Saturday, May 31, 2008

An explosive story ignored

Alas, Poor Country takes as its subject a fascinating but overlooked period of U.S. history: the "uranium boom" that swept the Colorado Plateau from the late 1940s to early 1960s.

Like the great Gold Rush of the previous century, the uranium frenzy captivated the national imagination, inspiring many thousands to converge on the Four Corners region of the American Southwest in hopes of finding their fortune.

In the end, a mere few achieved the wealth they sought, while most found nothing but hardship. And like the Gold Rush, it is a quintessential American story, and one marked by ambition, avarice and, ultimately, the folly wrought by both.

Alas, Poor Country explores this important historical moment through the eyes of five characters as each attempts to navigate both the harsh, unforgiving landscape around Moab, Utah, and the climate of greed and self-interest ushered in by the boom.

The lives of the characters intersect, diverge and intersect again as the town is stunned by the grisly murder of a millionaire miner. By the book’s close, all five are irrevocably changed by the land, by uranium and by their pursuit of a dream.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Why the book is marketable

Reason 1: It's among the first books to explore the subject. The uranium boom's unique, intrinsic interest, coupled with the dearth of books addressing the period, give publishers a rare opportunity to grab the attention of readers. As I share the book’s subject matter with people, the responses are, almost without exception, surprise that they have never heard about the boom and a keen fascination to know more.

It has also been pointed out, both by readers at University of Nevada Press and others, that the book could be of great interest to schools for classes on U.S. and/or regional history, especially in the West.

As a reader at the University of Nevada Press wrote, “Alas, Poor Country could be an important contribution in that it covers the uranium boom and would contribute to the regional and national memory of the early excesses of the atomic age. … The uranium mining boom in the west has long begged for literary coverage and I am very pleased to see this effort in that direction.”

Reason 2: Uranium is back in the headlines.
Global Security
Uranium has returned to the front pages in recent years. Both the argument for the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the nation’s ongoing debates with North Korea and Iran hinge in part on uranium and nuclear weapons development.

As Iran continues to pursue its nuclear program, and as the threat increases that the material will find its way to terrorist groups, we can count on uranium becoming an increasingly prominent subject in the news. With so few other resources available, the public will find much to be fascinated by in a novel that explores our own nation’s relationship with uranium.

Climate Change
Global warming has become perhaps the defining issue of our age. In pursuit of a clean, carbon-neutral energy, many have begun to reconsider nuclear power. France now receives nearly 80 percent of its energy from nuclear power plants, Sweden more than 50 percent. Britain, Finland and Ukraine, among others, are looking to build new plants.

According to a recent Time magazine story entitled "Forget Chernobyl, Nuclear Energy Is Making a Comeback," "In the U.S., where no new plants have come online since 1996, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission expects applications for 27 new reactors over the next two years, and Congress has encouraged this by offering the nuclear industry billions of dollars in tax credits."

It is worth noting that a May 2008 Wired magazine story urged environmentalists to "go nuclear." Even James Lovelock, noted environmentalist and author of Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth, supports further investigation of the controversial energy source.

Meanwhile, uranium prices have spiked in recent years. As Susan Moran and Anne Raup note in a 2007 New York Times article entitled "Uranium Ignites 'Gold Rush' in the West," "The price has more than doubled in the last six months alone. As recently as late 2002, it was below $10."

There is every reason to believe that discussion of uranium will only become more prominent in the years ahead. And as the subject returns to public consciousness, so, too, will issues like: What is uranium? Where does it come from? And what are the effects on those who mine it? Alas, Poor Country explores each of these issues in a dramatic story full of tension and pathos.

Reason 3: It's a gripping tale of greed and murder.
While Alas, Poor Country is about uranium mining in the American West, one need not have any immediate interest in the subject to be grabbed by the story. As the University of Nevada Press’ reader wrote, “Readers would include people interested in the American Southwest and the book could have a wider audience, people drawn to stories that address the eternal issues of human tragedy, folly and avarice.”

A well-told story transcends its subject matter, be it comics (Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay), corporate office life (Michael Ferris’ National Book Award finalist Then We Came to the End) or uranium.

To again quote the reader from the University of Nevada Press, “Sentence by sentence, the book [Alas, Poor Country] is very well written. The author writes good, pithy, descriptions and has a flare for spare, effective dialogue. He can also move his plot along handily with pleasing and effective twists, turns, reversals and rhythmic crescendos of tension and release.”

