Q&A with author Ron Rash
Local author, poet and professor at Western Carolina University Ron Rash will be reading from and signing copies of his new collection of short stories “Nothing Gold Can Stay” at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 25 at Blue Ridge Books in Waynesville. He recently took the time to talk to Guide editor Jessi Stone about his writing.
Q: Tell me about your new book and how long you’ve been working on it?
A: “It’s a collection of short stories and like all my other work, the stories are set in western North Carolina. Some go back to the Civil War era and some are contemporary. People who’ve read my previous work won’t be too surprised at the locale and the historical aspects of them. Most of them have been written in the last two years.”
Q: Do you have a favorite or know which one you will read from at Blue Ridge Books?
A: “The one that I’ll probably read, “3 a.m. and the Stars Were Out,” is about a veterinarian in his 80s who still goes out on night calls. He goes to see an old friend with a calf having trouble being born. It’s a story of friendship — they were in Korea together but have known each other all their lives.”
Q: Where do your story idea come from?
A: My stories come from different places. Sometimes it begins with something I’ve heard growing up or what will happen is I get an image in my head and run with it. It could be an image of a character and the story will unfold from that. I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and something will come to me and I’ll get up and write. I dread it but I’, afraid if I don’t, I will forget.”
Q: Tell me about the title, which is a Robert Frost poem, and how it relates to the book?
A: “Yeah, it’s also the title of one of the stories. I hope readers read the stories and get the sense that it deals with a number of stories in the book. And I’ve always loved his (Frost’s) work.”
Q: Do you ever get tired of writing about Appalachia?
A: “My family on both sides has very deep roots in the region. My mother and father’s families have been here for 200 years. It’s the landscape I know best and love the most. I’ve found all the material I’ll ever need here.”
Q: Tell me about the process for having your book “Serena” made into a movie.
A: It came about when some producers expressed interest in the book. They read it and thought it might work as a film. It’s always a long shot, but happened to work out. They believed in the book enough and actually did. It’s very fortunate that (Jennifer) Lawrence and (Bradley) Cooper are highly visible right now since they also starred in “Silver Linings Playbook.”
Q: Did you work closely with the screenwriter or the director?
A: “No. They buy the rights and you have to reconcile with yourself that it’s not going to be your book. It can’t be — it will be an interpretation of my book. It’s theirs now and they know what their doing. The best thing I can do is stay out of the way.”
Q: How much research do you do for your historical stories?
A: “Something like “Serena” takes a lot of research to have a sense of that time and the logging industry. Luckily I was able to meet with loggers in the area who were in their 90s. Research is essential for that kind of book.”
Q: Do you enjoy writing more about the past than the present?
A: I like both the past and present. The story decides more than I do. I just have to follow the image — sometimes it’s in past, sometimes in present. I trust my intuition.”
Q: When did you start writing and when did you realize you were any good at it?
A: “I don’t know if I’m any good at it. As a child I was always comfortable being alone. I spent a lot of time outdoors by myself, fishing, hunting and walking out in the woods. I think it was good training as a writer. I didn’t try to write until college. Most of my 20s I wrote bad stories and bad poems but for some reason I didn’t give up — a saner person probably would have. I tell my students at Western the most underrated aspect of becoming a successful writer is perseverance.”
Q: What do you read?
A: I love to read books about the region – memoirs and histories, a lot of fiction, books about other countries and endangered wildlife. My favorite writer of all time would be Shakespeare. The more I write the more I cannot understand how anyone can write that well. It’s a mystery to me. I go back to him very often and read one of his plays every two months.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, especially “Crime and Punishment.” I first read it when I was 15 and that’s a book that’s stayed with me.”
Q: Do you write every day or just when the mood strikes?
A: When I get an idea I go at it pretty hard. With “Serena” I was doing about 10 hours a day. It almost killed me but I was so afraid if I let up I’d lose it. I wouldn’t recommend that. A lot of writers can write 2-3 hours a day, but I’m not that kind of writer.”
Q: Is there anything else you want your readers to know that I haven’t asked?
A: “Just how happy I am to be at Western Carolina University – been there 10 years now. I’ve always taught, but it’s nice because I’m now living on land that was in my family 200 years ago. I can look out form my porch and know some of my ancestors had the same view.”