INTERVIEW with Denise Giardina

Brandon Carter

Brandon Carter recently had the chance to interview Denise Giardina, author of such works as The Unquiet Earth, Storming Heaven, Saints and Villains, and Good King Henry. Giardina grew up in West Virginia, in the coal camp of Black Wolf, which greatly affected her writing. She is considered to be one of the major writers in Appalachian literature. Giardina serves as the keynote speaker in Lincoln Memorial’s literary festival in 2009.

E: I understand that your personal experiences play a major role in your writing.you had to pick the one that had the most influence on you, what would it be?

Giardina: I don't know that specific personal experiences are so important. of the events in my books happened to other people, not me. the general experience of growing up in a coal camp in West Virginia certainly had an influence on all my books. Unquiet Earth in particular is especially connected to my own life and the character Jackie does have some things in common with me. (Of course I won't say what, exactly!) overall, the experience of growing up in a coal camp had a huge influence on all my novels. camps were wholly owned and controlled by companies. people who lived in them were powerless, and yet shared their lives very closely. could not help but influence a writer.

E: I have read that much of your work is based in the mountains of West Virginia, where you grew up, but have also read about your works based on Nazi Europe and King Henry V.do you find more fulfilling to write?Why?

G: I also have a novel coming out this summer about the Bronte sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte. locations vary but the interest is the same, and I find them all fulfilling to write about or I wouldn't write the books. am interested in the lives of these people and the dilemmas they face. am particularly interested in how people make moral choices in difficult circumstances. happens in West Virginia, which I know best, but also in other places as well, as other places are very interesting.

E: I know thatHeavenwas based on historical events, and that you were writing from personal experiences, but have also heard that it is best to allow your characters freedom to develop themselves.difficult was it to keep them historically accurate, but still alive?

G: My novels are based on historical events, but it is extremely important for a writer to give characters their freedom. the author tries to control characters, they will rebel. when characters rebel, the author gets writer's block. fiction based on actual history does pose special problems, but they are problems I enjoy. of the framework is already given to me as a writer, but I still have a great deal of freedom to explore the characters. matter how much historical information we have, we really have very little knowledge about the internal lives of people. Think of the people you know best. much do you really know about what that person is thinking, feeling? even though the characters I write about might be historical, I have a great deal of freedom as I try to bring them to life again.

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Photograph by Larry Thacker

E: I had heard rumor that parts ofHeavenbased on Don West.this true?

G: Actually Storming Heavenis not based on Don West. did have the privilege of meeting Mr. West before he passed away, and I greatly admire his life. I never considered him when I was developing my characters. I think he is an example of someone from the Appalachian region who fought back. is all I can say.

E: Is there a universal theme or message that your works try to convey?

G: I am most interested in theological exploration. am interested in how God relates to people and how people relate to God, and how people make moral choices given the situations in which they have been placed. believe God supports people as they struggle with those choices and that God is very forgiving and understanding.

E: If your readers only got one thing out of your writing, what would you want it to be?

G: To enjoy a good story that connects them with other human beings (and animals).

E: How has your time in Seminary influenced your writing?

G: I could not be the writer I am if I had not gone to seminary. experience in seminary is what made me a writer.

E: Do you identify yourself as an Appalachian writer?

G: On the one hand I dislike labels because I think they are often used to limit. I am an Appalachian writer, how dare I write about Nazi Germany or the Bronte sisters? 't I know my place and write about that only? I am a woman writer, shouldn't I write about domestic issues? . at the same time I want it to be clear that I come from this place, and that yes, we can actually produce writers (since some people think we can't even read). I don't mind being called an Appalachian writer if it is clear that the label connects me to the larger world rather than limiting me. the way, I consider Emily Bronte the first Appalachian writer, and she never lived here.

E: What are you currently working on?

G: I’m in between. new novel will come out in late July. I am planning to write a novel about two kids growing up in the 1960s and dealing with Vietnam, but I am still in the research stage. I grew up at that time, I am doing some reading to broaden my understanding of the period. 'll probably start writing this summer. -e-