Dawn Major Interviews Ann Hite

Dawn Major met Ann Hite through a friend and fellow Southern author Raymond Adkins. She was seeking Southern authors to review for her blog, now called SouthernRead, and Adkins emailed her about Hite. Dawn loved Hite’s Appalachian settings and her infamous haints, but  also her approach to writing, which is much like her own. Go with the muse! With this last collection, Haints on Black Mountain: A Haunted Short Story Collection, Ann put it on the line by using writing prompts provided by her fans and readers as inspiration for each story. That takes a special type of gift. With October and Halloween just around the corner, this collection couldn’t come out at a better time.

 DM: You authored a novel, Ghost on Black Mountain, and now you’ve written Haints on Black Mountain. Will you please explain the difference between a ghost and a haint for our readers?

AH: Appalachia never has one clear answer for this question. That is because they are a diverse people with many opinions—always have been. Some people believe “haint” is a term for a ghost that plans to do harm on others. Others believe it’s just another name for a ghost. Geechee or Gullah people—an African American population that live on the coast of North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Northeastern Florida—use the same term for ghosts. It may have originated with them. Bottle trees were constructed to capture bad haints at sunrise. My family used haint and ghost in the same way. So, in my opinion a haint is an Appalachian ghost.

 DM: They say authors are always seeking a homeland. Many of your stories are about losing a home and finding another or returning to a childhood home. What is it that draws you to this theme, and specifically the setting of Black Mountain, NC?

Black Mountain Train Depot

AH: I’m drawn to this theme—losing homes and coming back to childhood homes—because my granny told a story about my mother and her being homeless. As a young child this disturbed me. My father had abandoned my mother, brother, and me at Granny’s. The thought of having no real place to call home always haunted me. When Granny left Appalachia for the city of Marietta, Georgia, she shed as much of her Appalachia home as she could. She spoke properly and expected my brother and me to do this too when we came to live with her. She educated herself and worked as a “Rosie the Riveter” at the Bell Bomber Plant (Airforce Plant Six at Dobbins Airforce Base) in the height of WWII. It was only when she visited my great aunts in Appalachia that I got a peek of the young woman raised in the foothills of the mountains in a hardscrabble life. Granny told me stories of her Appalachian childhood and took me to visit my great aunts at least once a month. This helped me establish my roots in this beautiful wild place. The first time I saw Black Mountain, North Carolina, my shoulders relaxed, my heart slowed, and I felt I had come home at long last. My ancestors were from this area of Western North Carolina, but I have never lived there. Yet the mountain, the town, beckoned me home. This is when I began to write the novel, Ghost on Black Mountain, set in the area.

 DM: I could be wrong about my theories around your use of the maiden-mother-crone archetypes, particularly the weak mother figure. Do you care to share any thoughts around how you used these archetypes?

AH: You nailed this. I never set out to have these kinds of characters, but the weak mother figure grows in my work organically. These mothers are always flawed but interesting. I thought when I wrote my memoir, Roll the Stone Away, I wouldn’t write about mothers anymore. That wasn’t the case. Funny thing, most readers who reach out to me, do so because they had mothers just like the ones I create. I know this kind of mother intimately because most of these characters are based on my own mom. They are complex individuals who reflect that often we are our own worst enemy. The grannies I write are often wise and strong, but I have to wonder if they didn’t get that way from being weak mothers. It’s that trap generations of women fall into, repeating history over and over. I broke the cycle in my family, but that’s not to say my four daughters wouldn’t find something in me that they would fix if they could. This is the way of mothers and daughters.

 DM: You use some of the same literary tropes as established, world-building authors—mapping, recurrent settings, drawing on legends—to create your own stories. Do you see yourself as a world-building author?

AH: When I began writing the Black Mountain series, I knew I wanted the setting to come alive, to be a character. This was important to me because Appalachia is and was my passion. I wanted others to understand the “world” there. One day I walked in on my husband—who is an artist—blocking in an oil painting. I watched how layers and layers were added. It went from a blurry scene to a sharp detailed painting. At that moment, I understood what I needed to do to make Black Mountain real in the reader’s mind. I had to paint with words, adding layers of detail in just the right places. Later, I understood there was a name for what I was doing, world-building. I painted my world with words, factual history, myths, maps, and characters that became part of the place, the setting.

 DM: Since I started reading and reviewing your work, you’ve released one book per year, and I’ve wondered how you went about accomplishing this feat. Do you focus on one piece until it’s complete or do you seesaw between several pieces at the same time?

