can infect the most unwilling participant. 

I am also slowly working my way through Jessie van Eerden's The Long Weeping in between my reading and grading. Through Jessie's essays, I have become fascinated with the Beguines, religious women who lived neither a married life nor a cloistered life. These women shared the Bible with others, cared for the sick, fed the hungry, gave to the poor, and yet they were not approved by the Church because of their disregard for its teachings. Jessie muses in the essay "The Soul has Six Wings" that she wonders "if mystical life is really about visions, or if it's about looking again at pieces you've already got." Would you "see the kingdom of God there if you stare[d] long enough”? It makes me question the day-to-day in my own life and my lack of finding pleasure in it as it is.

Jessica Spruill (Poetry ’15) - I’ve been reading a lot of Dr. Seuss lately, and I have to say, our most recently acquired titles, The Foot Book and Hop on Pop, are delightful. I learned how to read by memorizing The Foot Book when I was 3, and my dentist's office had a copy of Hop on Pop buried under a dozen issues of Highlights magazines on the kids' table in the waiting room, so both of these books have long-held special places in my heart. But I love them even more now as I read them loudly and animatedly for my son, who giggles and coos about fuzzy fur feet or Pat sitting on baseball bats and cacti. The rhymes are on point, and the occasional irregularities to the otherwise precise meter lend to a silly cadence that really demonstrates and accentuates the absurdity of the context. All in all, both come highly recommended by this new mama. 

Jonathan Corcoran (Fiction Faculty) - I’ve been rereading The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño. It's a long, challenging, hilarious, and sad book about a group of renegade poets in Mexico. It's a writer's book, an artist's book—the kind that makes you reflect on what it means to live and create. I read it first when I was an MFA student, trying to imagine what life as a writer would look like. It's raunchy in parts, depressing in others, but very, very filled with humanity. Such simple yet complex prose (rendered fabulously in the English translation). Yes—read it! Read it to remind yourself that art and life are inextricably mixed.

Mary Carroll-Hackett (Poetry Faculty) - I’m rereading The Language They Speak Is Things to Eat: Poems by Fifteen Contemporary North Carolina Poets, and a gazillion student papers.

Vincent James Trimboli (Poetry ’13) - I am reading Stuck in the Middle With You: A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders by Jennifer Finney Boylan. In my new job, I am currently working with/beside a bunch of kids still in their late teens and very early 20s. I often sit back and listen to the way they talk about the world around them and know that most often they are regurgitating things that their parents have said (or in some cases, the opposite depending on how rebellious they are). That got me thinking a lot about parenting and how and what we impart on [our] children and how that affects the world we will all be living in as they take their place as the generation in power. So, memoirs about parenting seemed to be a good place to look into that. On this journey, I have also re-read A Queer and Pleasant Danger by Kate Bornstein, Two or Three Things I Know For Sure by Dorothy Allison, some of Jo Ann Beards’ essays, and perhaps unrelated (although I would argue not) I'm•be•ciles by Adam Cohen.

MFA BLAST: Diane Gilliam Releases Dreadful Wind & Rain

Wesleyan guest faculty member, Diane Gilliam has released a new book, a verse narrative titled, Dreadful Wind & Rain, with Red Hen Press. The book's description, from Red Hen, is listed below and can be ordered here.

Once upon a time, there lived a girl whose story was not her own...

So the story goes: Neglected and abused by her family, eclipsed by her elder and more beautiful sister, a young girl longs for happily-ever-after, for something, someone to rescue her. She is soon swept away into the next chapter of her life: marriage—a promising world mirroring Old Testament stories and fairy tale traditions. But loving just anyone and living the age-old "ever-after" narrative, as it turns out, fails to bring true happiness after all. Dragged down by a destructive marriage, her sister's continued manipulations, and the growing weight of roles and expectations created by others at her back, she must choose between continuing in her familiar, complacent life, or boldly breaking free—and finally making her own way.

Named for an Appalachian murder ballad in which a girl is drowned by her sister, Dreadful Wind & Rain unseats expectations for what it means to live a fairy tale life, revealing the powerful force that comes from stripping away traditional roles and beginning to write a story all your own.

