What does it mean to share the depths of your soul and imagination with the world, and yet find solace those moments of silence only gathered on your own time and terms?
For Charles Frazier, it means disappearing into the backwoods of Western North Carolina on his mountain bike or perhaps sliding into the back of a raucous music venue and just taking in the sights and sounds from his own quiet corner of the universe.
Frazier is the bestselling author of Cold Mountain (1997 National Book Award for Fiction), Thirteen Moons and Nightwoods. He has spent his career crafting intricate literary works, all of which flow as freely as they open up the internal conflicts of humanity.
Born in Asheville, Frazier still calls the city home. It’s a place that is at the foundation of his dreams. It’s where he first dove down the rabbit hole that is a bookstore, and also where he took off into the nearby mountains for a day of curious frolicking. You see, the thing about Frazier is that “he gets it.” He knows that literary celebrity is but a title, one that he’d seemingly rather just place on a nearby bookshelf and dust off occasionally, instead grabbing his muddy mountain bike with eyes aimed at DuPont State Forest.
For, life is about those loving people and endless ideas that swirl around you everyday, always within reach when the creative spark illuminates the hearts and minds of writers and readers alike. It’s something about which Frazier is well aware—and in awe.
Beverly-Hanks: What are you working on right now?
Charles Frazier: I’ve got this novel that supposed to be finished by January. I’m hoping it will be by then. It has a lot to do with the aftermath of the Civil War, during the Reconstruction Era. It’s a fictional book about the life of Jefferson Davis’ second wife, who was a really fascinating, smart, and well-educated woman, and the consequences of being on the wrong side of history.
B-H: What is the place of the novel in the 21st century, with a modern world caught up in fast-paced priorities?
CF: Well, one of the things that novels do, that the internet mostly doesn’t, is to have a considered prospect on a subject, to take some time to think about and explore the subject matter. There’s certain leisure to it that ends up with different results from immediacy.
B-H: Author Ron Rash had mentioned the novel being as important now as it ever has been, in terms of sitting down with an idea and fleshing it out as a reader and a writer.
CF: I totally agree. And it’s important because there’s so little of that way of thinking and approaching material in the current world.
B-H: What is it about the geography and the people in Western North Carolina that has led to such a rich history of writers from here?
CF: Yeah, it is a rich history of producing our own writers, and of attracting well-known writers from the outer world. I mean, Asheville itself…the literary history of this small city is amazing.
B-H: And then you have the Cherokee and the British Isles influence on the area, which are two groups with storytelling at the core of their cultures….
CF: That old Celtic kind of thing is certainly a big part of it. The Cherokee oral tradition is still alive and doing pretty well these days, at least with all the efforts to preserve it. A lot of us here grew up hearing stories—hearing hunting tales and ghost stories—told by older folks.
B-H: That’s something you notice about this area, which is that people truly sit down and talk with people. They listen and soak in the conversation.
CF: That oral tradition of not just telling a story, but also listening, too.
“When I go to family reunions, there’s a sharing of the history, the stories about those in our family, walking through the cemeteries and learning about our ancestors.” —Charles Frazier
B-H: What is it about Asheville that makes you still want to call it home?
CF: I was born in Asheville, and right now I’m sitting less than half a mile from the building I was born in. I loved Asheville as a kid, as a teenager, where I bought books and records, where I got my bicycle fixed. I love being in downtown Asheville now. Sidewalks filled with people, outdoor tables in front of restaurants. Asheville has always been a tourist town. The first tourist resort here was opened not long after the Revolutionary War. The beauty of the place has attracted people forever, and will continue to, I’m sure.
B-H: And you’re seeing this resurgence in Southern Appalachian noir books in recent years. What do you attribute that to?
CF: The one thing that occurred to me, that especially over the past 25 years, the pseudo-subcultures of the United States have disappeared to a great degree. And I think as we lose those individual bits of American cultures, it’s because we’re not as isolated as we used to be. People move around more, interact more with other cultures. When I go to family reunions, there’s a sharing of the history, the stories about those in our family, walking through the cemeteries and learning about our ancestors.
B-H: There’s a lot of pride shared.
CF: Yeah, and it’s pride of settling “this place,” the difficulty of surviving hard economic times.
B-H: What’s it like for you writing these days, with the success of your novels and this current chapter of your career?
CF: Except for going up to West Virginia [as the award-winning “Appalachian Heritage Writer in Residence” at Shepherd University], I’ve been writing everyday for the last 70 days. I’m not a fast writer. It’s a lot of sitting and staring at the screen. Every day, I try to have the same sort of day. I go for a mountain bike ride, get back to the office at 3:00 in the afternoon and work until the stopping point, which is around 10:00 at night.
B-H: And now that you’re 65, how has your outlook on life changed or shifted?
CF: Well, you hope you’ve achieved a little more sense of wisdom or experience over time. I don’t claim a whole lot of that. I’m still just interested in what I’ve always been interested in—always excited about music, books, and the outdoors.
B-H: What has being a writer shown you about what it means to be a human being in the world?
CF: Well, answering that question, it’s kind of like being at the heart of a novel. That immersing yourself in another, a created person, to try and understand what their thoughts are, to empathize with their thoughts and concerns. It’s a process that opens you up to try and understand people and their actions.