When Somerset Community College (SCC) professor of English Wanda Fries first put pen
to paper many years ago, she was creating what would eventually become Ash Grove
, her first published novel.
The novel began around 1989, said Fries, but sat in her drawer until recently. Last
year, Fries received a grant from the Cooper Foundation to publish her book of poetry
entitled Cassandra Among the Greeks
. The success of that venture pushed Fries to take Ash Grove
out of hiding and it was published by a small publishing company and has been receiving
Lee Smith, noted Appalachian author of 12 novels and four short stories, wrote, Fries
goes straight for the heart in Ash Grove, a beautifully written account of lost love
and terrible secrets in an Appalachian mining town. Both gritty and poetic, real and
transcendent, Ash Grove is a literary page-turner, heralding a major new talent. Wanda
Fries writes from deep within the contemporary culture of Appalachia, and she gets
it all just exactly right."
According to Fries, the novel is loosely based on the experiences she had after marrying
her husband Denny, who was working as a geologist with a coal company, and moving
to Middlesboro, Kentucky. In the town, a rumor spread about how a local man murdered
his wife. Although nothing was proven, Fries was fascinated with the story. In addition,
her grandparents were both miners and she was born in a coal camp near Harlan. Some
of those childhood fascinations are woven within the book, she said.
Ive always been interested in the tension that exists between the haves and the have-nots,
said Fries, who spent the majority of her life in Somerset and graduated from Pulaski
County High School and Somerset Community College. That struggle comes to life in
this book, which is a love affair between the son of the coal operator and the daughter
of a simple coal miner.
The official launch of Ash Grove
was held at Art at the Vineyard in Somerset, Kentucky on September 8 from 11 a.m.
to 6 p.m. at Cedar Creek Vineyards, located at 294 Cedar Creek Lane, Somerset. The
book is also available for purchase for $15 through amazon.com
With two books published in the past two years, Fries said shes ready to keep going
but has a different outlook on being a published author than she did at a younger
I dont expect to be rich and famous, she said. I take more pride in knowing that people
read my work and enjoy it. Its not the final product that I find joy in; its the work.
But having a book is important. After all these years of publishing in journals, I
finally feel comfortable telling others that yes, I am a writer.
The third book and second novel by Fries is scheduled for release in the spring and
is entitled In the Absence of Angels
. Her fourth book is in the works, she said, and will be about William Blakes wife.
Fries is currently conducting research for that novel. In addition to writing and
teaching, Fries has also been recognized for her work and will be reading and signing
at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville in October and at the Knoxville Writers
Guild in the fall.
To find out more about Fries and her work, visit www.wandafries.net