Ron Rash's novel, "Serena," turned out to be the biggest hit of his career. The best-seller ended up on scores of Best of 2008 lists, including those of the New York Times and Publishers Weekly.
A movie is in the works, starring Jennifer Lawrence as the title character, an ambitious newlywed who moves to the North Carolina mountains with her husband in a quest to start a timber empire.
On the heels of this success, Rash found himself in a tricky spot: How to follow up.
He did it with "The Cove," released earlier this year, setting a love affair during World War I.
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"In some ways it was daunting (to follow up "Serena")," he said. "I think it's my Big Book. It's my most ambitious. ("The Cove") is on a smaller scale, but hopefully it will be as successful."
Rash will speak Aug. 2 at the University of South Carolina Beaufort's Lunch With Author Series.
Like "Serena" and many of his other works, "The Cove" is set in Appalachia, where his family roots stretch back into the 1700s.
Rash himself was born in Chester and grew up in North Carolina on the edge of Appalachia. He first seriously considered writing as an undergrad at Gardner-Webb University in his hometown of Boiling Springs, N.C. He mainly stuck to poetry and short stories in his younger years, supplementing his budding writing career by teaching at colleges and high schools. He currently teaches at Western Carolina University. His work won prestigious awards, including the O. Henry Prize for short stories and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.
The author merged into novels about a decade ago when "One Foot in Eden" was published.
"I hoped I'd be able to write a novel," he said. "But I didn't have much success until I hit my 40s. Maybe I just hadn't lived enough."
If anything, (writing poetry) helped me be more vivid and concise. It helped me get strong images in my writing."
As he's launched major tours for "Serena" and "The Cove," he's gone as far as Australia to find that readers have an interest in Southern or Appalachian stories. And, even after spending most of his life in the area, he still finds his creativity sparked by the region.
"It's the region I know best. It's where my family calls home," he said. "Even if the culture is very different from other places in the world, the writer finds something true of all humans. Ultimately, I like what Eudora Welty said, 'One place understood helps us understand all other places better.'"