A! Magazine for the Arts

Bekah Harris

Bekah Harris

Writers’ Day focuses on writing about Appalachia

June 26, 2019

Writers’ Day at the Virginia Highlands Festival provides an opportunity to learn from regional authors. It’s not just for writers; avid readers and the curious will also find it appealing. The event is Friday, July 26, beginning with registration from 8-9 a.m.

The day’s events begin at 9 a.m., with a workshop from presenting authors to share how they approach writing about Appalachian.

Bekah Harris leads “Appalachian Fantasy: Using Local Lore and Historical Research to Enrich Fantasy Novels” at 10 a.m. She has established herself as an Appalachian author of young adult fantasy by incorporating the tales she grew up hearing and the research that inspires her. She demonstrates how she fuses local legends, historical research and regional attractions to breathe life into her fiction.

Mary Knight talks about “Writing with Empathy” at 10 a.m. She discusses the craft tools that inspired readers to care about characters. She explores examples from picture books, middle schools and young adult fiction.

Mark Stevens discusses “Growing Up in the Appalachian Mountains Shapes One’s Writing” at 10 a.m. He grew up listening to his grandparents’ stories, observing the congregants at a small Baptist church and paying attention to workers who were bused to the rayon plants and had to farm on the side. A former newspaper publisher, he has turned to fiction. He talks about finding the human stories inside ourselves.

Harris discusses “A Balancing Act: Merging Detail with Dialogue to Create Appalachian Characters that Don’t Give Readers a Heartache” at 1:15 p.m. Dialect is often a dirty word in the creative world. Harris discusses when and how to use dialect and dialogue. She discusses when it’s appropriate and how to bring out the Appalachia in characters by balancing dialogue with vivid details.

Knight talks about “Writing through Mine Fields: How to Write About Social Issues Blowing up Your Story” at 1:15 p.m. Using examples from her experience writing about mountaintop removal mining and Native American issues, she alerts writers to the pitfalls and gifts of writing about “what matters most.”

Felicia Mitchell takes on “Embroidering on the Family Tree” at 1:15 p.m. Participants look at models of poems that have grown out of family stories, brainstorm topics and craft a draft of a poem based on a family story. The key lesson is how to be true to a story while embroidering it to make it work better.

Mitchell comes back to talk about “Woodworking a Rough Poem” at 3 p.m. Examine how a poem that tries to do too much in one place can be crafted as the poet finds the heartwood and works from there. Participants are encouraged to bring a poem that needs sculpting.

Stevens offers tips on research in “From History on the Rails to an Amazon Top Seller: Writing History and Non-Fiction” at 3 p.m. Stevens was asked to write a 35,000-word book in five months. He details the research he did to pull the book together. When personal interviews weren’t enough, he found much of the “color” for his work at East Tennessee State University’s Archives of Appalachia.

Harris and Knight are joined by Victoria Fletcher, Greg Lilly and Kathy Shearer on a panel to discuss publishing at 3 p.m. Each author publishes using different pathways, ranging from self-publishing, local publishers to a large national publishing panel.

Participants can preregister online and select the workshops of their choice, atvahighlandsfestival.org. The registration fee is $40, and high school, college or university students may attend for free.