Joan is the author of the novel This Will Never Stop, narrated by four generations of Appalachian women, about which Kirkus Review says: A literary novel unspools a multigenerational saga about West Virginia women. Spilman’s textured prose masterfully evokes the hard-knock lives and locales that define these women. It particularly shines in the Carmen section, which is both the longest chapter and the spiritual heart of this tale. Novels that chart families –and their curses– over the course of multiple generations are nothing new, but the author’s inventive structure manages to give the book a feeling of simultaneity, allowing four generations (one of them deceased) to share the present. It also permits resentments and traumas to fuel the plot rather than mere chronology, which helps dispel the sense of inevitability that so often is found in historical fiction. Together, these four portraits of West Virginia women — of different times, classes, and levels of opportunity — illustrate the stresses and expectations of of small-town womanhood, both from without the family and within. A highly readable and adeptly crafted addition to the literature of Appalachia.
In addition, her short novella, The Establishing Witness, won both the George Garrett Prize for Best Prose at West Washington University, and also took first place in the Mikrokosmos Fiction Contest at Wichita State. Janet Peery, contest judge for WSU, said:
For its resonant and powerful storytelling, its ambition and vision and wisdom, textural depth, integrity of form, its adept characterization of Grandma Vernie and attention to the realized consequences of doing the wrong things that seem so right, but most of all for it’s allegiance to the idea expressed by Flannery O’Connor’s mother’s neighbor lady, who said, when trying to figure out O’Connor’s fiction, “This just goes to show what some people will go on and do,” the winner of this year’s Mikrokosmos fiction prize is “Establishing Witness.”
Joan has also written a YA novel entitled Sansablatt Head, (2013) which earned a 5 star review from Kirkus:
In this whimsical YA fantasy . . . author Spilman will have readers racing for an answer. And even before the Magic begins, fiendishly animated prose casts a spell. When Spilman unleashes her imagination, the result is often splendid chaos: The “belch, released from his stomach where it had been rolling and boiling all morning, now took on a life of its own.” But perhaps this novel’s most miraculous feat is the way it finds tenderness amid the cacophonies of silliness: “Alec already knew that Sansablatt was quarrelsome, impatient, and demanding. He also knew he couldn’t live without him.” As the world within in a world builds in complexity, readers will wonder if any canvas is large enough for Spilman’s imagination. A masterfully woven adventure, likely to leave fantasy lovers in awe.
For younger children, she has published a series of books about zombie ducks with Headline Books under the general title of The Waddling Dead, and has been called, by one enthusiastic reviewer, “. . . the Janet Evanovich of zombie ducks!”
Joan has an MFA from Wichita State University, where she was awarded the fellowship. She has published in literary journals such as “The Laurel Review”, “Short Story International”, “The Sheridan Edwards Review”, “The Southern Humanities Review”, “The Carriage House Review”, “Willow Springs” and many others. Her awards include the John Maier Award from Marshall University, the George Garrett Prize for Best Prose, and a PEN Syndicated Fiction Award judged by Jayne Anne Philips.
She is currently working on a sequel to This Will Never Stop entitled The Mortician’s Granddaughter and invites you to follow her on her blog. She will be featuring excerpts from TWNS.