With books #1 and #2 already in print and book #3 on its way, I’m beginning to think about what comes next.
As I wrote on this blog a month or so ago, new novel is percolating in the back of my head. I’ve done some preliminary work on a story I would someday like to write about a girl from Atlanta who is transitioning to adulthood. The story begins as she arrives at the Old Fiddlers’ Convention in Galax. She’s a violin prodigy and she takes an interest in traditional Appalachian music. Within days of her arrival, the national power grid fails and she is stuck, forced to make the area around Galax her home for awhile. I haven't started yet because I don't yet have a clear picture of where the story might go.
Meanwhile, I am compelled to stick closer to what has become my “bread and butter,” writing about the people of a region or a corridor.
From the mid-1940s until the late 1960s, the Norfolk and Western Railroad ran several named trains as part of their passenger service. One was the Powhatan Arrow that ran daily from Norfolk to Cincinnati concurrent with another running in the opposite direction. I’m thinking about a book called Chasing the Powhatan Arrow, exploring the history of the train through the eyes of the people who knew it.
I sent some emails recently to some people who posted on the Internet about their experiences. I got this one from a woman named Wadine Toliaferro who now lives in Philadelphia. She wrote:
Thank you for writing. Congratulations on all of your books including the one you are writing, now. I grew up in Northfork, WVa, but was born in Roanoke.
I can tell you that as a child the Powhatan Arrow was the start of my love for trains. Even, today, I can smell the inside of the train station in Northfork... the smell is from the wooden benches.
At the age of eight, my father gave me a full Lionel as a Christmas gift; it was cherished into adulthood. My mother had someone clean out the basement and the train went missing.
I was adopted at birth in 1948. My birth parents and adoptive parents agreed that I would stay connected with the maternal birth family. Subsequently, there were many trips on the Powhatan Arrow to and from Roanoke. On trips to Roanoke, my mother always packed a lunch for the ride to Roanoke; as a six year old I was interested in eating in the dining car. Before the Powhatan Arrow arrived I was asking my mother if we could eat in the dining car and she was always said no. Once on the train the nagging started again and eventually she gave in. The linen table cloths were white and crisp as crisp could be. Bud vases with flowers were on every table, and standing in the back of the car, on the left side, was a man in a white jacket waiting to take MY order. On these rides, I was a princess. The Powhatan Arrow was special and made me special, and because it ran through our town, the town was special. I remember the Arrow passing by and waving at passengers, longing to be among them.
In my office today, there are pictures of trains that remind me of where I grew up and my experience of trains.
Thanks again for this opportunity (to discuss the Powhatan Arrow).
I have also spoken with Bev Fitzpatrick who is the Executive Director of the Virginia Transportation Museum in Roanoke. It is home to the last remaining locomotive of the famous “J” class that powered the Powhatan Arrow. This fabulous steam engine achieved 110 miles per hour in a speed test and could cruise at 90. Bev is excited about this project and eager to help me get started.
A new journey is underway!