Two sides of the tracks are featured at ‘Books Alive’ program
Author Jeff Andrews will review his new book, The Gandy Dancer, for the Books Alive program at the Northumberland Library on Tuesday, March 26, starting at 7 p.m. The title refers to the slang term used for early railroad workers who laid and maintained tracks in the years before the work was done by machines.
The book, set in Clifton Forge, Virginia, follows two story lines, one in the present tracing the ups and downs of the main character, journalist Mitch Corsini, and the other following the lives of two gandy dancers, African Americans George Henry and Willie McConnell, in 1936 when the town was a thriving railroad center. The plots are a mix of thriller, love story, racism then and now, and interracial relations then and now. These complicated plots, which jump back and forth, come together in the end.
“I didn’t have a problem switching from one time period to another,” Andrews said. “I normally wrote several chapters in one period, then flipped my frame of reference and did the same for the other time period. The back and forth didn’t occur nearly as frequently for the author as it does for the reader.”
Andrews points out that he puts considerable effort into researching the era and going “the extra mile” to verify the facts, both significant and small.
“I want my readers to experience the historical period depicted, not just read about it. I want them to suspend disbelief and become immersed in the living conditions, the dialects, and political and social moods, the sights, sounds and smells of that earlier period. To the extent that I am successful, I’ll credit accurate research,” he explained.
This commitment was particularly at play in his first historical novel, The Freedom Star, set in Virginia in the 1860s. In this novel the main character, Isaac, is the grandfather of the gandy dancers in his second book. Andrews is now working on a sequel to The Freedom Star, taking the characters through the Civil War.
Before turning to writing, Andrews served 20 years in the Marine Corps, including tours in Vietnam and the UN Peacekeeping Force in Beirut, Lebanon. He is a founding member of The Hampton Roads Writers. He and his wife Mary Lou live in Virginia Beach.
A discussion, book signing, and refreshments will follow the review. Sponsored by the Friends of the Northumberland Library, the next Books Alive will be April 23.The library is located on Rt. 360 in Heathsville.