CHARLESTON, W.Va.-- Marilyn Sue Shank, author of a recently published young-adult novel set in the West Virginia Mountains, said Wednesday she went against some advice given by others as she wrote her novel.
Lydia Hawkins, the main character in "Child of the Mountains," grew up poor on the West Virginia mountains, living with her mother, who was widowed; her smart younger brother, who had cystic fibrosis; and her wise grandmother.
When her mother got jailed on false charges, Lydia was forced to move to a coal camp with her aunt and uncle, making her feel very alone. She also faced ridicule from other students at her new school for her outgrown home clothes and the way she talked.
"I used dialect I remember as a little girl," Shank said before her talk Wednesday at the University of Charleston's Builders Luncheon. "I was taught to use voices in writing.
"When I went to [writers'] conferences, I was told not to use dialect. 'Kids can't read dialect,' I was told," Shank said. "I used it."
Shank will also speak at the West Virginia Book Festival next month. The Book Festival's promotion of her upcoming talk states, "Voice is letting go of rules, preconceptions and expectations to discover meaning, not only for your characters, but for yourself."
Although "Child of the Mountains" is Shank's first novel, she's also the co-author of a college textbook on special education, "Exceptional Lives: Special Education in Today's Schools."
Shank earned her Ph.D. in special education at the University of Kansas, majoring in learning disabilities and behavior disorders. She has taught in elementary school, high school and college, including the University of Charleston's Education Department between 2003 and 2007.