Appalachian Author Interviews

A series of interviews with authors writing about the region or from Appalachia. Appalachian authors write thriller novels and historical fiction. They also write exhaustively researched nonfiction about a variety of topics. 

Eric Douglas
Credit Danny Boyd

Eric Douglas is a producer for the West Virginia Public Broadcasting show Inside Appalachia and an author in his own right. He has written novels, short stories and nonfiction biographies. 

Appalachian writers produce a tremendous amount of work, but finding it isn’t always easy. Katherine Ledford and Theresa Lloyd, professors of Appalachian literature at Appalachian State University and East Tennessee State University respectively, decided to create an anthology they could use in their classrooms. 

The effort took more than a decade, but it is finally available in the form of the 745 page “Writing Appalachia Anthology” from the University Press of Kentucky.

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Publisher, author and entrepreneur Ardre Ordie is working to make sure more Black people, especially Black men, tell their stories and author books. She is using an initiative called the 100 Seeds of Promise project to bring those stories to market. 

Ordie spoke with Eric Douglas to discuss the challenges. 


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Denise Giardina is a highly regarded Appalachian author whose works include “Storming Heaven” and “The Unquiet Earth.” Both of those books are set in West Virginia, in the coalfields. They revolve around the miners’ struggle with mine owners and unions, including the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921.

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Poison Flood, a new novel by Jordan Farmer, is set against the backdrop of an environmental disaster in southern West Virginia. It includes murder, theft and riots. The book is described as a crime and noir-style mystery by the publisher. 

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This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity. 

Stories of snake handlers, moonshining and the isolated mountains of West Virginia have been around for years, but “Shiner,” a new novel by author Amy Jo Burns, looks at them from the perspective of a 15-year-old girl caught in the middle. 

Eric Douglas spoke with Burns to discuss the newly released book. 

Douglas: The book is set in modern day, but there are pieces of it that feel like they could have been told 100 years ago. 

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This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity. 

Stories of snake handlers, moonshining and the isolated mountains of West Virginia have been around for years, but “Shiners,” a new novel by author Amy Jo Burns, looks at them from the perspective of a 15-year-old girl caught in the middle. 

Eric Douglas spoke with Burns to discuss the newly released book. 

Douglas: The book is set in modern day, but there are pieces of it that feel like they could have been told 100 years ago. 

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Stories of life in Appalachia are often told from a male perspective, but many young writers and authors are trying to change that. They want to make sure the story of Appalachia’s women are not forgotten. 

In Cassie Chambers’ memoir “Hill Women” she examines her life in eastern Kentucky through the eyes of three generations of women in her family. 

She spoke with Eric Douglas to discuss the book -- and her pursuits that ultimately led her back to eastern Kentucky. 

Eric Douglas / WVPB

Stan Bumgardner is a historian and the editor of Goldenseal Magazine, a folklife publication about West Virginia. He recently wrote an essay titled “What is Appalachia?” for the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

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Author Bonnie Proudfoot began working on her new novel “Goshen Road” nearly 25 years ago, but she said she had to get older before she had the confidence to finish it. The story follows two sisters growing up in northern West Virginia, beginning as teens in 1967. 

She described the book as women-centered Appalachian fiction, although she was quick to point out that not every chapter was told from a woman’s point of view. 

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At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Jessica Salfia began receiving emails from companies she had interacted with over the years. Most said the similar things, like how they “cared about their customers” and were “looking after their employees.” 

Instead of just deleting those emails, Salfia, who is a creative writing teacher from Martinsburg, W.Va., saw the makings of a poem.

Salfia said she encourages her students to keep a “writer’s notebook,” an informal writing journal to record things for writing about later. 

On June 25, 1980, Vicki Durian and Nancy Santomero were killed in Pocahontas County. They were on the way to the Rainbow Family Gathering, an annual  meeting of hippies and other like-minded people that celebrate peace, harmony and freedom held at different national forests across the country. 

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In February 1968, US Senator Robert Kennedy visited eastern Kentucky to investigate the successes and the failures of the “War on Poverty.” In the new book “All This Marvelous Potential: Robert Kennedy’s 1968 Tour of Appalachia” author Matthew Algeo examined the trip and digs into what Kennedy saw, what has changed since then and what remains the same. 

Algeo said he used small stories to try to tell bigger stories in American history. He focused on Kennedy’s tour to highlight bigger issues he discovered in his research. 

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Stories told in serial fashion are stories with chapters released on a regular basis, often weekly. Publishers began releasing serial fiction in the 1800s. The format really took off in the 1920s with cheap publishing options and penny magazines. Authors like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who penned the “Sherlock Holmes” short stories and novels, published in serial form. 

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Diane Ravitch is an author and public education historian turned education activist. Recently, she was in Charleston speaking at the Red For Ed Celebration on the second anniversary of the West Virginia teacher’s strike. She spoke with Eric Douglas about the teacher’s movement and her book, “Slaying Goliath: The Passionate Resistance to Privatization and the Fight to Save America’s Public Schools.” The book details the massive private funding in the educational reform movement that began in the George W. Bush era and the teacher’s movements that have spread across the country in its wake. 


