Weekly Journal

Here's a compilation of everyday thoughts and articles I've written. Many have been published as part of my recurring columns in the News Messenger, the twice-weekly paper in Montgomery County, Virginia.


* * The Spine of the Virginias is DONE! (sort of!)


After about four years of optimistic head-scratching, followed by two more years of serious research and writing, and then by four months of rewriting and editing, The Spine of the Virginias is finally finished, at least to the point where it is ready for consideration by a publisher. There are invariably some last-minute grammatical corrections yet to be made, but the book is essentially complete.  I am pleased to admit this has led to recurring fits of euphoria.

I have employed the services of several wonderful editors in recent months who have done a terrific job in helping me separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff.  The document now is as concise and relevant as it can be while still amply illustrating the vast region the book covers, the 300 mile border between Virginia and West Virginia.

One of the reviewers, Kate McCoy of Blacksburg who is in my wife Jane’s book club, wrote to me last evening,


Michael,   I am enjoying the book tremendously, and find that now I've really gotten into it I can't wait to get back to it. I look forward to each new person and experience, and find myself wishing I could talk with and visit some of these people and places too! It's a great read - you should be really proud. It is unique in subject matter and approach, and is such a tribute to the people and places and natural history of our part of the world (to which I am extremely partial). Thanks for letting me read it. I'll try to keep pushing along quickly now, as much as my crazy life allows. Kate


I sent the document to a publishing house a few days ago and eagerly look forward to their impressions.  It is notoriously difficult for a first time writer to find a publisher willing to take on his or her work.  If this publisher is not receptive, I will continue my quest elsewhere.

I am also working with a designer at my former printing company on a design for the cover.  He and I are very excited about how this is coming together.  Whether a publisher may decide to use this cover or decide to design another from scratch is yet to be determined.  But it looks very nice to us.  If you are interested in seeing it, please drop me a note at bikemike@nrvunwired.net and I will e-mail it to you.

I am continuing to work on my second book, my novel about the community of Union, West Virginia.  As part of the research for that, next Monday I am going to join a falconer as she and her hawk hunt for rabbits and squirrels.  Falconry is the sport of kings.  I am very excited about the opportunity to see how falcons can be trained to hunt.  My father, Bob, who is now 81, is an avid wildlife photographer.  He plans to join me and take pictures of the experience.  I will post these here on my website as soon as I can.

As always, thank you for your interest in my writing projects.



* * Visiting The Greenbrier, Sweet Springs Resort, Fort Lewis Lodge and Capon Springs Resort


It has been a couple of weeks since my last entry. 

A week and a half ago, I spent three days on the road in Greenbrier and Monroe counties in West Virginia doing research for my second book.  At The Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, I watched a falconry demonstration.  The handler allowed his bird, a Harris hawk, native to the American Southwest, to fly into a nearby tree.  Then he positioned a food morsel, a body part of a chicken, on his leather glove.  His hawk swooped down from the tree and landed again on his glove to eat the food.  I was with a group of only five people so each of us had the opportunity to wear the glove and have the bird take the food from us.  Exciting!

I interviewed several people from which I hoped to glean some ideas for my novel.  I stayed at the Sweet Springs resort where I was joined for dinner by owner Warren Smith and his lady Amonda Moon.  They are actively refurbishing the grand resort at Sweet Springs.  I detailed this in a chapter in The Spine of the Virginias.  Anyone who cares about area history should be grateful to Warren and Amonda for the work they are doing.

Jane and I spent several days on the road last week on a mini vacation.  We took the opportunity to patronize two of the businesses that I was fortunate to get to know and profile in The Spine of the Virginias.

I had stayed at the Fort Lewis Lodge in Bath County last spring and wrote a chapter about my experience riding with Carolina Tailwinds, a bicycle touring company.  I also profiled a young woman named Shelly Roberts who worked at the Lodge.  This trip, I invited several friends from Blacksburg who I ride bicycles with frequently.  We arrived on Saturday in the midst of a pouring, drenching rainstorm.  We had planned to take our first ride that afternoon but the weather was miserable.  Instead, we watched on TV the Virginia Tech versus Miami football game taking place back home in Blacksburg.  Our daughter was in attendance at the game.  We called her frequently during the game to see how things were going.  At one point she sounded so wet we thought she might drown!  Fortunately, Virginia Tech won the game handily.

The next day, we were able to take a nice 45 mile bicycle ride.  Our trip took us northward from the Lodge through the town of Williamsville, then McDowell, over Bullpasture Mountain, then back through Williamsville again and back to the Lodge.  One highlight was the spotting of a pair of bald eagles on the Bullpasture River.

Because the Fort Lewis Lodge is so remote, they include a full breakfast and dinner with each night’s lodging.  The food there is absolutely terrific, easily the best I have eaten along The Spine of the Virginias.  Unfortunately, Shelly was off work while we visited and I was not able to see her again.

If you'd like to read more about Fort Lewis Lodge, on this website in the "vignettes" section is an article about John Cowden who with his wife Caryl run the Lodge.

