The Northumberland County Library’s “Books Alive!” series drew an enthusiastic crowd last Tuesday to meet and listen to author Jeff Andrews.
Andrews, of Virginia Beach, has published two novels, “Freedom Star” set during the War Between the States and “Gandy Dancer” largely set in depression era Clifton Forge. He had been encouraged to keep writing, he said, by Sharon Baldacci of Heathsville after she was on a panel that awarded “Freedom Star” first place in a contest involving about 60 novels. Although Baldacci and Andrews had communicated for some time and they first met when Andrews arrived to make his presentation at the library.
Andrews told the audience how his wife, a retired English teacher, had encouraged him to start writing after he retired from the Marine Corps. He also had the audience laughing about what it’s like to have your work overseen by an English teacher. He said he figured a way around that.
“If you’re writing fiction and aren’t sure of the grammar, just put quotes around it and call it dialect,” he said.
Andrews said he has always enjoyed history and that led to his first novel which revolves around the relationship between a young slave and the son of his master during the war. While writing that novel, he became aware of Thomas Day, a free black and successful business man, who operated in North Carolina near the fictional setting of the protagonists’ home near South Boston. He recounted how having heard of Day, he had to figure out how to work him into the novel.
With his second novel, “Gandy Dancer,” Andrews noted that he just loved the term, which refers to the men who used to force the railroad’s rail into proper alignment when they slipped, and had to figure out how to develop a novel about it. Learning about a train wreck near Clifton Forge and seeing a photograph of a lynching in the region during the depression gave him the pegs from which to string his tale, he said.
Books Alive! is an ongoing monthly program of the library.