Diane Gilliam is the author of three previous collections of poetry: Kettle Bottom, One of Everything, and Recipe for Blackberry Cake (chapbook). She holds an MFA from Warren Wilson College and a PhD in Romance Languages and Literatures from Ohio State University. She has received an Individual Artist Grant from the Ohio Arts Council, the Chaffin Award for Appalachian Writing, and a Pushcart Prize. She is the most recent recipient of the Gift of Freedom from the A Room of Her Own Foundation.

READING NOOK: What We're Reading This Spring

As a new feature of our HeartWood blog, we'll be sharing periodically some of the works we're reading throughout our Wesleyan MFA community of writers. This spring, we've been reading lots of poetry, in celebration of National Poetry Month in April, and celebrating the works of all genres. Check out some of the works our community members are reading below:

Delaney McElmore (Nonfiction '18): Rachel McKibbens' "Mammoth," a chapbook that resonates so hard with the losses we find so commonplace in Appalachia. Second, I just finished "Said the Manic to the Muse" by Jeanann Verlee, an incredible feminist book of poetry that dives into the poet's journey to becoming a poet out of her raising in a hard life shaped by poverty and violence. Both incredible, both devastating, both too good to be missed!

Doug Van Gundy (Poetry Faculty): I am reading two brand new books, John Burnside's "Still Life with Feeding Snake" from and Rebecca Gayle Howell's "American Purgatory".

CM Chapman (Fiction '15): Randi Ward, Whipstitches. Just read it and it is fantastic. Compact, individually beautiful and powerful poems that evoke a larger story in a unique way. Highly recommended.

Mary Imo Stick (Poetry '15): I read Mary Barbara Moore's two new collections, "Eating the Light" and "Flicker" in preparation for her visit to More Than Words*. Her work speaks to me, reminds me of why I love poetry, challenges me to be a better poet.

CRAFT FOCUS: Berry, Recollected Essays 1965-1980 by Elizabeth Gaucher

We're introducing a new feature series this summer on our HeartWood blog: Craft Focus. This series will focus on issues of the craft of writing, examining the works of others and the tools we use as writers to craft our pieces. We'll feature work from Wesleyan MFA student annotations on various works to discussions of specific craft elements, issues, and more.

Our first feature comes from Elizabeth Gaucher (Nonfiction '15) who is sharing her annotation on Wendell Berry's Recollected Essays 1965-1980, which she presented at the WVWC Graduate Studies Symposium, A Celebration of Scholarship. Read Elizabeth's annotation below:

The Question of Origin & Process: Wendell Berry’s Imagery in “A Country of Edges”

The purpose of this work is to dissect the craft of writing itself and to identify the techniques by which Wendell Berry engages the reader in a highly complex philosophical consideration of the natural world.

I approached these questions by noting in my first reading of “A County of Edges” the repeated and somewhat alternating presentation of land/rock and water images in the essay. I then identified Berry’s own recurring references to a transcendent connection between human life and the elements of the natural world throughout his essay, and examined how he supports his beliefs about unknown questions of time, origin, and change processes with rock and water imagery.

Finally, I analyzed the capacity Berry has through his limited choice of rock and water imagery to make accessible in a short work a series of ideas about why our world is continuously and invisibly shaped, by what forces, and to what end.

This annotation emphasizes the power a writer may wield by focusing on simple, basic elements of a setting to explore enormous intellectual concepts by introducing the familiar to access the mysterious.

Berry, Recollected Essays 1965-1980

In his essay, Wendell Berry uses the tension between images of hard land and limitless water to convey the dynamics of unity and change in the natural world. He uses these dynamics to open an interior dialogue with himself about aspects of life that are “too small, too large, too complex, too simple, too powerful, too delicate, too transient, too ancient and durable to ever be comprehended with the limits of human life.” That is a rather overwhelming theme, but by limiting his observations to how two very specific elements reflect this theme, he makes his philosophy accessible to the reader.

