TITLE: WAR, WV
PUBLISHED IN: 2013
AUTHOR: Michael Abraham
PUBLISHER: Pocahontas Press
SUMMARY: Tragedy strikes often in the coal country of Southern West Virginia, one of America’s poorest places. Too often the tragedies are caused by corporate malevolence. When a coal impoundment dam upstream of War, West Virginia, collapses, sending a raging black torrent of death through the hollow, Lucas “Pug” Graham and a band of survivors decide that justice must be done.
THE BACK STORY: I am continually amazed (and horrified) at the destruction of lives and the natural environments of the central Appalachian coal country. For those exploring the area for the first time, it is an unforgettable, life-changing experience. Through fiction, I wanted readers from a wider geographic area that is so startlingly different from most of America but not 400 miles from our nation’s capital, to visualize the destitution, decrepitude, and misery, while still understanding the resiliency and fortitude of the residents.
WHY THIS TITLE?: WAR, WV is my third of four novels. All four are named after places, real places, with an English language name (Others: Union, WV, Providence, VA, and Orange, VA), which in each case I can use the word as a metaphor for the story. I could have chosen any number of locations throughout the area (for example, Welch, Gilbert, Bradshaw, Hurley), but War, a real place, had a name with the perfect tenor.
WHY WOULD SOMEBODY WANT TO READ IT? The impact of coal and coal mining has had in indelible impact on this region, and is the key to every understanding of lifestyle, economy, and ecology. As consumers of energy that is likely supplied by coal or steel that is made in the furnaces stoked by coal, we are all involved, whether seen or not. Readers have enjoyed and benefited from the knowledge and understanding of an area that few contemporary Americans have ever seen but yet is within a day’s drive of tens of millions.
1. “Michael Abraham’s book WAR,WV, is a riveting novel about a horrific coal slurry impoundment dam break like the one that killed 125 people, injured 1,121, and left 4,000 homeless along Buffalo Creek, WV in 1972. But Abraham’s book has a vigilante justice plot that will have you hollering Yes!”
2. “Michael Abraham gives the reader an outstanding taste of the local culture as well as the conflict between the miner and the coal companies. The book is really a fight for justice in the Appalachian coalfields and the manner in which justice is accomplished makes for some exciting reading.”
3. “In WAR, WV, Michael Abraham weaves a compelling story of the mining life in a small town in the coal country of West Virginia. We meet miners and their families, already dealing with tragedy, shortly before a major disaster rips their world apart. The way the miners respond to the crisis and seek justice leads us through surprising twists and turns and leaves no one unscathed. A memoir of the early days of coal mining through the eyes of one of the characters adds depth to the portrait of the lives of miners and their families. What is the real price of extracting coal from the ground and who pays it most dearly? I love this book!”
AUTHOR PROFILE: I am a businessman and writer, a native of Southwest Virginia. I am continually amazed at the extraordinary diversity in thought, culture, and landscape that surrounds me. We have brilliant doctors, lawyers, scientists, educators and engineers, living alongside herbalists, miners, ministers, luthiers, musicians and faith-healers, all who are devoted to forging successful futures but revering and maintaining cultural traditions. I have made it my life’s work to recognize, celebrate, and promote these people.
AUTHOR COMMENTS: I am drawn to the coal country, and McDowell County, West Virginia specifically, like a moth to a burning candle. American industry brought hundreds of thousands of people into the coal mines and the coal camps in the first half of the 20th Century and then with market forces and industrialization arriving, left them with few opportunities for meaningful employment and prosperity. Thousands have left, leaving behind a despoiled landscapes of coal mine tailings, containment lakes filled with poison, thousands of abandoned structures, and ravaged lives. It has been an honor and a privilege to give readers a greater understanding of this elemental slice of American life.
(Please select one of two)
1) The days of the winter solstice are haltingly short in War, West Virginia, with ephemeral glimpses of sunlight peeking over the tight, deeply forested mountains above the tiny Appalachian coal town. This year was no exception, with a light dusting of snow covering the ground and stubborn remnants of the prior week’s larger snowfall, six-inches in town and more on the mountaintops. Piles of snow mostly turned to dirty ice lay at the edges of the town’s few parking lots. Dustings were hardly worthy of conversation amongst the 850 or so residents who ventured into public spaces like the War Room Café, the Hotel Fretwell, the FoodFair Grocery, or any of the few other businesses still operational in West Virginia’s southernmost city.
Almost by the minute since the heyday of pick-and-shovel mining in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the central Appalachian coal fields surrounding War had diminished in revenue, importance, and vitality. War’s own population had shrunk by two-thirds.
A century of unbridled industrialism and repeated unnerving swings of boom and bust had culminated in the last great outmigration of former miners, primarily to the industrial cities of Cleveland, Detroit, and Pittsburgh beginning around 1950 and continuing in fits and starts to the present. It had left scores of ghost towns and abandoned coal camps, sucking the vigor from the region and leaving behind a pervasive sense of despair, a despondency heightened by isolation provided by densely packed hills choked by overwhelming vegetation and the tentacles of dizzying, winding, dirty, potholed roads throughout the area.
The sense of gloom was deepest in McDowell County, by far West Virginia’s poorest, a gloom accentuated by the physical confinement of the topography, the abundance of abandoned structures – both residential and commercial – and the encroachment of poverty, drug abuse, violence, and premature deaths, a dreariness furtively brightened by the smattering of Christmas lights. A musty, moist, redolence drifted through the tiny community’s frosty air.
2) Lucas “Pug” Graham helped his mother up the slick, makeshift wooden ramp to their Living Waters Full Gospel Church. He felt a stinging drop of sleet strike his nose, reminding him of a happier childhood day. But the present mood was decidedly somber, reinforced by the story of tragedy he knew was just inside the white-framed church door. The wake began almost as soon as he’d gotten his mother situated, they already being late due to the exigencies of his mother’s duties to her husband Emmett – Pug’s father – in his infirmity.
“Dearly beloved,” preacher David Karwoski extolled as Pug and his mother found places to sit on the hard wooden pews, “we are gathered here today to send to the bountiful hands of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in eternal salvation, Patricia Thompson Getgood and her infant son Roscoe Dale Getgood.”
The newly deceased were the wife and son of Donnie Getgood, an employee of Graham Coal, a company Pug had ostensibly recently inherited. Pug’s brother, Millard, was dead, or at least presumed so, missing for seven weeks. Nobody knew. Regardless, he wasn’t around and had vanished without a trace. That’s what had brought Pug back to War, that and his father’s condition.
As his mother had kindly patted him on his knee, he had been lost in thought, his personal demons swirling around the pall of the death he saw in front of him. He was deflated by his own situation, a life that had started with so much promise.
LOCAL OUTLETS: WAR, WV can be purchased from the author’s website at http://bikemike.squarespace.com/ , at Amazon, or at these local outlets:
Big Walker BW Country Store
Blacksburg Deli Mart (Glade Road)
Bramwell Coal Heritage Store
Charlottesville UVA Bookstore
Christiansburg Deli Mart (I-81 and West Main)
Christiansburg Local Yokels
Eggleston Palisades Restaurant
Floyd Bell Gallery
Floyd Floyd Country Store
Galax Chapters Bookstore
Mountain Lake Mountain Lake Lodge Gift Shop
Paint Bank Paint Bank General Store
Pembroke Mountain Lake Lodge Gift Shop
Radford Deli Mart West
Radford Glencoe Museum
Tuggles Gap Tuggles Gap Restaurant
Union Korner Kafe
CONTACT THE AUTHOR: Michael can be reached by calling 540-392-1119, email at <firstname.lastname@example.org>, and on Facebook