The West Virginia Humanities Council will host Morgantown native William Brewer for an author event on Wednesday, August 10, at 6 p.m. at Taylor Books.
A prominent poet whose work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Nation, and The Best American Poetry series, “The Red Arrow” is Brewer’s first novel. It was released earlier this year and is available now from Amazon and can be ordered from most local bookstores.
The book delves into mental health issues, drawing on Brewer’s own experiences, and takes the reader from West Virginia to Silicon Valley to New York and the Italian countryside. It tells the story of a once-promising writer who, after spending the large advance he received to write a novel about West Virginia, is unable to write the book due to his depression.
Finding himself deep in debt, he agrees to repay the money by ghost writing a famous physicist’s memoir. Along the way he finds himself overcome with a sense of dread that he describes as The Mist. The story takes the reader on his journey as he tries to find the physicist and recounts his experience with an experimental psychedelic treatment.
Even though Brewer generally writes poetry, he found himself branching out into novel writing after the idea for the story came to him while rushing to the airport to pick up his mother-in-law. Taking that idea, he built on it by using elements of his own life and incorporating them into the main character. Like the character, Brewer also underwent the same psychedelic procedure and found that it and the results were unimaginable.
To further develop the story, particularly the setting of the book, he drew on his childhood in West Virginia where he said landscape is so central to everything. This helped him formulate the setting as the book moves through four different main areas. Being place-obsessed, he found that his tendency to observe and understand the relationships between the land, its people and the architecture helped with this process as well.
Like most writers Brewer has a scene that was his favorite to write as well as one that was his hardest to write. The favorite scene is based around a fictional chemical spill that he said felt almost like a dream to write. The most difficult was writing a conversation that needed to be written in a way that it was honored and intimate.
Dr. Eric Waggoner, Executive Director of the Council, said that what drew him to Brewer’s book was that he always enjoys seeing writers who normally write in one specific genre try out a different one. He said one of the things that he liked about “The Red Arrow” was that specific elements were obviously drawn from Brewer’s upbringing in West Virginia, but that the book goes past this and delves into ecology, the environment, disagreements between families and imposter syndrome. The event will have a book signing, a Q&A, a reading, and a discussion of the book.
Brewer hopes readers will be encouraged to think about how things we assume to be bedrocks of our experience, like time or our own perceptions, might not be as solid as we think they are, but embrace them anyway.
There will be an audio recording of the event for the Humanities archives. When asked what he hopes people take away from the event, Waggoner said “I hope the event brings Will’s novel to the attention of readers who might enjoy it. That sounds obvious, I guess, but there’s so much dumb clatter and noise in the world right now, getting good books into the hands of good readers is always the right thing to do.”
Brewer is excited to be coming back to West Virginia. “I’ve never done a proper reading in WV, which is weird, because it’s a central subject in both of my books, not to mention my home state, so I’m just excited to have that experience in the part of the world that formed my mind and meet some new people.”