309: Adventures in Cinder Bottom Series Begins | Steve Vannoy & Azul Terronez

Celebrating and Reflecting on Our First Novel Release


Creating a novel is more than just writing words on a page; it’s about capturing the essence of stories, memories, and emotions to create a living, breathing world. In this episode of Authors Who Lead, Steve and I provide an intimate look into the making of their first collaborative fiction book, “Gone Missing,” the debut novel in the Cinder Bottom series. Inspired by Steve’s late father’s rich storytelling and life experiences, we delve into the origin, process, and emotional journey of bringing this unique project to life.

The Genesis of the Cinder Bottom Series

Our journey with “Gone Missing” began long before words were penned to paper. As Steve reminisces, “It all stemmed from these little side stories… our dad would tell us.” His father was a natural storyteller, capable of conjuring vivid tales filled with local color and historical nuances. These stories, often shared during family gatherings, sparked an idea: what if they preserved these narratives in a more permanent form?

The project gained momentum during the pandemic, a time when many of us sought ways to connect with our roots and find meaning amidst uncertainty. Steve and I began recording and jotting down every story his father shared. This methodical yet heartfelt approach transformed personal anecdotes into a tapestry of fiction, imbued with the authenticity of real-life experiences.

Writing Fiction with a Purpose

“Fiction with Purpose” is more than just a catchphrase for me and Steve; it is the guiding principle for our work. Unlike conventional memoirs, which can sometimes feel constrained by reality, fiction allows for creative freedom, enabling the authors to paint a fuller picture of life in Cinder Bottom, a small town with a rich yet tumultuous history.

As I explain, “I didn’t feel like a memoir was as interesting as a coming of age, small town, rural fiction.” By choosing to weave Steve’s father’s stories into a fictional narrative, we were able to capture not only the factual events but also the emotional and cultural context in which these events occurred. This approach not only honors his father’s memory but also shines a light on a community often overlooked in literature.

Crafting the Narrative

Turning fragmented stories into a cohesive narrative was no small feat. The collaborative nature of this project added layers of complexity, as Steve and I navigated the logistics of co-writing our first novel. Steve, who usually works with nonfiction, found the process liberating: “Writing fiction… had more freedom, both you and I, to express some of the creative side… that we don’t get to do when writing nonfiction.”

Our writing process was as unique as the stories themselves. We planned Zoom sessions to capture stories, revisited places of significance, and fleshed out characters and events with a mixture of historical accuracy and imaginative flair. As Steve points out, we made conscious choices to move timelines, combine characters, and create compelling arcs that would resonate with readers.

Emotional Impact and Legacy

The release of “Gone Missing” is particularly poignant as it coincides with Steve’s father’s would-be 87th birthday. Steve confesses to feeling a mix of “butterflies in my stomach,” pride, and humility. The book stands as a testament to his father’s life, offering a way to celebrate and honor his memory while also preserving the cultural heritage of a bygone era in Southern West Virginia.

Our collaboration also serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of capturing and sharing family stories. “We don’t know how long we have,” I noted, reflecting on the unpredictability of life and the urgency of documenting these stories before they are lost to time.

Encouraging Others to Write

Our journey with “Gone Missing” is not just a personal endeavor; it’s an invitation for others to consider the stories within their own families and communities. Writing fiction with a purpose can serve as a meaningful way to preserve legacies, explore historical contexts, and entertain and inspire future generations.

For those considering their own storytelling projects, Steve advises, “Capture them, find a way to capture them… Get creative, have fun with it.” Whether it’s through recording conversations, jotting down notes, or embarking on a full-fledged writing project, the key is to start and let the stories unfold.

Gone Missing” is more than a novel; it’s a heartfelt tribute to a father’s legacy, a community’s history, and the power of storytelling. Through our candid discussion, we provide invaluable insights into the transformative journey of turning real-life stories into compelling fiction. As we continue to inspire aspiring authors, our message is clear: the time to write your story is now. Don’t let it slip away.

Join us again next week for more captivating insights from influential authors and publishing experts. Remember to subscribe to Authors Who Lead and visit our website for more show notes and past interviews.

That’s all for this week. If you have a message inside of you that needs to be written, today is the day to start. Don’t delay—take action.

Episode Resources

Authors Who Lead
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Fiction with Purpose Group
Mandala Tree Press Publishing
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288: Breaking Through Writer's Block | Azul Terronez288: Breaking Through Writer's Block | Azul Terronez

In this episode of "Authors Who Lead,” Steve and I provide an intimate look into the making of their first collaborative fiction book, "Gone Missing," the debut novel in the Cinderbottom series.