Onto Brigger and Brighter Things: Interview with Thomas Brigger
By Carin Chea
To be a voice for the voiceless and forgotten is what entrepreneur-turned-writer Thomas Brigger has done in his first (but not last) novel Beyond the Higher Ground.
Inspired by his real-life experiences with the Appalachian people, Brigger brings an awareness to this overlooked community by painting a realistic picture of their charm, as well as the darkness that has plagued them over the years.
Written with sensitivity and compassion, Beyond the Higher Ground is a must-read for those who want to take an authentic look at a marginalized sector of society.
Your roots are in business and entrepreneurship. How did you get into writing?
I've written all my life. I would write short stories mostly. I'd take them and put them away. And then, I started sending them to my sister and she was my ad-hoc editor.
Some time ago, I decided to write a novel. I was sitting in a hotel room in Cleveland, Ohio, and finished a really bad novel and thought, "I could do better."
And I wrote a novel, and now I'm working on my second.
Where do you get your ideas and inspiration?
I started out as a construction worker. I ended up as a corporate executive and I did business writing.
I was a real estate developer for a while. I did a lot. When you get around the country you start to see things that are interesting, and you see yourself differently in the mirror in different parts of the world.
I use the opioid problem as my background, and I wrote a story about a man who was trying to get out of hardship and gets involved in a mess.
I don't think there's a character in that book that I haven't met in some fashion or another. It's a combination of people I've come across.
At that time, I was based out of Washington D.C. and I went out there [to the Appalachians] maybe 2 to 3 times a week.
Is Beyond the Higher Ground your first book? Tell us about it.
Yes. When I decided to write this novel, I was doing a lot of work in the Appalachian region. I noticed the charming people and the great area, and I thought this would be a good opportunity to make people aware of the problems out there. I don't think people know about the opioid problem out there.
I've seen entire families hooked on drugs there. People don't know about it because they don't know the area. It's a part of the world that we don't know exists. I was on job sites a lot and met a lot of people like Tucker [the protagonist].
Tucker is given this assignment and he sees this as an opportunity to start over. His wife has passed away and he had a miserable childhood. In effect, he's trying to move to the higher ground. I worked with a lot of people on projects and met a lot of people who had hardships in life. I rolled them all into Tucker.
Then there's also Cecil, who represents the heart of the people in the area. He's brilliant, funny, sincere. Tucker embodies the people who come into that area to build, while Cecil embodies the people who live there.
I use the background of this (building the prison at the onset of the book) so that at the end of the book, the item on the highest point in the area is the prison. The book is suspenseful, full of intrigue.
What do you want your readers to take away from Beyond the Higher Ground?
I'd like for people to understand that that problem exists there. That place exists and it's real. It's a very serious problem. I also want people to realize that whatever resolutions we have, it's not an endgame.
There's a section in the book where the father says they're trying to move to higher ground because the river is rising. And he says, "it doesn't matter. It'd going to keep on happening and we have to keep on moving."
The book is about the drug crisis in Appalachia. I made it into a novel. I did not want to make an exposition about how terrible things are there. I wanted to do it in a sensitive fashion.
It is a terrible thing, but it's something that's happening to the people there, not something they're generating.
Are there any future projects you'd like us to know about?
Actually, there's a character in the book who I found so interesting that I moved her into the new book, which takes place in the Midwest and concentrates on the drug distribution problem and how it affects rural America.
The book is coming along fine. I hope to have it done by the end of the year.
Who would play your protagonist should your book be turned into a movie?
The protagonist is Tucker Mason and he's a construction manager and it would have to be someone intense, but not unusually dynamic.
Clint Eastwood, some years ago, would have been perfect for the role.
To learn more about the author and his novel, please visit: www.BeyondTheHigherGround.com
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