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April1999
Storming Heaven
by Denise Giardina

Chat with Author Denise Giardina

Log file opened at: 4/26/99 7:54:17 PM
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<chelak> Welcome to the bookclub@ket chat, eric and Dances!
<chelak> We have Denise on the line.
<chelak> Let me introduce her
<chelak> Welcome to KET's BookClub@KET chat. Tonight our guest is author Denise Giardina. Ms Giardina wrote "Storming Heaven" which KET featured for April's bookclub selection. She is also the author of "The Unquiet Earth."
<chelak> A question to start:
<chelak> Scooter asked, "I'd like to hear Denise talk about Rondal and Albion. These characters loved the same woman and the same cause...I think the contrast between the two men is one of the book's most interesting aspects."
<Denise_Gia> Scooter -- I do see them as polar opposites in some way, With all my characters I'm exploring the way people respond to the same issues...
<ttucker> In your introduction in "Women of Coal," you make clear your passionate affinity with the women of the coal fields. Did you, perhaps, begin "Storming Heaven" with Carrie Bishop's character, and fill out from there?
<Denise_Gia> And so I was interested in how one person namely Albion.. who is a very gentle non-violent person... would approach the problems faced in the coal fields. And also how someone like Rondal has a different temperament who is idealistic in his own way but not hesitant to use violence would respond...
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<Denise_Gia> And without making value judgments to just explore both of those.
<chelak> Welcome to the bookclub@ket chat with author Denise Giardina, mom cat
<chelak> Scooter is also curious about Denise's own family's history in the mines.
<Denise_Gia> Scooter -- My grandfather was a miner. And one of my uncles on my father's side was a miner with black lung. My uncle on my mother's side was also a miner. My father worked in company management.
<Denise_Gia> ttucker -- Actually there were two characters I began with. Carrie and Rondal Pretty much developed at the same time. Because I saw them as representing the WVA experience on one hand and the Kentucky experience on the other. That's sort of my family history. And I was interested in both those aspects.
<chelak> Pat Williams of Kentucky said, "I really enjoyed (and so did my 16-year-old son) both "Storming Heaven" and "The Unquiet Earth." (Anyone who liked the first one should read the sequel that brings the characters and families into modern times.)"
<chelak> Pat would like to know if you have any plans to write further novels about this area or about Appalachia. "I also enjoyed your other historical novels, but these two have characters so strong, but so true that they seem like my neighbors and friends."
<Denise_Gia> Pat -- At this point, it's likely that I will write something else in this region. But it won't necessarily be another sequel. Although that may happen down the road...
<chelak> Does anyone else have a question?
<chelak> If not, I have one more....
<ewey> How long and what kind of research did you do for this book?
<Denise_Gia> ewey -- I researched this for a number of years off and on... It's hard to say how many. Because I didn't do it continuously But I started reading about this subject in the mid-1970's and began writing the book in 1982. So that gives you some idea. I talked to people in my family, also to other elderly people.
<Denise_Gia> I read every book I could find in print on the subject. Including some in the archives that are long our of print. I also read old newspapers on microfilm and I read the transcripts of oral testimony made before the US Senate Committee. This included testimony of many eyewitnesses to these events.
<ttucker> "Good King Harry" seemed to be about someone in a "high" position who tried desperately to do good ... and failed. Was he a model for the predicament of Miles Bishop?
<Denise_Gia> ttucker -- Not really, Although I do see the similarities but I think Miles Bishop had a lot less power than King Harry did. I really in Good King Harry was looking at someone who was the most powerful person in his country and who still as you say failed. In Storming Heaven I'm mostly looking at people who are on the receiving end of power even Miles is pretty limited in what he can achieve.
<chelak> Mary Ann wants to know if the term "redneck" originated from the red bandannas that the union miners wore?
<Denise_Gia> Mary Ann -- That's how it originated in the Appalachian region as far as I can tell. I do think it's probably true that in the deep South he term refers to poor white farmers who were called that because working out in the sun caused the backs of their necks to sunburn.
<Denise_Gia> But this term was also definitely used in the coal fields to refer to union miners both because they wore red bandannas to identify themselves and because the coal company people considered them to be socialists or communist...
