When most people think about Appalachia, they think about moonshining, NASCAR and clan-feuding. Poverty, lack of health care and poor education seem to be the traits most commonly associated with this part of the country. Coal mining, steel work and logging brought work to Appalachia, but not wealth for most of its residents.
Author Becky Muth found other elements common to the region: myths of struggle and survival, suffering and loss, especially in the oral tradition of local women. I’ve had the honor of interviewing Becky about her recent novella release on Amazon.com, SCREAMING JENNY, and about the collection of ghost stories she plans to release this fall, HAUNTED WOMEN OF THE APPALACHIANS.
Becky, give us a short pitch for your upcoming book, HAUNTED WOMEN OF THE APPALACHIANS.
Travel through the Appalachian Region of the United States to meet thirteen unlucky women who become victims of dire circumstances. Death however is only the beginning of their stories.
Inspired by actual folklore, each adapted tale presents a case of past and present colliding in 13 states in the Appalachian Region of the United States: New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama.
Besides Screaming Jenny, a few of the other characters from the past include a woman who strayed too far on the wrong side of politics during the Revolutionary War, a housewife who lost her heart to an alcoholic husband, an unwed mother who reaches beyond the grave to beg a favor, and a young girl who only wishes for someone to be her friend.
What was your inspiration for writing the book?
In the fall of 2013, I spent several weeks driving my husband back and forth to a work hardening program as part of his recovery from a shoulder injury he sustained while working as a career firefighter. One day while waiting for him, I received an e-newsletter from The Moonlit Road (http://themoonlitroad.com), a website that offers "Strange Tales of the American South".
The feature article covered the topic of the Ghost Lights of Brown Mountain, North Carolina. My paternal grandmother's maiden name is Brown. They're from North Carolina, so I was immediately curious. The article gave several theories for the cause of the lights, but nothing concrete.
When I got home, I did some more research from my laptop with similar results. It turned out that people as far away as Blowing Rock, NC reported seeing the lights. My family visited Blowing Rock while on vacation in Boone, NC in 2012. The more I thought about it, the wilder my imagination ran until I had the basic story outlined in my head.
Then I got the idea to do one story for every state in the Appalachians.
How much of the book comes from oral tradition and how much is your original fiction?
While every story is based on some type of oral tradition, handed down from past generations, each one offers my own, heavily embellished version of the events. For example, in Harpers Ferry folks will tell you that Screaming Jenny died when a train ran over her flaming body. Did she live next door to a family? Did she trade vegetables for fish with the town hobo? Those parts are all me.
In essence, Jenny met her demise because she lived alone. Your main character, Vanessa, thinks about leaving her husband at the beginning of the story, but after hearing the tragic story of Screaming Jenny, they find a way to compromise and rekindle their relationship.
Do all of the stories in The Haunted Women of the Appalachians provide a parallel between the modern characters and the tragic ghosts of the past?
Yes, I've certainly tried to draw a parallel between the past and the present. Some stories proved a bit more of a challenge.
The first draft of Screaming Jenny had a weaker parallel with an entirely different ending. After deleting a couple of unnecessary scenes and completely rewriting the end, both my editor and I were a lot happier with the connection between the present-day characters and those from the town's past.
You and I are both members of the Eastern Panhandle Wrimos group as well as part of the larger, Shenandoah Valley Writers group on Facebook. How have participating in events like Nanowrimo helped you grow as a novelist?
When the email announcing NaNoWriMo arrived, I decided to give it a shot. Without the support and encouragement from my husband and our sons, as well as other writers in our local NaNoWriMo group, this would all still be an idea in my head.
NaNoWriMo was a great way to launch myself into the project, though, and I highly recommend all writers try it at least once. The connections I made to other writers alone was worth it. I re-used this project in the July Camp NaNo event, which helped get me back into "the zone".
SCREAMING JENNY is available now as an e-book novella on Amazon. What are your future writing plans?
My immediate writing plans include finishing HAUNTED WOMEN OF THE APPALACHIANS first. I plan to self-publish, but would not turn down talks with a publishing house if the book caught their eye. Aside from hiring an editor (Sheila Haab from http://www.SageEditing.com) everything else is all me -- the cover, the marketing, etc.
Shelia is a true blessing. Without her advice, HAUNTED WOMEN OF THE APPALACHIANS would just be something I plan to finish in the future. I definitely hope to use her for my next book as well. And of course I'll continue freelance writing through Elance for my current clients.
Beyond that, I'm waffling between ideas for different books I could someday write. There are certainly more ideas than enough time to ever see them all through, but for NaNoWriMo 2014 I'll be delving into the genre of "chick lit" with a book currently titled LOVE THY NEIGHBOR and set in Northern Virginia. If all goes according to plan, then I'd like to keep Shelia as an editor for that book also.
Tell us more about Becky Muth, the author.
I grew up in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, about seven miles from where I live right now. My dream, however, is to move to the Carolinas. Specifically, I'd love to live within an hour of Murrells Inlet, South Carolina. A fishing village just south of Myrtle Beach, it offers a more relaxed pace. The story from the South Carolina chapter of HAUNTED WOMEN OF THE APPALACHIANS takes place there, and in February 2014 I had the good fortune of visiting the actual grave site of the story's main character.
Writing a book was an unexpected (although exciting) side effect of freelance writing. I started out writing for several internet game companies. Now I have clients on four continents who hire me for both writing and graphic design work. I love working from home, and joke that my dress code is Doctor Who tee-shirts and yoga pants.
When I'm not writing, I enjoy spending time with my family which includes my husband, a retired career firefighter and our two teenage sons. I'm a sucker for a good book and enjoy meeting friends for lunch when our busy schedules allow. My guilty pleasures include reality TV binges and listening to my bluegrass-themed Pandora station, which I created after learning about a local band, The Polka Dots (http://www.thepolkadots.org).
I'm also quite passionate about animal adoption and often use my Facebook page to promote animal shelter awareness. Currently my family and I share our home with three mixed breed rescue dogs: Amazing Gracie (Yellow Lab / Plott Hound), Sookie Doghouse (Catahoula Leopard), and Gibson Girl (Corgi / Rottweiler).
Thank you, Becky, for sharing your work and insights with us. To find out more about Becky Muth and her books, SCREAMING JENNY and HAUNTED WOMEN OF THE APPALACHIANS, follow this list of links.
Facebook: Becky Muth Author Page
Haunted Women on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/hauntedwomenoftheappalachians
Screaming Jenny video trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8WOKkP1bgM