Part Two Bearskin by James McLaughlin has local flavor as well as thrills

In the first of this pair of news stories, listeners were introduced to Jim McLaughlin and his 2018 debut novel, Bearskin.  We learned how the author created the thrilling plot line, with an initially very solitary character in a familiar feeling mountain setting. As the novel progresses, Rice Moore is forced to connect with other humans in order to unravel crime affecting the land he is caring for, and an area far beyond.  The woods and the water in the story are frequently the most soothing, serene elements keeping an anxious reader like myself reading on to the amazing end.  At one point Rice, and another wildlife tech are on a long wet hike in a remote ravine.  “To Rice it seemed as if they’d crossed into another country, dark and green and primeval.  Even the sound of water rushing another hundred feet below sounded unfamiliar and exotic. . . .He leaned against a tree and let his mind drift through the old forest. .  The giant trees were like dormant gods, vibrating with something he couldn’t name, not quite sentience, each one different from the other, each telling its own centuries long story.  On the forest floor, chestnut logs dead since the blight, rotted into chest high berms, soft with thick mosses whispering quietly.  Something called out and he turned to face a looming tulip tree, gnarled and bent like an old man, hollowed out by rot, lightning, ancient fires.  His skin tingled.”

That scene was just a pause in one of many taking the reader all over and through some deep back country both in Appalachia, and in the Southwest US.  I asked Jim the author, what he did to make the different natural environments feel so real.

“What I do a lot, is I draw on real experiences and then I magnify them ten fold.  What I did for the setting is, my family is involved with a piece of property up in Rockbridge County, and I have a top map, a 7.5 too map of the quadrant with the property outlines on my wall, so I look at it, and what I did for the setting was I took that property and made it tens times as big, but I kept the contours, so I could know exactly where everything was at any moment, and I could just look up at the map if I needed to figure out where somebody needed to go to get to this other part of the property, so that was a pretty handy trick that I used.” Another chase scene, and seemingly simple observation walks  continue to be highlights as the story continues to unfold. 

Towards the end of the thrilling ride there is, spoiler alert, the need to dispose of a body. It was hard to imagine how the author came up with such a meticulous plan without close connections to real life career criminals.  I was sure, similar to his conversation with the wildlife law enforcement professional, Jim must have interviewed a mafia don.  He assured me it was pure invention, and had thought to himself,

“Well, what would you do? And then I thought, well, this might work.  I don’t know if it might, if it really could work, or if some urban policeman would read that and laugh, but I don’t know, it seems like it might work.”

If you’re curious enough about whether or not it works,  I’d encourage you to read Bearskin.

The author, James A. McLaughlin formerly of Rockbridge County, now lives with his wife Nancy in the Wasatch Mountain Range east of Salt Lake City, Utah.  To find some of his previous written work, and photography visit

Story By

Bonnie Ralston

Bonnie Ralston is the Assistant Station Coordinator at WVLS and a Highland County news reporter. She began volunteering at Allegheny Mountain Radio in the fall of 2005. In 2006 she became an AMR employee and worked in Bath County for eight years as the WCHG Station Coordinator and then as the news reporter there. She began working in radio while in college and has stayed connected to radio, in one way or another, for more than thirty years. She grew up in Staunton, Virginia, while spending a lot of time on her family’s farm in Deerfield, Virginia. She enjoys spending time outside, watching old TV shows and movies and tending to her chickens.

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