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Appalachia Through My Eyes - Phlox

Appalachian Writers

A few weeks ago, I had the great pleasure of reading Marilyn Sue Shank's new book Child of the Mountains. From the first page I fell in love with Lydia who is the central character of the story. The book is written in diary form-as if the reader is getting to peek into the personal thoughts and experiences of Lydia. But the story is so compelling and the characters so life like to Appalachia-that I felt as if I knew them-as if I could read their inner thoughts and feelings too.

Marilyn Sue Shank graciously agreed to be interviewed for the Blind Pig. She also asked for Random House Children's Books to donate a copy of Child of the Mountains for me to use as a giveaway-and they agreed! So stick around till the end of the interview for your chance to win a copy of the book.


*Did you always want to be a writer or was it a desire that came to you later in life?

I always loved to write. When I was in fourth grade, I remember we used to listen to a radio program about West Virginia history. Then we would write stories about what we had heard. One day, my teacher said, “Marilyn, I love to read your stories.” Her words sparked something in me that finally came to fruition as an adult. However, I also loved teaching, and that was my chosen occupation.

*Do you primarily make a living from writing or is it a labor of love?

I was in a car accident 21 years ago that left me with chronic, full-body pain. I was able to continue teaching for 16 years after that, but I finally had to face that I would have to leave the occupation that meant so much to me. I had to go on disability. However, I
thank God now for the time to write. I had started Child of the Mountains while I was still working, but it never would have been completed if I had continued teaching.

By having my occupation and the income that came with it stripped away, I learned that faith, hope, and love truly are the only valuable commodities in this life. In my novel, Lydia learns that truth at an early age from the examples of her mother and grandmother. Faith, hope, and love sustain her through tragedy. Lydia also learns that we are made strong through weakness. I’ve learned from experience that sometimes the most challenging changes in life can result in wonderful outcomes.

Even when a writer is finally published, unless that person is a big name and tops the best seller charts, making a living from writing is not possible. So, yes, writing is a labor of love for me. 

*I found Child of The Mountains rang true with authentic Appalachian Culture-did you grow up in Appalachia? If not-how did you create the authenticity for your book?

I’ve had people ask me if it was difficult to write in dialect. The answer is no, it came naturally to me. I heard Lydia and her family speak in the dialect of my childhood as I was writing. I grew up in West Virginia. Although I was born in Charleston, the urban capital of the state, many of my relatives spoke the dialect of the hills. My father, a project scientist, loved Appalachian sayings and sprinkled them in his speech. My mother switched easily from Appalachian dialect to Standard English, depending on the people around her. I researched Appalachian dialect to make sure what I remembered was accurate and was surprised to find that it was.

The heavier dialect is not spoken as much anymore because of exposure to television, radio, and frequent travel. I hope that Child of the Mountains helps preserve the lyrical language of the hills.

*Do you think it’s important to write about Appalachia in a positive way-or is just an interesting backdrop for a story you wanted to tell?

I love and am proud of my heritage. We have so many gifts as Appalachians—our music, storytelling, visual arts, inventiveness. One of my frustrations as a former teacher is that intelligence tests in schools do not measure creativity, a vital component of intelligence. The children of Appalachia would score high on such tests. I grew up in the “chemical valley.” Appalachia needs to be recognized for the contributions its people have made to science. That’s why I wanted people to see the wisdom and intelligence in Lydia’s family, despite the stereotypes people have of Appalachians who speak with the dialect.

What I believe is most wonderful about Appalachia is her people, who traditionally care about others, reaching out to help those in need. The resilience of the people of Appalachia is remarkable. I use a quote by Margaret Hatfield to introduce the book: “These women of Appalachia, they didn’t survive. They prevailed.”

No, Appalachia is not a backdrop for Child of the Mountains. Appalachia is the story.

*Would you consider Child of the Mountains a young adult book?

Random House lists Child of the Mountains as a middle-grade novel because Lydia is eleven when the story begins and twelve when the story ends. However, teenagers seem to enjoy it. Adults appreciate the novel as a coming-of-age story. What surprises me the most is that many men have told me how much they like Child of the Mountains. The novel seems to resonate especially with people from Appalachia.

*I don’t want to give the story away-for those who haven’t read the book yet-but do you think the ‘issue’ that resulted in jail time would have ended the same way if the folks who needed help weren’t from the backwoods of Appalachia?

No, I think the reason this story came to me is because of the frustration I had growing up with the stereotypical images of people from Appalachia as ignorant and foolish. I saw the intelligence and wisdom of people around me. The only reason Lydia’s mother and uncle tolerated demeaning treatment was because of their desperation to help Lydia’s
little brother.

*From the first page of the book, I fell in love with the main character, Lydia. I found myself wanting to take care of her-wishing I could step in and make things right. Will there be more books about Lydia? Do you have any other works of fiction forthcoming?

I have a trilogy in mind, but whether I am able to write the second and third book depends on the success of the first.

