Memoir Series Part II: Ann Hite Interview
Illustration by Jerry C. Hite
I’m excited to bring you part two of this blog series. The illustration above was drawn by Ann Hite’s husband, Jerry C. Hite, and provides a wonderful image of the “family” cemetery, also a setting in Roll The Stone Away. Hope you enjoy and stay tuned for a guest blog next week from Ann Hite.
There are quite a few revelations, secret, lies you uncovered about your family. Which one or ones were the most shocking or surprising for you?
Finding out my grandmother’s last name was not really her last name was the crack that caused the dam to burst. Until this point in my life, I was convinced Mother’s “spells” were our family’s biggest secrets. I never saw her having a tangled past. I never gave the cause of her mental illness much thought. She had always been the odd mother. I was used to it. When two beautiful, elegant women approached me after Mother’s funeral, I never imagined they were extended family carrying a truth that would make me question everything I had been told. Had my mother known her name had been changed? What prompted this lie that trickled down to placing a false last name on my grandfather’s headstone? This event suggested I would encounter more revelations. And, I did, many. One being Henry Lee Hawkins—my great grandfather, Granny’s father—murdered Asalee Hawkins—my great grandmother, Granny’s mother.
What advice would you give writers considering writing a memoir, particularly writers that are dealing with trauma?
Early on in writing this book, I took Jessica Handler’s workshop on writing about trauma, Braving the Fire—also the name of her book. She suggested using index cards to write one event that would be covered in the memoir. After I filled the index cards with scenes I wanted to write about, I placed them into an envelope and walked away from them for a week or so. When I came back to the cards, I took a random one and wrote about it. The order didn’t matter. Actually, it was comforting to write out of order. I never do this with fiction. A writer must read. If you want to write a memoir, read memoirs. And, most important, writers of memoir have to be on the other side of the events that drive the book. Forgiveness is of the upmost importance. Remember to forgive doesn’t me you forget. It doesn’t mean you pretend it never happened. It most certainly doesn’t mean you have to love the offender or offenders. You will still get angry. Forgiveness in a memoir allows the writer to look at all sides of the story and people involved. Then the reader can decide how they feel about what happened. Most of all, write your truth even if others involved are still alive. Your truth will differ from theirs. Both are valid. Trust yours.
At your reading you mentioned that while writing your memoir you realized that some of your fictional characters were based on your family members. Will you expand upon that?
I never write a character with the idea of basing them on someone I know like a family member. The similarities happen organically, and I don’t discover this until I’m in the publishing edits. In my third novel, Where the Souls Go, the characters Grace Jean and Pearl are different sides of my mother’s personality. The characters AzLeigh and Grandmother Todd are different sides of my grandmother. The character Mrs. Platte represents the many women in my childhood who tried to help me through complex family dynamics. In my first novel, Ghost on Black Mountain, the villain, Hobbs Pritchard, is actually my mother. Characters that stay with the readers and haunt them long after they finish the book are little slices of us and the people we know.
You mentioned the biblical symbolism behind the title. Will you share the inspiration?
“Roll the Stone Away,” the title, was inspired by the image of the women going to the tomb of Jesus and finding the boulder rolled away from the entrance. They understood the body wasn’t there. Christ and the resurrection were revealed, a new life. Hope in the darkest of times. Revealing each of my stones breathed new life into my existence. Hope. I gained confidence to shoulder the family history and accept members for who they were without sugarcoating their stories.
Your haints and your family spirits are not simply metaphors or characters. Maybe they are in your fictional works, but you admit to seeing them. What has been the reaction to that admission?
I have been surprised by those who wait for me after an event to tell me their experiences with spirits. These readers come from all walks of life. The majority of these experiences have been positive. I have many who want to “give” their stories to me for use in a book. I do explain they have to write their stories. It seems most people love a good ghost story, but I have had one negative experience. When I was on tour for The Storycatcher and Lowcountry Spirit, I did an event in Northeastern Tennessee at a beautiful library. This building was nicer than any in the small town that had a large retirement community. I could tell from the lavish rooms inside the library, the donors loved books. I talked about the writing of The Storycatcher and Lowcountry Spirit. I talked about the ghosts and folklore that populate these two books. When it was over, I excused myself and went to the restroom. The author I was traveling with was approached by an elderly woman, who gave her a wherefore about my ghosts, how the devil was behind them, and I had to get right with God. I found this a strange response. We were in Appalachia, and I was taught by my Appalachian relatives to believe in ghosts, haints, spirits. These great aunts were Godfearing folks with deep faith. While I completely respect this woman’s right to believe what she does, I do not agree with her. My experiences with ghosts can’t be explained away. I have never gone looking for them. And I won’t lie that the surprise of them showing up can be shocking. But I’m not afraid of ghosts. And I love writing about them.
You have found your niche, returning to settings like Black Mountain and Sapelo Island frequently. Do you anticipate returning to your ancestral homeland again, or have you released all of your stones with Roll The Stone Away?
I promised myself I would not write another memoir. But in January UPS dropped off a package from my brother. Inside was all my father’s military records, photos, and memorabilia from us kids. My brother expressed his desire I write the story about Dad. So you never know.
In your memoir you talk about always wanting to write and mention that you were a technical writer? What advice would you give creative writers wanting to make the leap into writing professionally?
A professional writer is one who sends off their work and gets rejections. Stephen King papered his wall with rejections. Write and don’t talk about it until you finish. Read, read, read. Deconstruct the books you love. This will teach you much.
Can you tell us about your writing process?
Because I am the mother of four children—all but one gone to live elsewhere now—I learned to write anytime of the day and night. And anywhere. I begin all first drafts with pen and paper. The connection is different, more personal. When I begin my second draft, I use a software program called Scrivener, written by writers. I love it! The third draft is when I begin reading aloud. I also use music as I write.
I noticed on your author website that you teach writing? What do you offer?
I teach a master class of five or six students with the goal to finish a book project. We work for 8 weeks, once a week, and take off 8 weeks with assignments to complete. Then we meet again. The group is close and have developed a true trust.
Finally, what is next for Ann Hite?
I have a short story collection, Haints on Black Mountain, that will be published by Mercer University Press in fall of 2021. The first book, Going to the Water, in a new series set in the Nantahala Gorge, North Carolina will be published by Firefly Southern Fiction, date TBA. My first nonfiction narrative about Lucille Selig Frank, Leo Frank’s wife, has been contracted to Mercer University Press. And finally, I am very excited about a new series set in Westview Cemetery here in Atlanta. This was inspired by historian Jeff Clemmons’s stories and his book Atlanta’s Historic Westview Cemetery. It’s rare to find a fellow cemetery lover. He is the biggest champion for this series that will be filled with haints.
To learn more about Ann Hite and her literature, please visit her author website: Ann Hite- A Southern Novelist, Storyteller From Birth
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Live the story you want to write!