Twenty-five years ago, while working at the Elkin Tribune, Sarah Martin Byrd wrote a book.
Now, after writing and publishing a handful of the works, that first book — “In the Coal Mine Shadows” — has seen the light of day and been published.
She said her desire to write came out of her love of reading.
“One day I was reading a book that wasn’t very good,” said Byrd. “I thought why am I reading this when I have my own story in my head that’s better.”
She finished writing that initial work around 1992, she said, after spending years pulling it out, editing it and throwing it down. “I took a week’s vacation and said I’m going to finish the book if it kills me.”
After she completed it, she said she didn’t know what to do, so she threw it on a shelf.
While she was still an employee of The Tribune, she asked two or three people to look at it and edit it, but with no progress made, she reached out to a woman she’d worked with before. The lady’s daughter, Jo Martin, was retired from Hunter Publishing.
“She was used to doing more historical editing, and my book was a mess. It was written over years, and it was written in past, in future and in present,” she said.
Even after the editing from Martin, Byrd said it stayed on the shelf for years.
After leaving The Tribune 10 years ago, she got other books in her head, and wrote and published “Guardian Spirit” in 2010, “The Color of my Heart” in 2012, her children’s book “Manger Mouse” in 2013 and “The River Keeper” in 2014.
“I realized after writing my other books, that I’ve got my writing style, and it took me all last summer to do an overhaul on it,” Byrd said.
She presented the book to her publisher at Ambassador International, who told Byrd years ago it was his “job to determine the good from the bad.” “In the Coal Mine Shadows” then went through the editing process with the publisher.
“Finally 25 years after the first write, it has been published,” said Byrd.
The story follows Mary Margaret “Mame” Blackwell, who lived in coal mine town, Beckley, West Virginia, and lost her father in a coal mine explosion in 1922. “It is a very gritty family saga,” Byrd said.
“Mame is the lead character. She has a hard life, and she makes it even harder by making bad decisions she has to live with the rest of her life,” she said.
“When I first started getting the guts of the book together and where a girl’s life situation was really rough, it was a coal mining family,” Byrd said.
She originally set the book in Bergton, Virginia, but when she started the rewrites, she visited and did research in Beckley. “I visited the Beckley coal mine exhibition museum, so I got a real feel for how hard their lives were,” she said.
“It’s been a great hobby for the last 10 years,” Byrd said of writing. “I try to put a life-learning message in all my books, so I hope people don’t make the same mistakes as Mame does. Sins are forgiven, but our mistakes live with us.”
Byrd said there is a piece of her in every book she writes, and there are characters modeled after people she’s known her whole life.
“In the Coal Mine Shadows” is available locally at Diana’s Books and More and Byrd’s Branch Campground store, and through any online book store. Byrd also will be on hand at the Yadkin Valley Pumpkin Festival in September in downtown Elkin and the Autumn Leaves Festival in October in Mount Airy selling and signing copies of her book.
While she doesn’t have another book in the works at the moment, Byrd said she’s considering writing a book, “The Tales from Skunk Cabbage Bog,” as a children’s book spin-off of “Guardian Spirit.”
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.