The Friends of Nelson County got a significant ally when veteran author Doug Hornig came on board. Hornig’s a long-time student of natural resource markets and had written for years for Casey Research, a business newsletter targeting investors. More recently, he wrote for Katusa Research, focusing solely on natural resource investment.
Hornig also wrote (with Marin Katuso) The Colder War, an examination of Russia’s canny understanding and potential domination of the future world energy market, a book that became a New York Times bestseller.
So his neighbors figured he knew what he was talking about when Hornig began to question the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a huge bone of contention between politicians at both the state and local levels. A staunch member of no political party, Hornig is normally content to keep a low profile where politics are concerned. This issue, though, caught his attention.
Hornig joins the Edison Institute and the U.S. Department of Energy in the belief that massive investments in infrastructure are expensive and outdated and that energy companies should focus on upgrading existing infrastructure and becoming distributors of energy. In the specific case of Dominion, Hornig notes the falling demand for electricity, the as-yet-unconfirmed availability of raw materials, and the probability that the ultimate users of pipeline-delivered energy will be even farther away than suggested.
“Worst case: a pipeline carrying nothing to nowhere,” he said. He also points out that the financial reality today is that solar power has gone from being an environmentalist’s fantasy to a dynamic, affordable, growing and important source of energy.
The field of natural resource investment is not the only one he’s turned his pen to. Over the past 40 years, Hornig has written mysteries, thrillers, poetry, science fiction and literary nonfiction. Love for the area inspires his activism, Hornig said. It’s an affection that’s endured since his first sight when he was very young. “I passed through the Rockfish Valley many years before I landed here and thought, ‘I should live here.’”
It was not a straight path, though. Hornig was born and raised on Cape Cod, a place he found bereft of decent weather and even a softball team. He was drawn to writing and published a neighborhood newspaper when he was nine or 10 years old. It’s a thread that continued through his life, even when he was driving a cab, working in factories, and learning the language of computers.
Hornig came south for college, dropped out for a while, then graduated in the mid-60s. Inspired by a creative writing class, he wrote what he calls a typical first novel, full of free-form thought and edgy prose. “It was brilliant and intended to completely revise existing notions of language,” he said. “Naturally, it didn’t sell.”
He bounced back to New England for a while, then at a suggestion from an old friend, bought a bus ticket to Staunton. Coming over Afton Mountain, he had his second glimpse of the Rockfish Valley, and found it just as appealing. It was the late ’70s but “it was like the ’60s all over again,” he remembers. He met the wave of young people flooding into rural Virginia and challenging traditional models of life, work and culture.
“Most of the people I met are still around,” he said in an e-mail. “Some died. Some got old and moved from Nelson to Charlottesville to enjoy the city while they can. Some scattered to other loony places or just vanished. The rest of us fell in love with one of the world’s most beautiful valleys and can’t contemplate living anywhere else, even though the wild early days are four decades in the past.”
In those early days, Hornig found work in information technology at U.Va. Always prolific in his literary output, the young Hornig was watching veteran author John MacDonald as well as Sue Grafton, who was just beginning the alphabet with her Kinsey Milhone series. Both cranked out a new mystery every few years or so, built around an interesting main character.
“I thought, ‘I could do that,’” he said.
In fact, he had already done it.
In response to a call by Scribner’s for unpublished authors, he submitted a book he’d already written and titled “Roundball.” His idea was to have “ball” in every title, along the lines of Grafton’s alphabet-themed titles and MacDonald’s colors. To his consternation, he noticed that the editor seeking manuscripts was one who’d already rejected it. Undaunted, “I changed a few things,” he said.” It was accepted and ultimately published under the name Foul Shot.
To his mind, a lot went wrong in his first encounter with book publishing. For one thing, the title was changed, ending his hopes for a series of catchy titles. “Even worse, the ending––a carefully thought-out resolution of three unrelated murders––was completely changed.”
Still, the series, starring an offbeat detective, and set in rural Virginia, had quite a run. Foul Shot reached enough readers for Hornig to write one every year for several years. By his mid-40s, he had written seven books, the mystery series and a few others, all the while dabbling in other genres. He’d also become very comfortable with rural Virginia and loved the peace of the mountains. He raised two boys, Derek and Brian, who also loved rural life. For a while, “I was happily unemployed,” he said. But he had an idea for a project, one he really wanted to do, a book that ended up being his favorite.
Hornig is a life-long baseball and die-hard Red Sox fan. Like other fans, he believed that the 1975 World Series that pitted the Red Sox against the Cincinnati Reds was the finest ever played. As luck would have it, Hornig––at that time, driving a cab in Boston long before his move to Nelson––won tickets through a kind of lottery.
More than two decades later, with dozens of published pieces under his belt, he proposed that he track down the aging team members and interview them. His idea was accepted, and he happily traveled across the country, interviewing the men who’d been his youthful heroes. “Some were doing great, some had struggled with drugs and alcohol, a couple refused to see me,” he said, “but I ended up talking to most of them.” The results of the interviews, with references to personal and national context in the ’70s, were published in The Boys of October in 2003, with the subtitle “How the 1975 Red Sox Embodied Baseball’s Ideals and Restored our Spirits.”
These days, his writing is mostly in the public interest, although he always has a couple of other projects in the works. Besides his writing for the Friends of Nelson County, he’s the campaign manager for Justin Shimp, who’s running for the Board of Supervisors and opposes the pipeline. “I guess you could say I’m a single-issue man.” However, he said later, it’s all part of a larger issue: “Nelson County is booming, changing daily. With the distilleries, wineries and breweries, we’re kind of an alcohol alley. We need to really look at the overall plans for the county. We need some voices trying to protect this vulnerable and beautiful place.”