free hit
counters

Nicholas Sparks

The Greenville Journal
Greenville, SC
“Author to Author”
The Author: Nicholas Sparks
The Book: The Lucky One (Grand Central Publishing)

Nicholas Sparks is the author of 14 New York Times bestsellers. Several of his novels have been adapted into major motion pictures, including The Notebook, A Walk to Remember, Message in a Bottle and Nights in Rodanthe. Sparks graduated valedictorian of his class from Bella Vista High School in California, and received a full track and field scholarship to the University of Notre Dame. A former resident of Simpsonville, he wrote The Notebook at age 28 while working as a pharmaceutical salesman. The novel was published in October 1996 and quickly made the New York Times best-seller list. A major financial contributor to the creative writing masters program at Notre Dame, Sparks recently donated nearly $900,000 for a high school track program in New Bern, North Carolina. He lives with his wife and five children in North Carolina.

Nights in Rodanthe (now a movie starring Richard Gere and Diane Lane) centers on a middle-aged couple, rather than an older couple (The Notebook) or younger characters. What was it like writing a love story about middle-aged characters?

To that point in my career, it was different, and as such, a nice change of pace. Prior to that, the characters either tended to be teens (A Walk to Remember), couples in their twenties or early thirties (The Rescue, A Bend in the Road) and older (The Notebook).

Writing about middle-aged characters had a few challenges, but nothing extraordinary. The main issue I had to keep in mind was that both Paul and Adrienne had issues with their children and made sure that played into the love story in the appropriate way.

You’re quoted as saying The Lucky One started with a simple image of a marine finding a photograph, and it grew from there. Do your novels usually start with an image that intrigues or inspires you?

Sometimes it’s an image, sometimes it’s a character’s voice, sometimes it’s an idea for the conflict that keeps them apart, sometimes it’s a character. It depends on the specific story, but for the most part, even if inspiration strikes, it never fills in the blanks for the vast majority of the story. The rest of the story comes through active thought, considering outcomes, and trying to imagine what the story will be like when it’s completed.

The Lucky One involves the war in Iraq. A previous novel, Dear John, did as well. How did you go about researching combat in Iraq for both novels? I read books, I read articles, I talk to people. Nothing out of the ordinary. Still, I like to make them as accurate as I can because I know that if I make errors (and I’m sure I do), I’ll receive tons of letters from veterans telling me what I got wrong.

Picasso once said, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” That certainly seems to be true in your case. You manage an incredibly disciplined schedule of writing 2,000 words a day, You read more than 100 books a year.

Do you ever experience lags in creativity, the stress of looming deadlines, “writer’s block”? How do you cope?

I hate deadlines. I think all writers do, because creativity can’t be turned on and off like a switch. All novels have their share of “writing that isn’t hard” and “writing that is hard”: originality and creativity is always, always challenging. I just do my best to keep things in perspective. At 2,000 words a day, I always know in the back of my mind that it means I have to write 120,000 words or so to reach the 90,000 words that end up in the final draft. That’s only 60 days of writing. Usually, it takes 120-175 days to get those 60 days, but that knowledge is enough to keep me fairly balanced about the whole thing.

Your website is a rich resource for writers who want to learn more about the process of writing. For example, you mention, “After coming up with an original idea, structure is always the most difficult part of crafting a love story.” Do you usually outline your novels? Are there other trusted readers who read your work before your editor sees your manuscript?

I don’t usually outline my novels because it doesn’t seem to work for me. As long as I know, in general terms, what the story is going to be, I’m able to start writing. That’s just me; there is no correct way to do this, and I’ve learned that every writer is different. As for readers who see my work before the editor? Only one. My agent, Theresa Park. If it gets past her, trust me, it’s a good novel. She’s probably the most intelligent person I’ve ever met.

You’ve said that, “Publishing is a business. Writing may be art, but publishing, when all is said and done, comes down to dollars.” You’re one of the most successful and prolific authors working today, and yet you’re also quoted as saying, “I don't know that I love to write these days.” Does writing ever get easier for you? Is the process of writing each novel different?

Writing is easier in some ways, and more challenging in others. It’s harder to be original, for instance, since I’ve already written on a number of topics. It’s hard to be original in the specifics, since my characters have experienced a number of different ways of falling in love. It’s easier in that the quality of my writing has improved over the years, and that’s a goal I set for myself long ago.

You are as loyal to your readers as they are to you. You mentioned that you “don’t want my readers to think I had strayed too far from the type of novels that I originally wrote. Many authors do exactly that -- stray too far -- and lose readers in the long run for doing so.” Can you see yourself ever departing from the love-story/tragedy genre and writing an entirely different kind of fiction? (Perhaps, as Stephen King has, under a nom de plume?)

Three Weeks with My Brother was a memoir, and I wrote an original screenplay last year. I’m also writing another screenplay this year, though I can’t say much more about it. As for writing a thriller or a horror or an adventure . . . I suppose I could, but I have no desire to do so. Many other authors do those things very well, so there’s no reason for me to do it. I’d rather stretch the love-story genre by incorporating different elements; danger, or the supernatural, for instance. Which I did in The Guardian and True Believe respectively.

You’re quoted as saying that there are three ways a novel becomes a bestseller: the Oprah Book Club, critical acclaim, or word-of- mouth, and that “Over time, quality work will lead to an audience for your work. In the end, readers always choose.” From your perspective, do you see the digital world, print-on- demand technology, the Internet, the blogosphere, etc. opening newavenues or limiting opportunities for books and authors—our society’s stories and storytellers?

Both. But always, in the end, it comes down to the book, the author and the quirks of fate. People like to “curl up” with books. I just don’t see a computer ever being able to do that.

Mindy Friddle is author of The Garden Angel, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick and SIBA bestseller. Her second novel, Secret Keepers, is forthcoming from St. Martin’s Press.

