Wilkes Creative Writing Alum Releases Final Book of Her Scranton Trilogy

by Kelly Clisham
Photo of Barbara J. Taylor

Barbara J. Taylor ’15 of Scranton, Pennsylvania, taught English in the Pocono Mountain School District for more than 30 years. During a sabbatical, she went to Tennessee and enrolled in classes at Memphis University. When Taylor learned she’d have to write a short story as the final project for her fiction class, she almost quit. “Then I decided I hadn’t been scared like that — good scared — in a long time, so I stuck with it,” Taylor says.

On the last day of class, the professor returned her final with some advice: Find an MFA program back in Pennsylvania. The next day, Taylor received a flyer in the mail from the Maslow Family Graduate Program in Creative Writing. “I took that as a sign and applied soon after,” says Taylor. The rest, as the saying goes, is history. Or in Taylor’s case, historical fiction.

“No exaggeration, the Wilkes program changed my life,” says Taylor. “As a student, I learned to hone my craft, and I wrote the first draft of my novel, Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night, the book that would launch my writing career.”

The author’s Scranton Trilogy, which includes Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night and All Waiting Is Long, concludes with the May 2024 release of Rain Breaks No Bones. Rain Breaks No Bones is about a secret birth, a complicated relationship, a shocking death, and no one is talking, not even the dead. The novel is set in Scranton in 1955, when coal mining was in decline, the Civil Rights Movement was heating up and a hurricane named Diane was headed for land.

Taylor wrote each book as a stand-alone novel and they can be read in any order, but the event that started the trilogy is loosely based on a family story about her great aunt, Pearl. On July 4, 1918, Pearl’s dress caught fire when she was playing with a sparkler. The little girl never complained, instead singing hymns until she died three days later.

Pearl’s sister, Janet, who was also in the yard at the time of accident, captured Taylor’s imagination. “Janet didn’t have the happiest life, and I wondered what effect Pearl’s death had on her,” says Taylor. “That wondering inspired me to create the character of Violet, my protagonist in all three novels. As soon as I finished the first book, I knew she had more to say.”

Taylor was still teaching high school full time while writing the first two novels. After she retired, she faced new struggles in her creative process. “With Rain Breaks No Bones, I found COVID and the political climate in general to be challenging. It was difficult to be creative with the world on fire,” Taylor says. “Eventually, I got over that hurdle. At some point, I realized the darkest times require creativity.”

These days, Taylor calls the city that sparks her creativity home once again. She recently moved back to Scranton after living in Luzerne County for several years. With the trilogy wrapped up, she’s working on the early stages of a new novel set in Scranton in the 1970s.   

When she’s not reading or writing, Taylor enjoys walking, travelling or hanging out with friends and family. “Pretty lowkey. I save the excitement for my novels,” she says. Even that assessment may contain some fiction. To raise money for charity, Taylor once rappelled off the 14-story Bank Towers Building. “I got to see Scranton from new heights,” she says.

As for anyone else who may consider taking a leap into the Maslow Family Graduate Program in Creative Writing, Taylor offers some advice. “Do it if you can! The faculty comprises people in the field, including working writers, agents, editors, producers and publishers. And they’re so generous with their time. You’ll walk away from Wilkes with a writing family.”

Upcoming author events:

7 p.m. | Friday, May 10 | Lace Village, 1315 Meylert Avenue, Scranton, PA
Book launch and conversation with Julie Sidoni of WVIA

1 p.m. | Sunday, May 12 | Moravian Book Shop 428 Main Street, Bethlehem, PA
Book signing

Noon | Saturday, June 1 | Barnes & Noble | 412 Arena Hub Plaza | Wilkes-Barre, PA
Reading and book signing

7 p.m. | Thursday, June 27 | LitFest | Wilkes University’s Fenner Quadrangle
Reading and book signing

For additional book and appearance news from Taylor, visit barbarajtaylor.com. For more on the Maslow Family Graduate Program in Creative Writing, visit wilkes.edu/cw.

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