Barbourville Mountain Advocate

Newman’s happiness comes from great storytelling

 Barbourville Mountain Advocate 12-9-09

Although she had been writing since she could hold a pencil, Melissa Newman never thought it was anything special. She believed that everyone could create new worlds and new people with the stroke of a pen or a few clicks at the keyboard. It wasn’t until she won her first writing award in the early 90s that she began to suspect this hobby of hers might be worth looking into.

 Now, after 20 years as a journalist, one published novel to her credit and another one on the way, Newman is sure she’s doing something special with her talent and truly enjoying every minute of it. Nothing, she said, brings her as much joy as sitting down for eight hours each Sunday to write.

 “I learned early in life that success should be measured by happiness, not money or power,” Newman said. “When you find that one thing in your life that makes you smile every time  you think about it and compels you to thank God for it every day that you’ve been given the ability to do it, then you’ve found your true calling. For me, it’s writing. It always has been.”

 Whiskey Creek Press released Newman’s first title, Sister Blackberry, in November. The novel, which began with an idea and an in-depth outline, was stuffed in a drawer not to be rediscovered again for 10 years. When Newman picked it back up and the writing was finished, a publishing contract came quickly.

Author Melissa Newman

“When the publisher contacted me I was thrilled, to say the least,” Newman said. “I have to confess I did shed a few tears of happiness. When I got the contract and the release date I knew this was really happening. Then came the editor and then the graphic artist … it was all very surreal.”

The book begins with the discovery of a dead body and carries readers through three generations of the Garland women of Rayes County. Viola Garland, the family matriarch, makes a decision as a young woman which leads to many decades of heartache for her daughters and granddaughters. As the 87 year-old woman decides to tell the truth, it becomes clear to rest of the family why the secret had to be kept.

Although Rayes County doesn’t exist other than on the pages of Newman’s book and in her imagination, she said she loved the place so much she just couldn’t stand the thought of leaving it behind in her next novel. For that reason, Rayes County, she said, is the setting for her next book and most likely all others to come if her publisher will allow.

“I have travelled a lot over the years and I guess I’ve just taken my favorite parts from everywhere and pieced them all together to make Rayes County,” Newman said. “For me it’s a perfect place. I just can’t bear to part with it. It would be like moving away and leaving all my family and friends.”

Newman’s characters are fashioned much the same way as her setting – pieces and parts of hundreds of people to make one character. Some, like Rayes County, she just can’t leave behind, which is why at least one character from Sister Blackberry will end up in House of Cleaving, her next novel to be released fall 2010.

“I created these characters and I want them to continue on,” Newman said. “So, just like a real small town where everyone knows everyone else, it would be hard for my characters from House of Cleaving to live in Rayes County and not cross paths with the characters from Sister Blackberry.”

Newman, who is the former editor and general manager of the Barbourville Mountain Advocate, is now the Director of Annual Giving and Alumni Relations at Union College, where she earned her bachelor’s degree. She lives in Barbourville with her husband Frank. They have two grown children.

 Sister Blackberry will be available for purchase in late January online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. For now, readers can get Newman’s book at her Web site or at her publisher’s Web site

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.