Charles Frazier, the best-selling author of Cold Mountain, discusses his long awaited second novel Thirteen Moons. Currently on best-seller lists everywhere, this story is steeped in history, rich in insight, and filled with moments of sudden beauty.
Charles Frazier's "Thirteen Moons" is the story of one man's remarkable life, spanning a century of relentless change. At the age of twelve, an orphan named Will Cooper is given a horse, a key, and a map and is sent on a journey through the wilderness to the edge of the Cherokee Nation, the uncharted white space on the map. Will is a bound boy, obliged to run a remote Indian trading post. As he fulfills his lonesome duty, Will finds a father in Bear, a Cherokee chief, and is adopted by him and his people, developing relationships that ultimately forge Will's character. All the while, his love of Claire, the enigmatic and captivating charge of volatile and powerful Featherstone, will forever rule Will's heart.
In a distinct voice filled with both humor and yearning, Will tells of a lifelong search for home, the hunger for fortune and adventure, the rebuilding of a trampled culture, and above all an enduring pursuit of passion. As he comes to realize, "When all else is lost and gone forever, there is yearning. One of the few welcome lessons age teaches is that only desire trumps time."
Will Cooper, in the hands of Charles Frazier, becomes a classic American soul: a man devoted to a place and its people, a woman, and a way of life, all of which are forever just beyond his reach. "Thirteen Moons" takes us from the uncharted wilderness of an unspoiled continent, across the South, up and down the Mississippi, and to the urban clamor of a raw Washington City. Throughout, Will is swept along as the wild beauty of the nineteenth century gives way to the telephones, automobiles, and encroaching railways of the twentieth. Steeped in history, rich in insight, and filled with moments of sudden beauty, "Thirteen Moons" is an unforgettable work of fiction by an American master- Books Inc.
Charles Frazier was born in 1950 in Asheville, North Carolina and grew up in the mountains of North Carolina. He graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1973, received an M.A. from Appalachian State University, and a Ph.D. in English from the University of South Carolina in 1986.
"Cold Mountain," his highly acclaimed first novel, was an international bestseller, and won the National Book Award in 1997. It traces the journey of Inman, a wounded deserter from the Confederate army - the story is based in part on Frazier's great-great-uncle , W. P. Inman. A movie adaptation was released in 2003.
His second novel, "Thirteen Moons," was published in 2006, with an $8 million advance from his USA publisher.
He currently raises horses on a farm near Raleigh, North Carolina, where he lives with his wife, Catherine, who teaches accountancy, and their daughter Annie.
And so we'd like to welcome you all to an evening of conversation with Charles Frazier,author of the 1997 National Book Award winner Cold Mountain. He's here tonight tospeak to us about his book "Thirteen Moons," which is a historical novel that is epic in scope, rifewith rough and tumble adventure of American style, and brimming with thesame romantic spirit that enlivened "Cold Mountain." We're very excited,so please welcome Mr. Charles Frazier.Um, first of all, in a recent interview I read you described a childhood spent surroundedby books. And I was wondering what writers influenced you growing up, and whosestyle you most admire.From childhood?From childhood.From childhood. Um, Frank Dixon..YaaaayAnybody know who that is? The author of the Hardy Boy books. Yeah, I loved thosebooks. I was totally indiscriminate as a reader when I was a kid. I made no distinctionbetween a Batman comic book and Edith Wharton's, you know, books, I just, I readeverything that was in the little tiny town library in the little tiny town where I lived. Itwas 1200 people, maybe. It was at least 2 hours to the nearest town that was significantlybigger than that. So it was very isolated, very quiet, and that little Carnegie library wasthe center of my world.But you didn't come to writing until later in life, or into professional writing. So werethere writers later on in life whose style you feel helps enrich you as a writer, or anything?Oh yeah, well lots of them. I mean now, I love pretty much any of the big 19th centurywriters. A year hardly goes by that I don't go back and read some Turgenev novel again,something by Tolstoy again, something by Hardy again, Dickens I don't do everyyearI've got our mutual friend sitting on the books to be read pileand I think once thebook tour is over with and I can settle down, that's one of the first things I'll go back to is Dickens.And then of contemporary writers, I like a lot of different things, but Cormac McCarthy isup thereCormac and MarquezGarcia Marquez are the two that I have a kind ofspecial place for in my personal list. And then somebody like, well, we were talkingawhile ago about Barry Lopez and his book that Barry's put together called HomeGround, definitions of regional, geographic terms, regional landscape terms, from NorthAmerica. And he's been a writer who's just been a writer hero of mine since the Wolvesand Men back in the seventies.So for those of you who don't know, this collection that came out this year, a bunch ofAmerican writers going around the nation and describing the local geographical featuresof America, and it's a dictionary of sorts, and Mr. Frazier is actually a contributor, and soI was wondering actually if you would read to us one of the entries that you wrote?Barry'd been talking about this book for just about a decade, and he kept saying, "I'mlooking for funding, and I'm trying to, I want to collect this group of writers to do it, and Iwant it to be like a WPA project. And we won't even put your name by the entry, it'lljust be a list of contributors," and you know over the years I begin to think, this isn'tgoing to happen. And then just about the time I started working