Police procedural set in wintry Amsterdam
Talking Location With author Kimberly Collins – WEST VIRGINIA
19th May 2020
#TalkingLocationWith.. Kimberly Collins, author of Blood Creek set in West Virginia.
“Some of my best memories come from down some old dirt road” —Unknown
Appalachia. The word alone conjures a lot of visuals for people. Most of them inaccurate. Yeah, we have poverty and coal and other ugly stuff. But those are the headline-grabbing photos and images that people use to stick labels on Appalachia and its people. The Appalachia I see is a different one—it’s a place of mountains, rivers, wild horses, streams, wildflowers, and forests. It’s calm, quiet. A place of wild and wonderful magic.
I grew up in a small town called Matewan (John Sayles made a movie about it in the late ’80s). It’s nestled between the mountains on one side and the Tug River on the other. There’s a lot of history in my little hometown—the Hatfield and McCoy feud and the legendary mine wars that sparked right in the middle of downtown in 1920. It’s also now ATV heaven with riders coming from all over the country with their four-wheelers to tear up and down the Hatfield & McCoy Trails, which feature more than 600 miles of trails. It’s one of the largest off-road vehicle trail systems in the world.
The mountains of southern West Virginia are close and tight and tall. It can be a bit suffocating for some people. For others, it provides a gentle cocoon from the noise of the world. If you venture to the top of the mountains, you can see forever as the mountains roll into Kentucky and Virginia. The sunsets are spectacular as the sky fades from blue, to purple, to red.
Growing up, those mountains provided an amazing playground. We were outside every chance we got—climbing trees, hiking up a mountain, sliding down a mountain in fresh fallen leaves, catching crawdads in the creek. There was always an adventure. Some of my best memories echo through those mountains and hollers.
As a child, I heard the stories of the mine wars—people fighting over coal and workers’ rights—but always from the male perspective. I wanted to tell this story from the female point of view. In my latest novel, Blood Creek, I want readers to learn about the mine wars and experience the magic of Appalachia through the eyes of Ellie, Jolene, and Polly.
While writing Blood Creek, I tried to envision the Appalachia of 1900. A place before industrialization, before the mountains were stripped for their minerals. A place of wild abandon teeming with wildlife and unique plants used for medicine and food. This isn’t hard to imagine when riding four-wheelers off the beaten path where a canopy of trees covers the trail and wild horses roam on the mountain tops. With the waning of the coal industry, the mountains have had a few decades to heal and regenerate. And they do not disappoint in their natural beauty.
With thousands of species of plants, the mountains of southern West Virginia provide a rich diversity of flowers and moss. Rhododendrons, dogwoods, and fern patches dot the mountainsides. You can also find ramps and ginseng. These mountains are truly one of nature’s treasures.
I knew I couldn’t tell the story of Blood Creek without the Appalachian Mountains shaping and impacting the characters, because those same mountains have played such a huge part in shaping me. I realized while writing Blood Creek that the coal so many people fought and died for played as much a part in my life as the mountains. The people of southern West Virginia have built a life around coal for the past 100+ years—it’s hard to live there and not be influenced by it in one way or another.
“These same mountains Ellie loved so much seemed to be closing in on her. They were looming over her, demanding she abide by their paths etched out over the centuries. Refusing to let her see beyond their beauty and magic. They had shaped Ellie’s view of the world and people and herself. She wondered if she would be the same person in some other place. She needed to know who she was beyond the mountains.”—Blood Creek
Like the character Ellie, in Blood Creek, these mountains are a part of my soul. Shaping my sense of the world, my view of my place in society, my sense of self. But aren’t we all shaped to a degree—good or bad—by the places we inhabit, the places we visit, the mountains we climb, the streams we swim in? Don’t these places settle into our blood and help create who we become as much as anything else in our lives?
Hope y’all get to visit southern West Virginia soon—it’s truly almost heaven.
And how wonderful to have been transported to almost-heaven. Thank you to Kimberley for such a lovely introduction to West Virginia.
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