The essay begins with a definite hardscape image of “overtowering edges” and “wooded ridges,” but rapidly introduces the element of water in motion. Water is a substance without edges, and cliffs and ridges are places without motion, and so the narrator draws the reader into the question of how these natural elements relate.

The water of the Red River Gorge “reaches/falls/leaps” off the rocks and slopes. Berry proclaims that “The critical fact about water, wherever you find it in the Red River Gorge, is motion.” The Red River “moves in its rocky notches as abrasive as a file.” In place now is the image of a solid, motionless rock face and active liquid. It seems at first that they are opposites, but the narrator begins to explore the process or interaction between these elements. He states that the “leisure/patience/turmoil” of the river’s work will keep how it does what it does “to some degree unknown” and that though we may speculate, our speculation will always be “a point of departure from the present surface into the shadowy question of origin and process.”

Berry is ultimately concerned with issues of vastness, of mystery and time; but to launch such weighty topics in the first lines of a fairly brief essay would be counterproductive. By introducing the essay with limited “characters” in rock and water and staying close to those components throughout the work, Berry allows the reader to walk naturally and with ease through a difficult and somewhat obscure topic: how and why our world is continuously and invisibly shaped around us, by what forces, and to what end.

 

Elizabeth Gaucher is a native of Charleston, West Virginia, and lives in Middlebury, Vermont. She graduated with honors in History from Davidson College and holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from West Virginia Wesleyan College with a concentration in Creative Nonfiction. She edits creative nonfiction for Longridge Review.

MFA BLAST: Jessica Spruill Featured in Burnt Pine Magazine

HeartWood Poetry Editor, Jessica Spruill (Poetry '15) has work featured in the Spring 2017 issue of Burnt Pine Magazine, an online literary magazine. Jessica's wonderful poem, "Summer Break 1993", can be read here.

Jessica Spruill is an assistant professor of English at Alderson Broaddus University in her hometown, Philippi, West Virginia. She earned her MFA in poetry from West Virginia Wesleyan College in 2015. Her work has appeared in The Pikeville Review and Still: The Journal. She is a poetry editor for Heartwood and founded the Wordstock Wednesday reading series in Philippi, WV, which celebrates writers from the region. 

SPOTLIGHT: C.M. Chapman Publishes Chapbook, Music & Blood

In 2017, CM Chapman (Fiction ’15) published his first chapbook of short fiction with Latham House Press, an independent publisher of literary fiction, nonfiction, and poetry based in Buckhannon, West Virginia.

Music & Blood includes three riveting tales of Appalachia that take the reader on journeys through the wilderness of the West Virginia’s backcountry and woodland treasures. From side-splitting humor in “Clem, The Cabot County Cannibal” to unexpected turns in “Modest Mussorgsky’s Bluegrass Jug Band Blog”, these deftly crafted short stories are sure to please a wide range of readers.

A brief interview with Chapman follows, in which he discusses his work during the Wesleyan program, his influences, his writing process, and more.

The chapbook contains three short fiction pieces. Did you always imagine these three together, or did you link them together after having written them? What made you chose each piece for this collection?

All of the stories in Music & Blood were conceived and written separately during my time in the low-residency MFA program at West Virginia Wesleyan College. However, when I began working on putting together a manuscript for Latham House, I discovered that two of them were related. One seemed to be a response to another. This was a subconscious thing at the time, not planned at all, but nevertheless, they seemed to belong together. At that point, it became a matter of finding a story that complimented and yet offset the other two. The whole collection fell together fairly quickly, a happy accident in many ways.

Your writing is strikingly crisp, humorous with a deftly crafted heart, and, often, a tad on the experimental or mystical side. Where do you draw your stories from?

Well, first of all, I’m flattered you would describe my writing in this way. I think you describe what I hope for when I write. I enjoy exploration and experimentation in my writing and, for the last few years, have been trying to work in as many different styles as possible, depending upon the story, of course. As for where I draw from, just about anywhere. 