on Thirteen Moons, andwas really getting going on it, Barry called and said, "Hey, Home Ground is a go, we'regonna, you know, can you do it?" and I thought, this could not be a worse time. But Isaid yeah I'll do it, and I stopped working on that and did this. So this is a definition of aword from my home, in the Southern Appalachians, and the word is "hell."In 19th century America, hell was a generic term for a rough or difficult stretch of countrysuch as the wildly eroded Hell's Half Acre in Wyoming. Similarly, the thermal featuresof Yellowstone Park were originally called Coulter's Hell, after the explorer andmountain man John Coulter. The word was also used to designate the most lawlesssections of frontier towns, like Fort Worth and San Antonio, as well as particularly roughand dangerous parts of the urban landscape, such as Hell's Kitchen in New York City. Inthe Southern Appalachians, a hell is a dense, extensive growth of laurel or rhododendron.Horace Kephart in our Southern Highlanders, defined the term this way: "A hell, or slick,or woolly head, or yeller patch, is a thicket of laurel or rhododendron impassable, savewhere the bears had bored out trails."And the book's just full of that from all over North America, these little bits of landscapeterminology, and it's a remarkable work that Barry's spent years putting together with areally amazing, I mean if you can see just the length of that list of writersthat he's pulled together for it.So the research that you did for this is similar in scope and depth to the amount ofresearch you had to do for the Thirteen Moons and Cold Mountain. Was there anythingwhen you were researching, such as the Cherokee Nation, or historical civil war contexts,that sort of thing, was there anything that surprised you that came out of your research forThirteen Moons or Cold Mountain?Well, one of the things that surprised me about the Cherokee, I think a lot of people, a lotof Americans have this fixed image of Native Americans that's the Plains Indians fromthe second half of the 19th century. The war bonnets and Crazy Horse, and that sort ofthing, and in fact I just got a proposed cover for Thirteen Moons from I think it was theDutch translation, and it had this Plains scene with an Indian with a headdress on, all ofthat, but the thing that I found about the Cherokee that really amazed me is that by thetime of this book, by the time this book begins in the 1830s and the years before the Trailof Tears, the removal of the Cherokee from the East, that there were Cherokee leaderswho owned plantations that were as lavish as anything in South Carolina or Georgia or Alabama.And these men who were really more Scott in heritage than Cherokee, some of them likeChief Ross, who was the head chief of the Cherokee Nation at the time of removal, wasthree quarters Scot, didn't speak Cherokee, didn't like to be around people who did speakCherokee. Cause it made him nervous. But those people owned slaves and in some casesquite a few slaves, and therefore, I think this is the thing that surprised me the most, thaton the Trail of Tears, something close to 20% of the people on the Trail of Tears wereblack. And it's something that I would never have pictured from my previousunderstanding of that event.Is there something sort of inherently hypocritical about the main character,who defends the Cherokees so fiercely, yet owns slaves?YeahYeah, absolutely, he's like a lot of men of the class that he eventually came to occupy, aguy who's made a lot of money, who's lifted himself in that American archetypal way byhis own bootstraps and become powerful and rich, he still has this sense of connectionand obligation to the Cherokee who took him in when he was an orphan as a boy, butwhen it comes to talking about being a slave owner, about all he can say is, "Gee, I don'tknow why they didn't all cut our throats in our sleep." And just kind of wants to move onfrom there without examining that farther, in the same way that he does that in a numberof cases in the book, where he'll expand on some things, contract some other things, he'sa 90 year old man, telling the story of his life, and he's doing a great deal of self-editing.Since this story as well as Cold Mountain were based on actual people, is it difficult inlooking at the story of the actual person to draw the line for yourself between fact andfiction, where do youdepart from the fact and embellish and that sort of thing?Well, it can be a difficult decision if you make it a difficult decision, but for me, I'm anovelist first, the requirements for character and story I think always come first. I did thisthing with the Smithsonian a few years ago, was like an auditorium full of people and thetopic was historical fiction. And so I talked awhile about historical fiction, and thenasked for questions, and this woman got up and she said, "My husband thinks he knowsexactly where in Cold Mountain you started making things up." And it was like, therewere probably 500 people in this auditorium, and a kind of uncomfortable question likethat, you know people kind of get really quiet, and so I said, "Okay, well I'll tell youwhere I think I started making things up, and then you tell me where your husband thinksI started making things up. We'll see how they match."And she said okay. And I said, "Page one." And she just said, "Never mind." And satdown, but I just feel that way. This book has a little author's note in the back saying, "Imake things up." And it's mainly aimed at people at home in Western North Carolina, sothey won't stop me quite as often in the grocery store and say, "You know that thing youwrote that says that something happened over here, well it didn't, it happened over here."I've had that occur enough times that I just wanted to say,I am a novelist, not a historian. I make things up.Your fiction isn't just sort of contemporary fiction, you also do a lot of alluding to sort ofa great classical mythological stories, the Odyssey in Cold Mountain and the Arthurianlegend in Don Quixote, and this book and I was wondering if you felt like there was