Best-Selling Author Has Fond Memories Of Montgomery County

By: Tim Timmons

A dozen or so years ago, my wife and I read a fascinating book – One Second After. It was a riveting story about a small town in the mountains of North Carolina and the people who live there. One spring afternoon, the power goes out. Phone lines are dead, cars won’t start . . . the U.S. has been hit with an EMP – electromagnetic pulse – attack.

Over the new few hundred pages, the reader follows the story of a family and their community trying to survive in a world drastically different than the one they woke up in on that May day.

It’s not just well written – it’s scary realistic as the writer describes how quickly society dissolves into chaos. Lawlessness reigns, but that’s only part of the problem. Medicines that require refrigeration are gone. A local nursing home suffers multiple fatalities. Minor mishaps turn into life-threatening emergencies.

This isn’t a process that takes months or years, but days and weeks.

It’s a stark and arguably realistic look at exactly how fragile our world really is just below the surface.

The writer is William R. Forstchen, a prodigious author with dozens of books to his credit. He is a professor emeritus of history and creative writing at Montreat College in western North Carolina. One Second After was not his first book, but it did end up being the first in a series that includes One Year After and The Final Day. This week sees the release of a fourth and what Forstchen said is likely the last book in the series – Five Years After: A John Matherson Novel.

Forstchen was born in New Jersey and now teaches in North Carolina. But he has a strong Indiana – and Montgomery County – connection. He got his doctorate at Purdue. While there, he used to travel south.

“Crawfordsville? You’re in Crawfordsville?” he said on the phone. “I used to come down there and go canoeing on Sugar Creek! What a great experience.”

How did he get from Purdue to the creek?

“The general,” he said. “I went to Purdue and within a couple of weeks I found out about the general and came down to see the study.”

Forstchen said he had great times at the Lew Wallace Study and while he was visiting heard about Sugar Creek.

“When you are floating along and come up on those covered bridges, it’s just spectacular.”

Forstchen took a little time recently to talk about Five Years After – a book he said he really hadn’t planned on writing.

“Remember the line from The Godfather,” he laughed. “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in . . . When I wrote Final Day, I chose the word final for a reason, it wraps up the series.”

But the 70-year-old said his publisher kept prodding.

“I really do think this is the last one,” he chuckled.

Of course the publisher had good reason. One Second After was a huge hit.

“It caught me totally off guard,” Forstchen said. “I figured it was going to sell five or six thousand and that’s it. My agent called and said ‘you better sit down. You’re on the New York Times best seller list.’ “

Where did the idea that launched the series come from?

“At Purdue when I was in grad school,” he explained. “I was aware of the issue of EMP. When the ice storm in ’90 or ’91 hit, after four or five days of no power people were getting really squirrely. There were stories about people screaming at power crews. Things got ugly. That was the genesis.”

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has written about the series, and in fact, the two have become friends and co-authors. They’ve paired up on the books 1945, Pearl Harbor, Gettysburg, Days of Infamy and others.

They met before Gingrich became Speaker of the House. Of course Gingrich taught history at West Georgia College before getting into politics. The pair found they had a lot in common.

“Here’s the kind of guy (Gingrich) is,” Forstchen said. “I gave him a framed portrait of Ulysses S. Grant with the famous quote ‘I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer.’ He beamed, and then said, ‘I can’t accept this.’ ”

Turns out that because of congressional rules, gifts over a specific dollar value were not allowed. So Forstchen told Gingrich to keep it on loan.

Years later, the pair were together and Gingrich brought the painting out to give back.

“That’s the kind of guy he is,” Forstchen said. “Hell, I had forgotten about it.”

Of course he told Gingrich to keep it.

Although the storyline follows the main character, the overriding theme is the fragility of our nation’s power grid.

“America’s electrical infrastructure is antiquated,” he explained. “It’s 40, 50 years old. We have to restructure. We’re spending a trillion on green energy when we have to restructure.

“If you don’t have a month’s worth of supplies in your house now, you’re crazy. I’ve talked to some who said they had enough to get by until FEMA comes. Well, what if FEMA doesn’t come?”

Five Years After is available at all major booksellers online as well as Barnes & Noble at Tippecanoe Mall in Lafayette.

-Two cents, which is about how much Timmons said his columns are worth, appears periodically on Wednesdays in The Paper. Timmons is the publisher of The Paper and can be contacted at [email protected].