The Appalachian Writers Workshop at Hindman Settlement School in Hindman, KY has been a place of great sustenance for many writers for many years.

Southern Nature Writers hosts a plethora of fine authors all "Writing and Thinking about the Southern Landscape."

Orion Magazine One of the best nature magazines. Period.

Thomas Dunne of St. Martin’s Press published The Blueberry Years as well as many other fine books.

Wind Publications published Burning Heaven and also a slew of other great books.

Motes Books published Her Secret Song and has done amazing work creating excellent books.

West Virginia University Press published my first book, Finding a Clear Path, and continues to produce quality books.

Iris Press published Rita Riddle’s All There Is To Keep (a book I edited), continuing their tradition of being one of the best poetry publishers in the southeast.

The Bay Journal News Service publishes op-eds on environmental issues affecting the Mid-Atlantic region. Search their archive for a sampling.

The Land Institute for decades now has worked to fundamentally change how we farm. They also host an annual Prairie Festival that is incredible.

The Carolina Farm Stewardship Association is the leading organization for better food in the Carolinas and throughout the southeast United States.

The Whitesbog Preservation Trust is a non-profit that is restoring the small "company town" in New Jersey where blueberries were first domesticated.

For insight on the amazing story of how the blueberry was domesticated, visit The Mighty Humble Blueberry.

Fred First took the spider web photo that appears on this homepage. He also took the cover photo for Burning Heaven, a sunset from the top of Buffalo Mountain. Fred writes and photographs from Floyd County, VA.

The Bland County History Archive in Bland County, VA teaches students both how to gather and appreciate their own, local history while also putting it online, and in turn, learning valuable technological skills.

For a place that does amazing work rescuing and healing injured sea turtles, visit The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center.

The Blue Ridge Forest Cooperative works to promote sustainable forestry in Virginia. I’m a founding member and current chair of the board.

Appalachian Voices’ “I Love Mountains” campaigns to end mountaintop mining. Visit to learn where your electricity, and coal to generate it, comes from.

For a great way to learn about the unique Appalachian ecosystem, visit the Mount Rogers Naturalist Rally site and also come to their rally every May.

Thanks to Ricky Cox for the up-close blueberry photograph used here as background.

And thanks to Cliff Dumais for all the help with this webpage. If you would like his help on your website, please email him at

Jake the wonder-mutt created a Fan Page on Facebook for Jim. Visit it here.

Recent Posts

Next Big Thing Blog Hop

“The Next Big Thing” is a blog hop where writers around the world share what they’re working on by responding to ten questions. Thanks to Denton Loving who invited me to the game. You can read his post at I’m tagging Frank X Walker, Abigail DeWitt, Dana Wildsmith, Neil Sagebiel, and Jane Sasser. We’ll see their answers next week.

What is your working title of your book?
Fire Is Your Water, which is a line from a Rumi poem. The full line and epigraph of this novel is “If you are a friend of God, fire is your water.”

Where did the idea come from for the book?

My great-grandmother, Ida Franklin Minick, was a healer. When the family barn burned in the early 1950s, she, her daughter-in-law (my grandmother Sarah), and my uncle were the only ones home. The three of them ran into the blazing building and saved all of the animals. In the process, my grandmother severely burned her hands. Afterward, though, Ida did not heal Sarah’s hands; another relative was called in to do that. The why behind this has fascinated me for much of my life. Was Ida too shocked by the fire? What happened to her in the burning building that she could not heal? Or put another way, who heals the healer?
And then later, this question emerged: What happens when the healer, a devotedly religious person, falls in love with a non-religious person? These two questions drive this novel.

What genre does your book fall under?
Novel/Literary Fiction.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Since this takes place in the early 1950s, let’s just make this Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. They always had some amazing sparks in the movies they made together.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
How fire transforms people.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I plan to send it to my agent, Paige Wheeler of Folio Literary Services. Hopefully she’ll find it a home.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

The first complete draft took roughly 1-2 years; I’m working on the eighth draft right now. I’ve been working on this book (interspersed w/ other books) for over a dozen years. First, I thought it would be nonfiction, but eventually I saw the need to combine several family stories that cover four generations and thirty years. To do so required the use of fiction. Since this is my first foray into this genre, I had a lot to learn in the process. But that’s the whole point, the process.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
It’s easier to call up writers who have influenced me. These include Cormac McCarthy, Ron Rash, Jeannette Walls, and John Casey, along with Darnell Arnoult, Fred Chappell, and James Galvin. Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible has also been a touchstone.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
It’s impossible to really answer this question—do you start w/ all of the teachers who nurtured you along the way, including your parents and sis who taught you to read, your grandparents who gave you room to roam—or your wife who has read every page with a sharper eye than many editors? And don’t forget about the giant oak you touch every morning or the hoarse crow you listen for every afternoon. Or do you count up all of the many books and writers who have shaped you over the years, from Wendell Berry, Terry Tempest Williams, and Jim Wayne Miller to Thoreau, Abbey, Dickinson, to my favorite contemporary poets, Thorpe Moeckel and Maurice Manning. And I’m sure I’ve missed many others here. Or really, do you focus inward and realize that you can’t not write? To do so is insanity, and so the inspiration comes from a deep need to every day touch a little of that universal peace that resides in all of us.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Cicero, the talking raven, will bite you if you don’t watch out. Because the verb to raven means to hunger.

Coming up next week, five writers (Frank X Walker, Dana Wildsmith, Neil Sagebiel, Abigail DeWitt, and Jane Sasser) will share their projects. They’ll post their responses next Wednesday and tag some new people.

  1. New Website 1 Reply
  2. “Blueberry Years” gets great review in Roanoke Times 10 Replies
  3. Sarah’s baskets now on ETSY! Comments Off
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  6. Poem selected for display at Tysons Corner/Metrorail Station Comments Off
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