"I had no sense whatsoever that anybody in West Virginia was reading a single word I ever wrote. I've wondered over the years if they have been. And I find it really, really moving to find people that have read me, are reading me, care what I'm doing. It really touches me."
A glimpse of Keith Maillard
Keith Maillard grew up in Wheeling, a curious, fatherless boy who soaked in the stories, history, and the atmosphere of Wheeling when it was a booming steel town. He has written six novels set in Wheeling, renamed Raysburg in his books. "I needed freedom to make up parts of the story, so I called it Raysburg. But it's basically Wheeling."
In the 1960s, Keith moved to Canada. Today, he is a full Professor of Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia and a celebrated Canadian writer and teacher. His most recent book, The Bridge: Writing Across the Binary, is a personal and a literary memoir, as is his memoir, Fatherless.
The Vancouver Sun called Keith Maillard "one of the finest English-language novelists in Canada today. Almost all his books are set in the northern part of West Virginia. His books show us how to start with a real place and time, then mix in a fictional story about people living through that time and place. His Raysburg series starts in the 1700s, when Wheeling was a village along the Ohio River, and ends as Wheeling Steel is booming. "Keith Maillard is that most vexing of literary creatures: a writer’s writer," wrote a Quill & Quire reviewer. "The author of more than a dozen novels – as well as poetry, screenplays, and journalism – Maillard is a consummate and dedicated stylist, and an unabashed advocate of lengthy, complex novels."
He works for it. He describes himself as an obsessive writer. "When you're really heavy into something, you're writing all the time, even when you're not writing," he said. "You're walking about, writing. You're having dinner, writing. You drive your kid to ballet class, and you're writing. At its most intense, it's a process that takes over your whole life."
Sample passage, from Gloria
To research Gloria, Keith researched things like makeup. He says that, "Every single word of this book passed under the eyes of my wife... I would write something, and Mary would look at it and she’d say, 'Well, it’s pretty good, but what you’ve got going right there, that’s just a male fantasy. Get rid of that.' And if I didn't believe her, she would explain it to me. And my poor wife got asked wonderful questions like, 'How do you drive a car if your skirt is too tight?'"
"Gloria had never liked the way she looked. She saw herself as only mininally pretty, dark as a gypsy, with features crammed together in a small space, like a big-eyed rat. But after years of practice, she had become an artist with makeup and could create a sophisticated image that was quite presentable.
"The martini was wearing off, but she felt a curious, Alice-in-Wonderland disorientation, as though when she turned away from the mirror, she'd find herself not in her bedroom in Raysburg, but somewhere else, somewhere totally unforeseen.
"... She separated her dried lashes and gave them each a quick, hard squeeze with the curler, then a final, tiny flick of mascara at the tips. She’d met Roland at her first White and Gold Invitational. He was - and she enjoyed describing him the way Hemingway would have - very tall and very brown. And when she’d caught him staring at her across the room, he’d walked directly over to her. “'Hi,' he’d said. 'Are you as icy as you look?'”
An activity to go with this passage (high school and up): Read or listen to the way Keith Maillard answered when asked how he wrote a novel from the point of view of a female: Tracks 5 - 6. Write a two-page description of somebody of a sex that is not yours. Describe them doing something daily or ordinary that you have never done for yourself.
~ Go to the Activities page for other ways to learn from these writers. ~
Five ways to get the most from this website:
1. Listen to the audio program. Enjoy Keith Maillard's voice, readings, advice, reflections and stories.
2. Read/download the transcript of the program. Read it as you listen. Mark passages you'd like to return to or use in a class activity.
3. Read / download the table of contents. It's an outline of the program. It will help you find the passages you want.
4. Using the transcript and/or table of contents, find short tracks you can drop into classroom activities, presentations, or papers. It's easy! See below.
5. Explore some activities that help you use this website to teach storytelling/writing skills.