Valerie Ann Leff

Author to Author with Mindy Friddle
The Author: Valerie Ann Leff
The Book: Better Homes and Husbands (St. Martin’s Press, 2004;
paperback, 2005) by Valerie Ann Leff

What's it like to be a novelist living in the South--with a book set in New York City? Asheville, NC resident and New York City native Valerie Ann Leff, author of Better Homes and Husbands, admits “The South has its own literary culture, and I feel like an oddball. Yet I've also been amazed by the warm reception southern readers and
reviewers have given Better Homes and Husbands. I think what's
important is that readers everywhere can relate to the characters in
the novel. Someone in Asheville said to me, ‘Really, the nonsense that
goes on in that building is just like a small Southern town!’ “
Better Homes and Husbands, just out in paperback, is a stylish, richly
woven novel about class and caste feuds, played out with ferocity
and etiquette in a posh New York apartment building during the
tumultuous period of social change between 1970 and 2000. Leff grew
up in New York City on Fifth Avenue and now lives in Asheville,
North Carolina, where she is co-founder and co-director of the Great
Smokies Writing Program at UNC--Asheville. Better Homes and
Husbands– set in a fictional Park Avenue building similar to her
former home – is her first novel.
“From the time I was nine years old until I left for college, I lived at
1040 Fifth Avenue -- the same building as Jacqueline Onassis and
other prominent families,” Leff said. “We were very ordinary by
comparison. My mother grew up in poverty and, at fourteen became
one of the eight original June Taylor dancers; my father was a textile
manufacturer.”
Leff attended a girls' prep school in Manhattan and graduated from
Sarah Lawrence College where she studied Italian. After college, she
moved to Milan, Italy and found a job in the fashion industry. By
1988, “really, really sick of the fashion world,” Leff moved to Los
Angeles and studied Physical Geography and worked as an
environmental activist. “That was when I started writing, too. The
writing took over. I did it for self-discovery and personal expression -
- a mental health tool. Eventually, I recognized that I found more
fulfillment and joy in writing than in anything else I'd ever done and
started to experiment with writing fiction.”
Class, ethnicity, and the American Dream are all themes handled
deftly in Better Homes and Husbands. “But it wasn't until the book was
finished that I understood its underlying themes,” Leff said. “They
surprised me. Then I thought -- well, your mother grew up on
welfare, your father grew up wealthy. You are half-protestant and
half-Jewish. You married a carpenter in North Carolina and chose to
adopt a child from Guatemala and become a multi-racial family. So
it's no wonder that issues of class, ethnicity, legacy and identity are
central to Better Homes and Husbands.”
Leff spent last summer on book tour with her husband, toddler son,
and teenaged stepdaughter. “My son head-butted me and broke my
nose our last day in Los Angeles -- fortunately the day after I gave
my first television interview. I showed up to my San Francisco
readings with a giant black eye that no make-up could hide and a
splitting headache. Had my life changed? Yes! “
Leff is currently at work on a novel set on a remote island in British
Columbia, Canada. “I'm also halfway through a collection of short
stories all set in the West -- places like Los Angeles, Wyoming, the
northern coast of California,” she said, adding the new material is “a
lot edgier than Better Homes and Husbands; the feeling is
contemporary and a little bit weird.”
Leff offers encouraging words to other writers: “I think in writing,
revising, publishing and promoting your work, talent is 10% of it and
tenacity the other 90%. Just keep showing up to the work, and don't
let self-doubt stop you.”
Mindy Friddle is the author of the novel “The Garden Angel” (St. Martin’s
Press/Picador.) Visit her website, www.mindyfriddle.com, for more information
on writing and publishing.

Tommy Hays

Author to Author

The Author: Tommy Hays
The book: THE PLEASURE WAS MINE
by Tommy Hays. St. Martin's Press, $24.95

tommy_hays_by_mauney_270.jpg

After his father was diagnosed with Alzheimers several years ago, Tommy Hays wrote about the experience, hoping to document his father’s life and harness the family’s grief. He wrote 300 pages. And then he threw those pages out.

Hays found his memoir so dark, “I couldn’t do it anymore. Dad was at a nursing home by then.  I felt so down. So I made a big fictional leap.” After deciding to embark on writing a novel that included a character with Alzheimers, Hays “felt free to write about feelings, and not be weighted down by truth. Fiction freed me up.”

“The Pleasure Was Mine,” the result of that fictional leap, was published in March by St. Martin’s Press. The novel, Hay’s third, features protagonist Prate Marshbanks, a retired housepainter whose wife of 50 years, Irene, is suffering from Alzheimer's. While tending to her, Marshbanks agrees to keep his 9-year-old grandson, Jackson, for the summer while the boy's widowed father, Prate's son, visits an artists colony. That their marriage not only survived for fifty years, but flourished, is a source of constant wonder to the plain-spoken, occasionally cantankerous, Prate, who reflects: “How in the world did a tall, thin, fair-skinned beauty and one of the most respected high school English teachers in all of Greenville County, in all of South Carolina for that matter, wind up married to a short, dark, fat-faced, jug-eared house painter?”

A graduate of Greenville High School and Furman University, Hays serves as Executive Director of the Great Smokies Writing Program in Asheville, NC and Director of Creative Writing for the Academy at the South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities. “The Pleasure Was Mine” is set in Greenville, and local readers will recognize familiar landmarks such as Jones Gap, Pete’s Drive-in, and Travelers Rest.

The novel has drawn the kind of glowing reviews that prompt writers and their editors to break out the bubbly. The Atlanta Journal Constitution calls the novel, “A beautifully drawn portrait of tragic loss and transcendent love,” while The Charlotte Observer pronounces it “charming, unpretentious… deeply engaging.”  Kirkus and Publishers Weekly both gave the novel starred reviews, a coveted and uncommon honor. Walter Edgar has recently begun reading “The Pleasure Was Mine” on SC-Public Radio's "Southern Read" at noon on Sundays.

Not bad for a novel that “scared a lot of people off,” Hays said. His former publisher, Random House, passed when his editor there felt “Alzheimer’s was too depressing” a subject for a novel. Hays’ agent later sold the manuscript to St. Martin’s Press.   

“People assume the third book is easier to write and to publish, but it’s not,” Hays said. His first novel, "Sam's Crossing," received a glowing notice in the New York Times Book Review; his second, "In the Family Way," won the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Award in 2000. “Each book is subject to market forces. I’m doing even more now with my third novel,” he said, adding that he is taking the initiative on booking himself at events, touring, and networking with booksellers. For the first time, he has a website www.tommyhays.com, vital to authors these days for posting excerpts, events, and providing quick contact via email from booksellers and readers.

“The business part of writing is important and consuming, and I can see some people aren’t comfortable wit that,” he said. “But you have to contain it eventually,” and get back to the isolated world of writing.

Hays,who lives with his wife, Connie, a family therapist, and their two children in Asheville, began a “checkered career” after college as reporter and editor at a number of weekly newspapers, from Fountain Inn to Connecticut. Meanwhile, he found himself writing “bad, bad, bad” stories and 200 pages of a “bad, bad” novel. He eventually enrolled in the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers, where he worked with writers such as Francine Prose and Robert Boswell. He wrote another novel, “Sam’s Crossing,” and landed a New York agent.

