Monday, January 6, 2020

#118 Inside the Emotion of Fiction "The Road To Matewan" by William Trent Pancoast

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****William Trent Pancoast’s THE ROAD TO MATEWAN is #118 in the never-ending series called INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific excerpt from a fiction genre and how that fiction writer wrote that specific excerpt.  All INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION links are at the end of this piece. 

Has this been published? And it is totally fine if the answer is no.   If yes, what publisher and what publication date?  Yes. Blazing Flowers Press in 2017.

What is the date you began writing this piece of fiction and the date when you completely finished the piece of fiction? Began this novel in 1972 as explained in the “Introduction” to The Road to Matewan: I wrote the first words of this novel in 1972 after taking my grandmother to her childhood home in the Tug Valley of southern West Virginia. When we got back to Charleston, where she had raised her family of three children, she gave me a little paperback book titled Mingo County History
          It was in that local history that I first read of the Matewan Massacre. I began immediately imagining her childhood along the Tug River and the history of the Tug Valley, Matewan, and the Battle of Blair Mountain. 
There was not a lot of information available about the Tug Valley and the Mine Wars in 1972. Now, mostly published in the last decade, there are many books, fiction and non-fiction, that provide an accurate history of southern West Virginia. For 45 years I have written and rewritten The Road to Matewan. The first draft, finished in 1975, was twice as long as the present version. I persevered because the story of the mountaineers of southern West Virginia was so important and needed to be told to the world. There will be readers of The Road to Matewan who first encounter this history in my book. 
          Spreading this history is my intent. Appalachia, its coalfields, and especially the Tug Valley, are an American tragedy. 
          When the liars and thieves representing the land and coal companies set about stealing the land from its pioneer owners, no one could have envisioned the feudal state that would be imposed upon the mountaineers of West Virginia. I know how important the history of the Tug Valley is to me, and I have seen how important that history is to the people who were uprooted, and to the descendents of those who stayed.  Therefore, The Road to Matewan.

Where did you do most of your writing for this fiction work?  And please describe in detail. I like to write in the middle of activity, so kitchen table, desk, sometimes in a basement.

What were your writing habits while writing this work- did you drink something as you wrote, listen to music, write in pen and paper, directly on laptop; specific time of day? The Road to Matewan was written on yellow legal tablets. Over a 45 year period I did four major rewrites, the first of which lopped off the first two hundred pages.

What is the summary of this specific fiction work? The Road to Matewan begins in 1898 on a pristine Appalachian hillside and ends in 1937 on the same spot, now ravaged by the coal companies. The novel is the story of one man's resistance to industrialization.

Can you give the reader just enough information for them to understand what is going on in the excerpt? The excerpt is the first three pages of The Road To Matewan, set in 1898 about ten miles from Matewan, West Virginia, in the southern coalfields of West Virginia. The mountaineers were reduced to serfs as their land was steadily stolen by land and mine companies.

Please include just one excerpt and include page numbers as reference.  This one excerpt can be as short or as long as you prefer. Chapter One 1898, first three pages of novel. Thomas Greene knelt in the garden spot, the soft music of the artesian well in the still dawn a constant soothing, and pulled two clumps of cheat grass from around the base of the bean plants. The bean pods were young and full, a good combination, and today would be the day Gertrude and the kids did the first batch of half runners. Good that the crop had come early as she was due next week with their sixth child. Beneath the second clump, a piece of iron lay red and crumbling in the manure-rich soil. Thomas plucked it up and held it to the light of the awakening world, the mists holding fast across the river on the Kentucky side, the steepest mountains in the Tug Valley. It was a tine from a cultivator, he guessed, and he pondered the difficulties of living here in this wilderness without the proper tools, a forge-hardened plow blade like he now had, crosscut saws that could cut logs all day, and guns that always fired. His grandfather, or his father as a child, might have left this piece here. The first ray of the day’s sunlight slipped through the topmost leaves of a chestnut tree, and the iron oxide crumbled in flakes as he massaged the reddish piece with his thumb. When all the loose was gone from the iron, Thomas spit on it and continued the massage. The gray and black of iron soon showed itself and Thomas laid the six inch long piece carefully beside a bean plant where he knew one of the kids would find it later. Robert, his oldest son, would make a knife from the piece if he found it. A tremendous explosion reverberated from over the ridge, the valley channeling the noise and vibration, and Thomas stood. He looked over the western ridge to the mine below where a steam engine belched into action, and he could hear the scraping and clawing of a steel shovel against the heart of the mountain.

Why is this excerpt so emotional for you as a writer to write?  And can you describe your own emotional experience of writing this specific excerpt? Chapter one shows Thomas Greene's love for the land and the economic forces that will eventually dislodge him and his family from their hillside farm.

Were there any deletions from this excerpt that you can share with us? And can you please include a photo of your marked up rough drafts of this excerpt. The first draft of The Road To Matewan was finished in 1975. Numerous drafts occurred over a 45 year period until the novel was published in 2017. The first chapter was completely new in the last rewrite, so there was not a lot of emotion, but rather the feeling that I had finally gotten the first chapter right.

Other works you have published? The novels Crashing and Wildcat. Short stories will be published in winter of 2019.  Crashing, a novel, published in 1983 and 2016. Wildcat, a novel about the auto industry, set in 1970 and published in 2010.
My stories are to be published in early 2020, and are titled Vietnam. Fucking Vietnam. Also I wrote a history of the United Auto Workers told from the vantage point of a single local union in Ohio. All my work, I have realized in retrospect, is literary AND historical.

Anything you would like to add? I have been a writer of fiction since age twelve. The five books listed above are what I managed to produce while teaching English, or for the bulk of that time, working as a machinist and journeyman die maker to earn enough to support my children. I also was privileged to serve as a local union newspaper (monthly) for 25 years. Writing in small town Ohio is not seen as a worthwhile venture by most people; time is stolen to be a writer in Ohio.
       Everything about my writing has always been uphill. Most of my books have been published or republished since I retired from General Motors in 2007 as a die maker.
I had only one creative writing course--in 1969 with James Riess at Miami University. He gave me the knowledge that I could produce writing that had meaning. It always had to mean something important socially and politically for me to bother writing it. My writing was to my specifications and no one else's

William Trent Pancoast 1949— “Blue collar writer” is how the Wall Street Journal referred to William Trent Pancoast in 1986. By that time, his working-class-flavored short stories and essays had appeared in many Midwestern and international magazines and newspapers. Pancoast spent the next twenty years as the editor of a monthly union newspaper—the Union Forum—and as a die maker, while continuing to publish his fiction, essays, and editorials in the Union Forum, Solidarity magazine, US News and World Report, and numerous literary magazines. The term “blue collar writer” suits Pancoast just fine. As he told the WSJ, “The reason I write about work is that that’s just about damn near all I’ve ever done.” In addition to his jobs of die maker, machinist, railroad section hand and brakeman, and construction laborer, Pancoast has been a high school English teacher and adjunct professor of English. The author supplements his blue collar writing credentials with a B.A. in English from the Ohio State University. Pancoast is retired from the auto industry after thirty years as a die maker and union newspaper editor and lives in Ontario, Ohio.


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