I’m not what you’d call an autobiographical writer in the sense that I generally only pull peripheral details from my personal experience, not the meat of the story. A story can come from anywhere for me—a witnessed scene, an image, an off-hand comment, a random list of unrelated words, a dream. I like involving my subconscious in the process and I think that carries a certain sort of mysticism along with it. 

As for the writing being crisp, I really do strive for readability and simplicity of language. I’ll stretch that at times, but I don’t want to be Mr. Fancy Pants, lost in his grasp of vocabulary. I want to challenge the reader in different ways.

What draws you to magical realism as a style or genre of fiction? How does magical realism lend itself to your fiction?

I do use magical realism often, sometimes even when I’m not intending to go that way. Sometimes, it just sneaks in. Marie Manilla once pointed out an instance of magical realism in a description from one of my stories that I hadn’t even realized was there. The decision to utilize magical realism, though, depends on the story. When you get down to it, I think I am drawn equally to the post-modern and the absurd. I’ll even resort to realism when required. It’s all about what the story needs to work. 

What are you reading at the moment? What works do you come back to, or what authors do you continue to draw from? How have they informed your work? What has influenced this collection in particular.

I just finished Kurt Vonnegut: Letters. Kurt’s a formative influence. Also, a friend just introduced me to some work from Russian writer, Victor Pelevin, and I thoroughly enjoyed that. And though I write nothing like him, John Gardner continues to be a writer whose work and standards I admire enough to consider them a foundation. For the last few years, I’ve been into Italo Calvino. I really respect his ability to tell stories that seem impossible to tell, and even if I wouldn’t say he was a direct influence in terms of writing style, that attitude of his certainly suffuses Music & Blood

What're you up to now? Any writing projects in the works?

I am attempting to market a larger collection called, Suicidal Gods. Eight of those eleven stories have been published in various places, but I’d really like to publish them as the novel-in-stories from which they came—my thesis at West Virginia Wesleyan, in fact. At present, I continue to work in the short story form as I acclimate to the teaching life. Oddly enough, I think I’ve found another chapbook idea in what I have produced lately. Still some work to do on that, though. There’s a novel of some sort that’s been bouncing around my brain for the last couple years, but I think it needs to bounce a little longer.

 

C.M. Chapman has appeared in Cheat River Review, Limestone, Still: The Journal, Dark Mountain in the U.K., and the anthology, So It Goes: A Tribute to Kurt Vonnegut. He is the author of the chapbook, Music & Blood, from Latham House Press, and was a finalist in the 2015 Curt Johnson Prose Award for fiction. In 2014, he won first place in the WV Writers competition, for humor, and in 2015, for short story. He is a graduate of the low-residency MFA program at West Virginia Wesleyan College, where he served as the McKinney Teaching Fellow for 2016-17. For more information, visit Chapman's website or find him on Facebook as C.M. Chapman.

MFA BLAST: Wesleyan MFA Community Well-Represented in Winter 2017 Issue of Still: The Journal

Several members of the Wesleyan MFA community have been featured in the Winter 2017 issue of Still: The Journal. Alums CM Chapman (Fiction '15) and Kevin Chesser (Poetry '15) are both featured in the issue along with Visiting Faculty Mentor, Marie Manilla. Read the current issue here.

C.M. Chapman has appeared in Cheat River Review, Limestone, Dark Mountain, and the anthology, So It Goes: A Tribute to Kurt Vonnegut. He is the author of the chapbook, Music and Blood, from Latham House Press (2017), and was a finalist in the 2015 Curt Johnson Prose Award for fiction, judged by Joyce Carol Oates. He is a graduate of the low-residency MFA program at West Virginia Wesleyan College, where he serves as the McKinney Teaching Fellow for 2016-17.

Kevin Chesser is a poet and musician living in Elkins, West Virginia. His work has appeared in The Pikeville Review, The Travelin’ Appalachians Revue, and on the Dr. Doctor podcast. He holds an MFA in poetry from West Virginia Wesleyan College, and performs regularly in old-time stringbands around the region.

