Michael Cogdill – She-Rain

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

She-Rain is the title. Here’s a synopsis:

A child living as prey to an opium-addicted father, drowning in a gene-pool of lowest expectations, feels shackled for life to the tobacco farms and cotton mill poverty of 1920’s western North Carolina. Some of the only beauty he knows rises in the eyes of a girl, surviving times harder than his own. Emerging from their adolescent love, the narrative rises far out beyond that opening milieu of violence, ignorance, and language-literal religious fundamentalism. It branches toward likely the least expected figure ever in a Southern novel. Her mystery begging the question — what might have been, had an African-American infant born of scandal been placed on the arms of one of the grandest American fortunes of the early 20th Century? Raised utterly cloistered in the clefts of Appalachia, steeped in her “adoptive” mother’s Vassar education, classical piano, the refinements most mountain people considered as distant and alien as the stars. When that son of an opium addict happens upon her — each in uniquely desperate times — they set off the beginnings of seismic change to the worlds they’ve known. Driven by what Faulkner might call human hearts conflicted deep within themselves — the feel of it terrifying and beautiful at once. What overflows them distills to ways of life that melt the hard rocks of racism, classism, the self destruction of living down to the worst human expectations. By its contemporary end, the telling of this story has moved readers of both genders to tears. I’m deeply humbled by this, and by how the story entertains with humor, the grit of reality, and forms of love least expected.

Tell us something about yourself.

Michael Cogdill is blessed as one of the most honored television storytellers in America. His cache of awards includes 25 Emmys and the National Edward R. Murrow for a broad range of achievement, from live reporting to long-form storytelling. His television credits as a journalist include CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, and The Today Show, and Michael’s interview history crosses a wide horizon: The Reverend Billy Graham, Dr. Mehmet Oz of Oprah fame, Dr. Henry Kissinger, Abby Hoffman, Senator Hillary Clinton, Senator John McCain, Howard K. Smith, James Brown, Keith Lockhart of the Boston Pops and many other newsmakers. His coverage credits include Presidents and Vice Presidents of the United States.

Michael anchors the 6:00 and 11:00 Newscasts for WYFF4 TV, covering the Western Carolinas and Northeast Georgia. He celebrates his 20 years as a member of the WYFF4 family.

Michael spent ten years writing She-Rain, letting it evolve into a world of fiction drawn from his upbringing in Western North Carolina but reaching far beyond. His other writing credits are Cracker the Crab and the Sideways Afternoon – a collaboration with his wife, Jill, and available at Crackerthecrab.com. Michael makes his home in South Carolina with his wife, Jill (a publishing entrepreneur), and their second-generation golden retriever, Maggie. He’s currently working on his second novel, also set in the American South.

What inspired you to write this book?

It began as a catharsis about my opium-addicted grandfather and alcoholic father, but my father’s bounce into sobriety seeded the book’s vines of forgiveness and seismic love. I wanted, also, to write of a love triangle that extols the gracefulness of humanity, not merely the worst of our ways.

How did you choose the title?

She-Rain, by definition: Scraps of fog adrift on the ridges of Appalachia. It appears as lacy mist blown off the clouds of a high-mountain rainy day. The expression comes from the lexicon of folklore. I heard it during my early boyhood from my grandmother, Dovie Ella Crowe Keys, who adored and seemed to draw peace from the sight of it. To this day, it reminds me, beautifully, of her.

What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?

The usual. Editors who don’t get the South, who were obsessed with vampires and other celebrities. I overcame the rejections by never, ever giving up. By believing in the tale. I have a great agent now who’s been a miracle help with this.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?

I can’t remember not wanting to be a writer. It’s a longing akin to drawing breath. But my brush with writing as a calling I should answer came in the sixth grade. A teacher handed an assignment back to me, then struck my deepest nerves with terror by ordering me to stand and read it to the class. Having sat down, with the feeling returning to my legs, she looked at me a long time and said — you’re going to be a writer someday. Stunning the effect of one educator who can school a child’s mind as she ignites his heart.

Do you have any writing rituals?

Snatch every quiet moment I can. I also scribble down every creative thought as it arises. Some of my best writing is done while I’m running or in the weight room. This practice of recording shards of thought on little pieces of paper sets off a billowing of confetti my patient wife endures with grace.

How do you come up with the names for your characters?

Randomly, at times. But I like a correlation between a character’s name and dynamic. For example, I named A.C. in She-Rain with a very particular symbolism in mind. I’ll leave you and your readers to guess on that one. Bring them on!!

Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book? What?

YES. I found out a literary agent can become a great encouragement, akin to a family member, and not merely a deal cutter. My agent is a joy. She called me out to write the book I’m working on now, even though I have so many other things going on, including a full-time job in television. I’ve also learned publishing is in a seismic state of change, which is terrific for content creators and owners around the world. Editors were once the exclusive curators of literature. More by the day, they’re being supplanted by the readers themselves. It’s fascinating to watch.

If you were doing it all over again, what would you do differently?

I’d be quicker to believe in the voice I’ve been given as a writer.

What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors?

I’m a balancing axis of fiction and non. Right now I’m reading David McCullough’s Truman. I started that on the heels of Pat Conroy’s South of Broad and Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise. If I had to choose two literary heroes, Fitzgerald and Charlotte Bronte would win the day. Too few writers write for beauty today, and too few editors embrace it. There’s far too much a see-Jane-run devotion in contemporary prose. I celebrate those who embrace lyricism without taking it into the purpled prose stratosphere.

Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?

Sure am. It’s a Vietnam War-era piece exploring the truth that our lives are built of relationships — the complex and deeply human kind, forged often in love that scandalizes and improves us at once. I’m doing this one for the pure, outrageous fun of it. The opening line: “Fredrick Robert Turner said he felt closer to God with his arm up a filly’s birth canal than in the great cathedrals of nearly anywhere else.”

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

Write what you feel as much as what you know, giving no room for worry about what editors or agents might think. Worry truly is a waste of imagination. Instead, spend yours creating magnetic prose that upholds this essential truth: People forget what you say, they forget what you do, but they never forget how you make them feel. To forge a clear lens on the chaotic heart of humanity, letting that lense catch snatches of our capacity for stunning goodness and evil in the same crucible, is a high calling for a writer. It’s not about us, it’s about the humanity on the other side of our lens.

One final thing: Fear not the outrageous. People, with some exception, are interesting. They’re hell raisers, often as they raise up a heaven on earth no one sees coming. Fear is a poor guide for any endeavor, especially writing. Allow it no where near the rudder of your creative life.

Who is the perfect reader for your book?

I’ve had comparisons to Cold Mountain and The Color Purple — a diversity I adore. I’m for readers who share my love for the music of language as it’s able to frame a deeply human tale. Every writer will encounter readers who say, “I don’t get it.” I love those readers, even as I let them know I’m unaffected by their inability to “get” what I’m trying to do. I work in television, so it’s virtually impossible to hurt my feelings!

Where can readers learn more about you and your book?

Amazon, Barnes and Noble.com, Facebook (too many writers hide from their readers, but I want to connect with mine), and my blog: In The Cool of She-Rain.