MU graduate tells tale of landfills and memories

Friday, December 19, 2008 | 2:53 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — MU graduate Tom McCartney has written a novel 14 years in the making. "Poisoned Roots" is a fictionalized account of his mother's struggle against construction of a large landfill in northeastern Missouri.

"I'd like to say it happened quickly, but it was a long process," McCartney said. "It started right after my mother died."

McCartney began "Poisoned Roots," his first book, in 1994, and has worked on it on and off for more than a decade, going through at least three full drafts. It was published in September 2008 by Tyborne Hill.

The book is concerned with the affect of landfills on small communities and the environment. A character based on McCartney, one based on his nephew and an FBI agent investigating the landfill's connections to organized crime continue the fight started by his mother, Kathleen, against the landfill's placement after her death.

Tom McCartney, a 1971 graduate in agricultural journalism, said he chose the fictional approach in the interest of environmental advocacy. "Just telling the story unto itself wouldn't draw the interest I wanted," he said.

He calls the focus of his book, landfills, timely. "I don't think any of us can be self-righteous about garbage," McCartney said, referring to the proliferation of landfills across the U.S. and the interstate transportation of garbage that could be recycled.

"Being a Missouri farm boy, not being wasteful was just an ethic I had," he said. "You use stuff, you don't waste it."

McCartney was new to fiction, and especially the lengthy process of writing a book, having worked mostly in public relations and commercial writing. "It's quite an endeavor, you really gotta stick to it," he said.

The book is as much a return to his own roots as it is an environmental statement and a tribute to his mother.  "I had some wonderful memories of Missouri," McCartney said, "and I really wanted to document them."

McCartney, 59, makes his home in Pittsburgh, where he runs a public relations firm, McCartney and Associations. It focuses on nutrition and health foods. He enjoyed his time at MU. "I wanted to go for the agriculture program, but was pleased to see that they also had one of the finest journalism schools in the world," McCartney said.

His first book has proven to be a labor of love. "I would like to think I'd write another book," he said, "if I get the time."

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