Meet Author Virginia Watts, a Finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award, and Find Out How She Does What She Does


Photo of Virginia Watts and the ocver of her book, ECHOES FROM THE HOCKER HOUSE

The list of people who I have published is starting to become substantial. One of those books is the wonderful ECHOES FROM THE HOCKER HOUSE by Virginia Watts. Virginia lives in Pennsylvania, in fact she grew up there, and so did I, which may be a small reason why her stories so resonated with me, because they channel the "something" that is the more rural parts of the very large, primarily rural state. My dad was from coal country, and there is something unique to being from coal country. Virginia's stories capture this very well.
A little bit about the book from our side, the publishing side, My husband, David Yurkovich, and I are the entirerty of the company, or, I should say, we were, until we added some short-form/poetry/ writers/artists/experimentors on board as volunteer collaborators. They help each other, and us, publish chapbooks (for lack of a better word) of their excellent writing, and, we hope, someday, together as a group, we will open up opportunities for other authors. The group is named Old Scratch Press (OSP), and Virginia is a part of the group, though her book is outside of that group, because this is a full-length collection of short stories, and I chose this book before that group was even on my radar, but when I put that group together, Virginia was one of the authors I knew I had to invite. I mention this because Virginia belongs to many writing organizations, and regularily gives of her time to other writers, and I really respect that about her. Her book through OSP will be published in a future year, but last year, and this one, are for her short story collection, ECHOES FROM THE HOCKER HOUSE.
If you take a look at her website, which I am posting a screenshot of here, you will see a visual that really gives you a good feel for the tone of her stories:
Her stories are not horror, but they are eerie, and they have been known to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
With her book cover, after I had read the book, and been the editor, I talked to Virgina about the feeling it gave me, and she agreed, and we attempted to make the front cover look like an old national park map from the mid to late 1900s. I had the vision, Virginia agreed, but I have to give credit to David, who made it happen. It has the Hocker House on it, as well as Queenie's trailer, and depicts one of the worn and mysterious mountains of Pennsylvania. 

And on the back is an iconic scene from her book that captures one of my favorite characters, a young man who fights the reckeless driving of the truckers for the lumber company. For that, I leave you to get a copy of the book. ;)
And here is a small excerpt from one of the first stories I read from Virginia, and one of the stories in the book, "Aerial View." It captivated me in it's inevitability: this is a story about no hope, and no options, and it makes the reader feel very much the desperation of being cornered by somethiing outside of, and larger than, yourself:

Hannah lifts her head. It’s no use crying. Maybe it’s for the best. She’s been closing the curtains for her own sanity. Now she won’t have to anymore. The whole situation on the farm commandeers her brain during the daytime and her subconscious at night. She used to be able to rest peacefully under sheets dried in sweet country air topped with a heavy quilt, but not anymore. It’s gotten to the point where she can’t eat or sleep, at least not like any Hannah she recognizes. 

It is part Walt Disney and part Alfred Hitchcock who invade Hannah’s dream state, images from their creative efforts on the silver screen all mixed up inside her head. When Lawrence the rooster sounds off before sunup because every farm has to have an annoying-ass rooster, Hannah pops her eyes open and tastes blood; the insides of her cheeks chewed into raw, hanging flaps she flicks up and down with her tongue: ticking off her daily chore list. 

Hannah swivels her neck toward the open sky outside the kitchen window. She can’t stop herself from looking out there, so how can she expect Rex to be doing any better? This morning’s sky is not peppered with anything. It is empty. No entity, no hand of fate or toe of Satan stirring circular shapes around and around up there. No sickening, aerial whirlpool. Hannah gasps, accepts some air into her lungs. The sudden rush of oxygen expands her chest and leaves her dizzy.

            She will feast upon a blessedly empty sky. 

Virginia's book already won a Feathered Quill Award, and now it is a finalist in the Eric Hoffer Award, and the cover was also a finalist in the daVinci Eye award from the Eric Hoffer foundation. In my mind, Virginia is a successful author, and I always wonder about folks like her, so I asked her if I could post an interview with her, so we could all get to know her a bit better.

Without further ado:

Dianne: You're a finalist in the Eric Hoffer book award. How does it feel to be recognized for your work in this way?

