When Danny Dean was growing up in Williamson, he told stories. Then life took over, he began working, in the coal mines, as a mechanic in the Air Force and as a high-end cabinet maker, and his storytelling went on the back burner.
But Dean never lost the ability to tell a tale - his first novel Sock Full of Pennies has recently been published.
The novel addresses the problem of bullying. Using coal mining as a backdrop, Dean weaves a story around a boy named Rusty Sledge from the fictitious town of McHenry, W.Va. Rusty is the smallest and poorest child in his class, as well as the brightest. As a result, his classmates pick on him, beat him and bully him to the brink of suicide. When his father tells Rusty to fight back or face a beating from him, he makes a weapon from the only things at his disposal, a sock full of pennies. With it, he levels the playing field and his overgrown tormentors.
Growing up, Dean said he was raised by strict standards.
“I did try to tell stories to some of the neighborhood children and my younger cousins,” he told the Daily News. “But my parents were very strict about telling anything which wasn’t true, and stories, by nature are untruths. How do you explain to your mom it’s only ’fiction?’”
Although his character Rusty’s family is what he describes as dysfunctional, Dean said his own childhood was not.
“My dad was a very sober, honest, hard-working, uneducated man who loved his family very much,” Dean said. “It was hard for him, but he fed a family on the very small pay of a truck driver at B&L Furniture Company, mom also worked at dress shops in Williamson to make ends meet. My father tempered his corporal punishment with love and understanding. We were the poorest of the poor, but we loved each other.”
Dean said he set his story around what he knows: coal mining.
“I started going into the mines while I worked at Persinger Supply as a warranty repairman on Acme Roof Bolt Machines,” he explained. “I’ve always been mechanically inclined. That led to a job operating a tipple at Mary Helen Coal Company in Belfry. After that, I worked at Maynard Coal Company in Burnwell. They closed, so I went to Bee-Rock Mining in Red Jacket, which didn’t last long, either. Then I worked for McNamee Resources in Cinderella. The last coal mine I worked at was Cannelton Industries at Foster, WV. All told, I worked underground for just over seven years.”
Dean became disillusioned with the coal mines in 1983, after being laid off, on strike, or hurt all the time he said, and moved to Columbus, Ohio where he became a custom cabinet maker . “Woodworking has always been a hobby, so I got a job doing what I loved,” he said. Dean also became a member of the Columbus Literacy Council and taught several adults to read.
“I’ve always wanted to write a novel, but with trying to make a living, never found the time.,” he said. “After my wife and I retired, we moved to Alabama. There was a lady who lived at our RV park who was an independent author, so I said ‘If she can be an author, so can I.’”
Dean said his hesitation as a first time novelist was short lived.
“I honestly had many doubts that I had enough words in me to even write anything as big as a novel, but once I sat down with a computer, the story just came forth,” he said. “There were times when I couldn’t write fast enough to get it all on paper, like it was a story which demanded to be told.”
The subject of his book was not a difficult choice.
“I always knew I would write about bullying, because I experienced so much of it myself,” he said. “When bullying became so prominent in the news, I thought about it more and more until I made my decision.”
After th main character in A Sock Full of Pennies overcomes his tormentors, he finishes high school at home with the help of three mentors: a school teacher, an old coal mine operator and a West Virginia State Trooper. Dean said most of his characters are complete fiction, but some are based in people in his life.
“I suppose you could say some of my characters are each a conglomeration of different kids I grew up with, and different adults I’ve known since,” he said. “Corporal Earl Needham was after a state trooper who was my friend many years ago, another character was after a guy I graduated with who became an attorney. The rest were all fictional.”
Danny and his wife of 28 years Kat have three sons, two of which, Danny and Mike, are Belfry High School graduates who now live in Nashville, working in entertainment and real estate. Their youngest, Adam, lives in Ohio. Although his family is scattered throughout the country, he has a sister who lives in Williamson and works at Southern West Virginia Community College.
Danny said he hopes his book offers support to those who have faced the effects of a bully.
“I’ve witnessed the effects of bullying first hand,” he said. “If anything I could ever do or write would help deal with the problem, or diminish its effect on its victims, I would consider it a personal accomplishment.”
Print and ebook editions of Sock Full of Pennies area available at Amazon.com, and an ebook edition is available at smashwords.com.
Danny’s second book, The Three Sons of Rusty Sledge, will be available in March 2013.