In Amy Greene’s novel 'Long Man,' a TVA project floods an East Tennessee town

Feb. 25, 2014 @ 10:39 AM

Amy Greene is from East Tennessee. Her acclaimed debut novel, 2010’s “Bloodroot,” is set in East Tennessee.

And her second novel, “Long Man,” is set in East Tennessee. It’s due out Feb. 25 from Knopf.

“Being from this part of the world shapes you and affects your worldview so deeply,” she said. “It’s made me who I am in so many ways. It’s hard not to write about it.”

Set in the fictional town of Yuneetah, “Long Man” takes place over three days in 1936. Yuneetah is about to disappear. It is being flooded by a lake created by a Tennessee Valley Authority dam.

Most of the townspeople have left, but one young woman, Annie Clyde, does not want to go – even as her husband, James, looks forward to a new beginning. As the waters rise, their young daughter, Gracie, goes missing.

In “Long Man,” Mountain Press readers will encounter much that they recognize: descriptions of mountain folkways; references to Sevierville and Sevier County; mentions of laurel, rhododendron, tulip poplar.

Greene, 38, lives in Russellville, near Morristown. Growing up in the vicinity of Bull’s Gap, she heard stories of the TVA, of the benefits its electrification program brought to the region.

“In my hometown, there’s Cherokee Lake,” she said. “When the water goes down in the winter, you can see the tops of silos sticking out of the water. I remember when I was 9 or 10, I asked my mom what that was. She told me there was a town under Cherokee Lake. That was intriguing to me.”

As an adult, Greene researched the Depression-era federal agency.

“I learned the complicated aspects to it,” she said. “It improved our lives, and in a sense TVA was a wonderful thing. But there also was lots of heartbreak, because land that had been in families for generations was destroyed, and thousands were displaced.”

When it came time to write the follow-up to “Bloodroot,” she thought of this material.

“I had the idea for the plot before the characters came to me,” she said. “What would happen if a girl went missing in town that was about to be flooded by a TVA dam?”

Greene wrote a rough draft of “Long Man” in 2008. It went through six revisions. It was not easy to tell this intimate family story “before the huge backdrop of the Great Depression,” she said.

“It took a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears to get it out,” she said. “I think of writing as a process of discovery, and it took a while to discover what the book is really about. I started to discover that as I got to know the characters. Then the themes started to emerge.”

Greene believes she was born to write. “My dad and granddad were both preachers, so I have to believe in a calling,” she said.

“When I was able to spell and write, I started writing stories,” she said. “In my basement right now, I have boxes of stories I wrote starting in the first grade.”

She married her husband, Adam, a sportswriter, when they were just out of high school. Their children are 18 and 11.

When Greene was in her late 20s, “there was a little turning point,” she said. “I decided I wanted to try to be a novelist as a career.”

She completed a bachelor’s degree at Vermont College. In 2007, she took a draft of “Bloodroot” to a writing conference in Sewanee. A workshop leader saw promise in the draft and offered to introduce her to an agent.

Within a remarkably short period of time, Greene had a book deal with a major publishing house.

“I became an author really quick,” she said. “It has been fast, a whirlwind.”

She added, wryly: “People tell me not to tell other writers this story. It’s not the way it usually happens.”

Sometimes Greene is asked if she would ever write a novel set somewhere other than East Tennessee.

“If I did, I would have to write it from the point of view of a working-class Appalachian woman who views the world through that lens of her rural upbringing,” she said.

“I have a loyalty to this area,” she said. “There is so much rich literary territory to mine.”

kburns@themountainpress.com