Author has ties to Campbellsville

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By Calen McKinney

Those searching for a good book to read might just find themselves picking up one written by a Campbellsville native.

Janna McMahan's book "Calling Home" was published last month, a story set in a small town in Kentucky.

McMahan, who was born and raised in Campbellsville, graduated from Taylor County High School in 1981.

After graduating from the University of Kentucky in 1986, McMahan married Kentucky native Mark Cotterill and moved to South Carolina. She and her husband have a daughter, Madison.

"Calling Home" centers around McMahan's main character, Virginia.

According to McMahan's Web site, www.jannamcmahan.com, "When Virginia's husband takes up with the strange new woman in town, she tries to move on, but something unpredictable burns within her. Virginia struggles to hold what's left of her fragile family together while she fights to keep her reckless, wild-child daughter from making the same mistakes she made.

"Calling Home is set in the drug-fueled last days of the late 1970s, when Falling Rock, Ky. was waking up to the women's rights movement and fresh freedoms and aspirations were colliding with traditional roles.

"This is the story of the Lemmons family, shattered by tainted memories and profound deception and precariously pieced together again by the sacrifices true love makes."

While McMahan grew up in Campbellsville, she says there is no reference to Campbellsville in "Calling Home."

However, she said, being from Campbellsville has influenced her writing.

"Every place I've lived or traveled has influenced my writing," she said in an e-mailed response. "My next book is set on the beautiful South Carolina coast and in Cancun, Mexico where I took my daughter for spring break last year."

On McMahan's Web site, she writes in her biography that she is often asked if the characters in her books are based on herself, or actual people.

"The answer is no," she writes. "Every writer takes bits and pieces of people they find useful to their story, then they add, subtract and twist until out comes an entirely new person.

"The imagery of Falling Rock is indeed reflective of my charming hometown. The farms, mountains and lakes are stunning in their beauty and I was pleased the day a friend commented that they could feel how much I loved Kentucky's land from my descriptions.

"But as bucolic as it sounds, my small town was home to a number of violent storms and a vicious tornado system devastated a large part of our community when I was a child. I remember running across our dark street in my pajamas to huddle in a neighbor's basement, then fearing that my mother would be swept away as she stood outside, her eyes trained on the churning sky. I still feverously watch the weather report if there is even a remote chance of a funnel cloud."

So far, McMahan said, her book sales and reviews have been positive.

"I've had great luck commercially on a national scale very early on in the process," she said. "My online reviews have been astoundingly positive."

McMahan said she reads the reviews of her work obsessively and, so far, it has been mostly a good experience.

"... [It's] odd to see how every single person comments on a different aspect of the book."

She said someone once came to a book reading and told her how much the book touched him and that he was going to give it to his daughter so she could see the reality of dating and relationships.

"He called it, 'What things are really like,'" McMahan said. "That's the best thing that has happened to me at book signings so far.

"I also love it when students show up. I taught a memoir class once and I had about eight women over the age of 60 and they were fun. At my Columbia signing, these women came dressed to the nines with hats and husbands and cameras.

"I was so proud of them because after my class they had started a writing group and it was still together after three years. They intend to publish a book of their work. It was wonderful to see them again and to know that I'd been able to help them find their muse."

Though "Calling Home" is McMahan's second novel, she has written and published numerous short stories and essays. Some of McMahan's other work includes an article on Janice Holt Giles and an online blog.

"Undertow" was her first independently published novel. "Undertow" is the story of a man just out of prison accused of violating his parole.

McMahan said the process of getting "Calling Home" published was long.

"It took a while," she said. "Making it as a writer is an investment of time, effort and money."

McMahan's Web site states she has won numerous writing awards, including the Imaginative Writing Award from the Kentucky Women Writer's Conference and the Harriette Arnow Award from the Appalachian Writers Association, the South Carolina Fiction Project and the Piccolo Spoleto Fiction open.

She has been published in journals, magazines and newspapers, such as "StorySouth" and "Arts Across Kentucky."

McMahan worked in public relations for 20 years and is the media relations director and head writer for the entertainment marketing firm Post No Bills, where she works with major motion pictures and television projects.

McMahan said she enjoys being a writer.

"It just seemed natural," McMahan said. "As my Dad said once, 'Janna's always got something to say.'

"I do like the thought process that writing allows. It is great to be able to express yourself eloquently, but that does take effort."

McMahan said those interested can pick up a copy of "Calling Home" at various book stores, including Barnes & Noble, Target and soon Wal-Mart. The book is also available online at target.com, amazon.com and bn.com.


Janna McMahan, a Campbellsville native and author of "Calling Home," is scheduled to make an appearance on Thursday, April 17 at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington at 7 p.m. She will also be at the Southern Kentucky Book Festival on Saturday, April 19 in Bowling Green.

For more information, visit www.jannamcmahan.com.

- Staff Writer Calen McKinney can be reached at 465-8111 Ext. 235 or by e-mail at reporter@cknj.com. Comment on this story at www.cknj.com.