Almost heaven


When I set about writing this new mystery novel of mine, I knew from the start where it would be set: in the majestic mountains of eastern West Virginia. My love affair with this state started with a personal connection: a very, very dear old friend who had partially grown up there, long enough to acquire the distinctive speech patterns and expressions used by folks from that part of the country. I’ve visited the state a number times, but each time has been memorable, not only for the natural beauty, but also the incredible openness and friendliness of its people. However, I wanted this state to be more than just a mere setting, I wanted it to be almost another character in the book and indeed, its flora and fauna and rugged terrain do play a big role in the plot’s resolution. A medieval-style monastery in West Virginia might seem an unusual or unlikely thing, but I didn’t want anyone thinking I was writing a thinly veiled portrait of the real-life Gethsemane Abbey in Kentucky, though I admit that place may have been an early inspiration. My fictional monastery is a very unique and very different sort of  place, which deserves to be set in a very unique state.

However, for a relatively small state, its character changes quite dramatically from north to south, and from panhandle to panhandle. So I had to zero in on the part of it I wanted to write about, even though I created a fictional town—also a fictional county, mountain, state park and creek—to complement my make-believe monastery. The general area is what the tour guides call the Potomac Highlands Region, where the Appalachian culture might not be as intense as in the western and southern counties, but it’s an area I’m familiar with, and it has a unique culture and history of its own. You could read more about it in the fiction of Mary Lee Settle and Denise Giardina, who’ve both written about this area and its people. It’s a splendid, ancient, scarred, and often overlooked section of the state, and I’m happy to give it some needed attention.

The mystery novel now is done, and is going off to the printers for a proof copy this week; I’m going to enter it in a competition that should give it some advance publicity and will also be posting an ARC on NetGalley, before it’s eventually published late this summer (sometime in August—late summer reading!) And by happy coincidence, galleys arrived today for Called to Serve: The Untold Story of Father Irenaeus Herscher OFM, so that book may see the light of day soon. The Franciscans did not tamper with it too much, I’m happy to say. And I have a freelance editorial project awaiting my eyeballs, a fantasy novel called Pillars of Atlantis, which I had edited as a rough draft some time ago, but now hope to polish for the author so he can finally publish it. So summer writing/editing so far is going as planned. Wish I could say the same for my garden…

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