Montreat prof writes sequel to ‘One Second After’

Fred McCormick

Six and a half years ago, the novel “One Second After” by Montreat history professor and local author William Forstchen painted a vivid and dramatic portrait of what life could look like following an electromagnetic pulse attack on the United States.

Detonated by a nuclear bomb above the earth’s atmosphere, an attack like that could render modern electronics useless.

The book, which reached number 11 on The New York Times Best Seller fiction list, highlights the perils an American town might face after an electrical grid failure due to an EMP. Making the tale even more eerie for residents of the Swannanoa Valley is that “One Second After” is set in Black Mountain.

Now Forstchen has written a sequel.“One Year After,” released on Sept. 15, picks up the story one year after its predecessor ended.

Forstchen moved to Black Mountain in the early 1990s after finishing the final year of his doctorate at Purdue University. He has been a history professor at Montreat College for more than 20 years.

During that time, Forstchen has written about 50 books. “One Second After,” which has sold more than 100,000 copies in 12 countries, was the first book set in his hometown.

“I was first approached on writing a book about EMP in 2004. I’m friends with Newt Gingrich, and we had written some books together,” he said. “A congressional report had just come out on the threat of EMP in 2004. I met with the chair of that committee, Roscoe Bartlett, and he challenged me in terms of why there was not a stronger response to the threat of EMPs.”

Forstchen’s experiences at Montreat College influenced the book’s formulation.

“I was sitting at our college graduation ceremony, and I’m looking at my students,” he said. “Montreat is the type of college where you know every kid that walks across that stage. I feel like God whispered in my ear. It was ‘Write about us. Write about my town, write about my neighbors. Write about my students and friends.’”

Forstchen decided to write “One Second After” based on how he felt the close-knit community of Black Mountain would respond to such a crisis. The result is a harrowing tale of a community adapting to loss.

Forstchen interviewed various people in and around Black Mountain in an effort to add authenticity to his first book.

“I spent a couple of hours with (Montreat Police chief) Jack Staggs finding out what would happen,” Forstchen said. “I went down to the pharmacy, and a pharmacist there at that time started running down some of the more tragic possibilities.”

The line between fiction and reality is blurred, as Forstchen frequently weaves familiar landmarks, location and people into both books. The neighbor of the protagonist of both books shares a name with Forstchen’s friend Lee Robinson.

As the protagonist ponders his surroundings in the opening pages of “One Second After,” he expresses a thought that Forstchen himself has had on many occasions.

“I remember walking up Cherry Street for one of the first times and thinking ‘I live in a Norman Rockwell painting,’” he said. “And that’s how I came up with that line before he walks into the store. Town Hardware plays a big role in book number two. All of these places I am emotionally connected to.”