asimilarsort of source, American source, for you to drawn on, you know? Because theseare sort of ancient European texts that you're drawing on. Is there an American canon,will there be an American canon eventually given time and space, and that sort of thing,what belongs in that canon, according to you.Well, you know, I mean we don't go back as far, at least if you look at European cultureroots, there is in this book a lot of reference to older Cherokee stories, and I have in thisbook, Will has, what I wanted was for him to have internalized Cherokee culture so muchthat he doesn't make a distinction between history and myth, that he'll say, well, I wentinto this valley, and in that valley, there was a giant leech that lived in a deep hole in theriver, and there's a bald mountain up there, and there's a giant lizard that lives up there inthe rocks on that peak. So he's kind of internalized some of those orally transmitted stories.In terms of kind of beyond this book, the canon of North American stories, I've alwaysbeen very interested in those captivity narratives. Where the Puritan times, when therewere lots of people who were kidnapped. In Massachusetts, especially. But by theIndians, and taken to Canada. And Mary Rollinson is kind of a primary example of that.And it's the place where to me where American literature really begins, when people whowere essentially European, essentially British, English, had to confront this continent andthe people of this continent in a really direct and in most cases very violent kind of way.So those things interest me, I don't know whether I'll ever get around to using themfictionally, but I'm fascinated by those captivity narratives.On a much more frivolous note, and sort of something I was curious about, um, becausethe movie was made of Cold Mountain was so successful, the film rights to Thirteen Moonshave already been optioned, correctWell, let me get all movie-ish here. They were bought, not optioned.Sorry, bought. Um. Did you think about a movie at all when you were writing Thirteen Moonsbecause there was one already of Cold Mountain, or subsequently, have you thoughtabout some of your dream cast, who would play those people in the movie Thirteen Moons?For the first part of the question, did I think about movie when I was working on thebook, I've had one conversation with the people who have the film rights for this, and Isaid, when you've read the book finally, did you just scream at the notion of a story wherethe narrator, the main character, starts out as a 12 year old boy, and ends up as a 94 yearold manand the arc of the story occupies almost a century. And he said, it will requiresome movie magic to do. So I think I can pretty honestly say that the thought of a moviebeing made from this book didn't affect one thing about the book. And then what was thesecond part of the question again?Subsequentlythinking about it now, a dream cast, or anyone thatOh, okay. Yeah, I haven't been to a lot of movies the past few years, and for this book Iwould think that the main character Will should probably, I mean if I were doing it, Iwould be looking for an actor under 30, and I'm having a hard timeI have a hard timeeven thinking of actors under 30. So like who. Who's good. And 27 or 28.So I get to cast the movie?Yeah!For Will. Umlet's see, that's a hard one, I'll have to think about that. What aboutClaire though? For Claire?Claire, Natalie Portman.Did you like her performance in Cold Mountain?Yeah, she's just, she's really bright, really great.Um, did you want to talk at all about the Cherokee Translation Project for Thirteen Moons?Yeah, the Cherokee language is at the current rate of expert speakers of Cherokee dying,and new expert speakers replacing them, it'll be a dead language in about 20 years.Which is a really sad thought to me. Occasionally I read a kind of thing where the lastspeaker of some language in Australia or Polynesia or somewhere has died and feels likesome whole way of looking at the world has just ended. And I was over on the KoalaBoundary, which is the name of the land of the Eastern Band of Cherokee, the people thatthis book is about in a large way, and they were talking about some of the initiatives theyhave. And one of them is an immersion program for little kids, so they go in to day carein the morning, and all day long, not a word of English is spoken, it's all Cherokee, and ina couple of years they come out speaking Cherokee fluently.And Cherokee's one of the few languages, Native American languages, where there is awritten form of it, and in Thirteen Moons, if you have a copy, the end papers here are inthe Cherokee syllabery. So I said, you know, is there anything for those kids to read? Isthere anything for anybody to read in Cherokee? And he said, well there's hymns, there'sparts of the Bible, there are 19th century documents. And I said, well why don't we seewhat the process of translating now, translating modern things, into Cherokee is? Sowe're working on a project to translate the middle section of this book, the removal of theCherokee section, into Cherokee, and the goal is to have a bilingual edition of it and wehope audio in Cherokee, and in Eng. well, there's already an audio in English, but anaudio in Cherokee.As an educational project and as just an experiment. To see what it's like. Because thereare no professional translators of Cherokee. We're having to find people who are willingto try to do the work, and see if it can happen. To see if we can put together. well likepublishers are interested in doing it, but they've said, we can't do the normal things that apublisher does. We can't copy the Cherokee. So all of that will have to be done in thecommunity. And we're lining up people, and we're moving forward on the translation,and then the idea's to do children's books and to have an ongoing publishing enterprise inCherokee. So we'll see. It's been fun getting it going anyway. Seeing what some of theissues and problems are, and trying to overcome them.Well, thank you so much. Do we want to open up for some questions from the audience?