ASHEBORO — Award-winning North Carolina author Terry Roberts will hold a discussion of his two acclaimed novels, “A Short Time to Stay Here” and “That Bright Land,” at The Table Farmhouse Bakery on Wednesday, May 24, at 7 p.m.
Tickets are available at the Asheboro Public Library for $5. Seating is limited so get your tickets early.
Sponsored by the Friends of the Library and partnering with The Table, the evening will include light desserts and coffee or water.
Roberts is the 2016 winner of the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Literary Award and the Sir Walter Raleigh Award for Fiction for 2016 for his novel “That Bright Land.”
His direct ancestors have lived in the mountains of western North Carolina since the time of the Revolutionary War. His family farmed in the Big Pine section of Madison County for generations and is also prominent in the Madison County town of Hot Springs, the setting for both of his novels. His debut novel, “A Short Time to Stay Here,” won the Willie Morris Award for Southern fiction.
Born and raised near Weaverville, Roberts now lives in Asheville and is the director of the National Paideia Center.
Set in the summer of 1866, a year after the Civil War has ended, “That Bright Land” is the story of Jacob Ballard, a former Union soldier and spy who has been sent south into the North Carolina mountains to find a serial killer who is carrying out his own private war in an isolated community. His journey also takes him home to the mountains where he was born. As he searches for the killer, he meets a war widow who helps him heal his own wounds and make peace with his past.
Based on true events, “That Bright Land,” published in 2016, paints a compelling picture of a violent and fragile nation in the wake of the Civil War.
From an interview in The Great Smokies Review, Roberts explains why his novels are set in his home county.
“Madison County was an especially dangerous place before, during, and after the Civil War because its citizens were divided in their loyalties to the point where violence of all kinds was commonplace,” Roberts explained. “The Shelton Laurel killings that took place in the winter of 1862-63 are perhaps the most famous example, but that is only the most garish stain in a torn quilt of theft, rape and murder.
“My story is more about healing than killing. It has to do with the fact that as adults, we are almost all of us wounded in some way — physically, emotionally, spiritually. And so I wanted to explore how deep and genuine healing can occur, whether in an individual, a family, or a community. I was therefore drawn to a place — and time — where everyone was wounded and healing was at a desperate premium and found my setting in the summer months of 1866, after the war was supposedly over.”
Is it hard to weave together fact and fiction when dealing with a historical novel?
“When I write, it feels to me as if there is a constant dialogue between historical fact and imaginative fancy,” he said in the same article. “When my imagination runs dry, I often turn back to the historical record and almost invariably, a rich detail falls in my lap. When the historical record has nothing much to say about an event, I’m free to make it up. And in making it up, my imagination often leads me deeper into the history.”
Roberts said that he first became interested in the historical events that serve as a backdrop to his latest novel while reading the pension and disability records of his great-great-grandfather, Benjamin Franklin Freeman.
“Ben Freeman’s story is full of violence and humor, ready-made comedy folded into tragedy; it is also richly indicative of the ambiguity and hardship of the war years,” Roberts said. “So historical fact stirred up my imagination, and I began to wonder what the pension examiner who came down from Washington City must have thought of Freeman.”
Roberts, whose writing has been likened to that of another award-winning North Carolina author, Robert Morgan (“Gap Creek,” “Boone,” “This Rock”) is drawn to the past because of his ancestors.
“If you’re drawn to a particular time in the past, explore the historical record to the point where it inspires your imagination, but don’t become so bloated with factual detail that it takes your protagonist 20 pages to walk from the porch to the barn,” he said. “Use that one compelling, historical word or image, but don’t try to shoehorn in everything you’ve found.
“And when your imagination comes up dry one day, go soak it in the research some more, until it again breeds story.”
* The Table is located at 139 S. Church St., Asheboro. The Asheboro library is located at 201 Worth St., Asheboro. For more information, call 336-318-6800.