Virginia: It feels wonderful. I am very honored to have my work recognized in this way. I myself am a fan of book awards because I use them to enrich my own reading list and in this way I’ve been introduced to authors and genres of writing I would not have found on my own. Book awards for me are also part of the larger writing community where writers encourage and support fellow writers. They are way to connect with other writers as well as other readers.

D: Your book is a short story collection. What was the inspiration behind compiling these particular stories into a collection? 

V: I didn’t set out to write a collection of short stories. I just love telling a story. After I had written a certain number of stories, I did realize that my stories, at least this collection, have similar themes that made them stronger as a group than simply leaving them on their own as many of them were in literary journals. In other words, these stories belonged together.

D: Short stories often allow for unique explorations of themes and characters. Can you tell us about some of the themes or messages you aimed to convey through your collection? 

V: When I get an idea for a story it always starts as one character who has something they have to face or deal with or experience. My stories involve personal drama, and I’m not afraid to dive in and swim around in the dark side of life. I like to create a complete picture for readers with setting, give a clear picture of the town where the events take place, the people living there - right down to the TV shows they are watching like Bonanza or The Munsters and what flavor of pop tarts they eat. 

D: How do you approach crafting characters that feel as authentic and relatable to readers as your characters do? 

V: My characters are fictional, but all of them have pieces of people I have met in my life, some that I have known well and some only as acquaintances. Writers draw from real life even when they are making up things. 

D: Many writers have rituals or habits they follow during the writing process. Could you share any rituals or routines you adhere to when writing short stories? 

V: When I begin a story I never know what is going to happen in the story, and while that can be scary – not knowing if I can bring the idea all the way home – it’s the only thing that works for me. I have tried to plan out stories ahead of time, and they have been disasters. Also, I don’t like to work on more than one story at a time. I like to devote my whole self to one story line and do the very best for it that I can.

D: Short story collections can sometimes have an overarching narrative or theme that ties the stories together. Did you intentionally weave such elements into your collection, or did they emerge naturally as you wrote? 

V: These stories just emerged this way. Interestingly, since writing these stories, I have continued to write some stories like these, but I have found myself delving into more speculative fiction recently in the shape of a story about reincarnation and a science fiction story narrated by a robot who has survived the near destruction of Earth.

D: Ooo! You'll have to let us know when that is ready! I'm sure people who read this book will want to read that.

D: As a writer, you often have to balance crafting compelling narratives with concise storytelling in the short story format. How do you strike that balance? 

V: Every story I write is about 5000 words. There are some shorter than that but not many. Usually a first draft is well over 6000 words. I go back over the story many times: deciding which parts I love and can’t part with. In this way I think I am able to tell a good story that says what it wants to say and not more than that. 

D: What do you think sets short story collections apart and makes them resonate with readers? 

V: Short stories are little novels. Good ones should feel like a whole book in twenty pages. You have to get to the action, the reason for the story to exist at all, very soon in a good short story. The reader should feel, after one page, that they have to read on and see what happens to this person. And I say person and not character because I think all short stories should feel real – like they are really happening or definitely could happen. The reader should care a whole lot about what happens to the narrator of the short story. 

D: What advice would you give to aspiring writers who hope to someday publish their own short story collections? 

V: Don’t worry about publishing. Write because you love to do it – bring your settings, your worlds, and the people who live within them to life between your pages, and then open the window and show readers something they haven’t seen before, something they won’t want to look away from.  This isn’t as hard as it seems because only you can see and remember and describe what you care about in a way that you believe in.

D: Well, I have to tell you, Virginia, you certainly got me to believe in these characters, and I could not give up on finding out what was going to happen to them. Thank you so much for the book, for the opportunity to publish it, and for talking with me about it.

Well, AUTHORS ELECTRIC readers, I hope you enjoyed learning a little bit about Virginia, and her process, and reading a little of her book, which is a page-turner. One of the things I just love about publishing is promoting an author who really grabs me by my heart and my imagination, and Virginia does that, it feels to me anyway, easily. I was at her mercy from the moment I opened the Word document she sent me, and I still am. 

If you want to find out more about this author and her book, you can visit:


Feathered Quill Awards:

Eric Hoffer Awards (inlcuding the daVinci Eye):

Kirkus on Hocker:

Midwest Book Review:

Old Scratch Press:


Thanks for reading, and for taking a moment to get to know a fantastic author, Virgina Watts.


Dianne Pearce said…
Hi All~ If anyone has read the book I would love to know what you think!

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