This combination of an increasingly high-profile subject and a compelling, well-crafted story would enable Alas, Poor Country to grab the interest and attention of a wide audience.

Reason 4: The public is fascinated by polygamist stories.
The April 2008 raid on the polygmist community in Texas and the ensuing media frenzy it inspired underscores the public's acute interest in these strict sects. One of the main characters in Alas, Poor Country is the leader of a fundamentalist Mormon enclave, and his story permits readers a rare glimpse into the innerworkings of one of these stubbornly private communities.

The popularity and success of Jon Krakauer's national bestseller Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith and HBO's "Big Love" series is further evidence that the subject is of considerable interest to the public and would thereby help attract an audience for Alas, Poor Country.

Reason 5: Current economic concerns are overstated.
There has been concern within the publishing world that the national economic downturn of the past few months would have an adverse effect on book sales. This has not materialized to the degree feared. In fact, book sales continue to increase.

In January, the Association of American Publishers cited a 7.2 percent increase in sales. Adult paperbacks jumped by 37.6 percent, while hardcovers rose 4.2 percent.

That momentum has continued. An April Publisher's Weekly story cites an 11.3 percent jump in sales. Also see Edward Nawotka's story entitled “Recession Fuels Sales at Spring Book Show.” A May story points to a 5 percent increase, with bookstore sales exceeding those in the overall retail segment.

As Sally Brewster, owner of Park Road Books in Charlotte, NC, and president of the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance, points out, “Books of all kinds become a bargain during a recession—$100 in books doesn't look so bad, when compared with, say, a trip to Puerto Rico.”

Meanwhile, some have pointed to the sluggish growth experienced by Barnes & Noble and Borders as evidence of a softening book market. But as Sara Nelson in a March story in Publisher’s Weekly explains, the dropping numbers are the result of a dramatic decline in the sales of music CDs, not books.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Who will buy the book

Alas, Poor Country is a tale of murder, greed and gross ambition set against the backdrop of what has come to be called the “uranium boom” in the 1950s-1960s in the Four Corners region of the U.S. By setting such a story within this fascinating and little known historical moment, the book would appeal to a broad and diverse readership.

As the reader at the University of Nevada Press wrote of Alas, Poor Country, “Readers would include people interested in the American Southwest and the book could have a wider audience, people drawn to stories that address the eternal issues of human tragedy, folly and avarice.”

The book would resonate with a range of readers, including:

Those interested in a good story
As a novel about ambition and unbridled avarice, Alas, Poor Country would appeal to readers who enjoy taut, well-plotted stories full of secrets, alliances made and betrayed, and swift, surprise changes in direction.

As the reader for the University of Nevada Press wrote of Alas, Poor Country, “Sentence by sentence, the book is very well written. The author writes good, pithy, descriptions and has a flare for spare, effective dialogue. He can also move his plot along handily with pleasing and effective twists, turns, reversals and rhythmic crescendos of tension and release.”

Similar books: Dog Soldiers by Robert Stone, Treasure of the Sierra Madre by B. Traven and Good Faith by Jane Smiley

Those interested in history
In the 1940s the U.S. government initiated a public uranium ore buying campaign to fuel its weapons development program. The move triggered a mad rush to the Colorado Plateau, home of some of the richest deposits outside the Congo. By the late-50s the boom had gone bust, but not after helping change the face of the region and the balance of power in the world.

As the University of Nevada Press reader wrote, “Alas, Poor Country could be an important contribution in that it covers the uranium boom and would contribute to the regional and national memory of the early excesses of the atomic age. … The uranium mining boom in the west has long begged for literary coverage and I am very pleased to see this effort in that direction.”

Given the paucity of books on the subject, Alas, Poor Country could also be of considerable use and interest to schools for classes on U.S. and/or regional history, especially in the West.

Similar books: True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey, Killing Mister Watson by Peter Matthiessen and Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

Those interested in the American West
Since the arrival of the new nation’s first settlers to the Eastern Seaboard, the American West has occupied a unique place in our country’s history and literature. It became a tool through which to create and view the mystique of the nation’s vast frontier and its evolving myth.

Alas, Poor Country inhabits a tradition of American novels in which these themes of frontier, individualism, ambition and courage are explored and reinterpreted in an attempt to capture, understand and come to terms with our place within an elusive national identity.

