Four Local Authors Share Their Stories
Now more than ever before, Lynchburg is a great place to create. With its beautiful mountain views, burgeoning downtown scene, superb theatres and school drama departments, community arts programs and initiatives, and more, the Hill City inspires artists of all persuasions to pursue their passions. Here we profile four published local authors—all women—whose experiences in and around Lynchburg have shaped their lives and work.
Rachel Deddens is the author of three published children’s books: A Box of Switches (Warwick House Publishing), A Boy Named Orion and a Bear from Otulp (TLC Publishing), and, most recently, The Day the Calf Ate the Chocolate Cake (Morgan James Publishing). Deddens hails from Mount Pleasant in Amherst County and has lived in Lynchburg for about 35 years.
“My writing tends to be a reflection of my life experiences as a child, growing up on a farm,” she says.
Deddens cites her grandmother as her primary source of inspiration; Calf and Box are both directly inspired by stories her grandmother told her when she was young. “The inspiration for this book [Calf] was a story told to me by my Granny with her remembrance of a day when her husband (my grandfather) rescued a newborn calf whose mother had died,” Deddens says.
“[Box is] also inspired by my Granny, who was a great storyteller. She would tell us about getting a box of switches instead of our wished-for presents at Christmas if we were naughty children.” Boy was inspired by Deddens’ son. “When my son was very small, he asked me to write a story about a boy who meets a bear from outer space,” she recalls. “He wanted lots of silly words in the story. It is full of those silly words that come together in the end.”
Just as Deddens’ grandmother instilled a love of stories and storytelling in her, Deddens hopes to do the same for her grandchildren. “The most rewarding thing about being a writer is reading to my grandsons a book that I wrote!” she exclaims. “Reading and talking to children of all ages and helping them to realize that anyone, at any age, can be a writer is also very rewarding.” Deddens has read her most recent book at Peakland Preschool, Holy Cross Catholic School and the Legacy Museum of African American History where she is also a guest curator.
She also recently did a book signing, along with Calf illustrator Olivia Cesafsky, at Givens Books.
Deddens advises writers hoping to be published to keep trying no matter what. “Keep trying, and use your creative talent,” she says. “I guess I see it as using the imaginative component of oneself and just writing it down.”
A harrowing childhood experience led author Diane Fanning to an interest in fictional and true crime writing. “I was drawn to write crime fiction and non-fiction by an experience [I had] when I was nine years old,” Fanning says.
“Only the fortuitous arrival of another vehicle spared me from abduction. I memorized the license plate number of the would-be kidnapper. When police stopped him, they found evidence in the trunk of his car that he had sexually assaulted and murdered an 8-year-old girl the month before. I delved into criminal psychology in order to understand the why of the crime.”
Fanning, who is from Boston but has lived in Lynchburg since attending Lynchburg College, has 25 published books to her name, the first of which was published in 2003. Six of these novels comprise Fanning’s Lucinda Pierce Mystery Series (Severn House), two comprise her Libby Clark Mystery Series (Severn House), and the others are true crime novels dealing with such notorious cases as the Casey Anthony case, the Matthew Winkler murder, and the Lisa Nowak case, among others.
Two of her latest true crime novels are set around Lynchburg; Under the Cover of the Night (Berkley Books), which is about the murder of Jocelyn Branham Earnest, takes place in Forest, and Treason in the Secret City, a Libby Clark mystery, takes place in Bedford County. “Living in the [Lynchburg] area has given me a strong appreciation for southern culture,” Fanning says. “All but one of my works of fiction are placed in Virginia, and the majority of my non-fiction is placed here as well.”
For Fanning, who has appeared on 48 Hours, 20/20, The Today Show, MSNBC News, and many additional television programs, one reward of being a writer stands out amongst the rest. “There are lots of rewards: the great fulfillment of holding a book you have written in your hands, of knowing that others are interested in what you have to say, and the exhilarating excitement of putting together the puzzle pieces to form a coherent story,” she notes. “Most of all, though, was the time one of my books made a big difference in someone’s life when I played a role in obtaining freedom for a wrongfully-convicted woman.”
Fanning offers the following advice to her fellow writers: “Read! Read in every genre. If you insert a technique traditionally found in a genre different than yours, you can create something fresh. Write! Everywhere! Get comfortable writing in any environment—it can chase writer’s block away when you change your environment. And never, never give up. Suffer through rejections while working to become a better writer.”
