Like most interesting writers, Charles Dodd White has done a bit of everything–to name just a few of his jobs, he’s been a Marine, a flyfishing guide, a newspaper journalist, and a teacher. He was born in Atlanta, Georgia, but he currently lives in Asheville, North Carolina, where he teaches writing and literature at South College.
His short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Night Train, North Carolina Literary Review, Pequin, VerbSap, Word Riot, and Fried Chicken and Coffee. His novel, Lambs of Men, is releasing from Casperian Books this November, and he’s currently at work on another novel and a collection of short stories. You can find his website at www.charlesdoddwhite.com.
Who are the people you feel driven to write about?
CDW: My characters are people with something on the line. Too much writing out there right now is about people with a fairly exaggerated sense of self-importance. I really don’t care about the reductive fiction of bored twentysomethings who believe it’s brave to be banal, all in some misguided attempt to capture a contemporary “realism”. The blood themes of destiny and death are not something to be sneered at, even though it might be considered hip by certain “literary” types to do exactly that. So my characters are true and dirty and violent. At present, they tend to be from the South, though region isn’t a prerequisite for the people I care about. They all wrestle with what it is to love and seek after the emptiness that is God. Why write about anyone who isn’t struggling with the essential elements of being?
CDW: The book actually has dual protagonists, a father and son, in 1920 Appalachia. In many ways they are the same man, both being marked by violence, though the father, Sloane, suffers from a personalized experience of guilt whereas the son, Hiram, is dealing with the shell shock of infantry combat in WWI. Together, they shoulder a very particular burden of what it means to come to terms with the respective roles they have played in a shared family tragedy. Each needs the other, even if they aren’t necessarily ready to admit that.
Talk a bit about the evolution of your novel.
CDW: I wrote the bulk of it while I was working as a night watchman at a local high school. It was a strangely perfect job for writing in that I had to get up and walk around every hour or so so I remained fresh and productive throughout the course of the evening. Something about having the mountain dark as a stimulus and all of that solitude really put me in a proper mindset for the type of story I wanted to tell. Plus, there was the bonus of the library at my fingertips where I could seek inspiration from so many of my favorite writers. In terms of the writing itself, I realized early on I wanted to have a very structure aware book, one that functioned in direct support of the novel’s themes, and I feel like once I had that figured out the book came together naturally. Also, I lived very simply (as I continue to do now) and the spartan existence of living in a single room with simple meals is very conducive to strong, meaningful work as an artist.
Name one work of literature that changed your life.
CDW: I feel like I’m always reading something that is working an important change in men in terms of how I understand how storytelling can work. Recently, this happened with Barry Hannah’s Airships, a short story collection that really recreates what can be possible in the short form. But there really are so many—almost everything Faulkner ever wrote, Lolita by Nabakov, The Blithedale Romance by Hawthorne. The list really does go on and on.
Has the reality of having your first novel published changed the way you approach your writing on a daily basis?
CDW: I don’t know. I don’t think so. I think you have to keep the pressure on yourself to be as intense as possible without regard for how you’re going to get the damn thing published. Otherwise you lose that all important creative propulsion that distinguishes meaningful work.
What’s the best advice a writing teacher ever gave you?
CDW: Don’t quit your day job. Also, and this is only via an interivew I read in The Paris Review with Barry Hannah, but it seems relevant. “If you need more than three beers a day, then it’s time to start worrying.”
Blogging and social networks like Facebook and Twitter are providing readers with unprecedented access to their favorite authors and vice versa. Have you been able to utilize any of these venues?
CDW: I get sucked into Facebook to keep up with my friends mostly and contact other writers. It’s nice to let interested folks know when you have a story published, but I haven’t aggressively pursued it. I guess I’m kind of lazy when it comes to that.
What’s next from Charles Dodd White?
CDW: I’m completing a story collection with the working title of The Sanctioning of Sinners and starting on my next novel. Several of the stories in the collection-in-progress should be coming out in literary journals, both print and online, in the coming months. Also, Page Seay and I are just about finished editing an anthology of contemporary Appalachian short stories that will come out in Spring 2011.
What writer, living or dead, would you most like to have lunch with, and what question would you most like for that person to answer?
CDW: Moses. And I’d like to hear how much poetic license he took.