A Literary Wanderer
February 10, 2022
Some people might call them altars.
I gather things when I walk. Feathers such as these pictured below—some go back to childhood, when my father hunted grouse and pheasant for the table and would give me the tail feathers for my collection.
I've picked up shells on every shore, small stones (a habit I inherited from my mother), tufts of wool in the Highlands and Orkney, and oddments such as animal skulls and scraps of metal.
Every item has a memory attached, so they form a sort of "memory palace" to bring those moments back to vivid life.
In my forthcoming novel In the Lonely Backwater, Maggie collects not tangible items but names and categories. She's in a difficult situation, and the discipline of organizing things into taxonomies is one way of making her life work.
"As I said before, this backwater, this flooded valley of worn-out tobacco fields and pine scrub, is my Lapland. When Carl went to Lapland, it wasn't as if no one lived there or had ever named anything or seen any of the plants. But he saw it for the first time as a scientist. So, if I'm seeing this plant or spider for the first time, it's a discovery for me, even if someone from Chapel Hill has the thing dried out and pinned down in a forgotten case somewhere."
I would love to see what you collect! I'm posting more of these on Twitter and Instagram — connect with me there!
In the Lonely Backwater arrives May 10
Three months until In the Lonely Backwater is released! Please add to your "want to read" shelf on Goodreads and comment when you get the chance—reviews on Amazon and B&N are very much appreciated. If you're a reviewer or book blogger, it's available on Edelweiss.
Pre-orders are now being taken. If you order from Regal House (which has limited-edition hardcovers in addition to paperback) then I will personalize and include a mini-broadside of one of my poems, also signed. You can also pre-order from Scuppernong Books, Bookmarks, Pig City Books, Sunrise Books, and other fine indie bookstores.
You might enjoy my recent essay on "Building a Detective" at Inkheist or a short craft tip on colorful writing at the Sisters in Crime YouTube channel.
Looking forward to seeing you in person!
FEB. 16, 7 pm - Reading in the "Four on Fourth Series" at
Bookmarks, 634 W. Fourth St. #110, Winston-Salem, NC.
MARCH 22 - 5:30 pm. Facebook Live with Sara E. Johnson
and Landis Wade at Charlotte Readers Podcast.
MAY 14 - In discussion with Frank Morelli at Pig City Books,
21 S. Main St., Lexington, NC. Time TBA.
MAY 21-22 - Greensboro Bound literary festival, Greensboro, NC.
I'll keep updating my calendar on my website. Among events later in the summer, I'll be appearing at the Carolina Mountains Litfest and teaching at Wildacres Writers Workshop and the John C. Campbell Folk School.
Keeping in Touch
If you have a book club, writing group, or a high school science or writing club, I'd love to talk (in person or virtually) about Maggie's world. Get in touch through my publicist, Gold Leaf Literary, or here on my website. All of my social media can be accessed through linktr.ee/ValNieman
In the Lonely Backwater has been supported by grants from the North Carolina Arts Council, a division of the Department of Cultural and Natural Resources.