At the Capon Springs Resort, we took two nice hikes in the surrounding forests.  We were also able to “take the waters,” in the form of a relaxing bath-pool experience.  Jane attended two classes in watercolor painting.  Capon Springs has many endearing traditions, including a morning flag raising and an afternoon serenade of classical music on loudspeakers placed throughout the resort.  One evening’s dinner was provided at an outdoor pavilion with a wonderful sunset view.  Capon Springs is an enchanting place.

The day before yesterday, Jane and I rode one of our Honda motorcycles to Rocky Knob recreation area on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  We took a short hike to a vast open field where we flew a kite in the stiff wind.  This area is often used by birdwatchers to see the annual hawk migration.  We spent perhaps an hour and a half flying our kite.  At one point, for about 10 minutes, there was a flurry of activity in the sky where we saw six hawks.  I believe they were either broad-wing hawks or red tailed hawks, but I forgot to bring the bird book.

My book, The Spine of the Virginias, is finally nearing the point where it is ready to be seen and evaluated by potential publishers.  I will include a fuller report next week.  Thank you, as always, for your interest in my writing projects.


* * Back from the far Southwest Corner


Last week, I rode my aged Honda CBX motorcycle to Yukon, McDowell County, West Virginia, to meet with my friend Benton Ward, who offered to guide me to the far Southwest corner of The Spine of the Virginias, where Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky come together.  The write-up for this trip was to be the final chapter for the book.  Benton rode his Honda Gold Wing.  We were joined by four of his friends, also on Hondas.

In contrast to the Northeast corner of the Spine, which is on Cacapon Mountain and relatively easily found, the Southwest corner is in the middle of the Tug Fork River. The Tug forms in the tight hollows of McDowell County and flows generally northwest towards its rendezvous with the Big Sandy River and eventually the Ohio.  The Tug is infamous for dividing the families of the Hatfields and McCoys, in addition to being in the proximity of the Coal Mine Wars in Matewan.  It forms the border between Virginia and West Virginia for only four miles before forming the border between West Virginia and Kentucky for most of its length.

This area is stereotyped as being the depth of Appalachia.  In much of the area we explored, the word “poor” is impotent in describing the wrenching, abject poverty.  I saw many listless, disheveled people sitting on front porches, staring into space, surrounded by yards of rubbish and abandoned car parts and children’s toys.  Part of the area had been hit by flooding in the spring and there was still much rubbish in the stream courses. 

As always, McDowell County provides interesting viewpoints on the American experience.

Meanwhile, editing continues on The Spine of the Virginias.

This week, I’m traveling for three days to White Sulphur Springs, Sweet Springs, and Union to do research on the new novel, Union, WV

Thanks always for your interest in my books!







* * I'm learning how emergency rooms work.


In recent weeks, I have been working simultaneously to finish The Spine of the Virginias and to start my new book, Union, WV.

With regards to the former, I have planned a trip to the far Southwest corner of the Spine, the junction point where Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky come together.  I will depart for this trip tomorrow.  My friend Benton Ward who I have met through the process of writing this book, will be my escort.  The junction happens to be in the middle of the Tug Fork River (Wet feet, anyone?).  I plan to spend the night with Benton and his wife Frances at their home in the community of Yukon, near War.  Benton, a retired coal miner, is a colorful character and I always enjoy my conversations with him.

With regards to the latter, I’m trying to learn as much as I can about the fictional situations that will happen in the life of my protagonist.  On his way from his home in Washington, DC area to Union, West Virginia, he suffers a serious motorcycle accident.  I spent an hour last week talking with a local emergency room doctor here in Blacksburg named Jane Weiseman who helped me understand the process of saving the life of an accident victim.  She invited me to see the emergency room at our local hospital, Montgomery Regional.  On Friday, I met her again at the emergency room and she showed me some of the equipment she uses.  I also had a conversation with a woman named Jennifer Redd who has split time in her career between being an emergency room nurse and an emergency medical technician in the field.  She was helpful as well.  I always appreciate the willingness of the people I meet to assist me in my understanding of their work and interests.

Much of the fun of writing these books is meeting new people and learning new things.  With their help, my novel will be more accurate and plausible.

Back on the road,



* * Update on the Spine, and a new book is forming in my head...


The Spine of the Virginias is non-fiction.  I have been working on it for over two years.  It is now in "final" editing and is being read for the first time by a couple of volunteer readers, checking for any last-minute errors.  It has been typeset for a 6 X 9 book along with several graphics.  The end is in sight.

If you asked me a month ago what I was going to do when it was done, I would have said, "I don't know."  In the meantime a new book has formed in my head.  This is fiction, to be called, Union, WV.  In the course of work on The Spine, I have become enchanted with the tiny Monroe County community of Union. 

In Union, WV, an angry, self-absorbed young man from Northern Virginia visits an elderly great-uncle in Union.  Along the way, he is hurt seriously in an accident and must convalesce in Union.  He sees the cooperative spirit that typifies small towns and as he heals physically, he also heals emotionally and intellectually. Coincident with their story is a story of an ancestor who fought in the Civil War, who also bears physical and emotional scars.

I am beginning the process of research and interviews that I hope will help my write an accurate account of a plausible life in contemporary Union.

Thanks for reading and your continuing interest in my literary work.