West Virginia native Marie Manilla is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her novel The Patron Saint of Ugly (set in her home state) received The Weatherford Award. Shrapnel, set in her hometown of Huntington, won The Fred Bonnie Award for Best First Novel. Stories in her collection, Still Life with Plums, first appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Prairie Schooner, Mississippi Review, Calyx, and other journals. Marie continues to live in the mountain state.

MFA BLAST: Vincent Trimboli Featured in Entrophy

Vincent Trimboli (Poetry '13) is featured in both the February and March issues of Entrophy . Trimboli's poem, "In her eyes, were I boat" is a response to the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, in June 2016. Read the poem, dedicated to Trimboli's mother post-Orlando, here. From the February issue, read "Misanthropia" here.

Vincent Trimboli received a MFA in Creative Writing in Poetry from West Virginia Wesleyan College in 2013. In 2016, Trimboli published two chapbooks with Ghost City Press (Condominium Morte and other milkweed diners). His poems can be found in Connotation Press and Still: The Journal.

MFA BLAST: Lara Lillibridge Wins The American Literary Review's Contest In Nonfiction

Wesleyan nonfiction alum, Lara Lillibridge has received recognition for her essay, "Essay Notes on Attachment Disorder", from The American Literary Review, where the essay won the ALR's contest in nonfiction, judged by Charles D'Ambrosio, author of Loitering: New and Collected Essays and recipient of a Whiting Award. The prize awards Lara with publication in The American Literary Review's Spring 2017 publication and a monetary prize as well.

See what Lara has to say about her essay's journey to publication below:

In my third semester at WVWC, I was introduced to experimental writing while working with Kim Dana Kupperman. I started writing what I called “essay notes,” which were basically list essays about relationships that I had trouble dissecting on the page. To be honest, the form felt like cheating at first—instead of suffering through page after page of traditionally formatted prose, I just put the important bits on the page and deleted all the rest. Two of these essays wound up in my thesis. One piece, "Essay Notes on Attachment Disorder", was a finalist for the DisQuiet Prize in Nonfiction, which came with a $950 scholarship to their summer program in Portugal, but not with publication, so I kept submitting it elsewhere, and it kept getting rejected.

This November, it won the The American Literary Review's Contest in Nonfiction, with publication in their Spring 2017 issue and $1,000. The second essay, "39 Lashes: Just Write Something About Your Mother", was a finalist in Black Warrior Review’s Nonfiction Contest, but again, not slated for publication. I truly believed in the piece, so every time it was rejected I just sent it to a handful of other places. It found a home (and a check for $1,000) through Slippery Elm Literary Journal’s Prose Contest and will be published in Dec. 2016. It’s interesting to me that both pieces that won were written in a very easy and natural style for me—I spent years trying to infuse my essays with poetry and struggled over lyricism, but when I just wrote in the fragmented way I thought, I had a lot more success.

Lara Lillibridge (Nonfiction ’16) is a graduate of West Virginia Wesleyan College’s MFA program in Creative Nonfiction. Lara Lillibridge sings off-beat and dances off-key. She writes a lot, and sometimes even likes how it turns out. In 2016, she won Slippery Elm Literary Journal’s Prose Contest and The American Literary Review's Contest in Nonfiction. She also was a finalist in both Black Warrior Review’s Nonfiction Contest and DisQuiet’s Literary Prize in Creative Nonfiction. She has had essays published in Pure Slush Vol. 11, Vandalia, and Polychrome Ink; on the web at Hippocampus, Luna Luna, Huffington Post, The Feminist Wire, Airplane Reading, Thirteen Ways to Tell a Story, Weirderary, and Brain, Child magazine's Brain, Mother blog. Lara’s memoir will debut in Fall of 2017 with SkyHorse Publishing. You can view some of her work on her website: www.LaraLillibridge.com.

SPOTLIGHT: Lisa Hayes-Minney Establishes Magazine to Showcase WV's Hidden Talents

When Lisa Hayes Minney (Nonfiction ’17) joined the West Virginia Wesleyan Master of Fine Arts program, she had two goals: to become a better writer and to change her life. What Lisa has found, however, is a revived passion for all types of writing and a new publication: Mountain Ink, a new literary magazine from Stumptown Publishing open to West Virginia’s resident writers.

