They say you can’t go home again, and Laura Leigh Morris had to go pretty far away from her home — to Texas, to be exact — to finally write about West Virginia. Morris’ new book, “Jaws of Life,” is a series of short stories about the people, places, and issues facing her home.
Morris, an assistant professor of English at Furman University, found herself in Greenville from a simple job application, but she still has a deep respect for and connection to her home state.
She explains that in order to finally write about the place she grew up, she realized she had to get some space before she could do it justice. “Jaws of Life” originally started as a series of short stories for pleasure and practice. “I realized I was writing these stories, and I wasn’t thinking of them as a book, but then they all started coming together,” Morris explains. “I realized I have a collection here, and I realized that I could make it stronger, so I kept writing stories to accomplish that.”
Morris has long been a storyteller, earning her undergraduate, master’s, and Ph.D. in some form of creative writing. A much earlier version of “Jaws of Life” served as her dissertation for her Ph.D. “For me, it was about learning the craft,” Morris says. “This was my book where I learned how to put a story together, and a 200- to 300-page book is a lot harder to fix when you mess up, rather than scrapping a 15-page story and starting over. But it really just depends on the story.”
Though the stories are based on Morris’ home, she tries to stay away from specific people she knows in her writing. She prefers to focus on common issues that face the area and crafts stories that can be used to portray them.
“The first story in the book is about fracking (called “Frackers”), and I had wanted to write about fracking because it’s such a huge thing there now, but I wasn’t quite sure how to approach it,” Morris explains. “But driving one night with my parents, I passed a fracking site, and we were blinded by the lights so badly that we almost ran off the road. I thought, light pollution, which was something I had never thought of, and the story kind of came from that. And the story isn’t about my mom, but they come from these little moments sometimes and experiences I remember growing up.”
Morris considers herself to be a dark writer. A previous experience teaching creative writing in a Texas prison camp helped shape her writing to focus on the murkier side of life, and those themes are present throughout “Jaws of Life.”
“It definitely explores some of the issues that Appalachia confronts right now, and some of those issues are dark,” Morris says. “One thing that I think the stories do is to blow the lid off the stereotypes of the area, and they explore the realities of living in a place where resource extraction is everything. Coal mining, fracking, gas wells, and always stripping the resources from the land, and what happens when an entire populous relies on this ripping the land apart to live, and that definitely shows up in some of my stories. It’s heartbreaking for the area, and for my home.”
Laura Leigh Morris Launch Party
When: March 1, 6-8 p.m.
Where: Fiction Addiction, 1175 Woods Crossing Road #5