Nothing happened. The agent held onto his manuscript for 18 months, and after Hays called, hoping for an update on submissions, she returned the novel to him in September, 1991, with a acerbic but memorable letter, which he has kept to this day.

In it she says, “I thought I had explained - heaven knows I tried - that when there is news of your book I will be in touch with you. … I am prepared to believe that there are people in this world who respond positively to nagging, and some of them may be literary agents (although I have yet to meet one); but I am not among them. Talking with you when I have only bad news to report makes me feel like a ship’s officer on the Titanic, trying to explain to an impatient and incredulous passenger that not only will dinner be delayed, but there may well not be any dinner at all, ever …”
Hays eventually found another agent who sold“Sam’s Crossing” to Random House.
While a writer’s career, finances and emotions may have more ups and downs than an EKG, Hays, now at work on a Young Adult novel, “wouldn’t do anything else.”

“A lot of people want to make money these days,’ he says.  “But at parties people still come up to me and say, ‘Oh, I wish I’d been a writer, I’ve been thinking about writing this book in my head for years.’  I come back to that and realize I am trying to live my dream the best I can. That’s comforting.”

Quinn Dalton

Author to Author with Mindy Friddle

Quinn Dalton’s books include a novel, “High Strung” (Simon & Schuster), and two short story collections, “Bulletproof Girl” (Simon & Schuster) and “Stories from the Afterlife” (Press 53). “New Stories from the South: The Year's Best, 2006,” includes one of Dalton’s stories.

 

Author_Dalton.JPG


Quinn Dalton is downright sly when it comes to writing: “I’m like a teenager looking to sneak out when it comes to writing. I do it when I get the chance. I’m looking for the opportunity all the time and if it turns out to be 15 min, I’ll take it. That said, some days I don’t get a window at all. It’s OK—you get to do a lot of writing in your head, too, thank goodness.”

At 36, Dalton has written a novel and short story collection, both of which were published by Simon & Schuster. A third collection of short stories, "Stories from the Afterlife," was published in November by Press 53. Dozens of her short stories have appeared in literary magazines. Her essays and articles have appeared in publications such as Poets & Writers, The Writer magazine, and Media Bistro. She is equally savvy when it comes to new media; her name regularly appears on literature blogs across North America.

How does she do it? Dalton, who lives in Greensboro, NC with her husband and two young daughters, keeps several projects—nonfiction and fiction—going at once. “If I get stuck on one thing I can turn to something else,” she said. “The nonfiction I write is usually centered around business articles or writing craft—I find nonfiction isn’t that difficult because you have a point to make. With fiction, long or short, you don’t necessarily know what the thing will become. So in that way it’s harder because you have to have faith. With a novel, I think it’s more of a day-to-day relationship. You have to show up every day. But the work doesn’t disappear if you decide you need to take a break.”

Dalton will be in Greenville to lead a seminar, “Pitching and Placing Your Writing,” for the Writing Room on January 13, where she plans to share strategies about sending work out. For example, she keeps a list of publications to target her submissions. “I send to magazines that have a shorter response, less than three to four months. I avoid magazines that object to simultaneous submissions. From there, the page length of my submission and the times when magazines are accepting submissions narrows down the list further. I tend to send a story at least four to five places at one time.”

There’s a crucial point to keep in mind when submitting articles and essays, as opposed to fiction, she said. “When you pitch nonfiction, you’re pitching an idea. You have to identify the outlet--magazine or broadcast, for example--and the journalist/editor who will be most responsive, and angle the pitch to their needs. It’s not easier, but I think it’s more straightforward than placing fiction.”

Dalton also reminds writers their work doesn’t stop upon publication. When her collection, “Stories from the Afterlife,“ was published by Press 53, she discovered the small, literary publisher in North Carolina was “more hands on, face-to-face, and in general, more fun,” than working with a large publisher. “Don’t think I wasn’t thrilled to debut with a big house (Simon & Schuster), because if that hadn’t happened, no small press would have been seeking me out. But I have enjoyed feeling more like an equal with my publisher, and figuring out what we wanted to do together rather than having it dictated to me.”

“New Stories from the South: The Year's Best, 2006” includes a story from Dalton’s “Stories From the Afterlife.” Such an honor is thrilling, Dalton said, “Especially because the editor who selected my story, Allan Gurganus, is a writer I especially admire.”


SIDEBAR: The Writing Room Offers New Workshops
Registration has begun for The Writing Room's new schedule of workshops for Upstate writers of all levels. For details and to register online visit www.emrys.org and look for "Writing Room Workshop and Seminar Schedule" on the home page. For questions, contact Mindy Friddle at mindyfriddle@yahoo.com or call 864-884-2403. Sponsored by the Emrys Foundation, the Writing Room's fourth season of workshops includes:

"Works in Progress: Focusing on Your Book Length Manuscript," a nine-week workshop for experienced writers with a book-length manuscript. Begins January 22.
.
"Creative Writing 101 Workshop," a six-week workshop that provides an excellent overview for beginners or for anyone who wants to brush up on the craft and practices of creative writing. Begins January 24.

"Writing StoriesThat Sell," a six-week Nonfiction Workshop that offers an insider’s look into the world of writing articles for newspapers and magazines. Begins February 6.

"Advanced Fiction," an eight-week worshop for students who have completed a draft of a short story and are familiar with the workshop process. Begins March 4.

"Fade In: Beginning Screenwriting," a weekend seminar covering the fundamentals for creating a well-crafted screenplay. April 19 and 20.


