Writing a book is an audacious thing.
This thought swept through my mind over and over again as I sat in a metal folding chair in the shade of the historic Tingler’s Mill in Paint Bank, Craig County, on a recent hot Saturday. Before me were two empty rows of three chairs each, pointing at me as if a silent audience. I was there to do my first public signing for my two recently released books. It was high noon, time for the event to start. Nobody had arrived.
Anybody can write a book. You don’t need a degree or certification. There are no entrance exams, qualifying interviews, or required qualifications. All a person needs to do is to find a topic, find sufficient time, and go for it. People buy it and read it. If the book is good and well-marketed, lots of people will read it. Short of slandering anyone, you can write most anything you want.
My quest to become a writer played out this way. For many years, I managed a printing company that my wife and I inherited from my parents. I had dabbled with writing but had never done anything professionally. The experience and positive feedback gained from writing this column and others convinced me that if I ever had an opportunity, I would seize it.
I had long had an interest in our sister state of West Virginia. Unlike the inherent parity of North and South Dakota and North and South Carolina, our relationship with West Virginia seemed decidedly uneven. Why weren’t we East Virginia?
To Civil War buffs, the answer is well-known. West Virginia was carved wholly from Virginia during the Civil War, the only state ever created from another state without the parent state’s consent. What is less known, especially by me, were the details. Even more interesting was the current relationship between the two states, the way people lived and how the cultures compared.
When our financial planner gave me the go-ahead to jettison my conventional occupation, I decided that was the time to pursue my dream. A two-year effort ensued, the results of which is a nonfiction book called The Spine of the Virginias.
Coincident with writing about the formation of West Virginia, a story began to take shape in my head about a fictional angry young man from Northern Virginia who becomes an accidental visitor to a small, contemporary Appalachian town. While recovering from physical and emotional scars, he learns about his great-great-great-grandfather, who was a Confederate hero in the Civil War. This story maneuvered its way into a novel that I entitled, Union, WV.
It was these two books that brought me to Paint Bank on this hot Saturday afternoon. I intended to read aloud from these two books and hopefully entertain my audience. By quarter past noon, I still sat alone. I thumbed through my books and began reading aloud, just for practice. I apologize if I sound self-absorbed, but sections of both books are still interesting and poignant to me, even after reading them dozens of times. With nobody around, I entertained myself.
By 12:30 p.m. nobody had arrived. So I thanked the store manager for arranging the event and I departed.
This account has three epilogues.
First, upon leaving Paint Bank, I turned northward and crossed into West Virginia. I rode into the town of Union to check on the retailers who were selling my novel. The grocery store owner’s shelf was empty; he appeared to have sold out. But in reality, he had removed the books from his shelf and was selling them by request only. One customer bought a book and within days had brought it back demanding a refund. Apparently, she expected it to be a definitive historical novel of her community. Instead, it is a raw, risqué book that if made into a movie would be rated “R” for language, sexual content, and violence. I apologized to him that he had incurred her wrath vicariously for me.
Second, days later, I received a nice note from the manager at the store in Paint Bank. “I'm really sorry things didn't go better for you here. Good news though. I sold several of the books around 1:00 p.m. Buyers they said they would have came out and listened to you had you stayed. We have only 2 more of your books left!!! How about that?”
Third, the next day, while walking my dog on the Huckleberry Trail, a bicyclist recognized me and stopped to say hello. He had bought my novel several weeks earlier. He apologized profusely for not having written to tell me how much he thoroughly enjoyed it.
Writing a book is an audacious thing. I am now at work on my third.