Editor’s Note: Matt Browning was the New River Gorge Creative-in-Residence at Lafayette Flats during December 2019. In this blog post, Matt reflects on his time in Fayetteville and the start of his career as a published author.
That Fayetteville magic. It’s a phrase that was said to me very early on during my New River Gorge Creative Residency at Lafayette Flats, and a phenomenon I encountered in spades during my monthlong stay in the historic town.
I arrived on a cold, snowy December morning, eager to begin work on a novel set in a fictional West Virginia village, which takes place during modern times yet a town in which old-fashioned Appalachian customs, traditions, behaviors, and lore are very much a part of everyday life. I was looking to create a town that was small, quaint, a bit tucked away, and full of interesting people. Where stepping onto the street leads to many a “hello” and “good to see you.” Where strangers become friends in the amount of time it takes to pour a cup of coffee (or something stronger). Where tradition and technology blend together like homemade soup. A place of – magic.
Fayetteville proved the perfect setting in which to build such a world. “If there’s a little bit of Mayberry left,” I was told by a local, “it’s in Fayetteville.” From the jump, I set out to experience town life, armed with the introductory icebreaker of being the New River Gorge Creative-in-Residence. Immediately, I met wonderful people who welcomed me with open arms and friendly curiosity. Visiting during the holiday season added a certain charm, from the decorations to the special events to the general heightened spirit of the season.
Coincidentally, my first book – Bookstore Explorer: West Virginia, about the state’s indie bookshops – was released during my time in town, leading to what could’ve been an overwhelming balancing act of working on the novel while launching and promoting a very different kind of book. But I didn’t have much time to fret. A chance meeting at a local pub led to an invitation to host a book launch party, all over the course of five minutes. Two weeks later, I hosted my first-ever book signing – an event that could not have been more successful, packed with new friends and old, plenty of food, and good spirit all around. That Fayetteville magic, indeed.
At the risk of sounding cliché, I wanted to come away from my time at Lafayette Flats different from when I arrived. I’d become a bit divorced from my creative self in recent years, thanks to the obligations of career, home, family, friends – adulthood. I wanted to leave Fayetteville creatively reinvigorated. I also wanted to commemorate my time in town, and this once-in-a-lifetime experience, in a meaningful and memorable way. So I went down the street to the local tattoo shop and got inked. It’s a simple, modest depiction of the New River Gorge Bridge, which also factors into the novel, a real-life landmark anchoring my fictional world.
Fayetteville will always hold a special place for me. It’s where I lived during the official start of my career as a published author, where I held my first book launch party, where I wrote around 40,000 words of what I hope to be my first novel, and where I rediscovered my passion for writing. I’ve even been dabbling in lyrics and poetry again after many years.
So thank you, Fayetteville, for reconnecting me to my creative self. For opening your arms wide and welcoming me into the fold. For helping me celebrate my first book. For hosting and supporting the creative residency program. For uplifting art and music and literature and small business and adventure the way you do. For – well, for that Fayetteville magic.
Until we meet again.