# # #

Joshilyn Jackson

Author to Author
The Author: Joshilyn Jackson
The book: gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson (Warner Books Hardcover; April 13, 2005; $19.95)

jacqulin.jpg

     Joshilyn Jackson is the first to admit she is “living a freaking fairy tale.” Her first novel, gods in Alabama is the lead book this spring from her publisher, Warner Books. Book Sense, the national marketing campaign on behalf of the independent bookstores of America, announced gods in Alabama as the top pick for the group’s monthly selection of new books.  Embarking on a book tour encompassing more than a dozen cities, Jackson, who lives outside Atlanta with her husband and two children, is enjoying not just being published, but being published well.
     gods in Alabama has earned accolades from seasoned writers such as Adriana Trigiani and Cassandra King. Part murder mystery, and featuring a sardonic, headstrong heroine, the novel offers an intriguing premise: Arlene Fleet, when she headed off to college in Chicago, made three promises to God: She would never again lie, she would stop fornicating, and she'd never go back to her tiny hometown of Possett, Alabama (the "fourth rack of Hell"). All God had to do in exchange was to make sure the body of high school quarterback Jim Beverly was never found. Ten years later, Arlene has kept her promises, but an old schoolmate has recently turned up asking questions. And now Arlene’s African-American beau has given her a tough ultimatum: introduce him to her family, or he’s gone.
     “I think there are deeper themes beyond the murder mystery, the mother daughter conflict, the pathological liar,” Jackson said about her literary novel. “There’s another level about the power of redemption, about how we find our way back to grace,” a theme about which the southern author, who holds an English degree from Georgia State University and MA in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago, often finds herself writing.
     Jackson’s publisher sent her on a “presale tour” in January, months before her publication date, giving her the opportunity to meet face to face with numerous booksellers all over the country. Advertisements were placed in trade journals such as Publishers Weekly, and an aggressive marketing campaign planned, which pushed for reviews in newspapers and magazines.  Such support of a debut novel from a publisher is uncommon, and it can make a real difference in a writer’s career. But Jackson has kept her eyes open, feet firmly grounded. Realistic. “I know what happens with most first novels,” she said. “Writing is not just an artsy pursuit. Most first novelists are lucky to sell a few thousand copies and you’re happy.  I didn’t expect all this.”
     How did “all this” happen? Jackson recounts how her editor at Warner had “everyone” (in the publishing house) read the manuscript of gods in Alabama. “I went up to New York several times,” Jackson said, “and I met the foreign rights department, the marketing and publicity people, the sales reps. Everyone was reading gods in Alabama. Before I knew it, it was named Warner’s lead book for spring.” The lesson? “My editor was a rabid enthusiast. You get the right editor for your book, and everyone in house gets excited.”
    Any fairy tale is not without its shadowy specters, however, and Jackson’s challenge was making her way through the prickly forest of rejection before she landed her current two-book deal with Warner. A children’ book she’d co-written was nixed by publishers. Undeterred, Jackson began writing a novel in 1999. By then a young mother, Jackson would send her husband and toddler son away to her parents’ or in-laws for the weekend in order to hold “Writers Prison. I would write all weekend in my pajamas in the quiet of the house.”  That novel was shopped around by her agent, but had no takers, although a few editors came close.
     “Not this book, yet. But this writer,” is the message she came away with. “Oh, those kinds of rejection letters are harder than flat out rejections,” she said. “People say if you’re writing a good book, good literature will find success. That’s true to a point. But you have to be tenacious. Unable to stop. The word ‘no’—I don’t hear it.”
     By the time gods in Alabama sold to Warner, Jackson said she realized, “There’s a lot more to the job than writing the book and waiting for acceptance.”  These days, she’s discovered “There are parts of being a novelist I love. I loved my pre-sale tour. I love meeting people. I’m extroverted. I’ll talk to anyone. Of course, I don’t like rejection and I leave the business side to my agent.”
     Happily ever after? For now, maybe, but Joshilyn Jackson isn’t resting on her laurels. Her second book, Between, Georgia will be published by Warner next year. Meanwhile, traveling on her book tour with a laptop, Jackson is completing her third novel. “It’s such a pleasure to write novel—to get in the ‘zone’ of writing,” she said. “If no one ever published me, I’d still be writing.”

Mindy Friddle is the author of the novel “The Garden Angel” (St. Martin’s Press/Picador.) Visit her website, www.mindyfriddle.com, for more information on writing and publishing.

 

 

Gilbert Allen

Author to Author: with Mindy Friddle

The Book: “A Millennial Sampler of South Carolina Poetry”
Edited by Gilbert Allen and William Rogers
(Ninety-Six Press, $20)

The Event: A celebration of“A Millennial Sampler of South Carolina Poetry”  Sunday, August 28 at 7:30 PM at the Coffee Underground. Admission is free.

Twenty-two of the 46 poets in “A Millennial Sampler of South Carolina Poetry”plan to read for three to five minutes each. Kimberly Simms, organizer of the Wits End Poetry Series, will be hosting the event. Poets scheduled to appear include: Bill Aarnes, Gil Allen, Fred Bassett, Wayne Cox, Phebe Davidson, Gene Fehler, Linda Ferguson, Keller Freeman, Vera Gomez, Aly Goodwin, Linda Lee Harper, Angela Kelly, John Lane, Joel McCollough, Ray McManus, Susan Meyers, Ron Moran, Rick Mulkey, Alex Richardson, Kimberly Simms, Ryan Van Cleave, and Marjory Wentworth (South Carolina's current poet laureate).

allen.jpg

     Obsessed! Smitten! Poets are always in love.
     With language, that is.
     As Gilbert Allen, poet and co-editor of “A Millennial Sampler of South Carolina Poetry” points out, those who read or write poetry (and who hasn’t attempted a poem or two?) always do so for love: “love of the process of writing, love of a poem's particular subject, love of poetic form, or love of language itself.”
     “A Millennial Sampler of South Carolina Poetry,” the latest anthology from Ninety-Six Press, includes 145 poems by 46 of South Carolina's most prominent poets. The anthology, with poetry ranging from melancholicto comic, tender to boisterous, “serves asa snap shot of recent American verse,” said Allen.  
     Allen, along with Bill Rogers, both professors of English at Furman University, founded the Ninety-Six Press in 1991.  “Both Bill and I knew South Carolina poets who were publishing individual poems in some of the finest literary journals in the country--yet were having trouble placing a book manuscript,” Allen said.  “We wanted to do something to improve the situation.”
And indeed they did. In 14 years, Ninety-Six Press has published 11 collections of verse, with a number of titles from individual poets. “Poetry is alive and well--in South Carolina and in Greenville,” Allen said.
     Allen, a New York native who lives in Travelers Rest with his wife, Barbara, is himself an accomplished poet. He has lectured about poetry and read his own work at colleges, literary festivals, and libraries throughout the Southeast and has appeared frequently on South Carolina Public Radio, most recently on SouthWords and Your Day.   His collections of poems include In Everything (Lotus, 1982), Second Chances (Orchises, 1991) and Commandments at Eleven (Orchises, 1994). His fourth book, Driving to Distraction (Orchises, 2003), was featured on Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac, which airs on National Public Radio.
That is big news.  Garrison Keillor functions as a sort “Oprah Winfrey” of the poetry world, introducing listeners from around the world to a few poems every week.
     “Keillor’s assistant telephoned to say he'd enjoyed my most recent book, ‘Driving to Distraction,’ and wanted to feature a poem from it on the show,” Allen said, admitting the “call came out of no where.” Allen found himself spending the better part of a week answering the letters and emails he received from people who'd heard his poem read on the program. “ I thought Keillor voiced my poem ("Sonnet $9.95") very well,” Allen said. So did throngs of listeners to the show.
     After a sabbatical leave last year funded by the Mellon Foundation and Furman University, Allen is now editing a new anthology of contemporary South Carolina poetry and working on a new collection of his own poems.          
     For closet poets out there who secretly scribble verse on coffee breaks and are scared stiff to show it to anyone, Allen has encouraging words:
     “First of all, there's no reason you HAVE to show it to anyone.  There's nothing wrong in writing just for yourself--just like there's nothing wrong with jogging rather than running the Boston Marathon, or with cycling in the local park rather than in the Tour de France.”  Those who welcome “a public dimension,” might consider joining writers' groups, creative-writing classes, or finding a few like-minded friends to provide feedback. And don’t forget poetry readings. “Poetry is what gives those of us who can't sing something to do,” joked Allen.
     “A Millennial Sampler of South Carolina Poetry” is available at The Open Book, at Furman's University store, or directly from the Ninety-Six Press. Copies will be available for purchase at the Coffee Underground reading on August 28.