 AH: My process feels like a carnival ride sometimes. I will try to make sense of it here. Yes, I did have three books in three years published, but writing them was quite another process. When I turn a book in to my publisher, Mercer University Press, it takes anywhere from a year to a year and six months for it to be ready for publication. In this case, my novel Going to the Water—published in November 2021–had been finished for at least a year before I turned in Roll the Stone Away—published in May 2020. After finishing the memoir, I was gutted and wanted to do something fun and different. So, I wrote short stories set on Black Mountain. This is my first Black Mountain book since 2016. As you can see, I didn’t write one book a year. It took me four years to write my memoir, and I had to take breaks from the material. When I did that, I worked on the finishing touches of the novel that took me two years to write. Haints on Black Mountain was written during lockdown and turned in very early 2021. I actually wrote this collection in a little under a year, but the pandemic afforded me more time to be at my desk.

DM: You’re a “go with the muse” writer and with Haints on Black Mountain you requested, via social media, writing prompts and then used these family anecdotes as inspiration for this collection. Will you share how you integrated the quotes prefacing your stories? Also, I understand you’re planning to share various contributors’ quotes at future readings. Will you talk a little about what that looks like?

 AH: As I said in the answer above, I had just turned in the memoir. That book was extremely hard to write, and I needed something to immerse myself into. I went to Facebook and asked my readers to answer the following question: “What story do you have about your family that involves wind?” And I stated that they should write no more than three sentences I explained if I chose their short family history about wind, I would use it as a prompt to write a short story for a collection. The interest was great! I chose the prompts and moved on to the next question: “Give me a story about something or someone in your family that/who is “a little removed.” Again, I chose prompts—sometimes more than one for a story—and wrote stories for this section of the book. The final question was about women to be reckoned with. This became the last part of the book. I had an overwhelming response to this question and had to turn away many good prompts. The one rule I had for myself was I could not go and ask the contributor of the prompt any questions. I had to make my own story from their short response. So, in many cases, the prompts and real stories will be different. And I hope the contributors will write their true stories, too. When the collection was finished, I knew I had to give the prompt writers a platform to talk about their submissions. At my book launch local readers with chosen prompts will attend so we can have a conversation about submissions and how far or close my work is to their real story.

Then, before the holidays I will have a Facebook live event that allows both locals and out-of-state readers contributors to attend—I’m so looking forward to highlighting their submissions.

 I have made friends by writing of this collection. The book is dedicated to Robert Hollis, who was one of, if not the best, readers a writer could have. Two of his submissions were chosen. To my great sadness, he died before the book was finished, but I know he’s watching and is so proud of the work.

 DM: I stated you’re a preservationist. You’ve researched your own family history and have made stunning discoveries. Were you simply looking for inspiration when you integrated other family legacies and amusing anecdotes into your stories, or is there something more here?

 AH: When I began researching my family history it was primarily for the memoir, but it quickly grew into something much more. I found stories on my father’s side that were amazing. I used one in the beginning of this collection. Polly Doublehead was actually my third, great grandmother. Her father, Chief Doublehead, was a well-known chief. I was so surprised by this connection to the Cherokee; the prompt helped me see the story I had to write. My Polly walked the trail and is on the road along with her Cherokee sons that ended up settling in Cherokee, North Carolina, later in life. Their father, Polly’s Cherokee husband, was Whiplash Murphy. Polly then married a white man, and he was my third, great paternal grandfather. She had another family in North Georgia. I remember my paternal grandmother followed much of the Cherokee medicine taught to her by Polly, her grandmother. In the process of researching family and writing this collection, I found my half-sister. One of the stories in the collection is also my reaction to this find. The prompt made me think of how much I wanted a sister while growing up, and all along I had one. Our family stories are stronger than DNA in my opinion.

DM: After three books in three years, what’s on the agenda for Ann Hite now?

AH: I am finishing a nonfiction narrative about Lucille Selig Frank, Leo Frank’s wife. The title is Mrs. Leo M. Frank: A hidden voice. I have been working on this book in some capacity since 2014. I call it my opus. This book will be turned into Mercer University Press before the holidays. Then I am going to write a novel about Maude Tuggle, Black Mountain’s granny woman. I have so many requests from readers to tell her whole story; I have to do this.

In July, I unplugged and went on a writing retreat in Appalachia and allowed myself a whole week of writing Maude’s book. Nothing else. I can tell those who know the early characters in the Black Mountain books that Shelly Parker is in Maude’s book. How could she not be? She is an old woman, but still Shelly through and through.

 DM: Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. I wish you the absolute best for Haints on Black Mountain: A Haunted Short Story Collection and look forward to your reading.

Want to learn more about author, Ann Hite? Visit her author website.

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