- Published: 11 June 2013 11 June 2013
Adriana: Anton, you captured the beauty, mystery, and peril of the Appalachians in your novel. Why do you think the mountains of North Carolina make for such an evocative setting?
Anton: Even now, when I see the Appalachians after any period of time, I’m taken aback by their loveliness. I think the Appalachians speak to something very human in all of us—I’m amazed by how many communities and homes are tucked into the highest hillsides, and then think of the people who settled those areas, when there weren’t things like pavement and cars! There’s such rich history in the Appalachians, both past and present.
Adriana: You are a true Southern belle—you grew up in Florida, spent summers in North Carolina, and studied in Georgia. I'll bet you get your thank-you notes out immediately. What is it about growing up in the South that makes storytelling so delicious and inspires truthful and beautiful prose?
Anton: I think Southerners have a real gift for sitting around and gabbing. So I grew up around my family, and friends, who just knew how to spin a tale, and took real pleasure in telling a story. The South prides itself on hospitality—I think we might rival Japan in how welcome we try to make guests feel in our homes—and part of making a person feel welcome is including her in your stories. Entertaining her. And Southern women, especially, have such brilliant turns of phrases. My mother, who is from Alexandria, Louisiana, still surprises my sister and me with little jewels: wound tighter than Dick’s hatband; I’m gonna do whatever trips my trigger; Pinkie thought he had two heads till he cut one off.
Adriana: Aside from Yonahlossee, do you have a favorite Southern spot to visit or somewhere full of memories that you might share with us?
Anton: This is an easy one: Atlanta. I went to college there, at Emory, and I love the whole city, and would move back in a heartbeat. It’s the perfect marriage of old Southern charm and a very progressive arts and political scene.
Adriana: You attended a camp similar to Yonahlossee, which was an actual riding camp for young women operating up until the 1980s. What was your camp experience like?
Anton: Nothing like Yonahlossee! My camp experience—I went to Camp Greystone, in Tuxedo, North Carolina, for two summers—was pretty tame. The food was delicious—I have such a memory for food!—and so Thea’s meals were inspired by my Camp Greystone meals.
What scared and titillated me about camp is what I try to evoke in Yonahlossee: the utter absence of parents. There are adults, sure, but they’re not attached to you in any sort of meaningful way. There’s such energy created by the absence of adults: it’s like a pressure cooker for girls. And lots of drama happens, naturally.
Adriana: Let’s talk about your heroine, Thea Atwell. She's a total original—strong, feisty, determined. How did you imagine this headstrong, wild young woman? I'm going to ask you the question you will be asked the most when you tour with your beautiful debut novel and meet your readers: Is there any of you in Thea, or is she based on someone you know?
Anton: She is definitely not based on me! Or anyone I know. I am a pretty cautious person, and have never, ever been accused of being fearless, so I wanted to imagine myself into the brain of someone who isn’t scared of anything, really. So in a way Thea is the opposite of me.
Adriana: Horses are as much characters in this novel as humans. Even if you aren't an equestrian (and I'm not), it’s easy to fall in in love with your descriptions of the horses. I did. They were so real to me as characters. Do you ride horses? What role has riding played in your own life?
Anton: I do ride horses. I grew up riding them, and I ride now, too. I love being around them—there’s nothing like it. When I was young, horses were a way to make myself be brave, because you have to kind of forget that you are sitting on a thousand- pound animal, that anything could happen, or else you can’t ride. Horses can smell fear; as soon as they sense you’re scared, they’re scared, too. It remains that way today—riding is the one part of my life where I’m completely mentally and physically engaged, where all my normal worrying just sort of falls away and I’m absolutely in the moment.
Adriana: You know you can't write Southern unless you know how to write heat. Your novel has some seriously steamy love scenes. Do you like writing the love scenes?
Anton: I’m blushing! I do like writing love scenes—I guess that’s why I write so many!—but it’s funny, because the writing of those steamy scenes is pretty mechanical. You have to pay so much attention to the ways bodies are positioned and moved.
Adriana: What are you most looking forward to as you meet your readers? You should be prepared for their love and enthusiasm. You've written a page turner; it's a spectacular debut.
Anton: I am so looking forward to traveling around the country, especially the South, and stopping in all these amazing independent bookstores that I’ve heard about for years. And also hearing what readers think! This is my first book, so I’ve never had the experience of talking about my work with readers, and I am so eager to hear their reactions!