For the sequel, Lydia makes a promise to her mother in Child of the Mountains that she doesn’t keep in high school. The results are disastrous. Also, Lydia’s life has turned upside down. She is now wealthy. Her stepfather is a lawyer and the family lives in an exclusive area of Charleston. She’s had to learn Standard English, and is struggling with her identity, especially when a classmate from Jackson County, WV, who is treated badly, causes her to confront her past. She keeps thinking “I could be Hannah.” At the same time, she wishes she were Hannah.

In the third book, Lydia will return to the hills in Lincoln County, WV, to teach. Her fiancé is in Vietnam, and she has an interesting mix of students from coalmining, moon shining, hippie, and highly educated families. The opinions of the families about the War add to her own conflicted thoughts about Vietnam.

*Where can people find your books? Is there anything I missed that you would want to share with my readers?

I hope their local bookstores and public libraries will be carrying Child of the Mountains. They can also find links to online booksellers on my website (select the Books link):

I consider Child of the Mountains my love letter to the people of Appalachia. I would like to thank your readers for embracing my little novel, and especially to you, Tipper, for your efforts to preserve Appalachian culture through this blog.


I hope you enjoyed the interview! And if you'd like a chance to win a copy of the book leave a comment on this post. Giveaway ends on Sunday June 17.


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Good Morning Tipper ! Just read the interview and your account of the book "Child of The Mountain ". This sounds like a wonderful book and would kind of remind me of Chitter and Chatter. Please include me in the drawing. Thanks ! Have a good day.

This book is now on my list of "to read". I appreciate writers who write what they know best and have the courage to tell their stories with authenticity.

Very nice interview - please add my name to the drawing. This book sounds like a wonderful choice for a summer book club!

This sounds like the kind of book that I would like to read.

Great job, Tipper, on the interview, and I'm looking forward to reading this --for me and for my 11 & 13 yr olds! Nicely done.

I can't wait to read this read this book!! Thank you so much for bringing it to my attention-please don't enter me in the giveaway. It is still someone else's turn.

Awww, this sounds like such a good one..I would love to have it, she is a very knowledgable person and writer and being from the Applachian, she knows her stuff..Thanks for the interview and the post.

Now that was a very enjoyable interview, knowing her thoughts are filtered through her love of Appalachia and mountain folkways.

Lydia seems to be that everychild that we have in mind when we think of adolescent girls growing up in that special world. It's a very different world for boys, and it should be.

I think it is good that a person has pride in where they were born. I was born in Southeast Kentucky, so technically I'm not from Appalachia, but close enough to understand.

Thank you Tipper and Marilyn, I can't wait to read this book! The interview was wonderful, Marilyn's grit and determination in the aftermath of her accident and gumption in not only writing but getting published are very telling - she's a true Appalachian! You both do us proud!

I can't wait to read this book, I also have niece with a birthday at the end of the month, this sounds like a perfect gift! Thanks for letting us know about it Tipper!

The theme of the book is intriguing. I was very impressed with the way this author has dealth with difficulties that would be very hard to overcome. She still has an amazing outlook on life.

I am so happy to have found your site! This is the first that I've found that focused on Appalachia and Appalachian literature. In college in studied about as much appalachian literature as I could - took all of the courses that where offered and immersed myself in it. It was the main focus of my American Lit studies. Then my final semester, I got swept up in my young adult lit class and fell in love with it. Now YA is mainly all that I read. But I've wanted to get back into reading more appalachian lit, and this book is the perfect start.

I would love to be entered in the drawing. And I will definitely come back to your blog to check out all that you have to share.

Don't put my name in the drawing. I've ordered one direct from Random House. 3-5 business days, they say. It might be for younger readers but I'm about to enter my second childhood, it should be perfect.
WalMart's website had it $6.00 less but they didn't have it in stock. Back when I sold eggs they were a dollar a dozen. If I didn't have any, they were only a dime.

I love to read new southern,esp. Appalachian writers. Love the interview!

Nice interview and great sounding book. If I don't win this one, will have my favorite bookstore order it for me. Passing this blog on to others that would enjoy the book, too.

Tipper I am so glad you interviewed Marilyn. I reviewed COTM a few weeks ago; it's a book that will stay with the reader for days. Being chosen to represent WV at the National Book Festival attests to the book's quality.

We live in central WV and even though I was born in CA I was raised here. This is my home.This sounds like a great book.

That was a very touching interview. The love shone thru. I will have to look for this book. Thank you Tipper.

The book sounds interesting, and the interview made it doubly so for me.

I would love to be entered in the give-away for the book; it's just the type of book my sisters and I LOVE to read, and we share them back and forth, often until they are falling apart. ;o)


God bless.


Don-you want to hear about a budding Appalachian engineer? My 10 year old grandson came to my house last Saturday with a pump shotgun. 10 years old, you say! A ten year old with a shotgun! Well he had made it with only paper and scotch tape. rolled the paper and taped it together. And he made shells for it. He can load it and pump it and the shell flies out. He also builds bridges with toothpicks and mini marshmallows. But I ain't bragging, just stating facts.

I loved 'Christy' by Catherine Marshall because the intelligence, wit and creativity of the Applachian people were so evident. I anticipate loving 'Child of the Mountains' also.

