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Morning Sun
  • PATRICK'S PEOPLE: Kathleen De Grave wrote a novel on Kansas in 2039

  • Kansas in 2039 is feeling the effects of catastrophic climate change, but human beings remain focused on their own internal drama, their own sorrows and emotional needs.



    That’s the world of “The Hour of Lead,” a new novel by Kathleen De Grave, Pittsburg State University professor of American literature and fiction writing. The title comes from a poem by Emily Dickinson.

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  • Kansas in 2039 is feeling the effects of catastrophic climate change, but human beings remain focused on their own internal drama, their own sorrows and emotional needs.
    That’s the world of “The Hour of Lead,” a new novel by Kathleen De Grave, Pittsburg State University professor of American literature and fiction writing. The title comes from a poem by Emily Dickinson.
    De Grave said that her husband, Earl Lee, was involved with the novel as well.
    “It was his dream that started this years ago,” she said. “He wrote a big chuck of it at first, but that part is gone. At first the story was set in Wisconsin, but now it’s in Kansas.”
    Also very important to the story is the time in which it is set.
    “I tried to write this a long time ago, but it didn’t work,” De Grave said. “This time it did because I moved it to the future. I have robots and nanobots in it.”
    Ancient sacred (hallucinogenic) mushrooms are also in the mix.
    “That’s  what gets my main character in trouble,” the author said.
    But Weylan Collins, her protagonist, is troubled long before he touches a mushroom.
    “His mother died in a tornado when he was 4, and he feels that it was his fault,” De Grave said. “Now he uses technology to help a child, but winds up hurting the boy instead.”
    Desperate to heal the child, Weylan mixes nanotechnology with mushrooms and ends up shifting into a different universe.
    “He’s able to influence himself  in the past,” the author said. “The question is, will he ever get it right? He eventually shifts into five different universes. The reader knows things Weylan doesn’t know. For me it’s a matter of juggling them.”
    The other viewpoint character is Pandora Vandergast, Weylan’s wife.
    “She has issues, too, but deals with them directly,” De Grave said.
    In addition to their internal woes  and the turbulent environment, the characters also find themselves living in the midst of economic distress. The author attributes that to the time in which she was thinking and writing the book.
    “This was after the Joplin tornado, and Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring,” De Grave said. “I read a book, ‘Deep Economy,’ and researched things you can do locally as opposed to being part of  a corporate- run world. All the ideas came from my research, and all I did is pull them together.”
    She had help from some family members. Her husband has done extensive research on ancient sacred mushrooms and recently published the first of two books on the subject, “From the Bodies of the Gods: Psychoactive Plants and the Cults of the Dead.”
    Page 2 of 2 - “My son Erin is an environmental scientist and he’s living off the grid right now with his solar panels and straw bales,” De Grave said. “I learned about compost toilets from him. My other son, Nathan, is an astronomer at Vanderbilt and helped with some of the science.”
    She said that the hardest thing in doing her book was in writing about science without being boring.
    “When it got like that, I had to stop writing and go listen to music, take a walk or eat chocolate,” De Grave said.
    She said that her writing process tends to be sloppy.
    “I find it’s music that usually gets me going,” De Grave said.
    Also helping motivate her were the members of her writing group — Roland Sodowsky, Lizanne Minerva and Lori Martin.
    “We’d meet at Sweet Greens,” De Grave said. “They kept me to it.”
    “The Hour of  Lead,” a work of speculative fiction, is very different from her other books, novels “Company Woman” and “In Real Life Women Don’t Play Jazz” and “Swindler, Spy Rebel: The Confidence Woman in Nineteenth-Century America.”
    De Grave was fortunate in having a year off from her teaching duties to work on the book.
    “I had a year to live the life of a writer,” she said. “I’m very grateful to PSU for letting me do that.”
    Published by See Sharp Press, “The Hour of Lead” is available online, and De Grave said that she will participate in a book signing this fall at the  University Book Store.
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