I am pleased to have southern fiction author and photographer, RC (Ruth) White, as a guest on Southern Creatives today!
Do you consider yourself a “Southern writer” or a writer who lives in the South? What do you think is the difference?
I am without question a Southern writer. The South is in my blood, and I could no more write with accuracy about life in New York City than one of its lifelong citizens could speak with authority about life here on the Gulf Coast.
The difference lies, of course, in our cultural heritage. Even though the last century witnessed a huge urban influx across the South, most of us maintain a connection to our agrarian past and are familiar with that way of life. Even our climate encourages us to be outdoors most of the year.
The roles of family and place also differentiate the Southerner and help us to feel connected. There’s a certain satisfaction by identifying someone’s family and sharing the fact that we are familiar with those people and their home.
Most people also know that the South is the land of churches on every corner, and I’ve always thought that the reason goes back to our roots as a people. Extremely poor, we turned to religion not only for hope, but also for consolation and for acknowledgement that we had worth in spite of our poverty. Life was bitterly tough, so we could only hope for a better afterlife.
How does living in the South shape your stories?
Living in the South has shaped every area of my life, from food to values. Although I sometimes cringe when news reporters seek out the less eloquent in speech for interviews, I must admit that these people, too, are part of our Southern landscape and are not to be ignored. After all, without the Bundrens, what would Faulkner’s stories be?
Living in the South has also shaped my very life path. For several years, my husband and I considered moving to Arizona, where we had been married years before in a hot air balloon. However, in the end, we had to admit that we belonged here, where we bless peoples’ hearts, where football on Saturdays is a religion worthy of war, and where green is the primary color year-round.
While visiting in Arizona once, I encountered an African American woman who had been transplanted to that state from Alabama. When she heard my accent, she initiated a conversation, and before long we were doing what Southerners do best—asking about kin and familiar places. By conversation’s end, we were both in tears. She and I spoke the same language, that of the South, and, although she loved her new home, she sorely missed her Gulf Coast.
Who is your favorite author/book and why?
What an interesting question! Zora Neale Hurston touched my soul in a way few others could ever do with Their Eyes Were Watching God. When I first read this book, I closed it and sat dumfounded for a moment. Then I said over and over, “Wow.” And soon the tears began to fall. I cried for Janie and her sad, heroic life. I cried for familiar places that are a part of me. And I cried for all the sadness of Janie’s life and mine. In other words, Miss Hurston touched my very soul.
Chapter Two of this wonderful book begins thusly:
“Janie saw her life like a great tree in leaf with the things suffered, things enjoyed, things done and undone. Dawn and doom was in the branches.”
When the Seminoles left Lake Okeechobee in advance of a devastating hurricane, they demonstrated an innate knowledge that so few possess. My father, descended from those same people, retained a similar knowledge and respect for nature that belied explanation. Much of this wisdom remains in the Southerner today.
If one of your novels was made into a movie, what actors would play the parts of your main characters?
This question gives me a chance to explore every writer’s dream of seeing my story on the big screen.
Reckless Pursuit was my first novel and probably still my favorite.
The gist of it presents two women who have lost their husbands under suspicious circumstances. They join forces and go after the killers in a wild chase through the American South and into Costa Rica. They risk everything to find answers and bring the guilty to justice.
I envision Julia Roberts or Sandra Bullock in the lead and perhaps Lorraine Bracco (the detective’s mother on Rizzoli and Isles) as her less daring but determined and caring partner.
Your novel, Ascension at Antioch, is full of beautiful sensory details. You also have short stories that incorporate paintings as part of the plot. Do you use certain images, photographs, or paintings to inspire you? If so, what are they?
For me, art and nature are one and the same. The way in which an artist creates light on a canvas is tantamount to a writer’s breathing life into a character. Both are representations of nature and both result from creative genius.
One artist in particular speaks to me like few others. Walter Anderson of Ocean Springs, Mississippi, painted because he had to; I write because I must. This talented man once tied himself to a tree on a small island in the Gulf of Mexico in order to experience a hurricane in all its fury. Lucky for him, there was no thirty-foot wave, but he took away from the experience a greater understanding of the forces of nature. The colors and shapes in his works are those found in nature because he took the time to see them. Of course, many people thought him insane, but haven’t we always misunderstood genius? His work echoes nature itself.
What paint is to the artist, words are for the writer. They are our way of touching another human soul.
What’s coming up next for you?
Like so many other writers, I continue to wait while my agent submits my work, but in the interim, I’ve joined forces with some wonderful friends and writers to produce an anthology of novellas about women of the Central Gulf Coast.
In this anthology called Bare Elements, each of us used one of the four elements of Earth, Water, Wind, and Fire as a theme for novellas that begin after the Civil War and end in the present. We’ve planned a book launch at Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi on December 5, and we hope to have these stories by and about women of the Central Gulf Coast used in college courses of women’s studies.
Thank you, Melinda for asking me to take part in this project. One thing I’ve learned through all the years and all the rejection is that knowing writers like you makes it all worthwhile.
Many thanks to RC (Ruth) White for being my guest on Southern Creatives. In addition to her novels, Reckless Pursuit, Devil’s Trace, Ascension at Antioch, you can also find her work in several anthologies: Teacakes and Afternoon Tales, Mad Dogs and Moonshine, and Clinton Brick Streets Winners’ Circle.
To connect with her on Twitter: @writerdawg
and to read her blog – http://authorruthwhite.wordpress.com