<ewey> What do you think about the practices of coal companies today?
<Denise_Gia> ewey -- I think the coal industry today continues to be one of the more irresponsible industries in the country. While federal laws and new technology have made the mines safer there are still many problems and the companies themselves do everything they can to escape responsibility for these problems. In WVA we still have companies evading taxes, openly breaking the law, regarding overweight coal trucks, abandoning strip mines, avoiding paying workers comp benefits. and usually there is only a slap on the wrist...
<Denise_Gia> I think most businesses are good law abiding businesses. The Coal industry continues not to be.
<chelak> Denise, How difficult was it to write the dialect? How did you go about "learning" the speech patterns and writing it?
<ericblair> Where are the limits of artistic liberty in historical fiction?
<Denise_Gia> chelak -- I grew up in Southern WVA == so I basically wrote the way me and my family talked.
<Denise_Gia> ericblair -- It really depends on what the writer is trying to achieve...
<Denise_Gia> If you are writing a traditional historical novel, which is largely what I have done...
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<chelak> Welcome to the bookclub@ket chat with author Denise Giardina, jc.
<Denise_Gia> Then you try to stick to historical events as you can. Some historical fiction is more fanciful for example, Salman Rushdie often writes historical fiction where time is rearranged and people from different
<Denise_Gia> time periods appear at other times. But what I have tried to do is stick close to actual historical events.
<Denise_Gia> This still involves a great deal of interpretation on my part but that is inescapable even for a biographer.
<jc> It seems to me that the underlying theme in "Storming Heaven" is really about corporate omnipotence and individual (citizen) liberty
<jc> -- and that the same conflict manifests itself today (more subtly, perhaps) in the information-age cubicle farm, where workers' keystrokes are recorded and bathroom breaks are strictly monitored.
<jc> Do you think we've progressed much by substituting psychic oppression for physical abuse?
<DancesWith> Denise, the history in Storming Heaven seems to be largely "hidden history." I know I didn't get much labor history in school. Does that increase the responsibility to make it factually accurate?
<chelak> jc, that's a great question!!
<jc> I haven't been able to find an historical account of the women's march on the coal town. Did that really happen?
<Denise_Gia> jc -- I think whenever people work for other people -- there's always going to be a question of power and whether or not people are treated justly and with dignity...
<Denise_Gia> And there's always going to be questions of how much control people have over their own lives. It's a never-ending struggle for human beings in every time and every place.
<Denise_Gia> Dances -- I felt that when I was writing the book that it did.
<jc> In her study of absentee landowning in West Virginia, Barbara Rasmussen suggests there have been plenty of villains -- coal companies, yes, but also banks, politicians, railroad companies, timber companies
<jc> -- in a centuries-old pattern of oppression in West Virginia and that, at bottom, it is the result of absentee ownership of the land, not specifically coal mining.
<Denise_Gia> I was hesitant to invent incidents because I was afraid people would say that it was not believable or that I was exaggerating. And so I was very careful to stick to the events as much as possible.
<jc> Do you agree West Virginia's (Appalachia's) problems have broader roots than just the coal industry?
<chelak> jc... your questions are next to be answered
<Denise_Gia> I think too, that when people aren't familiar with the historical background it's more important to help them understand that background.
<Denise_Gia> jc -- That event -- The Women's March based on an actual event in Pennsylvania coal history . I read about it in the autobiography of Mother Jones. The invasion of the company store is based on an incident in Mingo County, WVA.
<Denise_Gia> jc -- Yes -- All those companies are definitely involved in the problem of absentee landownership. It's quite possible that without that absentee ownership -- coal companies would have had to compete with other industries and that would have forced them to treat their workers better.
<Denise_Gia> Because of absentee ownership other economic development never had a chance. And yes timber companies and especially the railroads had a large share in that.
<chelak> Any one else with a question?
<ewey> Is the media covering current problems with the coal industry?
<jc> Was it only sentiment that kept you from renaming "McDowell County?"