Similar books: Big Rock Candy Mountain by Wallace Stegner, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck and The Border Trilogy by Cormac McCarthy

Those interested in character
The book is driven by the stories of its five principal characters: Will Bowen, a single-minded geologist with too much at stake; Cora McAfree, an elderly and unscrupulous miner’s widow; Eldon Hopper, the messianic leader of a fundamentalist Mormon enclave; Winton Weams, a gullible but ambitious senator’s son; and Owen Dobcek, a veteran underground miner caught up in history.

By relating their experiences in first person, the characters are permitted to tell their own stories, treating the reader to a range of different perspectives and dialects. In doing so each achieves a unique intimacy with the reader that enriches the larger narrative and invests the book with its real heart and meaning.

Similar books: Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan and As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Other books on the "uranium boom"

Incredibly, very little has been written about the “uranium boom.” At present, only one other work of fiction has taken the period as its subject or set its story during that tumultuous time.

With uranium and nuclear issues back in the headlines, Alas, Poor Country will attract a broad spectrum of readers looking for a rich, compelling account of where and how America’s nuclear story began.

As the reader at the University of Nevada Press has written of Alas, Poor Country, “The uranium mining boom in the west has long begged for literary coverage and I am very pleased to see this effort in that direction.”

Other books

Lucky Strike
Nancy Zafris
Unbridled Books, 2006

From the Ground Up: A History of Mining in Utah
Colleen Whitley
Utah State University Press, 2006

White Canyon: Remembering the Little Town at the Bottom of Lake Powell
Tom McCourt
Southpaw Publications, 2003

Yellowcake Towns: Uranium Mining Communities in the American
Michael A. Amundson
University Press of Colorado, 2002

Uranium Frenzy: Saga of the Nuclear West
Raye C. Ringholz
University of New Mexico Press, 1989

U-boom: Uranium on the Colorado Plateau
Al Look
Bell Press, 1956

Uranium: Where It Is and How to Find It
Paul Dean Procter, Ph.D.; Edmond P. Hyatt, M.S.; Kenneth C. Bullock, Ph.D.
Eagle Rock Publishers, 1954

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Alas, Poor Country takes place on the Colorado Plateau during the volatile uranium boom of the 1950s. It opens with a prologue, and then unfolds in six parts, each introducing a third-person account of an important event.

The opening sections are followed by first-person narratives from the book’s five principal characters: Will Bowen, a learned geologist; Cora McAfree, an old, widowed miner’s wife; Eldon Hopper, the leader of a fundamentalist Mormon outpost; Winton Weams, a young and ambitious fortune-hunter; and Owen Dobcek, a veteran underground miner.

I. Prologue: November 1954
A. Written like depositions, each of the five character introductions explain their innocence in the murder of millionaire miner Verrill Kraft.

II. Part I: June 1953
A. A traveling salesman peddles uranium-fortified tonics and potions in a prospector tenement camp. A fight breaks out between a prospector and Winton, who is charged with claimjumping.
B. Character sections
1. Cora helps Winton, who is beaten badly in the fight, but secretly steals his claim papers.
2. Owen and his partner conduct some underground mining and discuss Owen’s recent highgrading with a man named Verrill Kraft.
3. Winton argues with his wife over her allowing Cora to steal their claim.
4. Will follows an Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) plane far into the hills. He discovers a suspicious prospector, Verrill Kraft, already there.
5. Eldon is at a family meal, which turns tense when his brother arrives unexpectedly with an outsider bearing a proposition for their land.

III. Part II: September 1953
A. A local merchant operates a service whereby he takes groups of tourists out for an afternoon of uranium hunting. On this day, two of the tourists wander too far and one is shot at and presumed killed by a group of camping prospectors.
B. Character sections
1. Cora begins mining her stolen claim, but learns people are looking for her.
2. Owen, along with the other miners in his company, is submitted to a medical test that Owen worries is intended to root out highgraders.
3. Winton visits a lawyer to see what he might be able to do about the theft of his claim. The lawyer, Fisher Lynn, agrees to help and then recommends Winton join him in a new uranium stock venture.
4. Will, reduced to his last few dollars, elects to join a poker game in hopes of winning enough to continue his unorthodox pursuit of uranium.
5. Eldon and others from the community visit their uranium claim, which Eldon was led to by the voice of God and which he prohibits developing without further divine instruction.

