Bearskin by Jim McLaughlin is a great Winter Read
One joy of reporting news for Allegheny Mountain Radio is talking to a recently published author from the area who brings settings with familiar, local seeming characters into a story. Jim McLaughlin’s, Bearskin is this kind of book, with enough unexpected and exciting twists and turns to make it unique, and as a cover quote says “visceral, raw and compelling”. Jim and I started out talking about the protagonist.
For this AMR mini author-talk, Jim read aloud. “My main character, Rice Moore, he lives on a big nature preserve up in Western Virginia, and he’s been working in a cabin and he’s been demolishing the walls, and he disturbed a hive of bees, and they drove him out, and now he’s out in the meadow looking around.
No other human being lived within miles. Rice presided alone over 7,000 acres. He was the care taker and a science tech. He drove the John Deere tractor. He’s exaggerated his construction experience on the job application, probably one reason they’re hired a guy with his record, that, and the fact that he was a qualified biological science technician who looked like he could take care of himself. He’d agreed to do the work on the cabin so the owners wouldn’t hire a bunch of carpenters to drive up in the mornings and ruin his solitude.”
What I thought was beginning out as a story of arresting a ring of poachers, quickly became more layered, and adventure-filled. And old woodsman, barely speaking a word, showed Rice some carcasses of recently killed bears left on the land he is care-taking. The realism made me wonder about the extensive research, how Jim developed the plot, and especially the characters, both wholesome and sinister.
“When I first heard about these carcasses, and I started doing the research, I got in touch with the game commission, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, and hooked up with an undercover wildlife law enforcement officer, Then they were game wardens, and he was working on this investigation of the bear poaching for the black market. And I met him in this seedy hotel, and he was all secret, but he was a really neat guy, really impressive. But he told me a lot of stories about this overlap between the bear poaching, and the drug trade. And there was a lot of the same people involved in the black market with the galls and the paws, who were involved in the crack cocaine, and whatever was the drug of choice back then. So that gave me the idea, of having some folks, some interesting locals, who would be involved in that; they would also be interested in the bear poaching.”
One of the many interesting progressions in the story is witnessing Rice, who we learn is hiding out for unknown reasons at that point, compelled to connect with other humans. The effort both exhausts, and saves him. Jim continued,
“He’s very aware that he’s been spending a lot of time by himself up in the woods, you know for better or worse. He gains a lot through that, but his social skills do get a little rusty.”
In part two of this news piece, Jim McLaughlin, author of Bearskin, shares more about developing the sense of place, and how he created vivid woodland scenes where so much of the action takes place. For more on Bearskin, please stay tuned to Allegheny Mountain Radio.