CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When Parkersburg native Anne Black Gray told a writer she met at UCLA she was working on a book of historical fiction on the Hatfield and McCoy feud, he was instantly dismissive.
"What are you writing about those people for?" he asked. "They're just cartoon characters."
Gray laughs. "He didn't even think they were real."
But Devil Anse Hatfield and Randall McCoy, their wives, daughters, sons and their many other relatives, were quite real. They also were far from the two-dimensional stereotypes that have spawned a thousand pop-culture caricatures.
Gray's book is part of a wave of renewed focus on the feud, including the History Channel series "The Hatfields and McCoys: An American Vendetta," starring Kevin Costner, which begins May 28, and an episode of "American Pickers" airing Monday, which considers the authenticity of Hatfield artifacts found in an old West Virginia general store.
Gray, who now lives in Los Angeles, is back in her home state this week to introduce the fruits of her labors and to talk about a novel that is a work of imaginative re-focusing.
"The Devil's Son: Cap Hatfield and the End of the Hatfield and McCoy Feud" was released earlier this month by Woodland Press of Chapmanville. Gray will sign copies of the book at Books-a-Million at Dudley Farms Plaza on Corridor G from 6 to 8 p.m. today, and on Saturday from 2 to 5 p.m. at Books-a-Million at the Huntington Mall, in Barboursville.
"I've tried to put flesh and blood on these people and how the families felt bearing children with bullets flying around," said Gray.
She spoke by phone from a book-release tour that took her to Logan, one of the feud's focal points. The feud mostly played out in the 1880s in the Tug Valley, with the Hatfields on the West Virginia side of the Tug River and the McCoy family on the Kentucky side.
The feud led to the killing of about a dozen people and the wounding of 10 others. Less well known is the influential U.S. Supreme Court ruling on due process and extradition that came as West Virginia and Kentucky sparred mightily over the feud's legal ramifications.
Gray's research included numerous histories and memoirs, two master's degree theses and countless old newspaper articles. She was inspired by her own family history, as she had grandparents and aunts in Logan she visited as a child who spoke of her grandfather's friend, "Uncle Cap."
Since Gray's grandfather was a reserved person -- a lawyer, judge and mayor -- she assumed "Uncle Cap" was like him, she said. "I was really surprised when I grew up that 'Uncle Cap' was Cap Hatfield, known as the most savage killer in the Hatfield clan."
Once she plunged into feud history, she found a maelstrom of competing narratives, gaps and unknowns. As West Virginia Humanities Council director Ken Sullivan summed up the feud in the West Virginia Encyclopedia:
"Various explanations have been offered, including differences originating in the Civil War and strains caused by the rapid industrialization of the region. None adequately explains the depth of bitterness and the amount of blood shed between neighbors on the Tug Fork."
Gray was determined to try her hand at imagining how the feud peaked, then receded. "There was agreement on certain instances and controversy on others, and not much in between," he said.
The characters, events and settings depicted in the book are faithful to the way the feud played out historically. The conversations, motives and many other happenings are fictional, she said.
For example, it is known that, as he matured, Cap Hatfield -- wishing to protect Hatfield family fortunes through the courts and no longer through gunfire and confrontation, as was his "Pappy's way" -- chose to attend law school in Knoxville.