IV. Part III: April 1954
A. A Salt Lake City coffee shop has been transformed into a booming uranium stock brokerage to get in on the penny stock boom sweeping the area. Its effects on a car dealership, a newsstand, and a hair salon are also illustrated.
B. Character sections
1. Cora goes into town to buy a refrigerator with the revenue from her uranium earnings. While having a drink, she is served with papers to evacuate the claim and is then challenged by the angry discoverer of claim.
2. Owen and his partner, Tom, are tasked with training a rookie miner. Owen catches the miner stealing uranium.
3. Winton and Fisher fly to Salt Lake City to further a plan to get back at Cora.
4. Will, now broke, makes a final visit to his claim and unearths a huge discovery.
5. Eldon witnesses the brutal fight between his son and the suitor of Eldon’s eldest daughter. The son then turns on Eldon, declaring his allegiance to Eldon’s brother.

V. Part IV: August 1954
A. A local Navajo uranium millionaire buys Cadillacs for five men in his tribe and parades them down Main St. Also, in one of the prospector tenement camps, a bootlegger holds police at bay before finally being killed. He talks about the “lawyer” and “AEC man.”
B. Character sections
1. Cora is surprised in her camp by a man, Verrill Kraft, who claims to have been lost in the hills for nearly 10 days. But the story doesn’t add up.
2. Owen and Tom return underground. Tom is killed in an explosion.
3. Winton takes his wife to see some homes, and then visits Fisher, finding him with Verrill Kraft and another man, Arnold Hipp, a former AEC employee.
4. Will meets with a potentially large investor and makes his pitch for support.
5. Eldon officiates at the wedding ceremony of his daughter to Brother Tipton at which he is challenged by his brother about the community’s claim.

VI. Part V: November 1954
A. Verrill Kraft makes a huge uranium discovery. A writer and photographer from Life magazine are attending a citywide party being thrown by Will Bowen. The wife of the bootlegger shoots and tries to kill Arnold Hipp.
B. Character sections
1. Cora is arrested for trespassing and for firing at a police officer at her camp. She meets with a lawyer, Fisher Lynn, who explains her chances are slim.
2. When the man to whom Owen has been selling his highgraded ore, Verrill Kraft, doesn’t show, he goes to his apartment. Violence ensues and Owen strikes the man in the head with a stone and escapes.
3. Winton and Fisher Lynn laugh about Fisher’s serving as Cora’s lawyer only to exact revenge. They are interrupted by Arnie Hipp’s arrival. Winton listens through the door as the two men argue.
4. Will begins to suspect his partner, Gordon Ewing, is up to something. At a meeting Ewing makes an unexpected announcement.
5. Eldon and his community is raided by Utah police.

VII. Part VI: December 1954
A. Verrill Kraft is found dead. The editor of the newspaper receives a mysterious phone call pointing him to certain information. Owen confesses to the murder, and then so does Eldon Hopper’s new son-in-law.
B. Character sections
1. Cora realizes she has lost the claim and so kills her burros, blows up the dig and walks alone into the desert.
2. Owen is released from jail, and put into the hospital where the prognosis is not good.
3. Winton has his office closed down by the Securities Exchange Commission and learns that he has been cheated by Lynn.
4. Will meets with the AEC about building a processing mill. He learns Ewing, his partner, has already made the deal without him.
5. Eldon finds his brother and others mining the claim. He shoots a couple of the men before he is shot himself by his son.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Sample: Prologue

Alas, Poor Country
Prologue: November 1954

Cora McAfree

I didn’t kill that man Kraft. I hardly knew him as that goes. And I didn’t have anything more against him than I got against any man. At my age that may be plenty, but it doesn’t mean I did it. He just got washed in with all those others that read in their magazines that they could hustle out here and scratch around and become millionaires just as easy as if they were plucking an apple from a tree. I don’t know what all they thought but I got no sympathy for that kind of foolishness. So I suppose if that was his aim, to bring himself out here and walk away with his pockets full of money, then I guess he probably deserved what he got for sheer stupidity alone. If only people were mining for foolishness out here, there’d be more than enough to go around. I don’t know who did it, and I’m telling the truth on that. But I can tell you this, when people, especially men because they’re made of stuff that breaks when certain pressures comes to bear on it, when they get an idea about one thing or another and it doesn’t work out the way they see it in their mind, they can come undone from it. That’s been my experience. So I’m saying I don’t know that this Kraft didn’t deserve what he got, but I didn’t have a hand in it. Write that down there. And anyone that tells you different is a lying son of a bitch.

