United Way hosts debut book signing event for East Texas author

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - Some are calling it one of the best portrayals of East Texas women, and others are saying it's one of the best East Texas fiction books they have ever read.

Yet, for native East Texan Melanie Denman, it is only the beginning of the reviews for her debut novel "Visiting the Sins."

On Sunday, the United Way of Nacogdoches hosted a book signing event for Denman, who now lives in the San Francisco Bay area, as part of a new partnership between the organization and different East Texan United Way supporters.

"We chose Melanie and she chose us, thankfully, because she is a strong supporter of the United Way and, of course, some of the proceeds from her sales from her book "Visiting the Sins," will be dedicated to the United Way," Gary Ashcraft, the President and CEO of the Nacogdoches County United Way, said.

However, even though Denman no longer has an East Texas address, she is no stranger to Nacogdoches.

"I was born here; went to Nacogdoches High School and graduated from SFA," Denman said.

So, it's no surprise that dozens of people showed up to the book signing within the first 15 minutes just hoping to get an autographed copy from the former Bancorp South banker.

"I had always liked to write and felt that I had a great gift for storytelling and came from a storytelling family whether from music, song writing, just talking or making up stories—telling stories, but as far as writing or having a degree in literature or publishing experience, I didn't have any," Denman said.

After raising her children, Denman decided to scratch one more thing off her bucket list: writing a novel. Once her grandmother died, she decided that the story for her novel had been within her family for decades.

"The inspiration for the story came from my grandmother who has been dead for many years now, but she was quite a character. A very interesting, larger-than-life person and so when she passed away there was quite a bit of feeling in our family that someone should write a book about this because she had the most amazing life," Denman said.

At 49 years old, Denman enrolled in a novel writing program at Stanford University in California. After she was accepted she spent two years dedicating six hours a day to writing her novel, and perfecting it saying "she kind of finished the book, but it wasn't the quality I was looking for."

That's when Denman began to seek a publishing company finally deciding to self-publish through Word Association Publishers, which is a publishing company for self publishing authors.

"It turns out writing a novel was one of the things that many middle aged people have in their head as something they want to do one day and it takes time to have something to say when you want to write," Denman said.

"Visiting Sins," is a book that interweaves the lives of three generations of females in the Wheeler family as they deal with the consequences of the previous generations' sins and how the women become successful in the end.

The now 53-year-old says she spent a lot of time perfecting her storyline, spending hours upon hours researching the feuds in Scrappin' Valley outside of Newton County focusing a lot on the stories her grandmother used to share with her.

"She was born in a place near Sabine County—Newton County called Scrappin' Valley where they had the feuds back in the 1800's and it was a very rough and tumble logging place and she had ambition. She wanted to be somebody, but it was not easy for a woman. She was divorced in a time where it was not acceptable to be divorced. She was married at 14, so she had quite the life, but by the time she died she was a successful business woman. She had successfully raised a family and you could've taken her anywhere," Denman said.

Set in the fictional town of Thorny Bog, which is loosely based off of Scrappin' Valley, Denman used the past to recreate the struggles and adversity women still face today.

"It's sort of a love story for me because I think East Texans get a little bit of a bad rep from the outside as far as having an East Texas accent and for some reason it's an indicator of either ignorance or stubbornness or some other character trait and having grown up with the people of East Texas, I find them to be of the best heart and funny and intelligent, intuitive and great storytellers…there are just so many qualities and I really wanted to show [that] especially the role of faith in the deep South," Denman said.

People from all walks of life showed up for Denman's signing from her family members to childhood friends and even her high school Politics teacher.

"Teachers are always excited and happy to see their students do well and Melanie was an exceptionally good student in high school so I'm not surprised," Claudette Brown said.

The book is available at Barnes and Noble, Amazon.com and melaniedenman.com, and so far the reviews are positive.

"This is a rollicking tale of the relationship between three generations of women set against the background of a small Texas town. Just learning the antics of the bawdy grandmother makes this is a worthy read," one Amazon customer wrote on the Web site.

"This is one of those books you stay up all night reading because you can't seem to put it down! If you like books on Southern women then you will really enjoy this one! I can't wait for Melanie's next book," said another customer.

And Melanie says she hopes everyone loves the book, but especially East Texans since they are the ones who inspired her to write it.

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