Carolyn Tyree Feagans
Carolyn Tyree Feagans has eight published works, most of which are inspirational and historical novels set locally and in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Feagans was born in Lynchburg, raised in Amherst County, and has lived in both places most of her life. “Lynchburg and the beautiful surrounding area is the main setting of my books,” Feagans says.
“I lived in downtown Lynchburg, Clay Street, in the ’60s, and I have drawn from that experience, particularly in my book In the Shadow of the Blue Ridge. Many locals prefer that book.”
Many of Feagans’ books sell along the Blue Ridge Parkway and in the Shenandoah National Park. Additionally, Feagans’ books In the Shadow of the Blue Ridge, A Bittersweet Story, and Sharp Top (all published by Warwick House Publishing) are sold in Shenandoah National Park’s Visitor Centers. For Feagans, art reflects life. “As with many novelists, my writing most definitely reflects my own life experiences,” she says. “Fiction is not truly fiction, but emanates from the author’s life experiences and true experiences of others who have influenced them.” History, nature, and a desire to help others are among Feagans’ inspirations. “My inspiration is primarily to write and leave behind something that will help others,” she notes. “The reception for my books has been wonderful, beyond my dreams! However, it is my pleased readers who bring me the most joy—particularly those cards, letters, and emails that express their gratitude for the books and how they have helped them during their troubles.”
For Feagans, the most challenging thing about being a writer has been, and continues to be, dividing time between her family and her craft. “For me, the most challenging thing is juggling the time for it [writing] with such a busy life and large family,” she says. “My first four novels were written as I held a career job, managing several branches of staffing facilities. It was definitely a challenge then, and it was also a challenge while having a new baby at 40 years old!
But it can be done! I believe that we can and will do whatever it is that we really want to do, our passion!” She adds: “If you have a passion, something burning within you, don’t wait. Start!”
Karen Swallow Prior
Karen Swallow Prior, PhD, is a Professor of English at Liberty University, Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States. She also happens to be a writer. She has written and published many essays and two books: a literary and spiritual memoir titled Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me (T.S. Poetry Press) and a biography of Hannah More titled Fierce Convictions—The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More: Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist (Thomas Nelson).
”Most of my writing is cultural analysis and interpretation, so I’m always drawing on life experiences, both direct and indirect,” Prior says.
“My first book, Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, is a memoir, so that is the most direct reflection of my life experiences, narrated through the lens of the books that have had the most impact on my life.” Both books have had a significant impact; Prior has led a couple of talks about them on Capitol Hill and has spoken at the American Enterprise Institute and several other colleges.
For Prior, moving to Central Virginia transformed her life and writing. Born and raised in Maine, she moved to Central Virginia in 1999 to teach at Liberty University. One of her favorite essays she has written, titled “North and South,” reflects the impact of the Lynchburg area on her life and writing. “One of my favorite essays I’ve written, ‘North and South,’ is about how I’ve changed—physically, intellectually, and spiritually—just by dwelling in this warm, gorgeous land after moving here from the North,” she says.
“I can’t really measure the way the sight of the Blue Ridge Mountains from my front porch, the bluest blue sky above me, and the long summers have affected me and my writing, but I know they have. I love living close to the earth. I do most of my thinking outside—while running, swimming, or horseback riding—and the lovely scenery and agreeable climate encourage this more than in any other place I’ve lived. My lifestyle here is a lot like the one I had as a child in Maine—without the long and bitter winters. I’m pretty sure I’ve found heaven on earth here.”
Prior first and foremost considers herself a reader and emphasizes the importance of reading for all writers. “I’ve always considered myself a reader first and a writer second,” she says. “Writing is a conversation. The first thing one needs to do in order to write something people will want to read is to be part of the conversation. That means you must read! Specifically, read the kinds of books and publications that reflect what you want to write and where you want
to get published.” According to Prior, being part of a conversation with her readers is the most rewarding thing about being a writer.
“I write for the same reason that I teach: because I love learning,” she says. “Ideas are important to me. Being able to share ideas with others through my books and articles and to be sharpened and challenged by readers just keeps fueling the world of ideas for me.”
By Emily Hedrick