OK, now, it’s true as you say that we had a run-in, Kraft and me, though I didn’t know that was his name then. I told the other man all this before, but if you like I’ll say it again. He came wandering into my camp out of nowhere, and I pretty nearly blew his head off. And who would’ve blamed me? This stranger comes stumbling out of nowhere with some crazy story about how he got there. It didn’t resemble any reasonable truth I know of. No one stumbles into another person’s camp like that unless he’s got something up his sleeve. So I kept my gun on him, gave him something to eat and then sent him on his way. I never saw him again after that day, or may God strike me dead.

I will say this. I know some things after all my years. Some you wouldn’t understand as young as you are. Plus some things only a woman can know. Justice can be fast or it can be slow. Either way. And just because you didn’t deserve it today doesn’t mean you didn’t have it coming to you from years back. Payment for what you did can take a long time finding you. But if you think it doesn’t get fixed in the end, well then you just don’t know the first thing. Could be he didn’t even wrong the fellow that did it. That happens. Plenty of men been killed for the deeds of another, or because they were handy. I can’t say.

But I don’t suppose it matters now, does it? I suspect he was like every other man, just as soon push his own mother down the cellar stairs if it got him first to the bottle or the bag of gold. Men like him, they’re as common as dirt. So I’m guessing he wronged someone in one way or other and paid for it. The desert is full of those stories. You ever hear that tumbleweeds are just the souls of those that have been killed looking for a home? I don’t know if I heard that or made it up myself. That’s what happens when you get old. Ownership gets to be a complicated sort of matter.

Owen Dobcek

I didn’t plan any of it, I swear that, I didn’t. I want you to know that. I mean, I did plan to talk to him. I knew where he lived and so I went over there and knocked on the door, but only to talk to him, that’s all. When I got there the fella who answered the door said he wasn’t there. So I’m walking back to my car and there I see him in the window upstairs and so I guess I just waited for him to come out.

The truth is I’d been selling ore to him, highgraded ore. I’m not going to lie. I’d gone to the spot where we’d met for the last few months and for the second time in a row he didn’t show. All of a sudden, without any kind of warning, he just stopped showing up. He never told me anything. I can guess why, but that didn’t seem like a good enough reason to me. We had a deal, and I’d done my part. Every week I hustled ore out of there, rock by rock. My nerves would twist up my stomach like wringing out a rag. But I did it. And every week I showed up and took his price, no questions asked. And then he just up and stopped coming. It didn’t seem right to me. I got a family. And I’ll tell you this, I’m proud of my family. As proud as any man. It’s something I’m doing right. I’m trying, and doing what I can. I dare any man to tell me there’s something wrong with wanting your family to have more. I got two girls, and you’ll do anything for your girls. Anything. Go to the ends of the earth. Light yourself on fire to keep them warm. And then there’s my wife. If it weren’t for her I just don’t know where I’d be or what I’d be doing that’d be worth anything.

So that’s how come I went to see him. Just to talk. That’s how it started. I don’t know if it matters, but that’s the God’s honest truth of it. I only wanted him to tell me why, and maybe buy this last load with all this money of his now. That seemed only right as far as I could see. I didn’t have violent ideas about anything. I swear it. If a man was to get violent every time things didn’t go his way, he’d have to live with his fists clenched all the time. Make it awfully hard to work or eat. Maybe some men do that, I suppose some do, but not me. You can ask anyone. This was all an accident. It just happened. I wish I could take it back. I wish I could go back and get in my car and drive away before any of it happened. But there’s no negotiating with consequences. It’s this, or it’s that. When he told me to go, I could’ve gone. When he said no, I could’ve turned and done just what he said and dumped the rocks on the side of the road somewhere. I could’ve put my hands in my pockets. But I didn’t.

And I’m truly sorry for it. There’s not enough room inside me to hide from what I did. But then I’m not going to last long, so it doesn’t much matter for me I suppose. But for my family, for my wife and my children. They’ve got to live with this forever that I did this ugly thing. I hope some day they can forgive me.

