I love it when I find another local author. This week it is my pleasure to interview Evan Williams, a fellow North Carolinian writing from the Asheville area.
Hi Evan. I read that you entered your first writing competition in sixth grade and won second place. Would you please introduce yourself to my readers and tell us how your writing has changed since the day you held that nifty winner’s plaque?
Hey, Tammy. The hey is a mountain thing or maybe more an identifier that the natives here use to distinguish themselves from the huge influx of folks who have moved in from parts wide and far. My own ancestors arrived here pre-Revolutionary War. They came. They saw. They liked. They stayed. To which I add that we obviously have no ambition whatsoever.
The common thread among my Williams family is farming, apples for sure. I marvel at the tenacity of settlers to these mountains faced with clearing virgin forest with nothing more than oxen or mules and hand tools. Every fifth tree at that time was an American Chestnut known to grow several feet in diameter.
I cannot even imagine.
The stubborn, independent streak required of those pioneers has transfused directly down to me.
I began school at the same building which both my parents attended and three grandparents as well. My first grade year was the last for a teacher who had taught all those family predecessors, which is a prime indicator of the closeness and heritage in my small, agricultural community.
From my enthusiastic, country kid writing, a brilliant middle-school teacher forced me to compose a collection of poems and later, a short story. Now, I attribute the miles and years as having transformed my burgeoning paradigm.
I wrote short stories and poems mostly for my own consumption until health issues more or less forced me to seriously consider the less physical career of writing.
Now, perhaps the only caveat I impose on myself is a desire to compose work which will prick readers’ hearts and even prod drowsy minds. Relevant, plausible fiction which encompasses the complexities of human behavior is my only guideline.
That is the perfect segue into a discussion of your novel Ripples. It draws heavily on your family’s multi-generational apple-growing business and most definitely focuses on the complexities of human behavior.
Yes. I’m at least the seventh consecutive generation of apple-growing Williamses. It may go further back, but I can’t say for certain. My mom’s family also grew apples, the two farms less than a mile apart.
Like Ben Bramley, the novel’s protagonist, I grew up next door to my grandparents. The oldest of three grandsons, we all worked long hours in what was truly a family business.
When considering the setting and circumstances for my novel, I fell back on the most familiar. The shoulder-to-shoulder work in the orchard provided the friction which comprised much of my story-line. That balance of learning to get along, bite one’s tongue, develop alliances, and even harbor secrets, is the perfect dynamic for illuminating longstanding hurts and tragedies in RIPPLES. Add in fundamentalist church doctrines, and the result is a minefield of potential catastrophe for boyhood Ben Bramley.
The cover seems to capture the feel of the story very well. Tell us about the process for coming up with the design.
All hale Olivia M. Croom, cover designer! All hale!
Truly glad to hear that you like it, Tammy. The process made it plain to me that I am not so detached or Zen as I would like to think. Part of my overall creative process involved the use of Pinterest. Long before the manuscript was complete I began saving images to a board entitled “Cover Ideas for My Next Book.” That board grew to 2.3k images—maybe a few degrees beyond obsessive.
Southern Fried Karma (SFK Press) allowed me to submit ideas and asked questions about my desires and pet peeves, to which I submitted several options.
What followed was a round where Olivia returned multiple designs for me to appraise and then took into account my comments. She implemented the font for the cover that I had been using for years on the cover page of my manuscript. To use any other would have seemed traitorous.
I have since learned that few publishers take into account the desires of authors where cover design is concerned. For that I am grateful.
What is the most surprising thing you learned while writing this book?
Many authors, maybe most, are outliners. Not me, unless you consider the mishmash in my head. But halfway through the first draft of RIPPLES I realized that if I had a whiteboard the size of a barn, I could not have outlined or organized the thousands of details which I tracked mentally: What color are Granny Bramley’s eyes? What was the dog’s name? Did I already reveal this fact or simply allude to it? How old is Ben in this scene?
Thousands of little details.
Were it not for the little binoculars icon on the Microsoft Word page which allows me to search an entire document by specific words and terms, I would have been sunk or perhaps institutionalized.
What would you like readers to know about your book that might not be apparent with the reading of it alone?
RIPPLES is deeply personal to me. So much so that I got the cover art tattooed onto my right forearm—my first and only ink.