<Denise_Gia> ewey -- Here in WVA the media definitely is.. And I understand that's true in Kentucky
<Denise_Gia> I don't think the national media has done what it should. Except for US News and World Report we pretty much continued to be ignored.
<Denise_Gia> jc -- That's a good question. -- I created a fictional county and named it Justus County so that I could combine events that happened in several WVA counties. But when it came time to draw the fictional map I placed it where Mingo County actually is. And I guess because I grew up in McDowell Co. I did go ahead and stick it in down in the corner of the map.
<Denise_Gia> So I guess it was kind of sentimental.
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<chelak> Welcome to the bookclub@ket chat with author Denise Giardina, Grace_B
<Grace_B> Thanks. I've been trying to get on for 30 minutes! (not your fault)
<ewey> Storming Heaven would make a great mini-series. Any possibilities?
<Denise_Gia> By the way, Rhonda Moberly is typing for Denise by phone -- so please excuse the misspellings.
<Denise_Gia> ewey -- Yes, Turner Network Television (TNT) has bought the mini-series rights. Although it's not definite that it will be made -- A director has signed on.
<jc> The dictionary says "Albion" is a literary name for Britain. Did you know that? Why did you combine it with "Freeman?" Is there any connection to the book, "Albion's Seed?"
<Denise_Gia> John Frankenheimer who directed The Manchurian Candidate will direct. They are waiting now to see if they get a script they like.
<DancesWith> Our discussion group disagreed strongly about Miles Bishop! Some thought he was well-intentioned but just ultimately powerless, while others considered him quite the traitor. How do you see him?
<Denise_Gia> jc -- There is no connection to the book "Albion's Seed" except that
<Grace_B> I'd like to hear the answer to DancesWithCats' question, too.
<Denise_Gia> in both cases the name does refer to Britain. I gave Albion that name because I've always been fascinated by British history.
<Denise_Gia> And I gave him the last name Freeman because I do think that tradition came across from Freedom from across Great Britain
<Denise_Gia> Dances -- I think it's a mixture -- I do think he was well intentioned. But like so many people where their job is concerned they convince themselves they are doing what is right even when they aren't. This is a blind spot people often have.
<Denise_Gia> I also think I can sympathize with his desire to not be a farmer. Because of that he convinces himself he's doing good when in fact not.
<Denise_Gia> I do think, though that at times he does try and I think in the end he does the right thing.
<jc> David Alan Corbin forcefully makes the point that neither the structure of the coal industry nor the character of the workforce lent itself to unionization.
<jc> And in "Welcome the Traveler Home," Jim Garland recalls the disaffection of Kentucky miners, at least, with the UMW.
<jc> Do you think you over-romanticized the union in "Storming Heaven?"
<Denise_Gia> jc -- I don't think so. First of all, Corbin's book does talk about the difficulties. but more in the context of the early part of the period by the time of the Cabin Creek strike in 1912, many miners were very interested in the union.
<Denise_Gia> Also Garland's book refers more, I think, to the 1930's. This was a time later than "Storming Heaven" when many miners were unhappy with the UMW. And with good reason.
<Denise_Gia> I do show in Storming Heaven the caution of the UMW nationally. For example, when the black organizer is sent to Justice County. It's clear he doesn't have a lot of support from the union. Also when the miners are preparing to march on Blair Mountain -- it's the local UMW leaders .. who are militant -- the national union was not supportive at all. And I think the book reflects this.
<Denise_Gia> It was because of the miner's march on Blair Mountain that the more militant local leaders were dismissed and John L. Lewis who was more conservative and authoritarian took power.
<ewey> Any advice to aspiring writers?
<Denise_Gia> ewey -- Read everything you can get your hands on. Try to find a regular time to write at least 4 or 5 days a week. Use your writing to explore, in other words, don't hesitate to go in one direction even if you are not sure...
<Denise_Gia> Because you can always go back and rewrite.. And Also if it's fiction you want to write try to get to know your characters, as well as you can and give them the freedom to take the story where it wants to go. On a practical level, try to find a writing class or workshop or writer's group.
<jc> Given what is happening now in that region, how do you feel about your (Isom Justice's) analogy between West Virginia and the Balkans?