Winton Weams

Do I look like a murderer to you? Do I have the shoes, or the watch, of a murderer? Not only did I not murder that man, I didn’t even know him. I guess from what you tell me my partner knew him but I assure you I didn’t. That’s the truth. And as you’ll undoubtedly make the connection or someone will make it for you, yes, I’m that Weams. He’s my father. He still allows me to share his name. Isn’t that generous? He’s a magnanimous man, the senator. To a fault. My fault generally, but then you likely guessed that, seeing as he is where he is and I am where I am. I’ve always told him it’s because we had different fathers. He likes that. God if he got a hold of this, even though I’m totally innocent, he would slice it so thin it would last for weeks.

I want the record to show that I was cooperative with questions. I came right down when you wanted to speak to me, even though I’m tremendously busy. I’ve been absolutely forthcoming on every subject. And why shouldn’t I be, I’ve got nothing to hide. I’d met Verrill Kraft just the once. Fisher introduced me. It was a nothing meeting. And I have almost no memory of him other than he barely said five words. I can tell you that he was one of those men who manages to look like a lot of people you know at the same time. I’d guess he was 6 feet tall or so. But if you asked me I wouldn’t necessarily classify him as a remarkable person in any way. A normal man of normal looks. I don’t know if this helps, but, as I said, I want to tell you everything I know. Be completely honest.

As for their relationship, Fisher and Kraft, I don’t know anything about that. As I say, I only met him the one time. My wife and I had just happened to be in the neighborhood. We were looking at houses in the area, and ended up at Fisher’s. We just sort of dropped in to say hello and he was there. I was surprised to see him because there had been all those stories in the newspaper. And then to see him there, well, you can imagine how surprising it was. I don’t think we exchanged more than a handful of words. Pleasantries. Fisher never mentioned him before that night and never mentioned him again after it. They did seem an unlikely pair. That crossed my mind. But I guess I just figured that being a lawyer, Fisher probably dealt with all kinds of people. That’s his business. Fisher’s probably worked with just about everyone in this town over the years. And I hope you’re not suggesting he had anything to do with this. Because you’d be way off base. Trust me. I can promise you. Fisher’s no more a murderer than I am. Or you are. Plus, he would be an idiot to do anything like that – our business is going like gangbusters right now. Well enough that my wife and I just bought a house. Out on Pinkney. It’s not perfect. A bit on the small side, especially when we finally decide to have kids. But it’s a good start. I like to think of it as a base as we prepare to build our own place in the next year or so. You know what the hard part was? Furnishing it. We had to go up all the way up to Salt Lake. Do you know how little there is in this town when it comes to modern interiors?

Now if you have any further questions for me, though I can’t imagine why you would, but if you do, I suggest you schedule a time when my lawyer can be present.

On a different matter, I would be remiss if I did not offer to share with you, and maybe your partner here, information about probably the best investment on the plateau. The beauty of this opportunity is that even folks with a modest income, like our hardworking local police officers, can afford to take advantage of it. Think about it. I gave your partner my card. Call me and we’ll talk.

Will Bowen

I’ve been working in the area here for quite a few years. And in that time I’ve met a great many people. Of every stripe and description. What I’ve learned is that the prospect of great and immediate wealth is an enticement to all, regardless of sex, color, background or avowed religious conviction. It may be that only death is that egalitarian. As for Kraft, I met him just once and so briefly as to be almost no meeting at all. I don’t even remember if we introduced ourselves. It was a couple of years ago. I might as well tell you: I had been tracking an AEC plane that particular day. I’d followed the plane some distance out of town, out to around San Rafael Reef or thereabouts, but I lost it when it passed over some hills; it was always a challenge to keep up in my Jeep. And there he was, with his truck, out in the middle of nowhere. He told me I was stupid to be out there without water. That was really the extent of our conversation. Then he drove off back toward the highway. You’d expect given the similarities of our trajectories, and the insular nature of the business we’re both in, that we would have bumped into each other on other occasions. But we never did. I suspect our interests have much less in common than the overlap in our lives might suggest. A lot can happen in the remaining 75 percent of a person.

It is true that I wanted to meet him again, later. I personally invited him to the party we threw over at the Roundabout. I thought it would be nice to have him there as it was only a couple of days after his own big announcement. But he didn’t respond, and he didn’t show. We learned one reason why the next morning.

Now, I never denied that I had misgivings about Kraft. He was a poor representative of our work, of our field. Excepting the dynamite, ours is a quiet enterprise. It takes place out under a quiet sky, often in a remote corner of nothingness. You have to want to be there; you have to love to be there. A feeling of profound something – connection, peace, whatever you wish to call it – has to come over you in the middle of all that. If it doesn’t, if you’re not moved as if by the presence of God Himself, then I feel sorry for that person. What a miserable, lonely, heartbreaking life it would be otherwise.

