Tim Means, a retired lawyer, spent decades in Washington, D.C., where he represented the mining industry, mine trade associations, mine operators and individual mine foremen and supervisors.
But after years of defending the industry, he said he gained an appreciation for the miners themselves. Means said he was disturbed by things within the system that he believed to be harmful to miners.
“A dangerous, unsafe miner could endanger his colleagues,” Mean said. “And that disturbs me a lot.”
Means believed two main changes were needed within the 1977 Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) Act: the whistleblower protections and giving MSHA the assignment of investigating mine accidents. He said these two things should be addressed and brought to light. Means said these things could lead to unsafe conditions in the mine.
For example, he said, miners can make complaints as many times as they’d like, despite it being valid or invalid. With the whistleblower protection, he said that if the complainant has witnesses, they can take it to MSHA or their supervisors in case they are ever fired or terminated, and the case will be dropped. Meanwhile, they could have been an unsafe and dangerous worker. This, Means said, can be a direct danger to other miners whom they work with.
He said that he could’ve written legal briefs and sent letters to Congress, but he feared that no one would’ve listened. So, he decided to do something a little different.
“I thought, wait a minute,” he said. “If I wrote a suspenseful novel, a legal thriller, that basically showed through the lives of miners and through the lives of MSHA personnel how these flaws endanger miners’ health and safety, that it would get people’s attention.”
Means said he hopes his effort, “Copper Canyon,” will inspire those who read it to work to make changes within the industry.
“I hope that it would grab readers and make them write to their congressmen, send copies of the book to people on the (Capitol) Hill and try to generate some momentum for reform of the Mine Act,” he explained.
The novel is a work of fiction that is based on the dangers within the mine industry that he believes should be reformed. He said that much of the story takes place in West Virginia and even two chapters at the MSHA Academy in Beckley.
It took Means a year to write the entire draft of the thriller, but another year and a half to rewrite and revise it. He said his wife and sons helped to revise it and turn it more into the story that was released in September.
“They said, ‘Too much law in here,’” Means said, laughing. “I took out a lot. There’s still some in there.
“...My wife is a great writer,” he added. “She made some suggestions and helped me develop the characters a little more fully.”
So much so, Means said, that there is potential to have a sequel to the book and continue some of the characters’ stories.
“Even after I was done with it, I still thought, ‘Oh, I should’ve explored this theme or that theme,’” he explained. “I hope this will be popular enough that I can write a sequel and can pick up some things I didn’t include in the first book, as well as develop some of the characters beyond the facts that take place in the book.”
Once he finished writing and revising “Copper Canyon,” Means used Amazon to publish his book. Now, his novel can be read and purchased on Amazon and Kindle. The cover was designed by one of his sons.
Although becoming an author was never among Means’ plans, he said he hopes “Copper Canyon” can help enact change.
“I hoped it would be entertaining,” he said, “and at the same time, compelling, and would help expose these problems with the Mine Act.”