April 1, 2013

Points East: A gem of a find

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — I’ve just finished reading the best full-length novel by a Kentucky author that I’ve seen in a decade or longer.  So good, in fact, it’s hard for me to believe I’m just now hearing about it and that it has not had any mention in our big city and regional press.    

Had it not been for an alert bookseller in Pound, Va., I probably would not have discovered “The Dark And Bloody Ground (DBG),” written by Roberta Hayes Webb, copyright 2006, 381 action packed pages and published by  TurnKey Press of Austin, Texas.  

Please do not confuse this book with a 1993 work by Darcy O’Brien that has the same title. Any similarity between the two begins and ends with the titles. When I told Brenda Salyers, astute proprietor of Heritage Nook Books, there in Pound, that I’d read it, she had to point out the differences  in authorship before I realized I hadn’t seen Webb’s book. And boy am I glad that Brenda is so persistent because this one has been a can’t-lay-down, up-all-night, page-turner.       

Webb’s book  is a fictional account of the early discovery and settlement of the uppermost reaches of the Big Sandy River Valley near what is now Jenkins, in Letcher County.  The book traces the lives and adventures of four generations of the fictional first family, from 1800 through about 1950, to settle in the head of Elkhorn Creek, headwaters of the Big Sandy.    

The geographic settings and historical events are remarkably accurate.  Despite a few name changes here and there and the liberal use of her poet’s license, readers of Webb’s DBG will consistently have a realistic sense of when and where they are.  Several of the Civil War episodes are literally hair raisers.

The reading experience is an emotional roller coaster ride that comes as close to capturing the Appalachian experience as anything I’ve ever read.  Readers familiar with and appreciative of our culture will find themselves at home — but do keep a box of tissue handy and be equally prepared to run to wherever you go when you’re terribly frightened.   And keep in mind, however difficult it may be at times, that you are reading fiction. DBG is sometimes love story, sometimes thriller, sometimes action/adventure and always intriguing.

The author, Roberta Hayes Webb was born and raised in Burdine, where she walked to grade school before riding the bus to Jenkins High School from which she graduated in May of 1945.  Much of DBG is devoted to living in a coal camp and a company town.  Suffice to say the author knows of which she speaks.

After high school, Roberta spent a brief stint in Oak Ridge, Tenn., as a lab technician on the team that developed the atomic bomb.  In 1949, she completed a degree in psychiatric nursing at Knoxville General Hospital by which time she was married to Dr. Jim Webb, who was completing his residency in psychiatry at the University of Georgia.    

Both Jim and Roberta Webb enjoyed long, successful and storied medical careers throughout a marriage that lasted 59 years before Jim’s passing six years ago.  Along the way, they had four children and lived in Georgia, Virginia, Florida, North Carolina and Iowa before settling in Texas in 1967.   Dark and Bloody Ground is her first published novel and she is currently working on a sequel.  

If you do some math here, you will note Mrs. Webb postponed her writing career until she was in her 70s.  I am among those who would insist she should have started much, much sooner.

You can get the book at Amazon, but if you want a truly personal touch, please visit Heritage Books Nook, at 8009 Main Street in Pound, and give your business to Brenda Salyers, a wonderful lady who started her store in the early 80s to provide a sales outlet for local writers.

Brenda stocks about 200 titles by central Appalachian writers in her living room. While walk-ins are more than welcome, well over 90 percent of her business is mail order, generated online.  

The Dark and Bloody Ground is $23.95 including shipping and handling.  Simply mail a check in that amount to Heritage Nook Books, P.O. Box 373, Pound, VA 24279. If you have any questions, call Brenda at 276-796-4604. Visit her website at and check out the impressive selection of books and music that you simply can’t find elsewhere.


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