I mention this because I always got the sense that he – Kraft – just sort of fell into it. Winds of rumor pushed him out here. He sniffed something in the air. He was that sort of man. It could’ve been tulips, it could’ve been pearls. It just happened to be some rock inside of which this stuff called uranium is quartered, stuff you can’t even necessarily see. I don’t get the impression any of that mattered very much to him. It was less about the thing than cracking open the thing to see what was inside. Since what happened, I’m learning I made my feelings on this count a bit too clear to those who know me, and about that I’m truly sorry, especially given how things ended up.

None of any of this means, of course, that I wanted him dead, or even that I wanted him to leave the uranium business. I don’t wish any man dead. Life is what it is; it is full of all kinds of people, all kinds of ways of looking at and understanding the world. I liked that Verrill Kraft was who he was. Truly. Even if I didn’t agree with him, I appreciated him. He made things interesting, interesting like a rubber ball ricocheting around a room full of glass vases. He brought an immediacy that is so foreign as to be invigorating for an industry that talks in millennia and measures success, when it finds it all, in entire lifetimes. Because most of mining is failing, nearly all of it. And worse even than that for most. It is a miracle anyone makes a living doing this, and a further wonder to me that anyone who isn’t just dumbstruck by the rock even tries.

No, I was very sorry to hear about what happened. It still saddens me to think about it. For his family, and for the good of the industry and this town, I hope they find the one who did it and bring him to justice.

Eldon Hopper

This is surely the work of God. As surely as the mountains were figured by his hands, and the stars in their heavens. And it is only the beginning. Your covetousness, your unchecked appetites, your feigned words, they will bring only death and destruction. Can you be surprised? You abjure the will of God. You ignore His commandments in pursuit of wealth and pleasures of the body. Just as night follows day, so too must the terror of His wrath follow such renunciation of his commandments. I can have no sympathy for those who bring about their own destruction by closing their eyes and their hearts to His will.

You have banished us, so God has banished you. You may believe you have sent us into the desert to die like the Nephites and the Jaredites before us, so that we might dry up and blow away like dust. But it is you who will perish, one by one and at each other’s hand. Look around you. Day by day you fulfill your destiny. Day by day it goes until you will pass totally from the earth. But we endure. We endure your manifold wickedness. By God’s divine hand, we make our way in this place, bearing privations of body that would break your kind. In fact, we are made stronger by it. God has selected our people, vouchsafed to us his Word and shown us the way to the Celestial Kingdom. By our beacon of righteousness we survive in His Glory. I say let the wicked kill the wicked. This is the curse of God. “With promise immutable and unchangeable, that inasmuch as those whom I commanded were faithful, they should be blessed with a multiplicity of blessings; but inasmuch as they were not faithful, they are nigh unto cursing.”

I read the story about the miner, but I can’t help you. I do not know the man, nor does anyone of our number. We get into town quite rarely and don’t consort with the people there. I have no doubt that the man’s end is the bitter fruit of his own despicable seed. The same goes for the men who’ve lately come to bring legal action against us. They want to close down our school, break up our families, wipe out our community. And why? Because they are fearful. If we have violated any of the laws of this state it is because we obey first the laws of God and eternity. Given the choice between the laws of man and the laws of God, we obey God, for His Word is eternal.

It is by His provenance we live and breathe. It is by His grace that we receive what we receive, deny what we deny. I know to you it is desolation, just empty desert, but just as God animated man with life so have I turned that desolation into life. I took it from nothing and made from it a home for our families. We built houses, a church and a school. We dug a well. We turned over the earth and tend our own gardens there. Should I not then protect it as anyone else protects his home? The same hand that can pluck a flower can make a fist. Tell me I lie.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Author bio

After graduating from college in 1988 Greg wrote for and then assumed the editorship of the Sammamish Valley News, a weekly newspaper outside Seattle, Wash.

In 1992, he returned to school, earning his master of arts in creative writing from Portland State University in Portland, Oregon, studying under Diana Abu-Jaber.

Greg completed the degree in 1994 with a collection of short stories, one of which, “Bones,” earned a university fiction award.

In the nearly 15 years since graduating he has worked as a writer and editor, most recently freelancing for a variety of corporate clients both in the U.S. and while living abroad in Mexico.