<Denise_Gia> jc -- That's funny because at the time I was writing this --Of Course, Yugoslavia was still a Communist country. So I was referring to the World War I era. But now that all this is happening certainly you can't make total comparisons. Because problems like ethnic cleansing aren't problems here.
<Denise_Gia> But I do think both places we see problems caused when you have an all powerful structure in one case -- a Communist government and the other case--- and all powerful industry which once provided everything and suddenly... provides almost nothing. In both cases, there's a huge vacuum.
<jc> I haven't found "storming the very gates of Heaven" in Romans 8. Is that also a Biblical reference?
<Denise_Gia> jc -- Yes, it is -- That's actually from the gospel of Matthew. I can't remember the exact chapter - I think it's in the first 10 chapters.
<Denise_Gia> It's the same place where Flannery O'Connor got the title for the Violent Bear It Away.
<ewey> Back to the question about writing. Which authors did / do you find particularly inspiring?
<Denise_Gia> ewey -- Shakespeare most of all. I like Annie Dillard. Milan Kundera, Barbara Kingsolver, those are some of the ones right now I like quite a bit now. I always think of others later.
<chelak> We have 5 more minutes with Denise....
<DancesWith> Are you involved in the writing of the proposed miniseries at all? Also, what did you think of John Sayles' film Matewan, which covers some of the same territory?
<jc> As mechanization increased, coal company towns included schools designed to teach miners children to operate the mining machinery of the future.
<jc> What do you say to the broader argument that -- in a technological culture/economy -- public education, itself, is a tool of suppression?
<Denise_Gia> Dances -- No I'm not involved with writing the mini-series. They have their own group of screenwriters. And also I'm really not interested in going back over ground. It's a different kind of writing. I liked Matewan. I thought there were things that could have been better if you had a larger budget. For example, the tent colonies were huge. And you don't get a sense of that because he just didn't have the money to film something like that.
<Denise_Gia> But overall, I thought it was well done.
<Grace_B> Are you working on a novel now?
<momcat> Are you teaching now? Writing or history?
<Denise_Gia> jc -- I think public education has many aspects certainly -- it can be used to limit horizons but it also can give many people a way to challenge horizons. There was a time when we had no public education that's not good.
<chelak> Momcat has the last question...
<Denise_Gia> One problem with Public education in the mountains has been that it has been run by people who are politicians than educators.
<Denise_Gia> momcat -- I'm teaching creative writing, freshmen literature, and Appalachian literature.
<ewey> Which authors do you read in Appalachian literature?
<Denise_Gia> Grace B -- I'm researching a novel but not ready to write it for awhile.
<Denise_Gia> ewey -- I like Jayne Ann Phillips. Wendell Berry, Lee Smith, Pinckney Benedict and others too.
<chelak> Denise, this has been fascinating. History like this was never taught in school!
<Denise_Gia> I've read most of the major Appalachian writers and like them all.
<chelak> Thank you for being with us tonight.
<ewey> Thanks so much for spending your time with us.
<DancesWith> Thanks, Denise!
<Denise_Gia> chelak- Thank you, I know. It's being taught in WVA.
<Grace_B> Yes, thank you.
<jc> Thank you, ma'am!
<Denise_Gia> now -- more than it use to be -- I hope that's true in Kentucky as well.
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<ericblair> Thank you!
<Grace_B> Not to my kids!
<chelak> Thanks to Rhonda for typing.
<Denise_Gia> Good-bye from Denise -- Thanks everyone.
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<jc> One last question about a character's name: Is "Toussaint L'Ouverture Booker" a reference to a more recent musician?
<Denise_Gia> No -- it's a reference to. Toussaint L'Ouverture Booker -- he was the leader of Haitian independence leader. They had a revolution about the same time as the American revolution. He was a black slave who lead that revolution
<jc> Wow. I'll have to look that up. Thanks!
<Denise_Gia> against France. And I went to HS with a student who was named after him -- I always liked that name.
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<chelak> Thank you jc... and everyone.
<chelak> Good night all.
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Log file closed at: 4/26/99 9:10:06 PM

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