Andy Meinen loves history. Pair that with a background in journalism, and the stage is set for this former Walton Sun reporter to make history with a book of his own.
Meinen stumbled across the subject matter that was to become fodder for his first work while still in college at Auburn University.
He worked at a small hot dog shop, and one day while reading the Wall Street Journal during a lull at work, he came across a short article about the convict-lease system in Alabama. The article was appearing at that time because as new developments broke ground in the hills around Birmingham, they found human skeletal remains in many of them.
"These broken bodies were the inmates who never made it home; never saw their families again; and never found their way out of the mines. They were dumped like garbage into mass unmarked graves and forgotten until a backhoe brought them to light," said Meinen. "That's why I wrote this book.
“The convict-release period was such a dark and tragic experience that no one knows about,” Meinen continues. “I hope this novel will change that. I want to show people this awful chapter of our collective history, which seems to have been conveniently lost."
As a history buff and major in college, it struck Meinen as odd that he had never heard about any of this. So, the search began. As he began to dig, what he found amazed him. He discovered that a convict-lease system where prisoners were contracted out to work in mines amid brutal conditions.
"I found that Southern states at that time rounded up convicts and sent them to work in mines like a form of slavery," he said. "It was widespread across the South."
After a while, his reading sparked the idea of using the factual information as the backdrop for a novel.
Writing "Crossing Downs" took Meinen through two drafts and about a year as he worked full time, first as a local newspaper reporter for The Sun and Northwest Florida Daily News, then as a Realtor/Broker.
The historical fiction novel is based on all he learned about the convict miners and their unceremonious burials in the hills around Birmingham, Ala. It is available on Kindle online. Visit amazon.com for more information.
Meinen is already busy working on a second novel about a novelist who loses his spouse.
"I always wanted to write," he said, "ever since I was a freshman in high school. My great grandfather owned a newspaper in Iowa, so, I guess it's in my blood."