Regarding the novel “Cold Mountain”

Remember in 1997 when the historical fiction book Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier was at the top of the bestseller list? Selling over 3 million copies to date, the book  went on to win the National Book Award, and was adapted into a 2003 movie starring Nicole Kidman and Jude Law. I bought it in hardback sometime after it was published and commenced to reading it, only to find myself falling asleep while reading of Inman, the disillusioned Civil War soldier, and Ada, the similarly disillusioned, recently orphaned minister’s daughter. The tale of Inman’s long journey–on foot, no less–wasn’t what I wanted to plod through at the end of the day, even if Inman was trying to get back to his lover Ada and his beloved home, Cold Mountain. I just wanted him to get there already! The book was praised by critics and readers alike, and I wanted to get it. But I just didn’t. I kept at it, though, just like good old Inman, and (after lots of more fast-paced books in between) eventually finished it right before the movie came out. I went to see the movie with some girlfriends one evening, soon after my second child was born, and I loved it. I think I was still a bit post-partum, but I cried like my newborn at the end of the movie.

Sometime after that, I started to write my first novel, The Outer Banks House. I’d never written fiction before, but I felt compelled to tell a story–a love story, to be exact. You’ll have to read my post entitled “Thank God for deodorant and air conditioning” for details regarding how I settled on Reconstruction-era Nags Head, N.C.,  for the setting. My characters of opposites, Ben and Abby, sprung from the time period and the setting. Then, when I started to write, I alternated between Abby’s and Ben’s point of views (and Winnie’s, but later removed those chapters) to show the development of the love story. The writing at first was difficult for me, for as a reader, I knew what a book should sound like and I kept editing myself. But it was like all of the authors I’d ever admired were whispering  to me, telling me where they thought the story should go, what the characters should say, what they thought my style should be. And I’m starting to have an idea which author whispered the loudest in my mind…

I am now slowly rereading Cold Mountain, and I am struck by the beauty of the sentences, the rightness of the words. I savor the words, the phrases and sentences, like bits of dark chocolate, autumn leaves. Crafted as they are by Frazier, they are things of pure delight. They are never bloated with adjectives and adverbs, or unnessary with details. Each word has its proper place. Each word contains its own truth. Each paragraph contributes to the story, helps define character. And I would never compare such a genius with myself, but I believe  his style influenced mine without my knowing it.

I am also amazed by the pace, which I once believed was slow and tedious, full of flashbacks and transistions and few “cliffhangers.” Inman moved slowly west toward the mountains, and Ada slowly carved out a new way of life on her farm, but they each kept stepping back in their minds to relive past events for the readers. But rereading it, I see how the flashbacks shed light on the characters’ motivations, which in turn moves the story forward. I actually look forward to them now, savoring the slow pace and enjoying the journey they both take.  Maybe it’s because I’m older now, and not in such a hurry. Maybe as a writer, I tend to dissect others’ writing now, without even really wanting to. But I think it’s because the book had such a profound, previously unrealized effect on me–and like uncovering a forgotten childhood memory, I can now see and appreciate its influence. So let me say “Thank you” to Charles Frazier here, and bestow on him the “Diann Ducharme Major Influence Award.” Someday soon I’ll read Thirteen Moons and Nightmoons!

Coming tomorrow: my favorite sentences from Cold Mountain

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