Historical fiction takes us to new places and new times. Get a breath of fresh air from South Carolina’s Blue Ridge mountains, and then dive into the pre-Revolutionary world of Katherine Scott Crawford and her historical novel, Keowee Valley, and the short story sequel, Evergreen and Expectations.
What period of history do you wish you knew more about?
As a historical novelist, this is a tough one for me. I’m an unapologetic history dork; in fact, as an undergraduate, I took so many history courses as electives that I was only a few credits shy of earning an extra degree in history (I was an English major). My great love is the Revolutionary period in the United States–I spent two years researching this period in the American South, especially, when I was writing Keowee Valley. But recently I’ve been fascinated by the history of pre- and post-Renaissance Bohemia and the Czech Republic, where my maternal ancestors are from.
If you could write any other genre, what would it be?
I suppose I’ve already written a bit in my other favorite genre, creative nonfiction. I fell in love with memoir and the personal essay when I was a graduate student at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. I was a newspaper columnist for five years; during that time I got to write about pretty much whatever was on my mind or had piqued my interest at the moment, whether it was topics like the outdoors, motherhood, books, politics, manners, travel, friendship, and more. I’ve had a few essays published, but I’d love to complete a book-length manuscript of connected essays at some point. I’ve also got a big itch to write a children’s book, I’m fascinated by screenwriting, and I’m dying to dip my toes into political speechwriting. I’d like to try everything. I worship poets, but I’m a failed poet to be sure.
How long do you read until you bail on a book you don’t like?
I’ve been an English professor since I was 26 years-old, and for years I was one of those people who finished a book no matter what. I used to tell my college and writing students, “There is something to be learned here, something to be gleaned, no matter what!” Something changed when I had children, though, and was trying to balance a writing career with teaching, parenting, and tackling another graduate degree. More has changed since, with the state of the world and the very real fact that life is heartbreakingly short. I no longer have time for bad books … or, to be fair, books which just aren’t doing anything for me. I try to give a new book at least three chapters, but if I’m not feeling it, I put it down. My personal reading rule is this: If I don’t care whether the characters in the novel do a flying header from a cliff to their deaths, then I do not care enough to keep reading. Also, if something in the story reads as inauthentic to me–whether it’s theme or setting or even an author who plays to stereotypes–I’m out.
Do you tend to write about places you’ve been to, or places you wish you could go to?
Both! Travel has been one of the purest pleasures of my life. I’ll go anywhere! I love to sink into a place, real or imagined. My first historical novel, Keowee Valley, is set in the place I grew up, just 200 plus years in the past. I knew the landscape–the wild rivers, blue mountains, miles of trails–like they were a map of my heart. The historical novel I’m currently writing is set in post-Revolutionary Charleston, South Carolina. I grew up spending time in Charleston, have family there, went to graduate school and lived on a sea island there, and my ancestors have called the area home since South Carolina was founded. But the time period in which I’m writing, the very early 1800s, is one less familiar to me. So I guess I should say, instead, that I tend to write about the pasts of the places I’ve been or places I want to go: their history.
What do you worry about in your work?
I worry, now more than ever, that my own unknowing personal biases, or my own privilege, keep me from writing the truest, most authentic story I can. I worry about getting things wrong–whether it be the history, or a character’s perspective, especially when it’s a character whose cultural heritage, background, or life experience is very different from mine. I worry that I will inadvertently or unknowingly perpetuate a stereotype. I worry that I won’t be able to express creativity of thought, or artistic insight, in a way that truly reveals my heart. I worry that I’m not good enough. Even after teaching literature for more than 15 years and knowing that there’s more than enough room for everyone, and that it’s not what the author intends but what the reader finds significant and meaningful in a book which matters most, these worries still whisper. The book I’m writing now is one in which I’ve learned, at least in the first draft stage, to let the story come as it comes before I let those whispers become loud enough to either help or harm.
Katherine Scott Crawford was born and raised in the blue hills of the South Carolina Upcountry. A former backpacking guide with an adventure addiction, she is a newspaper columnist, college English professor, lecturer and speaker, and author of the historical novel Keowee Valley. Her writing has appeared in South Loop Review, Wilderness House Literary Review, Appalachian Heritage, The Santa Fe Writer’s Project, and more, and in newspapers across the country and abroad, including USA Today, the Detroit Free Press, and the Herald Scotland. She is the founder and director of MountainTop Writers Retreats: retreats crafted for writers at varying stages of their careers and journeys, hosted at a remote mountain lodge at 3,000 feet. Katherine holds a MFA in Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in a small town in the mountains of Western North Carolina with her husband, two young daughters, and a trail dog named Merlin.
Edie Cay writes award-winning feminist Regency Romance about women’s boxing and relatable misfits. She is a member of the Regency Fiction Writers, the Historical Novel Society, ALLi, and a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers. You can drop her a line on Facebook and Instagram @authorediecay.