Lisa says her mission when starting Mountain Ink last year was “to provide an outlet for West Virginia writers from all walks of life the opportunity to see their words in print. Not just academics and polished writers, but student writers, closet writers, all writers. There are a lot of hidden talents in the valleys and across the hills of West Virginia. Photographers, poets, storytellers, writers of all kinds and all ages. Mountain Ink is for them—to give them a venue to share and be recognized.”

And Mountain Ink has done just that with its first issue, which celebrated writers from all backgrounds and ages—and which sold out in three short months.

“We wanted everyone to feel welcome to submit, no matter what their education or background. I have always believed that words and writing belong to all of us,” says Lisa. “I love the variety of the pieces that come in. The variety of the personalities behind the submissions. Last year, we received submissions from writers ranging from ages 16 to 82. Some submissions were hand-written, some included artwork with them. In the future, I hope we can include artwork as well.”

One of Lisa’s fondest moments since Mountain Ink began was upon receiving a letter from the poetry winner of the first issue.

“Our poetry winner sent us a letter upon receiving his winnings saying that he had almost given up writing poetry because he didn't feel he was very talented. He was thrilled simply to be included in our first issue, but being selected as the winner in that genre really inspired him to keep writing.”

Lisa says she loves knowing Mountain Ink inspired, and continues to inspire, struggling or reluctant writers.

That is our mission. Although my time in the MFA program has shown me excellence in creative writing via professors, speakers, fellow students, and assigned reading, it also made it very clear that there is a world of non-academic writers, of amateur writers that, for the most part, remains unrecognized and under-valued,” says Lisa. “Just as our magazine, Two-Lane Livin', was created for the common audience not often targeted by most publications, Mountain Ink was created for the writers in West Virginia who aren't necessarily academic, who aren't supported or encouraged to share their talents and communicate their stories and experiences.”

Her tenure in the West Virginia Wesleyan MFA program has shown Lisa that not only could her own writing branch outside the world of casual journalism and into the literary realm, but that her business could as well. Thus, with Lisa at the helm, Stumptown Publishing embarked on the journey that has become Mountain Ink.

Mountain Ink was the first new product we created for our publishing house, and it was well received by both writers and readers. I never imagined we'd have our own annual literary review, but a once a year publication with minimal copies is really just a bit of fun compared to Two-Lane Livin', which is the largest independent publication in West Virginia and comes out twelve months of the year,” Lisa says.

Furthermore, Lisa’s work on Mountain Ink has also allowed her to champion some of her fellow Wesleyan cohorts. Wesleyan MFA alums, Rachel Hicks (Poetry ’15) and Elizabeth Gaucher (Nonfiction ’15) are two of the three editors for the upcoming issue. Virginia Rachel (Fiction ’15) was also poetry editor for the inaugural issue.

Mountain Ink is currently seeking submissions for its second issue. The submission period opened on October 1, 2016, and will run through March 1, 2016. The call is open to current West Virginia residents. For more information, email info@twolanelivin.com or visit Mountain Ink on Facebook.

Lisa Hayes Minney (Nonfiction ’17) is publisher and editor of Two-Lane Livin' Magazine, and publisher of Mountain Ink. She is also an Assistant Librarian at Gilmer Public Library and serves as an adjunct professor at Glenville State College. She is the workshop leader for customized writing workshops offered at Whispering Springs Haven and she is currently developing an essay chapbook and a spiritual guide. She is also working on her MFA thesis, planning to graduate in January.

MFA BLAST: Elizabeth Gaucher Featured in Short Story Collection

Elizabeth Gaucher (Nonfiction ’15) will have a short story in the anthology Between the Lines published by Seventh Star Press. SSP is a small press publisher located in Lexington, Kentucky, specializing in speculative fiction (fantasy, science fiction, and horror). Seventh Star Press released the collection this fall.

