Wednesday, October 7, 2009

How to Introduce a Rock Star

The scene: yesterday's Book Your Lunch author series. A sold-out crowd.

I had the honor of introducing Ron Rash, whose prize-winning, break-out novel SERENA is just out in paperback.
Besides the usual "he was born in....he holds a degree from...he's the author of..." yadda yadda stuff, I wanted to add a little zip, especially because I've known Ron since way before he up and got famous.

An excerpt from my intro of said lit rock star:
SERENA has been described as "a gothic tale of greed, corruption, and revenge with a ruthless, powerful, and unforgettable woman at its heart, set amid the wilds of 1930s North Carolina."

Ron has said SERENA was the most challenging of his novels to write. I believe his quote was “it about killed me.” About SERENA, he has said, “While there have been many novels about women who have wielded great power within a family, how many have been about a woman who is a ‘captain of industry,’ especially in novels set in the past? This aspect of Serena made her even more intriguing to me.”

And intriguing to a slew of readers and critics, too:
SERENA was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award, the largest peer-juried prize for fiction in the United States.
The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA) named it Book of the Year in July.
SERENA Made New York Times literary critic Janet Maslin’s list of her 10 Favorite Books of 2008—no small feat.

For those of us locally, regionally, who have for decades admired Ron’s work as a poet and fiction writer—the fact that he is is being recognized nationally—internationally—well, we say finally. For the yankees to fawn over him—The New York Times no less— we say what took ya’ll so long?

After reading from SERENA, Ron took questions from the audience. A few highlights:

ONE FOOT IN EDEN, Ron's first novel, has just been translated and released in France, to high acclaim, although just how Appalachian-speak gets translated in French is, shall we say, curious. One French critic referred to Ron as "the bumpkin writer"... the term "bumpkin" apparently used with no disparity, but with sincerity... like "mystery" writer.

Serena, the character, is based in part on Lady Macbeth and Queen Elizabeth. You many have noticed she speak in iambic pentameter.

Serena is a villainous character, even evil, as Ron admits. Like most villains, HOW they chose evil is not important, and Ron notes that exploring why-- childhood incidents, for example-- diminishes them. Evil characters are mysterious, because evil is beyond description. Ron pointed out that when Thomas Harris wrote about Hannibal Lecter's past, and how it drove him to his murderous deeds, Hannibal became less interesting. You can't humanize evil, perhaps.

Ron thinks of his first drafts as clods of clay-- awful at first, barely readable-- to be shaped with subsequent drafts. I was happy to hear's my process, too, and one I recommend in my classes-- the whole $%#$@! first draft thing.

All in all, a splendid event! A looooong line of readers to sign Ron's books, too. Even the $8 parking ticket waiting for me on my ancient Volvo wagon outside did not dampen my spirits.

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