Thursday, September 15, 2011

Her Story: Ann Hite

Ann Hite's novel, Ghost on Black Mountain (Gallery/Simon & Schuster), is a marvelous treat for lovers of Southern Gothic, ghost stories, strong women and "unspeakable secrets" (Joshilyn Jackson). The book has been praised to the heavens by a number of NYT bestselling authors, including Beth Hoffman ("Saving Cece Honeycutt"), Joshilyn Jackson ("Gods in Alabama") and Caroline Leavitt ("Pictures of You"). 

From Publishers Weekly: "Seduced into marriage by the charismatic Hobbs Pritchard, 17-year-old Nellie Pritchard moves with him to Black Mountain, where she discovers her handsome, amiable husband is really a vicious, murderous bootlegger feared by the entire community. Worse still, Hobbs is haunted by the spirits of his victims, who soon begin to haunt Nellie, too. After Hobbs nearly beats her to death, she kills him and flees the mountain, journeying to Darien, Ga., to make a new life for herself. However, Hobbs isn't done with her, or with Rose Gardner, who was pregnant with Hobbs's baby before he disappeared."  

How did you come to writing? Did you start writing shortly after emerging from the womb or did you come to it later in life?
Every year my grandmother would visit for two weeks with my family in whatever state or country we might be living. I remember looking forward to this like a child looks forward to a visit from Santa. She was the booklover and storyteller of our clan. Each evening she would gather me on her lap and tell me episodes from her childhood. As I grew older, the tales became more revealing. After years of moving around the country and five years in Europe, I finally returned to the South. I was ten and it was the mid-sixties. This was enough to make a writer out of most book loving girls.  My mother had brought my brother and me to live with my grandmother in Atlanta. It was then I began to absorb both the wonderful and eerie tales told by my extended family. Every weekend we piled into my grandmother’s Oldsmoblie and drove to ‘the country’ to visit with my great aunts. I would sit among what I considered very exotic women. One aunt was always on the verge of a nervous breakdown, wringing her lace hanky in her fingers. Another wore a scarf around brush curlers wound tightly into bleach blonde hair, a cigarette hanging from her fingers. And of course there was the cousin, who went and married out of the faith. Her husband was Catholic.  If I was quiet, they forgot I was there and began to tell the old mountain tales. These were not for the faint of heart. Believe me. I loved each story and memorized them. This atmosphere of tall tales, spells, and spirits gave birth to Black Mountain, even though I didn’t have a name for the community back then. I spent many hours writing and forcing my little brother to sit on the back stoop of my grandmother’s home and listen to my stories of ghosts and goblins. I can’t tell you how many times I got in trouble for scaring him silly.

Were you influenced to begin writing by any writers/books in particular?
If I had to choose one book that put the idea of writing a book in my head, it would be Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. And if I had to choose one short story, the choice would be a tie between William Faulkner’s A Rose For Emily and Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man’s Hard To Find.

Whose works do you most enjoy reading?
I’m a book junkie, so that’s a tough matter. I love The Help and so look forward to reading Ms. Stockett’s new book. Bloodroot by Amy Greene is awesome. I have all the Harry Potter books. And I cut my teeth on Ellen Gilchrist.

Tell us about your book.
Ghost On Black Mountain is a book about strong women. The story begins in 1938 when Nellie meets Hobbs Pritchard in a soup kitchen in Asheville, North Carolina. She marries him, even though her mother warns her not to, and goes to live on Black Mountain. There are ghost aplenty, but the book is layered and has a strong message. Every piece I write organically grows from questions. The questions for Ghost On Black Mountain were: What happens when a person makes a decision that radically changes lives and then keeps it a secret? How does this ripple through the generations?

How the heck did you come up with the central idea/plot?
 I’m a blank page writer, so I never know when I sit down to write what the plot will be. The idea comes to me in the voice of a character. This character will begin to show up in my head. This character always has a story to tell. I write it. In this process I find the plot of the story or it finds me.  

At what point in the writing process did you think you might give up on it? Were you most inspired? What kept you going through the long dark nights?
 In 2007—six months after Ghost On Black Mountain was finished—a small press here in the South wanted to offer me a book deal. It was a small press, but I was so thrilled to have my book published I didn’t care. A month later the deal fell through. I kept a smile on my face until I was alone, and then became angry. I promised never to write again, ever! I then proceeded to paint my writing room purple. It would become a playroom for my daughter. I finished one wall and stopped. The room never became a playroom, and I didn’t stop writing. The purple wall still remains to remind me that all good things happen in their own time. Had I gotten what I so desperately wanted, Gallery/Simon & Schuster would never have offered me a deal on Ghost On Black Mountain in 2010, and—here’s the best part—the book wouldn’t have been the best it could be. I used the three years between offers to make Ghost the best book it could possibly be. 

The pure love of writing pushed move forward through the darkest of times. I think a writer has to love writing so much they will do it for free. In other words they are not writing for money. It’s then I began to grow in my art.

What have you read lately that you love and think everyone on the planet should read?
 The Taker of course. Loved, loved, loved it. Kingdom Of Childhood by Rebecca Coleman which will be released this month by Mira. Stunning books.

What have you read that, surprisingly, didn’t grab you?
 I’m thrilled to say I haven’t had this experience in a long time. I’m picky about what I read because my time is so limited.

Do you have a “path to publication” story that you’d like to share? Funny agent/editor encounter? Publishing etiquette you didn’t know until you entered the business? Tip for newly published or aspiring writers?
Aspiring writers: write every day. Do not give up. Push your work and believe in what you’ve put on paper. If you do this, you will be published. Of course only when the time is right.

What is the most surprisingly thing you’ve learned about yourself since getting published? The most unexpected?
 I’ve found I can relax in front of a crowd. This was amazing to me.

The most unexpected thing I’ve learned about me is the fact that I obsess on each review that comes out for Ghost On Black Mountain. I keep attempting not to pay the reviews any mind, but I go right back and search them out. 

Ann Hite has published more than sixty stories in publications such as: Literary House Review Anthology, Espresso Fiction, and Skyline Magazine. Her Black Mountain story, Circle of Light, was nominated for Sundress Best of 2008 where she appeared along side Ron Carlson, the great short story writer. In addition, Ann has published more than forty-five book reviews. She teaches workshops throughout the South specializing in writing voice. Ann lives with her family in Atlanta with her ever expanding library, a butterfly/hummingbird garden, and her laptop. She is hard at work on the next BLACK MOUNTAIN novel, SIGHT.

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