Mindy Friddle is the author of the novel “The Garden Angel” (St. Martin’s Press/Picador.) Visit her website, www.mindyfriddle.com, for more information on writing and publishing.


# # #

George Singleton

Author to Author

The Author:  George Singleton
The Book: “Novel” (Harcourt)

     George Singleton’s writing career took off at the Pickens Flea Market. There, as part of aspecial report on southern writers and musicians in August 2001, a reporter and sound crew from National Public Radio (NPR)  visited Singleton, and followed him around the flea market, with microphones and boom in tow, recording his witty off-the-cuff remarks. Until then, Singleton, a respected short story writer with fiction published in noted magazines and literary journals such as The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, Playboy, Zoetrope, The Southern Review, The Georgia Review, as well as the annual anthology, “New Stories from the South,”  was nevertheless a well-kept secret. The radio spot sealed his reputation as “the king of the comic southern short story,” and catapulted him a new orbit of fame. “After that, everythingjust flew,” he said, Singleton, who teaches fiction writing at the S.C. Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities, isa native of Greenwood, and a graduate of Furman University. He holds a master of fine arts degree from the University of North Carolina Greensboro. A collector of ashtrays and yardsticks, (thanks to the Pickens Flea market) Singleton lives in Dacusville with the clay artist Glenda Guion,, along with their ten dogs, one cat and a snapping turtle.
     Singleton’s latest book and debut novel is called, well, “Novel.”  Published by Harcourt,  it’s just hitting bookstores. Last September, his third story collection, “Why Dogs Chase Cars,”  about a boy growing up in the tiny backwater town of Forty-Five, South Carolina, was published to much acclaim. (The New York Times said, “Singleton's hilarious insights come early and often.”) His previous books include“These People are Us” published in March 2001, followed in September 2002 by “TheHalf-Mammals of Dixie.”
     “Novel “ is set in the fictional town of Gruel, S.C., where a professional snake handler named Novel (his brother's name is James; his sister's is Joyce) stumbles across a decades-old town secret. Described as “full of Southern mischief and wit,” the publisher calls it “a crazed and crazy fictional whirlwind of drinking, motel-living, art-forgery-committing, pool-playing redneck charm.” Like his previous story collections, Singleton’s novel is written with affection for southern people who are trying hard to make sense of modern absurdities.
     In fact, in his novels and stories alike, Singleton manages to be funny, irreverent and empathetic all at the same time:  A bouncer videotapes an episode of Bonanza over his wife's sonogram. A boy’s reputation is ruined when he appears in a head-lice documentary. Clearly, George Singleton is an author who uses humor for cathartic effect.  "Singleton's relentlessly offbeat stories are a miasma of flea markets, palm readers, bowling alleys, and alligators," exclaims Entertainment Weekly. Or, as a bookseller at Olsson's Books and Records, Washington D.C. has noted, "This is not your mother's Southern fiction."
     The Atlanta Journal Constitution has already selected “Novel” as a summer read. Upcoming articles and reviews are scheduled in magazines such as Southern Living, Poets & Writers, and in newspapers from Portland, Oregon, to Seattle, to New Orleans.
Previously published by Algonquin, Singleton was wooed away to Harcourt, a bigger publishing house, with promises of bigger prints runs, more money and a sizeable publicity push. His book tour, which kicks off next week, includes stops in North Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, Washington, California and Oregon.
     “My publicist said if the book does well through the fall, they’dsend me out on another tour, ‘ he said. “I said, ‘Hey I’ve got a good idea. Ifthis book is doing well in the fall, how about I get to stay home?’” Yet, Singleton admits the book tour is important, and he’s up for it. He actually enjoys doing public readings. “But I try not to too distracted a lot by the business of publishing,” he said.
     Singleton is disciplined and writes every day. “In the old days I’d write 1000 words a day. Now 600 words a day is my new goal.”  Singleton estimates he’s written “hundreds of stories,” and until a few years ago, about one in four were published. In the last four years, just about all of the stories he writes are accepted for publication. Rejection, however, is par for the course: “When a rejection comes in, I put that story back in the mail to another magazine that same day,” he said. At last count, he has110 published stories. His next story collection, forthcoming form Harcourt, is called “Drowning in Gruel.” He’s already writing his next novel.
     Singleton credits his writing success, in part, to being “stupid and stubborn.  It’s as if you’re asking a woman on a date for ten years and she keeps rejecting you, and you keep asking.”  Never easy or rational, “writing,” he explained, “is about keeping going and being hard-headed.”
 
Mindy Friddle is the author of the novel “The Garden Angel” (St. Martin’s Press/Picador.) Visit her website, www.mindyfriddle.com, for more information on writing and publishing.

