Rash debuts newest novelAuthor to be at Blue Ridge Books Saturday
As with all talented artists, there’s a tendency to put good writers on a pedestal. It makes sense, as they seem to make magic, creating new worlds and fresh turns of phrase seemingly out of thin air.
Western North Carolina’s own Ron Rash is one such writer, though he doesn’t seem the type to get swept up in all that hype. In a recent phone conversation, he joked a bit about what it means to see the world through an author’s eyes.
“You’re still human,” he said, “but just a little more strange, a little more dreamy and impractical — speaking of myself, of course.”
The product of three decades of constant literary practice, he doesn’t see himself as a super hero, regardless of his many published novels, works of poetry or short stories he has under his belt, or even that upcoming movie, based on his book “Serena.” Instead, he describes himself as someone who’s simply trying his best — just like his characters do, incidentally. Rash, who recently released “The Cove,” explained that with this novel and others, he wants his characters to be seen as real people, dealing with the world the best they know how.
“The characters I’m most interested in, I’ve put them in tough situations, and at the same time, I hope I do them justice and show their attempts to better themselves,” he said.
These are people with the same “love, hope and fear” as anyone, he went on. They are also people of Appalachia. That last part is especially important for Rash, who lives on a little piece of Jackson County that’s been in his family for 200 years.
When he was writing “The Cove” — which begins with a brother and sister happening upon a mysterious, flute-playing vagrant in World War I era Western North Carolina — Rash was looking to do more than spin a satisfying yarn. In addition to telling twisting-turning tale (revealing more of the plot just wouldn’t be right), he wanted to help debunk some Appalachian stereotypes, without creating new ones. To make them real, he must risk showing these characters with their gifts and foibles intact.
“If I sentimentalize the people and make them all good, that’s another way of making them not human,” Rash explained.
That would defeat what he’s trying to do entirely. And Rash, also a teacher at Western Carolina University, has been in this game far too long to have that happen. This whole writing career of his is possible because of a choice he made 30 years ago, back when he was a pup of 28. He decided then that if he wanted to give this writing thing a shot, he was going to have to commit to it daily. So, he began writing six days a week, a practice he still keeps. Sometimes this means checking in for just two hours, and sometimes it requires toiling away for 12 — whatever it takes to stay connected with his novel’s world. Yes, he is the one writing it down, but it’s never really under his control. Ultimately, his characters and the story itself inform him of the way the plot must go. Rash just has to be willing to let the book wander a bit.
“Eventually, it seems that the novel finds its way — of course, that may take three years,” he said, laughing.
“The Cove” did, and his books almost always do, but Rash doesn’t sound impatient with this process. It’s a trip of discovery, after all, and who is he to rush that? He described this newest book as a departure from his others. It’s more of a “conventional love story,” he said, adding that the novel’s landscape imposes its will upon the characters in ways that are new to his work.
Simply, it is a “different kind of book,” he said
Readers, however, will surely still hear Rash in its pages. As is his way, this is no light comedy, but instead a rough, complex journey for his make-believe people. His stories often are.
“I think one reason is, when you put your characters in really dark, stressfully life-or-death situations, that’s when the essence of who they are is revealed — as in real life,” he said.
While that recipe for good drama might sound simple enough, Rash knows there is no secret formula to making stories sing. He recalled how years ago, when first he started on this bandwagon, all he ever wanted was to get a few things he liked published. Even with so much success at his back, when he sits down to write now, he still carries that humbleness and hope.
That very well may be what makes him so good.
“It’s still a challenge every day going in: Can I put something on the page today that works or not?” he said, echoing what writers have been asking themselves since the dawn of time.