The Melungeon people of east Tennessee were isolated and discriminated against throughout much of their history. They began to be “othered” in the 1800s for being mixed-race Appalachians.

Melungeons are considered a tri-racial isolate, meaning they are a combination of traits from multiple ethnic backgrounds, thus, creating their own unique culture. Today we know the Melungeon are African, white European and Native American. 

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Katherine Manley grew up in abject poverty in Logan County, W. Va., but went on to teach in the same schools she attended. 

Mountain State Press recently published her memoir, “Don’t Tell ‘Em You’re Cold” about her upbringing and how she overcame those challenges. The book's title refers to a time when she was begging on the streets of Logan with her father. He was afraid the authorities would take her away if she told anyone she was cold.  

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West Virginia author Mesha Maren’s debut novel “Sugar Run” is set in a fictional version of Greenbrier County. Maren is from Alderson and currently splits her time between North Carolina and West Virginia. 

“Sugar Run” tells the story of a woman named Jodi McCarty. The story begins as she is being released from prison. She wants to head back to where she grew up in southern West Virginia, to live on land owned by her grandmother. But before she does that, she wants to make good on a promise she made before prison.

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In 2013, Jim Dahlman, a journalist and professor of communications at Milligan College in Tennessee, set out to learn more about Appalachia by walking Daniel Boone’s Wilderness Road from Tennessee into Kentucky. 

The walk inspired the recently published book “A Familiar Wilderness: Searching for Home on Daniel Boone’s Road.” It is a collection of history, modern observations and interviews with people Dahlman met along the way. 


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In her new novel, "Blood Creek", author Kimberly Collins writes about the strikes that gripped the southern West Virginia coalfields in the early 20th Century from the perspective of the women who lived through them.

"Blood Creek" is the first in the Mingo Chronicles series. It starts with the strike at Paint Creek and Cabin Creek in 1912. Collins used real characters from history in her books, several of whom she is related to. 


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The best-selling author of all time will be at the West Virginia Book Festival this weekend. 


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The novel “The Boys Who Woke Up Early” looks at the Jim Crow south in a fictional county along the border of Virginia and West Virginia in 1960. Author and journalist A.D. Hopkins told the story through the eyes of three teenage boys.  

Hopkins’ main character is a teenage boy named Stony. He is a juvenile delinquent, who is always in trouble with his school and with law enforcement. They live in a fictionalized town called Early, Virginia during a period “when the Ku Klux Klan is still in still lingering around when the color bar is still very much in force,” Hopkins said. 

Images of the covers of the books fantasy author Craig Halloran has written.
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Swords, sorcery, other worlds and plenty of action are staples of the fantasy book genre. Craig Halloran, from Charleston, West Virginia, has written 70 books in 10 years, taking his readers to far-off lands. 


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Alexander Rosenstein is an orthopedic surgeon and a university professor who lives in Charleston, West Virginia and in Hawaii. But as much as he loves the surgical theater, he also loves spy thrillers — he grew up loving Ian Fleming’s books about James Bond. 

Now he’s telling his own spy thriller stories with his debut novel “Sword of the Kremlin.” It’s set during the Cold War, but with a twist: His main character is in the KGB.


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Christy Smith’s debut novel “Killed It” is a thriller with a twist. Smith explained that the book is both a thriller and a dark comedy. It’s set in New York City and the protagonist is a young, failed female comedian who is working as a paralegal.


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When Cicero Fain began working on his Ph.D., he took a deep look at the black community in Huntington, West Virginia. He wanted to understand where it began and what helped i to thrive. That research ultimately became his new book “Black Huntington: An Appalachian Story.”

One major factor that boosted growth in Huntington was the Chesapeake and Ohio railroad. When Collis P. Huntington decided to build a depot in Huntington, he needed workers. 

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Best-selling author Sheila Redling, from Huntington, West Virginia, has written nine books under the pen name SG Redling. After losing her will to write, she is back on track and more books are on the way. In this interview she talks about the importance of protecting your ability to write and gives advice to writers.

Redling explained that after a fast start, writing several books, she burned out. 

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After a career working in the international intelligence community, realistic cold war spy novels have been Huntington author Michael Connick’s forte. His latest book, a crime novel titled “HPD” is still realistic, but it focuses on the Huntington Police Department in present day. 

HPD follows the 12 year career of a Huntington police officer from when he first joined the force in 2006 through 2018. The main character, a patrolman, follows up on a murder investigation in his own time, in spite of what it costs him personally. 

WVU Press

The book “Appalachia North” by Matthew Ferrence takes a look at what it means to be from Appalachia and not realize it. He grew up in a part of Pennsylvania that’s part of Appalachia according to the Appalachian Regional Commission, but no one there acknowledged that fact.

Matthew Ferrence describes “Appalachia North” as a geological, cultural and as a personal journey. It’s a memoir.

In movies, the people and places of Appalachia are often made into an “other”. That makes it easy to both romanticize and look down upon the region. One example is the common joke many Appalachians are all too familiar with, when someone who isn’t from here pretends to play the banjo riff from “Deliverance”. In Meredith McCarroll’s book “UnWhite: Appalachia, Race and Film”, she examines the way the people of Appalachia are portrayed in films.