Fifty years ago Pam Webber was entering her freshman year at Amherst County High School when Hurricane Camille wreaked havoc on Central Virginia in August 1969.
The daughter of a state trooper, Webber was living on Garland Avenue in Amherst within 20 miles of catastrophic flooding in Nelson County. She recalls a friend who lived across the street who lost more than 20 members in her extended family.
“It was one of those life events you never forget,” said Webber, a nurse practitioner who resides in Winchester and teaches at Shenandoah University. “That’s one of the reasons I wanted to write about it.”
Camille is a pivotal event in Webber’s latest novel, “Moon Water,” a coming-of-age story centered on two teenage girls set in the Blue Ridge Mountains in the summer of 1969.
The book is a standalone sequel to Webber’s 2016 novel “The Wiregrass,” another story inspired by Webber’s upbringing in her native Amherst County. Another local connection in her latest book is the character of a medicine woman in the Monacan Indian tribe based on Bear Mountain in Amherst County who has a premonition of the approaching tragedy.
In writing the historical fiction tale, Webber said she was highly interested in exploring the history of the Monacans and consulted with a tribe member during her two years of research to ensure the portrayal was accurate.
Webber recalls starting high school as Amherst County schools desegregated to include African American and Monacan students. She remembers taking part in the fully integrated chorus.
“That age group, we didn’t think much of it,” Webber said. “It seemed like those who had problems were the adults and the teens slid into what the new normal was.”
Webber was led to write so her two children and three grandchildren could feel like they know her family members who died before their time as well as where she grew up. “Life in the foothills of Virginia, they would never know what was like if [I] didn’t talk about it … write about it.”
Real people she knew and places she’s familiar with in Amherst inspired characters and settings in the book. When she was a girl her mother took her to Crabtree Falls in Nelson and she returned in the past few years to hike the area and rekindle memories of the sights, sounds and feel of the scenery.
“I try to make the setting such so the reader feels like they’re in the scene,” Webber said. “I like to feel like I’m immersed in the story.”
She also spent much time in the past few years researching Camille at the Oakland Museum in Nelson County and speaking with survivors.
Webber said she spoke to one woman about experiencing Camille and how flooding from the storm uprooted her home. “They knew it was raining when she went to bed. She woke up and her house was an island … these survivors are just everywhere. They’ll talk about it but they don’t bring it up unless you do.”
The book was released on Aug. 20. Webber said she’s happy to feature Amherst and Nelson counties, describing both as “succinct places with healthy, rural flavor.”
“I’ve worked hard to learn the craft and perfect it,” she said of writing. “It’s a process for sure, but one I enjoy.”
Reach Justin Faulconer at (434) 385-5551.