Matt Wasson

Matt Wasson responding to a coal slurry spill in Kanawha County, W. Va., in February. 

For his newest novel, “Gray Mountain,” famed novelist John Grisham contacted Matt Wasson of Appalachian Voices to ask questions about environmental factors. Wasson is mentioned in the acknowledgements of the book. 

“Gray Mountain,” which centers on a lawyer confronting issues with big coal companies, tackles issues, such as mountaintop removal and miners’ safety.

According to Wasson, Grisham asked him questions that were obscure, such as confirming historic coal prices and how coal leases work. “In 13 years of working here, I’ve gotten to know the business practices,” Wasson said.

Grisham reached out to Wasson and sent him some questions via email. Their communication took place mostly in June and July, Wasson said. 

“I think what he must do is write it and then flag a bunch of things to check and really make sure what’ he’s describing is realistic,” Wasson said. 

Wasson is excited to have such a high-profile writer addressing the same issues that Appalachian Voices — a Boone-based environmental advocacy group — tackles every day. 

“As much as we work to get the word out to publish our newspaper, when somebody like John Grisham takes on an issue like mountaintop removal, boy, does it reach an audience that’s really huge,” Wasson said. “We just couldn’t be more thrilled to help in that endeavor however we can.” 

Wasson said that he had the feeling that Grisham likes to have reliable resources that he can come back to in case he has more questions on issues like this. Grisham is presently in Charlotte, Wasson said, and he and the best-selling author are planning on meeting in the future. 

“(Grisham) really cares about this stuff,” Wasson said. “He really cares about environmental conservation.” 

Although the book was just released, Wasson feels that “Gray Mountain” could really spread the word about environmental issues. “From my understanding, it’s going to do a lot to help get the word out about the human impacts of this horrible thing that we’ve been working on since the founding of this organization to stop,” he said.

This isn’t the first time someone has contacted Appalachian Voices about checking facts, though. According to Wasson, filmmakers, songwriters and all sorts of various artists contact the organization for help in understanding these issues. 

In fact, when CNN did a profile on mountaintop removal, it contacted Appalachian Voices, Wasson said. However, CNN did not acknowledge the group like Grisham did. 

“It’s a big part of what we do,” Wasson said. “It’s probably a part that very rarely gets acknowledged.” 

Wasson added that he, in no way, expects any kind of acknowledgement when working on these sorts of projects. 

“We get these sort of inquiries all the time; he just happened to be high profile,” Wasson said. 

Wasson said that Appalachian Voices is more than willing to help with inquiries such as Grisham’s. 

“If there are other artists or authors or documentary filmmakers, this is something that we are happy to do,” he said. “The whole way to be effective is to spread the word through many different media.”

Appalachian Voices publishes a newspaper itself, The Appalachian Voice, as well as writing on different social media platforms. Members of the group also promote awareness through their own art, writing and photography. 

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