By Chris Wood
April 1, 2019 - 'I'm looking for Randy Newton.'
'You've found him,' he replied.
'Mr. Newton, my name's Rex Buford and I'm here to terminate your employment with Sweet Creek Mining.' With that said, I waited for the fireworks."
And fireworks are what Buford gets in Tom Gilco's self-published novel "The Long Journey Home," a murder mystery set in the coalfields of Hickory, a mythical West Virginia county modeled on Logan.
Tom Gilco, pictured, recently published his novel, "The Long Journey Home," which is based on his experiences in the southern coalfields of West Virginia.
Buford, a Hickory native who left the area at age 15 to see the world, returns 25 years later as a troubleshooter for the Pinnacle Group, a New York investment firm that has a stake in the coal company. It appears that a few miners are diverting tons of coal for their own secret benefit, which brings violence and turmoil to a once-peaceful valley - and places Buford right in the middle of it.
Like Buford, Tom Gilco has seen his share of life. When he was 17, he joined the Marine Corps and served for six years. After his discharge, he worked for 14 years below and above ground as a coal miner for the Amherst Coal Company in Buffalo Creek.
"I got injured working on the strip mine," Gilco said. "I couldn't work in the mines anymore."
Without a career, he decided to enroll at Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College, where he majored in drafting and design engineering. The Department of Veterans Affairs covered most of his tuition.
While at Southern, he discovered writing.
"I had a literature teacher in college who encouraged me to write," Gilco said. Her name was Brenda Baksh, formerly of Buffalo Creek. "I just sat down one day and started typing."
When he graduated in 2000, Gilco applied to 90 different engineering firms in West Virginia. He got two interviews.
"I was 49 years old at the time, and all the youngsters got the jobs," he said.
He sold his house, got his contractor's license, bought a backhoe and a dump truck and went into business for himself.
One day, he decided to write a novel.
"No particular reason," Gilco said. "I just started writing. It just came to me, and I'd write it."
Before he knew it, he had written four novels.
"The Long Journey Home" was the first Gilco wrote and his first to publish.
"It's based loosely on my experiences," he said.
The novel has its share of action, but Buford also has time for a little romance with Sandy, a schoolteacher transplanted from Charleston. Against her father's wishes, she decides to remain in Hickory.
"The most wonderful people live and die in these mountains," she tells Buford. "I wanted to be one of them, so I stayed."
Sandy is a character close to Gilco's heart.
"I've been married 48 years," he said, "so I based her on my wife."
Family also features prominently in the novel.
"All my brothers are named in there, and my sister is also in there," he said.
After being gone for 25 years, Buford finally realizes the importance of family.
"I never had any idea that coming home to Hickory County would stir up so much emotion," he said. "It still felt good to be among kinfolk. I hadn't realized how much I'd missed having someone around that cared about me. West Virginia mountain people sure do take care of their own"
For the Bufords, as in Appalachia, family is the most important thing in life.
"The Long Journey Home" sells for $14.95 on Amazon.com.
"I hope it sells well," Gilco said. "I've accomplished one of the items on my bucket list, to have it published."