This book of short stories doesn't have an overarching theme, but it does have a unique catch: Writers were told that all stories had to contain this opening line:

Kelvin pressed against the wound as blood seeped around his hands.

And then, to make things a bit more interesting, all stories were to end with this closing line:

Watching the train disappear into the night, he brought the flower to his nose before tossing it to the tracks.

What happens Between the Lines is the making of this unique collection edited by Bram Stoker Award winning writer and editor Michael Knost. Gaucher's story, “Acts”, highlights her interests in spirituality, children, and mystery.

“Acts” is a powerful story that touched me deeply. Gaucher is very talented.

Michael Knost, award-winning author, editor, and columnist in the Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror and Supernatural Thriller genres.

You can find Between the Lines here.

Elizabeth Gaucher is a native of Charleston, West Virginia, and lives in Middlebury, Vermont. She graduated with honors in History from Davidson College and holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from West Virginia Wesleyan College with a concentration in Creative Nonfiction. She edits creative nonfiction for Longridge Review. She is an active member of the Burlington Writers Workshop and the League of Vermont Writers. Learn more at www.elizabethgaucher.com.

READING: Mary Carroll-Hackett to Read This Week

HeartWood Editor-At-Large, Mary Carroll-Hackett will give two readings in Central West Virginia in the next week, starting with a reading at the Gilmer County Public Library in Glenville on September 30, at 6 p.m. Mary will also read a the Heritage Village in Calhoun County Park outside Gransville, WV, on October 1, at 7:30 p.m. (Attendants are asked to take the first right after entering the park).

Mary will read from her new book, A Little Blood, A Little Rain, from FutureCycle Press. A harrowing collection of prose poems, A Little Blood, A Little Rain moves "like meditations between what we want and what we think we want, what we love and what we've lost," as the collection's summary describes.

Mary Carroll-Hackett is the founding Editor-At-Large of HeartWood Literary Magazine of WV Wesleyan College's MFA Program. Mary is a faculty member at Longwood University and a visiting faculty member of West Virginia Wesleyan's Master of Fine Arts program. In April 2015, The Night I Heard Everything, from FutureCycle Press, and a chapbook, Trailer Park Oracle, from Aldrich Press in February 2016. Mary's poetry and fiction have appeared in more than a hundred journals including Carolina Quarterly, Clackamas Literary Review, Pedestal Magazine, The Potomac, Reed, Superstition Review, Drunken Boat and The Prose-Poem Project, among others. For more information, visit Mary's website.

MFA BLAST: Poetry Editor Mary Imo Stike featured in Connotation Press

Fearless HeartWood Poetry Co-Editor, Mary Imo Stike, Poetry '15, is featured in the current issue of Connotation Press. The issue features four of Mary's poems: "Poem Inspired by James Wright’s Fear of Working in the Glass Plant," "Far from Home," "Iron Patty," and "The Man in the Theater". The issue also features an interview with Stike by Davon Loeb, in which Mary discusses the influence of her American Indian heritage and the natural world upon her work, stating:

I am never far from my family’s history, so I embrace the fact that as I tell my story I am continuing our oral tradition. My exposure to poetry in my 60s deepened my connection to my native heritage, due especially to my study of N. Scott Momaday, Leslie Marmon Silko and Joy Harjo. Much of my inspiration, what I call “the poetic opening” happens when I am firmly aware of my place in the natural world. I believe I am standing on my ancestors’ shoulders, and that knowledge makes poetic ties to my heritage exciting and of supreme importance.

Read Mary's work here at Connotation Press.

Mary Imo-Stike, Poetry '15, identifies as an American Indian, and a feminist. She worked "non-traditional" jobs as a rail worker, construction plumber, boiler operator and gas line inspector. Now retired from work-life, she obtained an MFA in Poetry from West Virginia Wesleyan College in 2015, and is currently the poetry co-editor of HeartWood Literary Magazine. Her work has been published in Antietam Review, Phoebe, The Pikeville Review, Appalachian Heritage, and Cactus Heart, and will be included in the forthcoming issues of Young Ravens Review and riverSedge.