West Virginia Wednesdays — Blackwater Falls State Park

IMG_8546I wanted to share some of the experiences I had on my research trip to West Virginia.

My family and I stayed in a cabin at Blackwater Falls State Park. The average elevation is 3200 feet, and that height allows eastern hemlock and red spruce to dominate with a few birch and striped and red maples thrown in. It covers 2,358 acres with miles of hiking and many gorgeous views. Along with 39 cabins, the park has a lodge with a restaurant, gift shop, and pool. We also took advantage of the nature center near our cabin. By the nature center is a small lake with boats, a playground, and two tether balls. My kids became addicted to tether ball. The park is part of the huge Monogahela National Forest.

IMG_8508I wished we had arrived two weeks earlier. The rhododendrons had just finished their blooms. They start the first week of July. It would have been wonderful to see the forest glowing with these white flowers because rhododendrons grow just about everywhere in the park.


Another type of plant I liked were the ferns. The park boasts many different kinds, and I love their feathery, primeval look.

Of course the major feature of the park is the falls. Blackwater Falls is one of the most photographed natural features in the state. It get its name from the needles of the hemlock and spruce which turn the water the color of tea.

IMG_8437We were fortunate to come when a lot of rain had fallen. The water poured magnificently over its 62-foot drop.  We went to see them around 7 p.m., which proved to be an excellent time. There were hardly any people around, and my husband and our oldest could experiment with different camer set-ups. During the rest of our stay, we drove by the parking area many times, and it was usually parked full.

Writing Tip — Digging into Research

IMG_8547I recently returned from a trip to Tucker County, West Virginia. My novel is set in a fictional county of West Virginia, but shares many characteristics with Tucker and neighboring Grant County.

Because my novel is set in current times, I have a much easier time doing my research than if I was using a historical context.

Here are three rules to follow if you are fortunate enough to be able to live in the setting your characters occupy:

1. Walk the walk. Or drive the drive. However you need to move around to familiarize yourself with a location, do it. We hiked through the mountains. I drove through three local towns and the twisty, heart-stopping roads between them. Such on-the-spot research reveals aspects I couldn’t learn from just reading books. For example, I went on a night walk because this is something my characters do. Apart from just feeling what the night is like in the mountains, I learned when it’s too dark to see my feet, I get a feeling of vertigo, like every step drops into a bottomless pit.

IMG_85262. Talk to the locals. Nothing beats learning from the people who live in a location. We stayed at Blackwater Falls State Park. While one of my kids made a craft at a program in the nature center, I talked to the assistant naturalist and found out all kind of interesting facts about the area. Such as how the beautiful eastern hemlocks are under attack from an invasive insect.

3. Visit a local library if there is one. Since I am a former librarian, it’s not surprising I like to do my research in libraries. Often, libraries have resources on the local area you can’t find online. I went to the library in Parsons, the county seat of Tucker County, and read through some old newspapers on microfilm (haven’t used that in a while), researching an idea I have for a mystery novel. It was difficult to print off the microfilm machine, so I asked if any of these old newspapers were online. The librarian told me they weren’t, so visiting the local library was my only option.

If your story isn’t set where you live, and it isn’t on the third planet from Altair, do your best to visit your setting. What you learn will surprise you.

Monday Sparks — Writing prompts

willow-2568232_1280Describe the idea summer evening.

Last year, I described a spiritual experience I had on a summer evening. You can read about it hear. Just recently, I had another wonderful evening in August.

We live on a river, and my husband kayaks. The whole family waded into the river and all the kids took a turn at paddling a small kayak. The weather was perfect, not humid, no bugs taking bites out of us. The sun gilded the water, and my kids’ happy voices floated over the quiet river. I felt a wonderful peace and thought as long as people can still appreciate simple pleasures like this, we aren’t that different from all our ancestors. Moments like that summer evening feels timeless.



Writing Tip — The Power of Voice

human-722702_1280The McBroom Saga was the first instance I can remember of a book having a distinct voice. And because it was a voice very similar to my grandparents’ speech, I was attracted to it and have been trying to write in dialect ever since.

As a kid, I desperately wanted to write a story in the same style as Mr. Fleischma. I remember telling a story, to a space heater, one winter day in the dialect of my West Virginian relatives.

In high school and college, I was attracted to other stories written in dialect like Damon Runyon’s Broadway short stories and some stories by Rudyard Kipling told in one of the many dialects of the British Isles.

When I began writing regularly in college, I always tried to write dialogue in dialect and use it for my current book set in West Virginia. So my wish to write like Mr. Fleischman came true.

Side Note

This is just a personal complaint of mine, but picture books as long as the McBroom Saga are rarely published any more. Compared to the brevity of style used in contemporary picture books, one McBroom book is the kids’ equivalent of War and Peace.

h4495This is such a shame. When my kids were younger, they wanted a strong, complicated narrative with interesting illustrations. Some picture books now are so short they hardly seem worth reading.

To find the longer picture books my kids wanted, I had to hunt for books that were thirty, forty, or fifty years old. I asked our local librarian for recommendations. I think there is still an audience for this kind of picture book, kids who are just starting chapter books but still like illustrations.

Okay. Complaint over.


Writing Tip — Favorite Stories — the McBroom Saga

h4495Last month, I wrote about The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, a children’s book that can provide inspiration for authors of all ages. This month I am writing about the first book I remember reading as a child that still has an influence on me as a writer.

I discovered McBroom’s Ghost while sitting in the waiting room of my doctor’s office, something I seemed to do a lot when I was a kid. I don’t remember the exact reason I selected this book, maybe because I had read all the others.

It began like this:

“Ghosts? Mercy, yes – I can tell you a thing or three about ghosts. As sure as my name’s Josh McBroom a haunt came lurking about our wonderful one-acre farm.

I don’t know when the confounded dry-bones first moved in with us, but I suspicion it was last winter. An uncommon cold winter it was, too, though not so cold that an honest man would tell fibs about it. Still, you had to be careful when you lit a match. The flame would freeze and you had to wait for a thaw to blow it out.”

That beginning immediately hooked me because I had never read a book written in a dialect before and the dialect was very similar to the way my mom’s parents spoke.

As I read further, I fell in love with the book when I found out the McBrooms had eleven children. I was one of four kids and always wanted to be part of a bigger family with oodles of siblings. I also like the way the father Josh McBroom called his kids, “Willjillhesterchesterpeterpollytimtommarylarryandlittleclarinda!” My mom would holler all our names together like that, too.

I read many books by the author Sid Fleischman and enjoyed almost all of them, but the McBrooms remained my favorites. I read at least one more of the books from the series as a child but didn’t discover all of them until I was an adult. I have read the Saga over and over to my kids.

Since this post is running long, I will talk about how the McBroom’s influence followed me as I developed as a writer.

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