That is so cool!
It has taken me fifty-nine years of life experience to be able write this book. No shortcuts and no self-censorship. Everything, and I mean everything I have has gone into my writing and I hope that resonates with the reading.
Do you have any writing quirks that you can share with us?
I take a poetic approach to the prose which I write—counting the number of syllables per sentence, any repeating vowel and consonant sounds of words in proximity to one another, and a great deal of reading aloud to discover anything halting or otherwise awkward.
Having drawn a reader into suspending reality, I won’t abide any poor word choice, shotty phrase, overused word, or lack of smooth continuity to derail their dream state. For that reason I also work hard at transitions between sentence end and new sentence resumption, in addition to paragraph transitions, and I heed sentence and paragraph lengths to keep from lulling the reader into a monotonous pattern.
I read the book. It certainly isn’t going to lull anyone into a monotonous pattern. Can you give us a rough timeline of how the book came together?
May, 2013, I began the MFA Creative Writing program at Queens University of Charlotte. I began RIPPLES and had a rough manuscript completed by graduation to fulfill my graduate thesis requirement.
Continuing to refine it after graduation, I submitted it to SFK Press’ novel contest in 2017 and heard that though I would not win, they considered it a “keeper.”
What followed from SFK was an editorial letter from a professional book developer. Her insights and suggestions instigated six months’ worth of major re-writing and reformatting, yielding a sizable chunk of new scenes and plot turns.
After submitting the new and improved manuscript, it and I underwent another six months involving three rounds of revisions and two proofreads. The brief period between the final proofread of the eBook version and the release date of April 9th should have come as a relief but the high anticipation made it difficult to patiently endure.
After the writing of a novel, the hard part really begins. What is the best marketing tip you have received?
Take a broad-spectrum approach to marketing, utilizing a long-term view.
Are you working on anything now that you would like to share with your readers?
My next novel is underway. Collecting information and notating ideas began about a year ago.
RIPPLES’ fictional county in Western North Carolina is the setting, though not much will be mentioned of the small Abundance community. Instead, the focus will be on Groverton, the county seat. The new novel needs a larger populous.
The arrival of an anonymous stranger with a “blasphemous” message threatens the stability of the indigenous religious infrastructure and by virtue, the entire city’s status quo.
Multiple points of view will arise in the story-line as attention shifts to the local individuals and small groups which dare to entertain the siren call.
Share a favorite photo with us and tell us why it is your favorite.
This photo captures the crux of my life and features my latest major accomplishment. The apple trees in bloom in the foreground are those of a large farming family with whom I share both generational history and a property line. Above and beyond those trees lies my family’s property with my home, my son’s home, and our equipment shed roofs in the center. My childhood home, still occupied by my mother, is also pictured along with that of my brother. The Blue Ridge Mountains form a perfect frame of fortifying strength while promising opportunity for endless, outdoor adventure. This is the land that my grandfather taught me to appreciate and ultimately love and every time I view it from the vantage point where this photograph was taken, my heart soars.
Do you have any events or book promotions coming up that you would like to tell us about?
With a few behind me, I am at work scheduling more. September 11th, 2:30 pm, I will be at the Community Room in the Historic Henderson County Courthouse for a reading and discussion with the Courthouse Book Club.
I love meeting with book clubs. That may be one of my favorite things to do.
Where can readers purchase your books?
Several independent bookstores have RIPPLES on their shelves. A quick check on INDIEBOUND.org can verify locations, or readers can order directly from their favorite bookstore by following this link.
If you prefer Amazon, it is here, also.
Bookstores or individuals interested in ordering in bulk can do so directly through SFK Press’ website. Bookstores which schedule events with SFK authors will receive an additional discount plus promotional materials and advertising from SFK.
Are you on social media and can your readers interact with you?
If folks can’t find me on social media, then they aren’t really looking. I’m everywhere and available to interact, especially with readers, other authors, or aspiring authors. After five years of solitary confinement composing my novel, I’m more than ready to discuss it with the reading world.
Perfect. That’s about all the time we have for today.
Okay. One more, just for fun. What book is currently on your bedside table?
Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy (Personalized and autographed by one of the editors, Meredith McCarroll)
My thanks, Tammy, for offering me this opportunity to talk about my biggest project to date.