*** Published: April 5, 2009 in the Bristol (Va.) Herald Courier. ***
ST. PAUL, Va. – For years, Neva Bryan has toyed with the inner depths of her imagination.
"I have stories and characters and places inside me, and they come out in different ways – sometimes through a poem, sometimes through a short story, and in the case of "St. Peter's Monsters,' through a book," Bryan said.
That's Bryan's big project these days – "St. Peter's Monsters." It's the name of her new novel, published this spring by her own Brighid Editions.
"St. Peter's Monsters" tells the story of Peter Sullivan, a homesick college student teetering on the edge of alcoholism, Bryan said. "The title just popped into my head one day when I was driving to work," Bryan said. " "St. Peter,' because the title character wants to do the right thing, wants to be the hero, has good intentions, but he's all-too human. He messes up a lot."
And why "Monsters"? "Because he's battling alcohol and divorce," said Bryan, a St. Paul resident and the director of public relations for an area agency on aging.
For several years, Bryan pieced together scraps of scenes for this book, all the time "with no idea about how it would come together," she said. "I got serious about the book in 2004," she said. "In 2006, I quit a job I didn't like and spent six months completing the book. That's six months, seven days a week, from 8 in the morning till 11 or 12 at night. It was the best six months of my life!"
That time, Bryan said, is when "St. Peter's Monster's" really came to life. She lost herself in the words. Ultimately, the story took over. And why not? She had been working on fiction for years.
"I consider myself a better poet than a fiction writer," Bryan said. "I've published some short stories in literary journals ... I've published a lot of poems and have won a dozen prizes for my poetry, including a James Still Award for Poetry."
Given a choice, Bryan – who calls herself "a very young and perky 42" – would rather write poetry. "I enjoy the act of writing poetry more than the act of writing fiction," she said. "I like playing with words and discovering how they sound falling out of my mouth."
One of Bryan's most recent poems is slated to be published in an anthology called "We All Live Downstream" by Motes Books in mid-April. "It's a collection of poems, stories and essays about mountaintop removal mining," Bryan said.
"KNEW THE QUALITY'
Bryan is no quitter. For years, the St. Paul resident held her feet to the fire, trying to find a publisher. Some told her they loved her writing; they loved the "St. Peter's Monsters" book.
But, she said, they just couldn't publish it at this time. "I would say I've received at least 30 rejections," Bryan said. "However, most all of them have been what I call "positive' rejections. They're not form letters; they're not nasty or insulting. Quite the contrary. Editors have applauded the quality of my writing, the well-rendered characters, and, to quote one editor, "my absolutely gorgeous prose.' These rejections really validate my own belief that I'm a good writer."
Finally, faced with interminable delays, Bryan launched a publishing firm and issued "St. Peter's Monsters" on her own.
"I knew the quality of my work was worthy of publishing and that readers would enjoy it," Bryan said. "The mainstream publishers didn't seem to know how to market it or who my audience would be. I didn't have that problem. I'm a marketing and public relations professional, so I know how to get out there and sell the thing. I know my audience."
Addicted to the power of words and the art of storytelling, Bryan has longed championed local authors. She organized a literary reading two summers ago at St. Paul's Clinch River Days. "I've attended and taught at the Appalachian Writers Association Conference," she said. "I've been to the Appalachian Writers Workshop at Hindman, Ky., the Lost State Writers Conference in Greeneville, Tenn., and the John Fox Jr. Festival in Big Stone Gap." She has also participated in the Mountain Heritage Literary Festival at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn.
"I dislike elitism and pretension and gimmicks. Writers who make it obvious that they think they're more intelligent and clever than their readers annoy me," Bryan said. "I think writing should be accessible," she added. "Being a writer has been a lifelong goal. I completed my first short story when I was 11. I've been at this for more than three decades. It's hard work, but it's also a lot of fun."
"TELL A STORY'
Today, Bryan is out on the road with "St. Peter's Monsters," so far having toured for readings in Big Stone Gap and St. Paul, always reaching for new listeners and new readers.
She's also working on a new book. "I have the first draft of a second book," Bryan said. "Technically, it isn't a sequel because it doesn't deal with the same characters. However, it does take place in the mythological setting of Pawpaw Ridge in Wise County. It's tentatively titled "Kudzu Palace.' "
In the meantime, Bryan is also anxious to share "St. Peter's Monsters," she said. "I have the qualities it takes to continue writing even when it's not fun or even when I'm my only audience," Bryan said. "I'm thick-skinned and persistent. And I'm Appalachian, so you know I've got to tell a story."
BOOK SIGNINGS IN APRIL 2009:
April 11, noon-3 p.m., Zazzy'z Coffee House, 380 E. Main St., Abingdon;
April 16, 7 p.m., Bristol Public Library, 701 Goode St.;
April 18, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Festival of Books and Authors, Johnson City Public Library, 100 W. Millard St.;
April 23, 6:30 p.m., Russell County Public Library, Lebanon.
Info: (276) 762-5430
Read a sample of Neva Bryan's poems published in the March 2008 edition of A! Magazine for the Arts.