Swarms of finches, wrens, and other tiny birds peck and hunt for food at feeders that hang outside my kitchen window. Even when I forget to fill the feeders, the birds arrive each morning, hoping to discover their next meal. These tiny birds never give up. They are constant, vigilant, driven. Despite the odds and possible dangers, the birds return every day.
Writers are like tiny birds. We beat our heads against one roadblock after another, writing against enormous odds, hoping and believing our next book will land in the laps of readers and on bestseller lists across the country. But even after decades into our career, we discover we must sometimes recall what made us write in the first place and the courage it took.
My granddaddy was a coal miner, but my father escaped the mines, went to college and moved his family to Ohio to work for the rubber companies. I spent every weekend as a child, traveling back to the West Virginia Mountains. My memories of my childhood run as deep as the Appalachian creeks and swimming holes I swam in as a child. My career as a writer was born in the dust laden coal towns of the early 60s.
For me, it is within sanctuaries of brick and mortar, places of clapboard and revival tents transcending time and space, that characters hang ripe and ready for picking.
From the primitive church services of mountain clans to the baptisms and sacraments of robed priests in great cathedrals and monasteries. From hardworking men and women who testify in the run-down churches of coal camps to the charismatic high-dollar high-tech evangelicals in televised mega-churches of today. Therein lie stories of unspeakable conflict, the forbidden, and often, the unexplained.
As a writer, it is my desire to transport a reader’s mind—but my deepest passion is to pierce a reader’s heart. The topic of faith, for me, has a way of doing that like nothing else.
My mother says I cut my teeth on the back of a church pew. I grew up in revival tents, tabernacles, and eventually in grand cathedrals with TV cameras rolling. In the early days, revivals were as exciting as the carnival coming to town and evangelists were royalty. I experienced a world from the sublime to the bizarre. It caused me to weave religion, spirituality, and the mysterious into my stories. Stories that hint to an ancient bridge where the real and the supernatural meet.
Many of my stories are based on truth, shreds of truth, people I’ve known, places I’ve been, and of course history plays a great part in some stories, like Coal Dust On My Feet; a love story set amidst the longest and most violent coal strike in the history of our country. It is truth and fiction.
Mother was a skilled storyteller without knowing it. All I wanted to do when I grew up was duplicate her life. I loved her southern accent and heritage and I felt neither imprisoned nor put off by it. But the most precious gift she gave me was a love for the written world, be it the word of God or of Mother Goose. Mom was my inspiration, and one day I picked up a pencil in the sixth grade and wrote my first story. I haven’t stopped since. The next forty years played into my storytelling, and after surviving life’s heartaches and hardships, it gave me plenty to write about.
A writer’s life is a solitary life. We hope we possess raw talent, unique originality, and gut emotional appeal. We raise the stakes on each and every page and hope, and pray, and believe that some day we’re blessed a bit of luck.
Is it worth the struggle? You bet it is. All you need, is the courage of a tiny bird.
Remember when you tackled that first story, essay, article, poem? That was courage. Courage is not confidence, nor the opposite of meekness. It’s feeling a measure of confidence, and then acting on those feelings. It’s a quality of spirit that enables you to face the moment, whatever comes, and keep going.
Courage allows you to see, hear, smell, and taste things as they really are. Courage makes you face facts, unfiltered by rosy daydreams. Courage frees you to be creative. It pushes you to prepare for the unknown without obsessing over it. To be open to what may come.
A writer can’t be open to new ideas if dazed and confused by fear. Courage enables you to be prepared and wide awake in every situation.
There were times in my youth I didn’t write because I was afraid of failing. I didn’t prepare for success because I was afraid it might happen. I didn’t look, really look, into my past because I was afraid of what I might find. As I grow older, I don’t give myself those options. Not anymore.
Fear is passive-aggressive. It’s the lazy writer’s excuse for not moving forward. It’s a great immobilizer, an avoidance technique. Fear puts the focus on what we might encounter, distracts us from what’s actually there. Courage empowers a writer to pay attention.
In the end, a writer can do without a lot of things. Remembering your journey is not one of them. Courage is the other.
Pam was born a Coal Miner’s granddaughter, and claims a tribe of wild Pentecostals and storytellers raised her. Her award-winning stories, articles, and essays have appeared in magazines, anthologies, and newspapers in several states. Pam’s passion and inspiration on overcoming life’s insurmountable obstacles is evident when she speaks and within the pages of her collection of short stories, Southern Fried Women, which was a finalist in Fiction and Literature-Short Story, Best Books of 2006 Book Awards, USABookNews.com, and a finalist for ForeWard Magazine’s Book of the Year 2006.
Pam has appeared on TV, Radio, and has been a keynote or guest speaker at regional and national writing groups, Rotary Clubs, Kiwanis, Women’s Centers, Junior Leagues, and many churches throughout the South. Also, in 2006 Pam was invited by the First Lady of West Virginia and the First Lady of Mississippi to speak to the people of Charleston and Jackson.
A week prior to this blog submission, she signed with a New York Literary Agent for her new novel, THE SANCTUM. Neeley McPherson accidentally killed her parents on her fifth birthday. Thrown into the care of her scheming and alcoholic grandfather, she is raised by his elderly farmhand, Gideon, a black man, whom she grows to love. Neeley turns thirteen during the winter of 1959, and when Gideon is accused of stealing a watch and using a Whites Only restroom, she determines to break him out of jail.
The infamous Catfish Cole, Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon of the Carolinas, pursues Neeley and Gideon in their courageous escape to the frozen Blue Ridge Mountains. After Gideon’s truck hits ice and careens down a steep slope, they travel on foot through a blizzard, and arrive at a farm of sorts—a wolf sanctuary where Neeley crosses the bridge between the real and the supernatural. It is here she discovers her grandfather’s deception, confronts the Klan, and uncovers the shocking secrets of the Cherokee family who befriends her. Giving sanctuary, the healing power of second chances, and overcoming prejudice entwine, leading Neeley to tragedy once again but also granting her the desire of her heart.
THE SANCTUM is about the divine meaning of family. It is a coming-of-age Southern tale dusted with a bit of magic, and set in a volatile time in America when the winds of change begin to blow.
You can listen to the audio from when Pam was a guest of Blog Host, Gail Z. Martin’s Ghost in the Machine podcast here: http://www.audioacrobat.com/play/WVLZM3ds