I think we all need to appreciate and learn from others' cultures. Growing up in the Carolina country with family members scattered I glimpsed others. Would LOVE to read and share this book.

My Mom still reads also, and would greatly enjoy the book. I always have loved any writings about Appalachia. I have saved all the required readings from my Granddaughter's class at Marshall Univ. on West Virginia History. Unlike all other books the books about Appalachia always seem to have a touch of nostalgia.

Don, Jess Shank is likely a relative. My father's relatives originally settled in Pennsylvania to get away from religous persecution because they were Mennonites. I'm hoping a cousin of mine will check this post. Dad passed on much of the family history to her.

B. Ruth, CHILD OF THE MOUNTAINS is available for Kindle, iTunes, and Nook! Thanks for asking.

The book sounds so interesting and something I would like to read.

Jim, I would have loved to have known your Grandpa Joe, my Dad often accused me of piddlin and said I spent more time figuring out an easier way to accomplish a task than it would have taken just to do it. I told him that my cyphering (piddlin) was how many folks invented many items such as the wheel, if someone hadn't devised this tool we'd still be sliding loads along the ground. I also enjoy your accounts of "Loafer's Glory" or another more descriptive name, on the Square in Bryson City. I too enjoyed knowing many characters who met up there. As a Rookie Police Officer I would visit with these gentlemen about every pretty Saturday to "Chew the Fat", throw pocket knives or watch checker games which sometimes almost became a contact sport since many of them took their reputations very seriously and hated to be bested. To the uninformed: throwing knives did not involve actually throwing a knife but was a type of trading where you pulled a knife out of your pocket, held it in a closed hand and tried to find someone to swap their "plug knife" for yours. The object was to get better than you gave and these "Old Timers" loved beating a young Cop which occured rarely since all of us spent quite a bit of time trying to find the sorryest example of the knifemakers art that we could find. This was all done in good sport even though the loser would complain and promise to get even often with very descriptive language. Even though you had left Bryson and done got college educated by the time I was doing this many of the same characters you write of were still there. Though many scoffed at these gentlemen I found there was a lot of wisdom gathered there and I used a lot of what I learned there about how to treat people in my years as a Law Enforcement Officer.

I happen to know a young girl by the name of the character in Ms. Shanks I think this book would be fine and dandy for her...and me...
I wonder if she has the book on Kindle as well. It saves me time and gas running heather and yon looking for a book. I hear about it and right then I can immediately purchase, download, and start reading it. Now then, don't get me wrong, I love to hold a real book in my hand and still purchase many, but that Kindle for me can be a little old ladies lifesaver...LOL
Wonderful interview and like Ed I am past reading about the lassies, black beauties, etc. of the early years...LOL
Thanks Tipper, and Marilyn Shanks for the interview...I am sure the book will do well..

PS...The cover of the book, at a glance, reminds me of the Pressley girls...

B. Ruth

I recently finished reading Marilyn's novel and was entranced with the characters and setting.
I love that the culture and language of this unique corner of America has been captured and saved for generations to come.

Nice interview with Marilyn. You
can tell she speaks from the heart. Its always nice to read
about someone who enjoys sharing
our Appalachian heritage...Ken

I had the same thought as Jim re: the Shank name. Miss Jess(e) was the daughter of Jeremiah and Helen, natives of Ohio and Pennsylvania, respectively. So it is entirely possible that there is a WV Shank connection.

Regarding Appalachian scientists - let me put in a slightly different perspective. Fellow engineers with whom I have worked that hail from the Appalachian region have, by and large, been really excellent. The very best guy that I know - internationally - when it comes to understanding industrial steam systems, is a fellow who comes from eastern TN, and - like me - spends much of his spare time in the backcountry of the Great Smoky Mountains.

Just this week, the Technical Director of the British Pump Manufacturers Association introduced a fellow some of Tipper's readers may know (from western North Carolina) as the best pumping systems guy in the world.

I don't think either of those fellows would tell you that they scientists (though I can guarantee you they both have an excellent grasp on the relevant science). Rather, if you asked, them, they would tell you they are engineers - who have to APPLY science in the real world on a regular basis.

To me, that type of skill set comes with one of the essential natures of mountain folks - applying practical skills to deal with real-world needs.

I really enjoy learning and reading about and the writings of new local authors. I am a fan of Tim Myers who is a local author from Hickory, NC. He also writes under various pen names. I have read other ones and will continue to search for the local authors. They have helped me to learn about the area - esp. my favorite spread - pumpkin butter. I will find this book and read it for my personal enjoyment and then I will pass it on to a reader who is on its level. Thanks for the review and exposure to a new author for me.

I can't wait to read this book and hopefully her trilogy. I plan to visit my library tomorrow and hopefully they have it. If they don't have the book, I will ask them to order it. If I win this giveaway, this sounds like just the book to pay forward. I plan to tell my cousin, who is an author, Linda Goodnight, and a dear friend that is an author, Sharon Sala, about this book as well. They both have thousands of fans that would read my recommendation to your book. Good luck for large sales. We need moe books like this.

Sounds interesting! It's nice to hear from the author!

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