Well-established poet takes the plunge as a novelist with this fast-paced, dark thriller
It seems fitting that Ireland's fog-shrouded Cliffs of Moher figure prominently in Laura Treacy Bentley's first novel, "The Silver Tattoo."
As a well-established poet whose work has been featured in literary journals throughout the U.S. and Ireland and on the websites of everything from "O Magazine," to "A Prairie Home Companion," Bentley could have played it safe writing poems and traveling the country from time to time to read them.
But travel to those dangerous and captivating cliffs pushed the poet over the literary edge -- into the expansive void of a novel that lie waiting below.
Stamped with a book cover quote from the legendary, late sci-fi writer and friend, Ray Bradbury, "The Silver Tattoo," is her first novel -- a 354-page, fast-paced dark thriller set in Ireland -- and out now in local bookstores and on Amazon.com.
Bentley, who is also book editor for WV Living magazine, will sign copies of "The Silver Tattoo" at a signing party from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, April 27, at Empire Books and News at Pullman Square.
Bradbury, who corresponded for years with Bentley and who did a reading with her in California, contributed the book jacket quote that says, "If you haven't read Laura Bentley's work, you should; she's a wonderfully gifted writer."
Bentley said it is a relief to finish her first novel after an arduous journey that began in 2002 with a short story inspired by three trips to Ireland including a month's stay near the commanding cliffs of the west coast in 2000.
"Every time I travel I keep copious notes and takes lots of pictures because I don't know if I will ever get back," said Bentley, a retired teacher who taught with Cabell County Schools, Ashland's Paul Blazer and Marshall University.
On her last trip, the mystical power of the famous Cliffs of Moher (visited by more than a million people a year) took hold. A raging gale rattled the windows, blanketed the area in fog for days and planted the seed of the dark thriller that began taking formation when she came home.
A teacher by trade, and a poet by nature, Bentley said it was after that trip that she had joined a group of writing friends in The Rogues, who'd meet up, read and critique each other's works over bottles of wine, conversation and laughter.
"The opening chapter of this was my short story and it was maybe five or six pages, and like a poet I shut it down and distilled that last page down," Bentley said. "It was all fiction and novel writers in the group and there was silence when they finished reading it and somebody said, 'Is that it?' And they meant it as a compliment like they wanted more. I learned to, over the course of a year or so, let go. It was kind of like running on an open prairie."
That open prairie was a girl, a survivor on the run. Leah Howland, who had after three numbing years, has forsaken her husband and escaped to mythical Ireland where a stalker leaves her eerie and increasingly gruesome calling cards. Shadowed by the legend of the warrior hero Cúchulainn and preyed upon by her own escalating imagination, Leah finds her escape is turning into a virtual prison of chilling mind-games and cold-hearted crimes.
Since 2003, Bentley has been shaping and reshaping the novel as she got interest from various agents and publishers.
"It was a long bumpy journey, thrilling and depressing and all of those things," Bentley said. "In the end I am just happy that it finally happened."
Bentley said the novel would have never happened if fellow poet Llewellyn McKernan had not convinced her to start going to The Rogues which featured such now published writers as Zoë Ferraris, Charles Lloyd, John Van Kirk, Paul Martin and Marie Manilla among others.
"I kind of begrudgingly joined this fiction writing group because Llewellyn had asked me to come, and Marie was starting up a group, and I said 'OK,'' Bentley said. "When it was a large group I got lazy and maybe would turn in something every six months but when it got whittled down to four or five people it was intense and electric actually and I just loved it."
Though the group has disbanded, or graduated, as Bentley called it laughing, she continues to form bonds and publicly celebrate the energy of other writers working in Appalachia.
Bentley, who is teaching creative writing this summer at the West Virginia Governor's School for the Arts at Davis and Elkins College, is constantly reading and writing as the book editor for WV Living magazine.
She is also for a second year organizing the Word and Song Cafe, a celebration of regional writers, poets and songwriters for the annual Old Central City Days in Huntington's west end that takes place June 14-16.
The Cafe, which will take place at the Central City gazebo on Sunday, June 16, will feature such writers as Mary Moore, Kirk Judd, Sherrell Wigal, Carter Seaton, Llewellyn and John McKernan, Phil St. Clair, Grace Pritt and Colleen Anderson.
Bentley also continues to write both poems and novels.
At the encouragement of her fellow writer, Manilla, Bentley actually pounded out another novel (not yet presentable she said) during National Novel Writing Month (www.nanowrimo.org) last November.
Whether it has been jumping at the chance to accompany one of her literary heroes, Bradbury back in the day for a long car ride, or as a poet and full-time teacher and mother finding time to finish a nearly 400-page novel, Bentley said life's too short not to head out over life's edge.
"I try to jump at windows of opportunity even if I am terrified," Bentley said. "Because you don't get windows of opportunity very often."
If you go
WHAT: Booksigning by Laura Treacy Bentley, signing her first novel, "The Silver Tattoo"
WHERE: Empire Books and News at Pullman Square
WHEN: 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, April 27
ABOUT THE BOOK: "The Silver Tattoo," is a 354-page fast-paced, dark literary thriller set in Ireland
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Laura Treacy Bentley is a poet, novelist and the book editor for WV Living magazine. Best known as a poet, her poems have appeared on the websites of "A Prairie Home Companion," Poetry Daily, and O Magazine and in literary journals throughout the U.S. and Ireland.
DID YOU KNOW? Late sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury, who did a reading with Bentley, contributed the book jacket quote, "If you haven't read Laura Bentley's work, you should; she's a wonderfully gifted writer."