 

Dot Jackson

Dot Jackson

Author to Author

The Author: Dot Jackson
The Book: “Refuge” (Novello Festival Press)


     Dot Jackson’s debut novel, “Refuge,” has just been published by Novello Festival Press, and the 73-year old is still pinching herself: “Now in my antiquity, it is kind of like waking up with a newborn baby in my bed! Surprise, surprise!”
     After working for more than 40 years as a journalist, including 15 years as an award-winning investigative reporter for the Charlotte Observer where she was awarded the National Conservation Writer of the Year, Jackson has plenty of experience writing nonfiction. But a novel? Because she wrote for newspapers most of her life, she said, “I just assumed that fiction was never my thing.”
     But a family scandal--with its innuendo and tidbits of facts-- provided an irresistible opportunity for trying her hand at fiction. The seeds of “Refuge” were planted many years ago when an elderly relative told her about a scandalous adventure committed by a cousin, a girl of about 17. “I knew ‘adventure’ for a woman back then could only mean sex,” Jackson quips.
     Since the novel’s origins were “sort of anchored in truth, that helped me, at least in the beginning,” she said, adding that she started writing the novel thirty years ago. She couldn’t get the story out of her mind, she said, perhaps “because we are Southern we are sort of baptized in family drama and scandal and will tell all we can get away with.” She began the draft of “Refuge”, only to find that “something interesting, and eerie, began to take over. It was as though a young woman stepped in, brushed all these lame attempts aside, and said, ‘Let ME do this. I have been there.’ "
     And that, Jackson said, was the novel’s character Mary Seneca Steele, a naive Charleston belle, runaway wife and unrepentant lover of her father's first cousin. “And the more I wrote,” Jackson said, “the more attached to Mary Sen and Ben Aaron I became, and -- as with so many wholly-factual stories about life and love and death--I began to feel, sort of fiercely, that they deserved to be heard.”

The novel tells about one night in the spring of 1929, when Mary Seneca Steele, a young Charleston society matron, goes to bed while considering what to wear for her suicide. Instead of going through with it, she takes her children and her husband’s new Auburn Phaeton and heads for the hills, in search of a new life.
     When Jackson finished the novel in the late 1970s, the typed manuscript was delivered to the publisher who had mentored it. It was rejected. “My agent took it over and thought at least twice that he had sold it. But there were glitches, and ultimately, it went under the bed,” she said.  Literally.  Until several years ago, horrified that there was but one surviving manuscript copy, Jackson’s friend, Louis Henry, took the manuscript home and put it in his refrigerator, “to thwart fire and mice,” she said. That is where it was when long-time friend and book editor Frye Gaillard remembered reading it some 30 years ago, asked to see it again, she said, and “soon after, Novello bought it.” That lone chilly manuscript is now a novel, hot off the press, drawing praise form the likes of writer Dori Sanders, who calls the book “an intensely readable novel of the complexity of family ties… Dot Jackson is a true Southern voice, a master storyteller and an Appalachian treasure.”
     Novello Festival Press is an award-winning independent literary publisher out of Charlotte, NC, with a sterling reputation for supporting its authors, and Jackson has found herself booked at a number of events.  A mentor to many writers and artists, she is a natural storyteller who never fails to draw a knot of listeners. At the Open Book recently, her signing table was crowded with friends and readers and curious customers as Jackson took her time, shaking and holding hands, gathering hugs, and laughing.
      Born in Miami, during the Depression, Jackson went to college at the University of Miami on a music scholarship, but considers herself,  “a product of a Southern Appalachian family, born and raised in exile.” She now lives in the shadows of Table Rock, where she is co-founder and on-site manager of the nonprofit Birchwood Center for Arts and Folklife. “In the case of the Appalachian exiles, we were always watchful and ready for a chance to go home,” she said. “In my own case, I was in my 50s when I finally got here. And it was so glorious.” 
     The years before she returned “home,” she married in Florida, had three children and lived in Charlotte for 22 years. In addition to the Charlotte Observer, Jackson has worked for the Greenville News and Anderson Independent Mail. One of her fondest memories, she said, is the year she won an Alicia Patterson journalism fellowship to study the economics of Southern Appalachia.
     At any rate, Jackson is both philosophical and humorous about the years it took to get “back home” to the Blue Ridge mountains where she now lives:  “Got divorced, got fired, got broke but that was okay,” she said. “Along the way, I wrote some books, lived hand to mouth, rediscovered poke sallet and blackberries and creasy greens. Then, we started Birchwood, and I moved here, into an ancient trailer my colleagues call ‘Paradise.’ They may be kidding, but I am not. I love it every bit.”
     She also loves the fact that her novel’s characters, who clamored to have their story told, are being discovered by a slew of readers.  “The sun has actually risen on these people that I spent so many years with, getting them on paper, and grew to love so much,” she said. “They now have a life.”

Mindy Friddle is the author of the novel “The Garden Angel” (St. Martin’s Press/Picador.) Visit her website, www.mindyfriddle.com, for more information on writing and publishing.

 

Curtis Sittenfeld,

Author to Author

The Author: Curtis Sittenfeld
The Book: “Prep” (Random House, 2005)

