Newman’s ‘Growing Up Wilder’ veers from dramatic track, strikes comedic balance

EKU instructor’s novel sets Post-war, post-hippie 1970s scene for new work of literary fiction

Growing Up Wilder (2)BARBOURVILLE, KY — Narrated by foul-mouthed, smart-aleck eight year old Dancy Wilder, Melissa Newman’s third novel Growing Up Wilder is a comical yet pensive look inside a single-parent household during the post-war, post hippie decade of the 1970s.

Newman’s main characters in this work of literary fiction, Dancy and her older sister Marla, are somehow managing to survive childhood and then teenage life in spite of their father’s crazy romantic encounters — a spiritualistic grass-smoking hippie, a double-D cup kleptomaniac known over the CB airwaves as Hot Ginger, an olive-skinned Greek goddess, and Dancy’s biker chick of a mom who pops in and out of the Wilder household at will.

Dancy and Marla’s father, Everett is raising the girls alone. A perpetual bachelor and successful lady’s man, Everett can have just about any woman he wants. Problem is he wants them all—and likes them all a little crazy.

The writing and subject matter in Growing Up Wilder run a little off the usual path of a Melissa Newman novel. Both Newman’s previous works, Sister Blackberry (2009 Whiskey Creek Press) and House of Cleaving (2011 Whiskey Creek Press), tilt more toward drama and mystery than the writer’s latest work.  The “Wilder Book,” however, as Newman refers to it, captures that same drama and mystery but shrouds itself in comedic interludes.

“Growing Up Wilder will make you laugh and cry out loud in the same moment,” Newman said. “That’s exactly the reaction I had countless times as I was writing it. These girls (Dancy and Marla Wilder) make you want to squeeze them up in a big hug and protect them from their crazy parents but you also want to bust their little butts for some of the shenanigans they pull.”

The overarching theme of Newman’s latest creation is surviving in a single parent household. While some might say, “That’s just not funny,” Newman disagrees.

“Growing Up Wilder is an honest look at real life without being preachy, judgmental or playing the blame game,” Newman said. “Ask just about anyone if their childhood upbringing was dysfunctional and the answer is a resounding “yes.” Life is messy, chaotic and bumpy with a lot of mistakes made along the way. We can all sit around feeling sorry for ourselves or we can choose to see the humor in our everyday existence.”

So, what’s the secret? Newman’s novels always have a family secret, right?

“Of course there’s a secret,” Newman quipped. “Momma Lou has a secret profession that has been keeping the Wilder household in the black for years. Our little Dancy spends years trying to uncover it.”

Newman said she likes the quote from one of the early reviewers of Growing Up Wilder — “These aren’t the Wilders you remember from the Prairie but you’ll love them just as much,” said Kathleen Papajohn, author of Maligned, another Martin Sisters Publishing novelist.

“I think that line just about sums it up,” Newman said, after she read Papajohn’s quote aloud.

Growing Up Wilder will make its debut at Writer’s Row during the Redbud Festival on April 13 (9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Robsion Arena – Union College’s gymnasium). Newman said this was a happy accident that her novel will be unofficially launched in Barbourville.

“Normally, the first venue is at Joseph Beth Booksellers in Lexington,” Newman said. “Luckily the timing of the book’s release worked in our favor and now my neighbors and friends will be the first to get their hands on my new book.”

Newman is a graduate of Corbin High School and holds both a Bachelor of Science degree and Master of Arts degree from Union College. She is a board member for the Governor’s Kentucky Commission on Women and president of Kentucky Harvest Southeast. She lives in Barbourville with her husband Frank and teaches in the department of communication at Eastern Kentucky University, Richmond campus.

Newman will be hosting several book events during the upcoming months, including the official book launch at Joseph Beth Booksellers in Lexington (date to be announced). To learn more about Newman’s work and to find out more about appearances visit

Print and e-versions of Growing Up Wilder can be found at,, and and wherever books and e-books are sold.

Information about the book and the author can also be found at the publisher’s website:

A Note to Readers

Just a Short Hiatus ... More Novels to Come

While Growing Up Wilder was my last novel, it will certainly not be my final. I have two outlines just dying to escape from my desk drawer and I often have to apologetically shove them back in when I find they have made it to the surface time and again.

I am currently working toward completing my doctorate degree (I am all but dissertation, folks!) and I am tangled up in research that uses storytelling and social media as a way to increase hope levels for individuals and entire communities.

This research is allowing me to focus on solving a problem within Kentucky's Appalachia - negative stereotypes.

Readers, please be patient. I will return to fiction shortly. Until then, please continue to share Sister Blackberry, House of Cleaving and Growing Up Wilder with your friends and family.

As always, I welcome your notes and messages.