Tammy Robinson Smith could well be one of the characters in her own fiction. Some sort of regional literary mandate dictates that the heroine’s heart must always belong in these Southern Appalachian mountains no matter what else comes along, and Smith fills that role as if she’d been sent in from Central Casting.
“I’ve moved away three times but I keep coming back,” she said—precisely the sort of circuitous path she and other Mountain Girl Press authors have sent their heroines off to pursue through rugged terrain.
“Now I wouldn’t live anywhere else,” she said. “I had to come to that. I thought there was something better out there for me but eventually I found out that thing was right here.”
You could just about see those words on the inside front flap of a novel’s dust cover, couldn’t you? And in the author’s bio on the back inside flap would be much the same story, that story that after years of searching Smith returned to a place she always knew she should be. The difference on this flap, however, is that this promised land arises out of her lifelong love of books—reading them, writing them and now, with the founding of Mountain Girl Press in 2005, publishing them.
She launched her Bristol-based enterprise with the publication of her own novel, Emmybeth Speaks, and followed up with a short story collection called The Zinnia Tales. To compile the collection she solicited submissions and winnowed a mountain of manuscripts down to 13—all of them tales of gritty Appalachian women overcoming some form of adversity. She plans to publish another short story anthology in 2007.
“I’m interested in telling stories in which people can be entertained first of all,” she said, “but perhaps there is some lesson, some knowledge we can impart about the culture of women in this area.”
The Mountain Girl Press mission statement is to publish fiction “that celebrates the wit, humor and strength of Appalachian women,” and Smith said she is looking for stories that “celebrate that sisterhood of women” in 3,500 to 5,000 words.
Submission details are online at www.mountaingirlpress.com.
This shoestring operation is made possible through the miracle of publishing on demand. Smith said there is no huge pallet of books stored away in her garage; she orders what she thinks she can sell and she supplies her contributing writers with whatever they think they can sell. There are no royalties involved whatsoever—it’s every woman for herself. You’ll see them smiling at you from behind a display table in your local bookstore.
Emmybeth Speaks is the story of a young girl whose father becomes disabled and can’t continue to run the family business. Womenfolk step in to take over, starting with Emmybeth’s mother and extending to the women of the church and the sewing circle.
The Zinnia Tales takes its name from one of the short stories in which a grandmother, mother and daughter continue a long family tradition of planting zinnias.
Common elements can be identified in the fiction of Appalachian women writers; most notably a sense of place whether it’s developed through dialect, description or character. “You’ll see an importance of family because that in Appalachia is everything,” Smith said. “Next come the neighbors, and you better hope you’re a from-here and not a come-here because it takes a long time for the come-heres to assimilate.”
Yet she believes that the yearly influx of tourists is the region’s best hope to overcome stigmas, create a sustainable economy and cultivate the arts. “I hope collectively as a culture we get savvier about marketing ourselves and our literary and artistic products,” she said. “I hope we’ll start retaining young people and find ways to have a stable economy so we can create our own jobs. That’s a lofty goal and one we certainly will take baby steps with, but I think it can happen and I think there’s more emphasis in this area than ever before.”
Toward this end Smith has identified a number of local organizations with these very same objectives at heart, and she has joined, encouraged and supported their efforts. These are organizations that reciprocate, encourage and support her marketing of books, pretty much like that proverbial community of women described among the pages of Mountain Girl Press. Some of these include:
* Round the Mountain (www.roundthemountain.org) is an organization formed to promote regional artisans and writers. “What I try to do whenever I hear of those types of organizations, obviously I want to find out more and become part of them,” Smith said. “It’s not any one thing that you do with marketing that’s going to make you. There is no magic bullet. It’s working it all the time, looking for every contact.”
* Appalachian Writers Association (www.king.edu/awa) is now headquartered at Hidden Memories Antiques & Art at 246 West Main Street in downtown Abingdon, VA. “It’s really just now coming together,” she said. “It’s been in existence a couple years but they’re just now getting on their feet. And they work to promote local writers, they sell our books, and they promote us through their web site.”
* Appalachian Authors Guild (www.appalachianauthorsguild.com) is basically an online catalog of regional titles, linked to the AWA page.