Wesleyan professor publishes debut novel

Jessie van Eerden knew from a young age that she wanted to be a writer, but she never expected her talent would take her where it has.

“I had a brief love affair with fiction in college,” van Eerden said, “but I could not figure out how to make it natural. I did not dream myself a novelist.”

However, a novelist she is. Van Eerden’s book, “Glorybound,” is now available for purchase. “Glorybound” is an account of sisters Aimee and Crystal Lemley from Cuzzert who struggle to keep their teenage vows of silence and chastity while caring for their mother and dealing with an absent preacher father.

The novel started as a short story dreamed up during van Eerden’s days as a graduate student.

“The idea came to me while I was studying non-fiction writing at the University of Iowa during my MFA program,” van Eerden said. “My main writing focus was portraiture, which is character-driven essays based on reality. I got interested in creating characters and following them past the boundaries of fact.”

Van Eerden found that she enjoyed getting to know a stranger in that way. She was also very interested in the idea of silence at the time, particularly why a young woman would take a vow of silence. This is from where her idea for the character Crystal Lemley came.

Van Eerden began pitching the short story to different publishers, but it flopped. Publishers thought the story was too slow, but mused that it did sound like the beginning of a novel. With that, van Eerden began writing what is now said to be a novel that award-winning author Gina Ochsner deems “shines with an interior light so fierce and lovely one cannot be anything but utterly astonished.”

However, the process by which an author gets his or her work published is not an easy one. After the short story turned into an idea for a novel, it was a total of three years before the dream came to fruition.

“I was still in school, so I sat on it [the story] for a while,” stated van Eerden. “I did a lot of thinking about it, and a lot of research happened. I researched rural areas, snake-handling, father-daughter relationships, Christianity in Appalachia and all its manifestations. It was definitely a process.”

“Writing requires a kind of trust,” continued van Eerden. “You receive it more than create it. You become sensitive to the characters and let some control go. Letting control go is an interesting balance for an artist; there’s something to it.”

Although she began with writing plays and poetry and has begun two more works of fiction, van Eerden does not have a favorite genre in which to write.

“I love the novel-writing process for how rich the world can be,” van Eerden said, “but it takes an incredible amount of time and energy for me. It is a project.”

Van Eerden is currently serving in the capacity of assistant professor of English and director of the MFA in Creative Writing program at West Virginia Wesleyan College. As a professor, she knows how important it can be for students to get a grasp on various parts of the writing process.

Even though the MFA in Creative Writing program does not put too much emphasis on the publishing process, she is now able to share her knowledge with her students.

“I have a better sense of what is publishable now,” van Eerden said. “I stress to my students that quality of writing is key and to not put the cart before the horse and get their writing into the world before knowing their voice. If they get into the market too early, then the market gets into their head, and they start writing for the market instead of themselves.

“The publishing process can be discouraging and frustrating,” she said. “Writing can keep you alive when you’re going through rejection. A love of writing has to be what sustains you.”

“Glorybound” was published and is available through WordFarm. Copies can also be obtained from van Eerden and online at book retailers. Any questions regarding the MFA in Creative Writing program at West Virginia Wesleyan can be directed to van Eerden at vaneerden@wvwc.edu.