It wasn’t until 2004 I decided to get serious about giving back to the mountain people – my people. The only way I could think of doing that was to begin documenting their lives and giving them a voice. I wanted to tell the world about mountain coalminers, farmers, musicians, quilters, doctors and all the rest of the people who make up the coal camps. I began with a website but that wasn’t enough, nor was it permanent, so my first book came together and was self- published in May 2004 under my pen name of B. L. Dotson-Lewis.
My friend, Jim Branscome, came up with the upbeat title for the book, Appalachia: Spirit Triumphant (a cultural odyssey of Appalachia). The moment I began to give, I began to get back. In 2004 I was invited and traveled to Akabira, Japan as a historian at the International Mining Congress, then on to Nagasaki to speak at a Town Meeting. I toured small communities along the way. It was my first trip abroad.
Also in October of 04 I was thrilled to gain entrance into the West Virginia Book Festival as a self-published author. In 2005 David Ballard of Greystone TV convinced me to come to Hollywood for an interview for the History Channel to talk about the Hatfield – McCoy Feud. It was my first trip to Hollywood. In August I selected a new domain name for my website changing to www.appalachiacoal.com.
The mountain people were so excited someone was documenting their old time traditions and heritage through first-person stories, they kept coming. The second round were as fascinating as the first, so book 2 began to take shape. I worked late into the midnight hour during the week and all day and sometimes all night on weekends.
I keep a regular job during the week from 8 to 4 in the public school sector.Late in December of 05, I was on what I believed to be my final story for book 2, an oral history with Tom and Pat Gish of Whitesburg, Kentucky, owners of the Mountain Eagle Newspaper, then, on January 2, 2006, Sago Mine exploded, 80 miles north of me, killing 12 miners leaving behind a lone survivor who suffered serious injuries. The nation became obsessed with my West Virginia coalminers and Sago. So did I. I turned to Sago, documenting this historical tragedy as it happened, traveling to Sago, photographing everything in my path along the way with a disposable camera, scratching down notes, talking to people connected in my community, keying in news casts. This became my final story. This became my featured story and the lead for the title of the book: Sago Mine Disaster, (Featured Story), Appalachian Coalfield Stories.