A Visual Treat for the Senses – 2015
An exclusive AUTHORLINK interview with Ron Rash
Columnist Anna Roins
Something Rich and Strange: Selected Stories
by Ron Rash
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Something Rich and Strange: Selected Stories is a showcase of thirty iconic short stories, from the acclaimed, New York Times best-selling award-winning author of Serena and The Cove, Ron Rash. These stories are so visual as to be palpable to the senses.
Ron Rash is known to be conscious of every word he writes and each syllable stressed in each sentence that illuminates the cadence of his prose. Though the focus is regional – the complexities of Appalachia – the themes of Rash’s work are universal and strike an emotional chord in all of us.
Kirkus said, “These superbly suspenseful stories evoke a world of hurt, but what makes them so deeply satisfying is that they enlarge our capacity for empathy.”
|“Writers almost always have to set their work in a particular place.”
AUTHORLINK: Mr. Rash thank you for taking the time to discussing your writing with us and in particular, your latest collection of short stories, Something Rich and Strange. Like all of your work, this new collection is set in the Southern Appalachian culture of Western North Carolina, an often-neglected part of America. It features thirty of your best stories, three of them previously unpublished. You once thought that most great writers are regionalists. Can you expand on this idea?
RASH: Writers almost always have to set their work in a particular place. Richard Price chooses New York City, Annie Proulx Wyoming, yet doing so is in no way limiting. Both writers address universal concerns. Perhaps the best example is Joyce’s Ulysses, which takes place in Dublin in a twenty-four hour period. It is as universal a book as I know.
AUTHORLINK: Not so long ago critics and publishers had moved away from the short story. Nowadays, story collections are headlining the bestseller lists. Why do you think this is? Who is your favourite short story writer today and why?
RASH: Perhaps in part because of our decreasing attention spans, but also because there are so many excellent story writers working today. Our country’s greatest contribution to literature has come through the short story. Alice Munro is my favorite living story writer. Her winning the Nobel was well-deserved.
|“I was lucky to have had those experiences, particularly the amount of solitude and reflection that place and time allowed.”
AUTHORLINK: Very true. You spent your boyhood summers with your grandmother and other relatives on a remote farm that did not have television. You found yourself often listening to their stories and how they spoke to pass the time. Do you feel that new writers are hard-pressed to find opportunities such as these, to just sit and listen to authentic storytellers in a natural environment without the distraction of iPhones, TV, and internet?
RASH: I was lucky to have had those experiences, particularly the amount of solitude and reflection that place and time allowed. I was also reading a great deal, because my grandmother always had books around. I had plenty of silence and exile, if not cunning.
AUTHORLINK: You were about 34 when you won your first award, the General Electric Younger Writers Award in 1987 for The Night the New Jesus Fell to Earth, and about forty when you published your first collection of short stories in 1994 with The Night the New Jesus Fell to Earth and Other Stories. How do you feel you’ve evolved creatively since 1987 to today?
RASH: I’ve certainly become more attentive to language, trying to make every syllable count.
AUTHORLINK: You have enjoyed more international attention since the publication of your novel, Serena (2008) which was a 2009 PEN/Faulkner Award Finalist, and now made into a film starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. What is your impression of Susan Bier’s adaptation? Are the actors faithful to your first idea of the characters?
|“For me, once the movie rights are sold, the best thing I can do is stay out of the film crew’s way. “
RASH: I haven’t seen the movie or read the screenplay. For me, once the movie rights are sold, the best thing I can do is stay out of the film crew’s way. It’s better for them but also for me. My focus needs to be on my stories and novels.
AUTHORLINK: Very wise. Is there a noticeable discrepancy, do you think, in the publishing industry about what is regarded as literature – as opposed to commercial work – by women? Do you believe the way a book is received (and reviewed) about relationships and family, which is written by a woman, is different if it were written by a man?
RASH: I don’t really know, except to say that when I read Robinson, Morrison, Proulx, Mantel, O’Brian, McCorkle, etc. I have no doubts about their books being Literature.
AUTHORLINK: We understand you do not outline or plot when writing your stories but are more of an instinctive writer. Sometimes, when you write a novel and have worked on it for about a year it will, ‘’…die on you’’ for three or four months and that it, ‘’feels hopeless.’’ Do you always pull through the ‘dead zone’ and find the final story in the end? Or do you have a pile of unfinished novels sitting in your house somewhere? How do you detach objectively from your words to see a good story emerge?
|“I had three novels that I threw away. Fortunately the last few after the dead zone period, have found their way.”
RASH: I had three novels that I threw away. Fortunately the last few after the dead zone period, have found their way. I ‘’detach’’ by taking a few weeks off between drafts and work on stories. I often find that this seemingly fallow period opens up new possibilities for the book that I hadn’t realized before.
AUTHORLINK: You are currently working on your next novel, Above the Waterfall, which we understand is quite different and more optimistic from your other books, although difficult to write. Is this still the case and if so, why? Tell us a bit about it.
RASH: I’m just finishing the novel, which will be out in the fall. I made some serious wrong turns early on and had to pretty much ditch the whole novel and start again. The novel is about, among other things, a park ranger who, as a child, witnessed a school shooting. She has found a way to survive through her connectedness to the natural world.
AUTHORLINK: That sounds interesting. You once said, “I think to be true to the world as a writer, you deal with the dark part and the sadness. However, there’s also beauty and wonder and goodness, and we can’t forget those either.” Why do you think the joyful and good things in life are so often forgotten by writers? There are so many horror and crime novels out there. Are readers conditioned to read and see terrible things in order to have a reaction to the book/show? What do you think?
|“Conflict is an essential part of what makes a story a story. As in life, it is in moments of extremity that a person’s true self is revealed.”
RASH: Conflict is an essential part of what makes a story a story. As in life, it is in moments of extremity that a person’s true self is revealed. Also, we live in an era where words such as wonder and goodness are suspect, often mocked or viewed ironically. It’s an easy thing to do; TV advertising does it all the time. The writer who addresses such topics risks being labeled sentimentalists. That certainly can happen, of course, and I’ve seen the maudlin results, but I also believe, as Rilke says, “Go to the heart of things; therein irony does not reside.”
AUTHORLINK: Mr. Rash, thank you so very much for joining us today. We wish you even further success for Something Rich and Strange. Happy holidays!
RASH: Thank you.
|About the Author:
Ron Rash is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel The Cove, in addition to three other prizewinning novels, One Foot in Eden, Saints at the River, and The World Made Straight; four collections of poems; and four collections of stories, among them Something Rich and Strange, Nothing Gold Can Stay, Burning Bright, which won the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, and Chemistry and Other Stories, which was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award. Twice the recipient of the O. Henry Prize, he teaches at Western Carolina University.
|About Anna Roins:
Anna Roins was a Senior Lawyer with the Australian Government Solicitor, before she embarked on a career in writing seven years ago. As a freelance journalist, she has contributed to articles on social and community issues and edited a number of books, websites, and dissertations. She has continued her studies in creative literature with The University of Oxford (Continuing Education) and the Faber Academy, London. Anna is currently writing her first novel and is a regular contributor to AUTHORLINK assigned to conduct interviews with bestselling authors. You can find out more about Anna Roins on https://www.facebook.com/anna.roins and https://twitter.com/Sophiabluestar