curtis2.jpg

     After spending an “amazing and incredible” day with enthusiastic creative writing students at the Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, visiting writer Curtis Sittenfeld, author of the bestselling novel, “Prep,” joked “the students here know me better than my parents.”
     Sittenfeld, 30, capped off her visit at the school on January 27 with a public reading and book signing. Her novel, optioned for film by Paramount, was recently selected by the New York Times as one of the Ten Best Books of 2005.
      “Prep” is narrated by a teen character named Lee Fiora, who surprises her middle-class, South Bend, Ind. family (her father is a mattress salesman) by applying to an exclusive Massachusetts boarding school called “Ault.”  Lee arrives at the prep school on scholarship and finds herself surrounded by an elite group: the students at Ault are the sons and daughters from some of the country’s most powerful and wealthy families.
     Ault is a cloistered world where money is never discussed but underpins everything from a laundry service that Lee can’t afford, to spring break vacations in Europe, to Ivy League college applications. Lee is marginalized, intimidated, but nevertheless fascinated by the mores of her privileged, often inscrutable classmates. It is Lee’s awkward attempts to fit in, her intense self-scrutiny, and her shrewd observations about the daily life of such an exclusive place that gives “Prep” its universal appeal. Don’t be fooled by the embossed pink-and-green ribbon belt worn across its cover: This novel provides male and female readers of all ages with an engrossing, penetrating look at class, race and gender.
     Sittenfeld, a graduate of Groton, an exclusive prep school outside Boston, attended Vassar, then transferred to Stanford. She got her MFA at the Iowa Writers' Workshop.
     She is often asked how much of the novel is autobiographical. “The short answer,” she said, “is not particularly. I wasn’t a scholarship student at Groton. I don’t feel like I am Lee. Of course, because I wrote it, my personality is on the page. But in a way, I’m all the characters. I imagined them all.” She said former classmates of hers look for themselves among the cast of characters in the novel. “Lots of people love to see themselves in fiction, even if it’s unflattering.”
     Besides attending a prep school, Sittenfeld’s “research” included her stint as writer-in-residence at St. Albans, a private boy’s school in Washington, DC. “I would just lean out my apartment door and watch (the students) or ask them a question. That way, I would know, yes, I’m on target with my characters.”
     Sittenfeld said “Prep” began as a short story. “I wrote the 25 pages of the last chapter.” It took her nearly four years to complete a draft. “I was a better writer by the time I finished.” Her “episodic” style means she often knows each chapter’s event—a conflict with a teacher, for example-- “but I still have the experience of surprise. I can’t overplot. It becomes tedious and there’s no discovery.”
     Turned down by 14 out of 15 publishers, “Prep” nevertheless sold within two weeks to Random House. Editors who rejected the novel commented they wouldn’t know how to market it. Was it young adult or adult? It was too cerebral and dark for “chick lit.”
     The first change Sittenfeld’s editor made was changing the title from “Cypher” to “Prep.”  Next, the 600-page manuscript had to be shortened 100 pages, which Sittenfeld said she agonized over. “My editor sent a 20 page letter with suggested cuts.” Instead of eliminating whole chapters or characters, Sittenfeld elected to take a “nip and tuck” approach, cutting 2 to 3 pages every other page or so. Sittenfeld said she now realizes the edits made “Prep” a better novel.
     “Another writer told me a lot of editors function as an agent within the publishing house these days—focusing on marketing. It’s rare to have line edits—macro comments are more typical. My editor is incredibly smart. She was the midwife for ‘Prep’. She packaged it into a book she could market.” And how. "Prep" had a first printing of 15,000 copies, but hitting the New York Times bestseller list pushed a second printing up to nearly 100,000 copies.
     Not one—but four publicists in the publisher’s office asked to promote “Prep”. They designed press materials to look like a yearbook, using pages from the author’s own high school yearbook from Grodin. “There were places where this (approach) was mocked,” Sittenfeld said,  “but it was creative, not expensive, and it worked.”
     Sittenfeld, who now lives in Philadelphia, won the Seventeen magazine fiction writing contest in 1992, at age sixteen. She tells writing students such as those at the Governor’s school “to write about subjects that really interest you, because your first audience is yourself.” And you have to love writing. “You can’t control if you’re published and how well you’re published so you have to love it.” In addition, “workshops” and exchanging writing with other students is crucial, she said, in order to develop an inner critic. “My father edited my papers as a child,” she said. “He was tough. Eventually, I internalized that ability and I try to be a harsh editor of my own work.”
     Sittenfeld is on a multi-city tour for the recently released paperback edition of “Prep” But she won’t have much time to recover from her travels: Her second novel, “The Man of my Dreams,” will be out in May.

Mindy Friddle is the author of the novel “The Garden Angel” (St. Martin’s Press/Picador.) Visit her website, www.mindyfriddle.com, for more information on writing and publishing.

Ashley Warlick

Author to Author
with Mindy Friddle
The Author:  Ashley Warlick

The Books:  Seek the Living (Houghton Mifflin, 2005), The Summer After June (Houghton Mifflin, 2000), and The Distance from the Heart of Things (Houghton Mifflin 1996).

     Some writers are inspired to begin their novels with an image. Others with a character. The ideas for Greenville resident Ashley Warlick’s novels emerge from setting. “Everything comes out of that: where people are in the world, where they've been,” she said, adding “the smells and tastes, the weather provide all the texture for a book.” Warlick set her third novel, Seek the Living (Houghton Mifflin, 2005), here in the upstate. Readers will be delighted to find a pitch-perfect sense of place in the story, as well as familiar landmarks such as The Handlebar.
     Seek the Living is narrated by 33-year-old Joan Patee, an archivist who longs for a baby and whose husband, Marshall, is perpetually away on business. Her brother, Denny, is working as a cemetery groundskeeper in the upstate. In the course of the novel, Joan discovers that her brother has been digging up some of the graves in the area, and uncovering mysterious remains. She also discovers insight into her own past and present relationships.
     Pat Conroy, a fan of Warlick’s, has high praise for Seek the Living:  “She creates an entire world out of a family that has edges, crevices, and seems to have gotten their clues by studying the wrong side of the moon,” he writes. “Her prose is silken, and barbed, and clean.”
     Warlick, who moved to downtown Greenville six years ago with her husband, Ron Friis, a professor of Modern Languages at Furman, wrote her first novel, The Distance from the Heart of Things (Houghton Mifflin, 1996), a decade ago, while a junior in college. “I wrote around a full class schedule and a waitressing job, mostly at night,” she says. “I think I've always been a better writer, a more conscientious writer, when my time is heavily burdened.”
     By the time she was 23, Warlick was a published novelist and the youngest ever recipient of the Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship, a prestigious award with a generous stipend that allowed her to work on her second novel, The Summer After June (Houghton Mifflin, 2000). “I didn't have any idea what that prize meant,” Warlick said. “I think that's part of what gets lost when you start a career in your early twenties. There's a lot that escapes you because you don't know enough about what you're doing to pay attention. Sometimes, I think back and just put my face in my hands--I must have sounded so dumb so often.”
     Warlick, who grew up in Charlotte, also spent a good part of her childhood in York County where her father owned farms. “Rural South Carolina held a lot of sway with me,” she explained. “For The Distance From the Heart of Things, I could ask my father anything I needed to know about vineyards.”
     However, The Summer after June takes place in Galveston, TX, and Warlick found herself “working with a setting I knew little about. I had never even visited Galveston.  I read a lot of history about the city, drove there twice and stayed as long as I could.” More recently, her research for Seek the Living turned up historical details about local cemeteries such at the Old Stone Church in Clemson. As fascinating as poring over historical documents may be, however, Warlick discovered that research can be addictive and a “sucking pit of procrastination,” for novelists.
     “I’ve cut whole swaths of a manuscript that really had nothing to do with anything other that here was something really cool I'd learned,” she said.
     A mother of two young children, Warlick works at home, and teaches in the low-residency MFA program at Queens College in Charlotte. She’s working on a new novel based on the life of MFK Fisher, the famous essayist and food writer. “I'm reading only her work right now, getting a feeling for her habits of phrase, where she was and when,” Warlick said, adding that the novel is set in southern California and Europe in the years before WWII.
Warlick writes “on a computer at a desk that faces a wall, and it's very, very messy in there, and everything seems very fragile and people avoid the desk altogether.” When working on a manuscript, she reads it out loud for sound, but prefers to work without an outline.  “Arching concerns, for me, emerge gradually.”
     With three published novels to her credit, Warlick says writing and publishing doesn’t necessarily get easier with each book. “If people don't buy your last book, your publisher won't want your next one,” she said. “But I think the amount of money a publisher is willing to commit to support a book is shrinking at an alarming pace,” a frustrating paradox that sometimes makes her “want to run screaming.“
     And yet Warlick has sage advice for writers, both published and unpublished: “Read.  Write.  Read some more.  The being published part is something that happens in one day, one very great lucky day, and according to a set of choices people very far away from you and your books are going to make.  Your writing has to sustain you for months at a time, years and years of months at a time.  That's where you should spend your energy.”

