"The Feud: The Hatfields and McCoys: The True Story," by Dean King

Brown and Company,Little, Rachel Cobb
The Feud, Dean King
Little, Brown and Company, Rachel Cobb

Jeff Glor talks to Dean King about, "The Feud: The Hatfields and McCoys: The True Story."

Jeff Glor: What inspired you to write the book?

Dean King: I love to take a forgotten piece of history and make it come alive again. Almost everyone had heard of the Hatfield-McCoy feud, but almost no one knew what it was all about or had a mostly false impression. (The feud went all the way to the Supreme Court? Really? Yes, it did.) The fact that there were larger than life characters, bold and reckless plots, and plenty of controversy and uncertainty over what happened--what started the feud, who was to blame, how it occurred -- all made it intriguing for me. After writing books set in Africa and China, returning to my own back yard was appealing as well, especially to this place of wilderness and adventure and one that hearkens back to my family roots. While I was born and raised in Virginia, both of my parents came from West Virginia. It's a place that echoes in the family memory banks and calls you back.

JG: What surprised you the most during the writing process?

DK: I was surprised and happy to discover a fascinating hero in the story, a U.S. deputy marshal named Dan Cunningham, who arrested McCoys and Hatfields. He has largely been left out of the histories and is never mentioned in the History Channel miniseries. I actually discovered quite a bit about his background and was pleased to elevate him to his rightful place in the epic story. His family was also embroiled in a feud that devolved from the Civil War, which sheds light on the Hatfield-McCoy feud.

I was surprised to find that even after more than a century, there were still significant sources out there that had not been tapped, including eye-witness accounts at shootings and funerals and a detailed description of Devil Anse's moonshining operation from a surprising source that had lain dormant since it was originally written in 1888.

Still, I guess it would be impossible to say that anything surprised me more than the bullets that started flying in my direction while I was investigating the murder site of one of the McCoys. Standing with my teenage daughter Hazel, who had come along to help with the research, and two guides on a silt delta at the mouth of Thacker Creek on the Tug River, I was busy writing a description of the scene in my notebook, when all of sudden a gun cracked. Seven or eight shots fired from around a bend in the river hit the water not ten yards from us. That was quite startling and certainly got the message across that we should move along.

JG: What would you be doing if you weren't a writer?

DK: If I weren't a writer, I'd be a chef or a baker. Ultimately, I write because I have always loved escaping into a book and entering a world that is in my mind and outside of time, whether it is historical or fictional. If I can provide that for other people, I feel fulfilled, worthwhile on some level. I have also had a lifelong love of food and more recently of wine, and so, likewise, it gives me pleasure to share that with others. I am the breakfast short-order chef for my wife, Jessica, and our four daughters, whipping up scrambled eggs with diced tomatoes and oregano or eggs in a frame before school. Judging from the way it gets gobbled down, I make a pretty mean buttermilk, almond banana bread, too. I get pleasure from that and take pride in it. Fortunately, in Jessica, I married the best cook and copy editor I have even known. So, most of the time, I get to write.

JG: What else are you reading right now?

DK: I recently read a phenomenal memoir called "The River Bend Chronicle" by Ben Miller. It's a book of dense wordplay that you sip like a fine whiskey. Likewise, I am savoring poet Ron Smith's "Its Ghostly Workshop." The last great books I read were Hillary Mantel's "Wolf Hall" and all of Daniel Woodrell's books, including "The Bayou Trilogy, Give Us a Kiss, Woe to Live On," and "Winter's Bone." My most recent guilty pleasure: a Jerry West memoir. West was a freshman on the West Virginia University basketball team, when my father, Bill King, and his freshman roommate Hot Rod Hundley were seniors. Apparently, it took some creative reffing that year for the varsity squad to beat the freshman team.

JG: What's next for you?

DK: A 2,000-mile driving book tour of the South, which takes me from Richmond out to Nashville, Tenn., and Atlanta, to Oxford, Miss., to both Charlestons (West Virginia and South Carolina), and to Asheville, Charlotte, and Raleigh, N.C., among other towns. I'm really looking forward to clearing my mind on that journey and then returning to the five or six ideas I have teed up, all involving rugged history and adventure. In the meantime, I am producing a Hatfield-McCoy reality series for the History Channel, which airs this summer. I am excited to see these real-life Hatfields and McCoys, many of whom have become my friends, pool their family arts in a legal whiskey-making business. Judging from the illicit versions I sampled during the writing of this book, these are going to be some fine spirits ... That is, if we can keep them cooperating long enough!

For more on "The Feud" visit their website.

  • Jeff Glor

    Jeff Glor was named anchor of the Sunday edition of the "CBS Evening News" in January 2012 and Special Correspondent for "CBS This Morning" in November 2011.