EAST BRADY – A new anthology of stories being published this week by a Pennsylvania writers’ group will feature a piece written by an East Brady native who describes her work as a “love letter to the Allegheny River.”
“Having grown up in East Brady, my parents instilled in me a love of nature,” Jennifer D. (Wiles) Diamond said. “My first memories are of the river.”
Her story, “My Beloved,” will appear in the new book, “Move on the Edge,” which will be released Jan. 15 as part of the Mindful Writers Retreat Series. The book is edited by Demi Stevens.
A 1991 graduate of East Brady High School, Diamond said the story will be her second published in the series, and one that she, at first, didn’t see herself writing.
“When I was told the theme for this anthology would be love, I rolled my eyes,” she said. “I don’t write love stories.”
But in going through her journals, she said she saw herself writing about her love of the river and the East Brady area.
“It’s an expression of my love growing up in East Brady,” she explained, adding that even though she now lives in Flinton, Cambria County, she regularly meets people who visit or have camps in the East Brady area. “It’s amazing how many people I meet who know that place and know it is special.”
Diamond spent her entire youth in East Brady as the daughter of Dick and Barb Wiles. And it wasn’t just a love of the nearby river that she inherited from her parents.
“I caught the writing bug from them,” she said.
Her mother, who worked as a psychologist for Clarion County Mental Health, dabbled in writing on the side, forming a local writing group that would meet at members’ homes in the area.
“My mom had this dream of writing fiction,” Diamond said, noting that instead, she died suddenly in 2003, just months before her planned retirement. “I was so sad for her that she never made her dream come true. That was the seed for me.”
Her father, Dick Wiles, while known to many for his later work with then-Congressman John Peterson, earlier owned a video production company, writing scripts and other projects. When he passed away in 2005, Diamond said she found boxes and boxes of writings by both her mother and father in their home.
“They were both writers,” she said.
After graduating from East Brady, Diamond went on to Indiana University of Pennsylvania, preparing for a career in speech and language therapy. While working in the early 2000s as a school speech therapist, she said the idea to start writing was born when she began working with an older student with a learning disability who could not read the books that other girls in her grade enjoyed.
“It really broke my heart,” she said of the student who would pretend to read the vampire books that were popular at the time. She said that she tried to find appropriate reading material for the girl, but very little was available then. “That is what inspired me to want to write for young adults.”
The writing plans were put on hold when she began working full-time, but when she was able to leave the position, it gave her time again to pursue more creative endeavors.
“When I am writing, it feels like what I was meant to do,” she said. She jumped into the process by reading many how-to books about writing, and joined a local writing group in May 2018. A year later, she joined PennWriters, which holds an annual writing contest, in which she placed third out of 60 entries in 2019.
She then was pointed toward another group, the Mindful Writers, which she said focuses on mindfulness, meditation, journaling, writing and spending time in nature. She has attended several writer retreats, and published her first story in the group’s last anthology.
But this new story about the Allegheny River literally hit home.
“It’s different than anything I’ve written before,” she said, describing it as super sweet, like an after dinner liquor.
The short piece, only 1,300 words long, talks about the area’s geological features, including the Narrows overlook.
“I end the piece at the Narrows,” she said. “Even if you just pass through [East Brady], you have to stop at the Narrows.”
The new book, with proceeds going toward charity, will be available Friday through Amazon and Barnes and Noble; however, Diamond encourages everyone to seek out a copy through independent book stores.
As for what the future holds, she said she has a short article going in an upcoming magazine published by the Altoona Mirror, and she plans to continue working on a young adult fiction trilogy.
“That’s my goal: making those stories accessible to children,” she said.
Diamond lives in Cambria County with her husband, Bob, who is a public school administrator. Their oldest son, Alex, is a student at West Virginia University, and their youngest son, Colin, attends the University of Pittsburgh.