Since Gary Agee released his first book in 1997, he has been interested the Frozen Creek Flood in Morehead and Breathitt County, Kentucky, and has now completed a historical fiction telling the stories of those who endured the torrential downpour on July 5, 1939.
More than 80 people in two counties perished in the flood, Agee said, making it the worst flash flood in Kentucky’s history and one of the worst in the country. It is also Kentucky’s worst natural disaster, aside from damage caused by tornadoes.
“I love the story,” Agee said. “It really is a good and compelling story about tragedy and perseverance.”
Agee has written three other books, but “Will in Frozen Country” is his first fiction novel. Agee said he began writing books because he considers himself a storyteller and said he makes his living “talking” through being a pastor and teaching.
While working on his first book “A Giant in the Valley” in 1996, Agee interviewed a woman who had lived through the flood in Morehead. The woman told him how she was stuck in the upstairs of her home while a cow that bawled all night long was stuck in a tree outside the window.
“I just thought it was a fascinating story that she told,” Agee said.
Agee put the idea of a book about the flood aside and continued with other pursuits, including publishing two more books, but about four years ago, Agee began to seriously concentrate on the story again.
Agee said the story of the flood had all the fantastic elements of a story in it. The storm hit in the middle of the night and trapped people in their homes. It hit the Kentucky Mountain Bible college where nine people were killed and there were people who were washed into the water who lived to tell their story.
In Breathitt County, Agee said the rain came out of Frozen Creek so hard the north fork of the Kentucky river ran in both directions.
“Some people apparently thought the end of time had come because the river was running both directions,” Agee said. “It’s just weird stuff like that.”
To conduct research, Agee traveled to both places the flood hit and traveled along the watersheds and read first-hand accounts of the flood, including works written by Jack Ellis, Lela McConnell and Nettie Myers.
He listened to recorded interviews with people who experienced the flood and spoke with Robert Cundiss who was a boy during the flood and had also interviewed survivors.
Agee said a fiction novel was more difficult for him to write and made it harder to publish, but said he wanted to publish a fiction novel to help people understand how these events would affect an individual.
“I felt like I was too constricted by just telling the facts and not looking at it more in-depth,” Agee said. “With facts and history, you really can’t get to, well at least I found that I really couldn’t get to how these events would impact an individual.”
The main character in the novel, Will Callahan, loses his entire family, as did a real young man during the flood.
“It’s Kentucky lore,” Agee said. “A lot of people know about it, have heard their parents talk about it, and it was a big deal back 75 years ago.”
July 5 was the 75th anniversary of the flood and Agee traveled down to Morehead to commemorate the day. A plaque was dedicated in downtown Morehead to the 25 people who died in the flood and said a drama was performed that detailed the flood. Agee spoke after each performance.
“It was well-received,” Agee said. “I was really happy with it.”
On July 13, Agee will be presenting his book at 10:45 a.m. at the Beechwood Church of God in Gratis, with a reception to follow. Agee will also be doing book talks in the area. The book is available for purchase through Acclaim Press or Amazon.