Fiction writer Tom McNeal will be the keynote speaker at the Story Catcher Writing Festival at Chadron State College's Mari Sandoz High Plains Heritage Center on Saturday, June 2, at 11:30 a.m. The festival follows a two-day writing workshop for writers of fiction and prose.
“We are lucky to have a writer of Tom McNeal’s caliber speaking in our area,” said Dr. Matt Evertson, CSC associate professor and department chairman of English and Humanities. “His most recent work, 'To Be Sung Underwater,' was named one of USA Today’s top five novels of 2011 and was named a best book of 2011 by The Wall Street Journal and others.”
Although born and raised in Santa Ana, Calif., McNeal spent part of every summer at the Nebraska farm where his mother grew up near Hay Springs.
He has always been fascinated by his mother’s stories of her girlhood in the remote town and knew that he eventually wanted to write about this region. The fictional town of Goodnight in Goodnight Nebraska resembles Hay Springs.
After earning a Bachelor of Arts degree and a teaching credential from the University of California at Berkeley, McNeal moved to Hay Springs, taught high school English, drove a school bus, substituted briefly in a one-room schoolhouse and began work on what would become "Goodnight, Nebraska."
The book won the James A. Michener Memorial Prize, given to a first-time author age 40 or older. He was 51 at the time. His latest novel, the highly lauded, "To Be Sung Underwater" looks at a midlife that took a wrong turn many years earlier.
“I am honored to return to the town that became the model for Rufus Sage, Neb., in 'To Be Sung Underwater,'” McNeal said.
His wife, Laura, also an author will also present a workshop session during the Story Catcher Writing Workshop. She and her husband collaborated first on a picture book called "The Dog Who Lost His Bob" and then on four young adult novels published by Knopf. Her first solo novel, "Dark Water," was published in 2010 and was a finalist for the National Book Award and winner of the 2010 San Diego Book Award for Young People's Literature.
The McNeals live in southern California with their two sons, Sam and Hank.
On Saturday, June 2, from 9 a.m. to11:30 a.m. at the Story Catcher Writing Festival, readings and performances by various writers will take place along with book signings by writers who served as instructors for the workshop.
These include Poe Ballentine of Chadron, whose work appeared in numerous publications. His second novel, "Decline of the Lawrence Welk Empire," won Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year. The eccentric characters that populate Ballantine’s work often draw comparisons to the work of Charles Bukowski and Jack Kerouac.
Linda Hasselstrom, a South Dakota rancher, is the full-time resident writer at Windbreak House writing retreats, established on her ranch. Her writing has appeared in dozens of anthologies and magazines and has won environmental and women’s writing awards. Her poetry collection, "Bitter Creek Junction," won the Wrangler award for Best Poetry from the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma.
Sean Dolittle is a critically-acclaimed Iowa author of several crime and suspense novels. His first and second books, "Dirt and Burn," were award-winning novels. His book "The Cleanup" received the 2007 Barry Award, the Crimespree Magazine reader's choice award, a Spinetingler Award and a Nebraska Book Award.
For more information about the workshop, contact Evertson at 308-432-6462.
—Cindy Evert Christ, Mari Sandoz Heritage Society
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