PJ Piccirillo’s Introduction to David Poyer, Keynote Speaker at the Inaugural
Writers Conference of Northern Appalachia (WCoNA)™
September 7, 2019, Wheeling, West Virginia:
When I read David Poyer’s biography, which, frankly, we don’t have time to cover completely this morning, I have to ask myself if he’s somehow more than one person. Many of us know how consuming the craft of writing can be. Yet this man has produced enough works to fill a small library, and he’s excelled in careers in the military, academia, editing and publishing. Somehow he finds time to tour on his motorcycle and visit events like this.
He earned his way into the US Naval Academy and served his country sailing three oceans and two seas, then spent ground time in the Pentagon, Saudi Arabia and Bah-rain. At the same time, he managed to earn a masters degree and set off writing novels.
But why David Poyer, here today? Well, he’s published nearly 50 books. Yet their subject matter spans Navy stories to underwater adventures, historical thrillers to comic novels, Civil War sea tales, oral history, non-fiction. But tucked within all that is a series of novels that came to my attention about 15 years ago. The Hemlock County books—they seemed to boil right out of their place, the place of David’s youth in the hills of Pennsylvania. I found something visceral and true in those novels, vibrant as the landscape, yet “dark and gritty as a gravel road,” as the Pittsburgh Trib-Review said—this while the writing was so smooth your eyes slid along the pages as if they were coated with the black crude of the Bradford oil-field David Poyer knew and rendered so well. They were books steeped in place, my place. And I liked that.
But that’s still not why he’s here today. David Poyer is here today because of something he said to me those years ago, something that burned in my craw, though I couldn’t let it go. I was new to fiction writing. My own work, too, seemed to be speaking from its place. At the time, I was going about rural northern Pennsylvania conducting book discussions for the PA Humanities Council. I’d just been contracted to do a series on PA writers, and I wanted to include something by this guy whose work was so rich, yet—strangely—so little known, even in its home.
See, I was getting tired of hearing from people in my reading groups who wanted something other than the same-old, same-old the publishers kept giving them. I knew books like David’s that could bridge that divide. I’d sought them all my life, collected them, even though I didn’t know what to call that part of my bookshelves. And even though I found David’s books out of print, I determined to track him down. Maybe he had enough copies in a closet for my sessions. Maybe he had advice for a writer who saw a cornucopia of subject matter in his own backyard but couldn’t understand why no one defined a distinct body of work by the books that took that subject matter on.
I was able to reach David Poyer. I found him approachable and pleasant. He told me things about our craft I’ll never forget. And then he gave me the bad news. There were no copies of As the Wolf Loves Winter to be had. It might never be in print again. He said that though his Hemlock county novels were his labor of love, his literary high notes, he’d had to return to his naval books, which sold better. And then he said this: “PJ, I’ve found that New York doesn’t want to hear from the hinterlands.”
This man, who knew the ropes of the publishing business inside and out, who had some serious creds, a lot of energy, and was one smart fellow. He was turned away.
It was that day that I said, “we gotta do somethin’ about this.” And so in a way, we’re actually here because of this man. Please welcome David Poyer.