#VaReads Writer of the Week: Cary Holladay

After a short break, we’re back with more #VaReads! This week, we’re showcasing the work of Cary Holladay, author of The Deer in the Mirror and Horse PeopleShe has written seven volumes of fiction and her awards include an O. Henry Prize and fellowships. She also is a professor of English at the University of Memphis.

How did you get your start as a writer?

My mother, Catharine Mitchell Holladay, wrote short stories and articles, and she encouraged my sisters and me to write. At William & Mary, I studied under professor David Jenkins. He’d had a story in the New Yorker and read it aloud to the class… the lyricism of it is with me still. Then, I did my graduate work at the Pennsylvania State University, where professor Bob Downs’ excellent workshops emphasized the need to create permanent change in a character’s life.

Describe your work in three sentences or less.

Much of [my work] is inspired by the history, folklore, and culture of Virginia—the layers of history, the shifting tectonic plates of time, and how people deal with change and pass down their stories to the next generation. You never get the whole story, only bits and pieces. I don’t think you’re meant to get all of it: family stories and legends, I mean. Silence, secrets, forgetfulness—they are part of the story, and the writer’s curiosity and imagination fill in the spaces.

How does living in Virginia influence your writing?

A fox just ran across the field, right outside my window. Goldfinches are feeding on purple thistles. It’s just a beautiful place. As Henry James said, “Landscape is character.” Its beauty and richness, and the vivid lives and the variety of its people—talkative, expressive people—are at the heart of my stories.

What’s your favorite part of your most recent book?

“Time’s God’s, not ours,” says a woman in Heart on a Wire, a novella in my recent collection, The Deer in the Mirror. That particular story is about the Alaska-Yukon Gold Rush of 1898. The main character is an adventure-seeking girl from Virginia. She takes up with a gangster, the real-life Soapy Smith, who “ran” the town of Skagway, Alaska, but she is homesick for Raccoon Ford, Virginia. It’s her mother, a visionary woman obsessed with love for a man without a memory, who makes the comment to her about God and time.

What are you working on next?

A novel about a Virginia girls’ school in 1899, and the later life of one of the students, who falls in love when she is middle-aged.

To learn more about Cary Holladay, visit her website at caryholladay.net.

Through this series, we hope to showcase the depth and breadth of our state-wide literary community while also encouraging readers in the Commonwealth and elsewhere to challenge themselves to read more books by Virginia writers. If you have an author you’d like to suggest for this series, please email sdlawson@virginia.edu with details. Our focus is on writers with books that have been published in the past two years (self-published is welcome as long as the writer’s most recent book is held in at least one public library in the state).