# # #

 

 

 

Ron Rash

Author to Author
‘Landscape is Destiny’
The Author: Ron Rash
The Book:  THE WORLD MADE STRAIGHT (Henry Holt, 2006)

Even as he travels coat-to-coast on a book tour to promote his latest novel, The World Made Straight, Ron Rash maintains his writing schedule—working on a new manuscript in hotels and airports. “I feel like I wasted a day if I don’t write,” the South Carolina resident said, adding that he tries to write six days a week.
On a recent stop in Portland, Oregon, Rash manages to squeeze in a telephone interview with me in the morning before a scheduled appearance at the Wordstock Book Festival later that afternoon. While other writers are taking in the sights of the northwest city, or networking at the bar, Rash is happy to hole up in the solitary quiet of his hotel room to spend five hours drafting a novel he’s “deep into.”


Set in 1970’s Madison County, North Carolina, The World Made Straight tells the story of Leonard Shuler, a former schoolteacher, who befriends Travis Shelton, a seventeen-year-old who finds himself in trouble after stealing a marijuana crop. The two protagonists are drawn together, connected through their ancestors and the legacy of the Shelton Laurel massacre, a local Civil War event that continues to divide the Appalachian community, even after a century. Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard Out of Carolina, calls the novel, “a wonderful, heartbreaking, heart-healing kind of work, a work of genius--genius and insight and poetry and the kind of language that whispers to me like music coming back off dense wet hills and upturned faces."


Like his previous novels, Saints at the River (2004) and One Foot in Eden (2002), Rash’s third novel has a strong sense of place. A North Carolina native whose family has lived in the southern Appalachian Mountains for more than two hundred years, Rash is known for making the region a focus of his fiction and poetry.  “Landscape is destiny,” Rash said.
A graduate of Gardner-Webb College and Clemson University, Rash holds the John Parris Chair in Appalachian Studies at Western Carolina University and lives in Clemson, South Carolina with his wife and two children. He is also the author of three books of poetry: Eureka Mill (1998), Among the Believers (2000) and Raising the Dead (2002); and two collections of short stories: The Night The New Jesus Fell to Earth (1994), and Casualties (2000), as well as one children’s book: The Shark’s Tooth. His poetry and fiction have been published in more journals and magazines than can be listed here, including Yale Review, Georgia Review, and Oxford American. His awards include the Academy of American Poets Prize, National Endowment for the Arts poetry fellowship, the Sherwood Anderson Award, Fellowship of Southern Writers' James Still Award for Writing of the Appalachian South, the O. Henry Prize, the Southeast Booksellers Association Award for Best Work of Fiction, and the Southern Book Critic Circle Award.


For all his awards, Rash was little know outside the South until winning the Novello Festival Press Literary Award in 2002 for his first novel, One Foot in Eden, set in the 1950’s in Jocassee, SC.  After the novel had been rejected by a dozen New York City publishers, Rash entered the manuscript in the Novello Press contest.  The Charlotte-based independent publisher printed a limited edition of the novel, southern booksellers loved it, and the novel took off like brush fire. National Public Radio heard the buzz, and interviewed Rash. The rest, as they say, is history. Picador bought the paperback rights, and Rash found himself with a two-book deal. Four years later, he has three published novels under his belt; a new collection of stories, Waiting for the End of the World, will be out next spring.


“I’ve been writing a long time, so by the time One Foot in Eden was published, I was backlogged,” he said, adding he had nearly finished his second novel, Saints at the River.


“It’s amusing that (fellow writer) George Singleton and I are described sometimes as ‘overnight sensations,’ ” he said, “when we’ve been writing for years” before being published.


That said, he admits the process of writing novels does not necessarily get easier for the published writer. “There’s a confidence-- you know you can do it. Physically. You can come up with 300 typed pages of a draft. You can do it, but not necessarily well. You have to make it good, and that’s never easy.”


Rash writes up to a dozen drafts of his novels. In between revisions, he writes short stories (“It’s satisfying to finish something”) and poetry, “to really pay attention to language, focus with care on each word, and hope it carries over to my novel.”


The World Made Straight grew out of Rash’s prize-winning story, "Speckle Trout.”  “In the story, Travis is unlikable but I like him. So I decided I’d like to live with these characters a lot longer.” He says the violent civil war history in the novel came into play because, “I’ve always been horrified and fascinated with the troubling theme of how some of the worst atrocities in history have occurred among people who have coexisted for generations, as in Nazi Germany, Rwanda, and Bosnia. I’ve done a lot of reading about Cambodian genocide under Pol Pot. You see a universal theme in all those particular places.”

Tall and thin, regal as a preacher, speaking in a mellifluous southern drawl, Rash regularly transfixes audiences who flock to hear him read.  His fine ear for Appalachian speech cadences carry over in his writing, perhaps because he “lets cadence, more than anything else, center my characters’ speech in a particular time and place.” On the “Southern” or “Appalachian writer” panels to which he is regularly assigned at national conferences and book festivals, Rash is as likely to quote Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegarrd orSouth American novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez, as southernfavorites Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner.     “James Joyce’s Dublin—there’s not a more specific place,” he said. “Philip Roth’s New Jersey—those are specific places that speak to the universal and our humanity,” he says. He often reminds his audiences of a favorite quote from southern writer Eudora Welty: "One place understood helps us understand all other places better."

Mindy Friddle is the author of the novel “The Garden Angel” (St. Martin’s Press/Picador.) Visit her website, www.mindyfriddle.com, for more information on writing and publishing.

# # #