A public reading by author Charles Frazier from his novel Nightwoods was one of my first solo-outings shortly after moving to Charlotte, North Carolina. To hear an author read with the cadence only they can give their prose is a treat that lingers when one sits down to read on their own.
For a tall man of somewhat medium build, Charles Frazier is surprisingly soft-spoken, but he did eventually use the microphone provided as he proceeded to weave together wonderful personal anecdotes and snippets from Nightwoods. Frazier prefaced the book by asking who had already read it and only one person raised their hand. He promised not to spoil the plot and jokingly told the audience to stay away from the customer reviews on Amazon that give everything away.
Nightwoods is only 260 pages, much shorter than his two previous historical fiction novels, plus it takes place in the 1960s. Frazier mused that the period would be contemporary to those readers who had lived through it. The plot centers on Luce, the reclusive protagonist who is the caretaker of an old Appalachian lodge. Her sister gets murdered and Luce starts to care for her sister’s mute and emotionally disturbed twins. Later on, the dead sister’s husband shows up once he is acquitted of murder. It’s safe to say things must get pretty intense at that point.
The way a writer can turn a single, seemingly disconnected image from their life into a complete world unto itself stands as the true test of the torture and beauty of the writing process. Frazier shared that at first all he knew about Luce is that she listened to a radio station out of Nashville late into the night. That become one way she dealt with her isolation. He also divulged that eighth grade students used to be taken on a field trip to the Craggy Correctional Institution near Asheville, North Carolina to see the room where the prison sentences of death row inmates inevitably carried to completion.
Furthermore, the author touched on how it helps him visualize the action he will be writing about if he can go to the physical space where that scene will carry out. Somewhere in the mix he also touched upon moonshiners, his admiration for the people-intensive movie-making process in regards to Cold Mountain, as well as his muddled writing process.
For instance, he said there may be some writers that send off every 10 pages they write to their editor, but it might be three years before his editors get to read anything from him. At the time of writing Cold Mountain, he said the odds of getting a first book published were something like one in 250. I wonder which way those odds have swayed 15 years later?
The appeal of Frazier’s past writing for me in Cold Mountain and Thirteen Moons is how deeply he captures the locale and personalities in such lovingly styled sentences. His prose reaches a level of emotion I’ve only rarely encountered. A wonderfu review by fellow writer Rick Bass states:
The American ecologist Aldo Leopold wrote that to possess an awareness of the environment is to understand that we live in a world of wounds, but it is just as true that a novelist as astute and compassionate as Charles Frazier knows this same truth, not just up at the surface, in the natural processes of rot and rebirth, but within the vertical component of damage in the human psyche. At times the depth of this knowledge appears to be so profound as to pass through pain or judgment, and exists as pure observation, sharp and specific.
It is that melancholy sense of the human mind that will continually draw me back to Frazier’s work to savor what only he can do so well.
I stood in line to get my book signed and made sure to let him know I was from Idaho and that my only real previous knowledge of North Carolina had come from his books (I guess Nicolas Sparks books count too, but not so much…) He instantly asked if I had heard of an Idaho writer/musician by the name of Josh Ritter. I couldn’t say I had, but when I picked up a local entertainment paper soon after, Isaw the name Josh Ritter on a list of performers coming to the Charlotte area. How crazy is that? Or is it more impressive that Frazier could conjure the name of an Idaho writer before the Idahoan could herself?
What public readings of authors have you attended?
Please share responsibly. Jeri Walker, 2013.
Thanks Jeri, for this post on attending a book signing. I’ve never gone to one. I have Cold Mountain on my shelf, and had a little trouble getting into it. I saw the movie and liked it a lot. I might give it another go, and check out Frazier’s other writing too.
Frazier’s style can take some time to get into, and I enjoyed Cold Mountain more than his other two novels. There’s just such longing and sadness built into his sentences that I will be forever hooked!
I have only been to one event where a writer was present, but it was very different since it was a reference book. It was a small meeting room so there were no issues with hearing him speak. It was a memorable experience for me though. It’s really difficult to find events like this now that most bricks’n’mortar shops are closing.
Cheryl, I signed-up to get email notifications of the authors who visit my local Barnes & Noble stores. For me, it’s always a matter of taking the time to look for public readings, and then I never get around to do so. Maybe I should because I really do enjoy them.
The one book signing I have been to was for a morel mushroom hunting book. It was at a local indie bookstore and they fed us and provided wine.
Jon, free food and wine are always good! It would be interesting to see how a book signing for a mushroom book goes as opposed to a novel. Did the author read from the book or just talk about it in general?
Just talked about mushroom hunting and showed some slides from the book.
I had forgot how fun it is to attend a book sighing and public reading. You transported to that time and place and I could almost hear his voice speak about his prose and his book. Cold Mountain was an amazing book so I would think Nightwoods would be just as captivating. 🙂
Susan, I only wish I would make the time to go to more readings, but it always fall on the wayside.
Jeri: I LOVE the way you write. No matter what you write, I am THERE with you.
Charles is extremely lucky to have you as a fan. I only wish I would be so lucky when Chocolatour comes out. You are an author’s dream.
Doreen, I could be even more of an author’s dream if free chocolate were involved 😉 Just joking…
Jeri, this makes me look forward to hearing about your first signing as author 🙂
Scott, I too would love to have a first book-signing. Alas, I have to finished my novel first!
Can very much identify with what Charles Fraziers said about “how it helps him visualize the action he will be writing about if he can go to the physical space where that scene will carry out.”
It facilitates both writing and reading to have been to the places where the plot takes place. Or even better having lived there.
Catarina, it surprised me that my process as a writer seemed so similar to Frazier’s. I can only hope it pays off so well me for one day as well. It really helped to revisit my grandpa’s cabin in Montana during the drafting stages of my novel even though I had visited countless times as a child.
I may be the only person who didn’t like the movie Cold Mountain even though it had a great cast and Renee Zellweger won an Oscar. I haven’t read the book so the movie might not have been faithful to the author.
Jeanette, the movie version of Cold Mountain is a fairly close adaptation of the book, so it’s probably safe to say Frazier’s style might hold tons of appeal for you. I’m drawn to melancholy writers.
I notice you display a certain surprise at the coincidence regarding the musician, which you know I would say is part of the script. It is true to say that fiction writers are not always fiction writers, even if they make up the story. Great post, thanks.
Gerry, point well taken. I’d say that as a fiction writer I always incorporate a heavy dose of reality. One of these days I’ll finally completely move over to creative nonfiction, but something continues to compel me to finish at least one novel.