Vicki Lane is the author of The Day of Small Things and of the Elizabeth Goodweather Appalachian Mysteries which include Signs in the Blood, Art's Blood, Old Wounds, Anthony-nominated In a Dark Season, and Under the Skin. She also teaches in UNC-Asheville’s Great Smokies Writing Program. Vicki draws her inspiration from rural western North Carolina where she and her family have tended a mountainside farm since 1975. Visit Vicki at her daily blog, on Facebook or at her website.
Writing the Mountains
by Vicki Lane
The hills are alive with the sound of …scribbling and keyboarding. At least, that’s the way it’s beginning to seem. My neck of the woods -- the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina and more especially the Asheville area -- is increasingly popular with writers as a setting for their stories.
Take Lee Smith, whose books about the South ring true and clear -- Lee has a fine new book out set mostly in Asheville. Guests on Earth is the story of a young girl who is a patient at Highland Hospital during the time Zelda Fitzgerald was there. It’s a great look at the place and the period, as well as the famously troubled wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald, but more than that, it’s a thoughtful depiction of mental illness.
Tommy Hays’s latest offering What I Came to Tell You is also set in Asheville with scenes set at the Thomas Wolfe House and historic Riverside Cemetery. It’s billed as young adult but I think it would appeal to any age. A timeless tale of love and loss and guilt and redemption.
Sallie Bissell’s part Cherokee litigator Mary Crow is back in another Appalachian thriller The Music of Ghosts. Sallie can write some creepy stuff – you might not want to read this when you’re alone…
Ron Rash – whose Serena (set in the area) has been made into a movie starring Jennifer Lawrence (of The Hunger Games – part of which was set in and filmed in North Carolina) has several others set in my own Madison County – The World Made Straight and The Cove. Ron is an amazing writer – when I first discovered him, I went on a binge of reading his backlist. The Cove is set during WWI, and tells the story of Laurel Shelton, a simple mountain girl, and her love for an escapee from one of a group of German Merchant Marines being interned at a once-famous hotel in Hot Springs (NC) – the same hotel I wrote about in Under the Skin.
And this same hotel and German intern camp are the center piece of Terry Roberts’ recent A Short Time to Stay Here. I met Terry when he emailed me and mentioned that his great great grandfather Benjamin Franklin Freeman had lived near our farm. I investigated and found B.F. Freeman’s grave in the cemetery that adjoins one of our pastures. Small world.
Still in Madison County, Mark Pinsky’s recently published Met Her on the Mountain is the result of Mark’s forty year obsession with the unsolved murder of a Vista worker – they were still talking about this when we first moved to Madison and Mark has set forth a plausible solution as well as a close examination of small town politics and the ‘them vs, us’ mindset that may well have influenced the investigation in this case.
Also from Madison County – and in the most authentic way possible – are the books of Sheila Kay Adams, a seventh-generation ballad singer (and my younger son’s eighth grade teacher.) Back then Sheila was working on a book, inspired by a workshop she’d taken with Lee Smith and poet (later poet laureate of NC) Kathryn Stripling Byer. To my great joy, Sheila asked if I’d proofread Come Go Home With Me, a collection of charming vignettes about her growing up in Sodom Laurel. And as I read, I thought to myself, she’s just telling stories – like she was sitting next to me. I wonder if maybe I couldn’t tell a story too . . .
And then I found that I could and added my Elizabeth Goodweather books to the heady mix of Appalachian story telling. Over time I went on to discover – and meet in person – many more fine writers whose inspiration came from Appalachia.
I first met Kathryn Stripling Byer when I went with Sheila Kay Adams to hear Lee Smith speak and then to a party at Kay’s house. Kay’s poetry is simple, beautiful, and accessible – she speaks the language of the mountains – Descent, Girl in the Midst of the Harvest, Black Shawl, Catching Light – her collections of poetry are luminous evocations of the simplest of things – those that matter the most.
Tony Earley became a friend before I ever had a publisher. He’s best known, perhaps, for Jim the Boy but his wicked sense of humor shows up in his short stories, some of which have been published in The New Yorker. The most recent is an adaptation of the traditional Appalachian Jack Tales.
Charles Frazier, best known for the phenomenal Cold Mountain, put his hero Inman in my neck of the woods. I was thrilled beyond belief, if not reduced to a babbling fan girl, when he came to lunch at my house last year. You never know who’ll turn up in these mountains…
Pamela Duncan, Wayne Caldwell, Wiley Cash, Mark DeCastrique, Fred Chappell, Robert Morgan, Silas House . . . the list goes on and on. Who am I leaving out in my wandering census of western North Carolina writing? Lots, I’m sure, This link will take you to some more good ones.
They say you can’t swing a cat in Asheville without hitting a massage therapist – I suspect the same is true in western NC for writers. Maybe it’s something in the water.
please note: comments for Meanderings and Muses are moderated. If you don't see your comment right away, it's because the moderator (that would be me) is not at her laptop, but will return and all comments will be published at that time.