Local author brings out flavor of Saltville in latest novel
FILLMORE -- Brenda Croan dropped out of high school by the sixth week of her sophomore year and has since then regretted the decision to end her formal education.
Years later it was this same decision that motivated her to attempt to earn her high school diploma and write a book series about her Virginia hometown.
"I woke up one day and thought 'I've never done nothing with my life' ... and 'Why don't I go back and get my G.E.D.?'"
The idea for a book series that centers on her hometown of Saltville, Va., and her official "Salt Mountain Girl" moniker developed in 1999 as Croan neared her 50th birthday.
Croan will share excerpts from her latest book, "Hidden in a Pillow, " at the Putnam County Library on Sept. 9.
Croan moved to Indiana from Virginia in 1981. After three failed attempts at obtaining her G.E.D., she was inspired to write about her life as the "Salt Mountain Girl," a title the mayor of her hometown bestowed upon her several years ago and one that has made her a Saltville celebrity of sorts.
An Avon resident taking classes toward her high school diploma in Brownsburg, she recalls an evening phone conversation with her former father-in-law about her extensive knowledge of her hometown, which she later said served as the impetus of her writing career.
"He asked the question, 'You know so much about your hometown and the history, why don't you write a book?' And that got my brain going. So I told him, 'You know, that's not a bad idea.'"
It was then when she began writing her first book, "Salt Mountain Girl," while working eight to 10 hours a week at a warehouse in Indianapolis.
She later took time off to return to Virginia, where she started gathering information and photos from people near her hometown and also wrote articles and poetry for her hometown newspaper.
The first book was completed in three months, and was eventually published in 2001 by Vantage Press.
"When I started doing the book, I wanted to gather up everything that I could, and I've had people tell me about my grandfathers and my grandmothers and my family, my father, my mother," she said. "Back then my parents were really secret people about what they did, none of the children in the family knew anything about their private life or where they grew up."
"My writing is not like the average, everyday writer," she said. "I write from my heart and I also write descriptive, where people can read my writings and they will paint their own picture as they go."
In "Hidden in a Pillow," the latest installment of the Salt Mountain Girl series, Croan starts with Laura Bell Gillespie, a fictional likeness of her mother, and her friend Mary Ellen Whitmore, during the Civil War era.
The book also features Arthur, a fictional likeness of her father, and his childhood friend, Jimmy "Jim" Johnson. The pair grow up together, get drafted into the Army together and get married around the same time together. They both become preachers and have their own church.
After Arthur comes home from the Army, he gets entangled with a young gypsy woman who tells his fortune and places a curse upon him. She later tells him he will die if the curse he has been placed under is not lifted from him, which can only be done if he hides a large sum of money into his pillow and fleas the camp.
While the book is in large part fictional, Croan said some of her family's history is also added into the plot: It continues with Arthur and Laura Bell's young daughter Brenda growing up and becoming an author who "has many visions and dreams for her family and for Salt Town."
"It's adventurous, it's a love story, it's got a lot of sadness in there," Croan said of "Hidden in a Pillow." "It's very funny and it's just a really good, down-to-earth book."
She said writing the book serves not only to preserve her family's history and revitalize the tourism industry in her hometown and satiate her passion for writing but also to encourage young people to stay in school and continue their education.
"With each book I've gotten a little bit better -- I have a problem with commas and punctuation -- but people read between the lines with that," she said. "...I've learned a lot from the books that I've wrote."