There’s a new novel out from a West Virginia native about a place that’s very special to her. The book is a collection of family stories about life in Appalachia.
Laura Long lives in Charlottesville, Virginia now but she grew up in West Virginia. She recalls going to visit her grandmother while traveling from Buckhannon to Clarksburg. Her grandmother lived near a place called Peel Tree. She says the image of that place stayed with her for years, until she was ready to write her first novel.
"Peel Tree is a spot of town that was on the road to Clarksburg to Buckhannon, that we passed through to go to my grandmother’s house. Riding in the car, I was dreaming, and the sense of a tree peeling, it stayed in my imagination for decades," she said.
"I just love the name and the sense of peeling away layers and stories being layers of reality, and layers of a family."
The book is called ‘Out of Peel Tree,’ and it’s a collection of stories about an extended family that lives in parts of West Virginia. The stories range in tone from humorous to tragic, and follow the lives of characters in one particular family, as they struggle with love and loss.
There’s a matriarch, a grandmother, who appears in several of the stories. Long says the character is loosely based on her own grandmother.
"I think all novelists, they usually say they write about people they know, but they are composites of people they know. I revered my grandmother," she said.
"My sense of respect for my grandmother and grandfather, helped me be fascinated by what it meant to grow old in time, which is one of the big mysteries, what happens to us over time. When I started the book, I wanted to write about an old woman, and that was partly from seeing my grandmother."
The stories occur over a period of several years, and the reader follows several characters as they age. The stories deal with family loyalty, hope, and love. Long reads one of the stories.
Long says she first thought she would like to be a writer when she was a young elementary school student. She wrote a poem that inspired her.
"When I was in third grade, we were instructed on how to write a poem. I wrote a poem about a candle that had a handle, and wore a sandal," she said.
"I was so delighted that I could create this through language, I believed in it. I believed in the reality of what I had created in words. I wanted to become a writer, after I realized it was magic. That language had magic in it."
Long says she still feels magic when she writes.