Write what you know. That's what Robert Morgan's first writing teacher encouraged him to do, to pen stories and poems about the place and people where he grew up.
Morgan wrote his first story in the sixth grade. While the rest of his class visited the Biltmore House near Asheville, he spent the day writing.
"I did not have the $3 for the trip, and rather than let me sit idle all day my teacher, Dean Ward, suggested I write a story describing how a man lost in the Canadian Rockies, without gun or knife, makes his way back to civilization," Morgan wrote in his bio on his website. "All day I sat in the classroom by myself working at the details of my character's escape from the wilderness. I was so absorbed in my story I was surprised to find the other students had returned that afternoon."
Though Morgan still writes a lot about the Southern Appalachians and the people there, he's also interested in exploring other regions and other histories. Like the American West, for example, which Morgan's most recent book, "Lions of the West," tackles. It tells the story of 10 American legends who helped achieve this country's Manifest Destiny. From the book, it's clear that Morgan is fascinated by the way individual lives collectively impact history.
Morgan also writes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. His bestselling novel "Gap Creek" was chosen as an Oprah book club selection in 2000 and he recently finished a sequel to the book, called "The Road From Gap Creek," which will be out next year, he said.
Morgan, who visits The Bookworm of Edwards Thursday night, answered a few questions for the Vail Daily.
Vail Daily: How did you chose the 10 men you profile in "Lions of the West"? Was it hard to narrow it down?
Robert Morgan: I began with Thomas Jefferson and knew I would end with his grandson-in-law Nicholas Trist. I chose the other eight from those with the most exciting and influential careers. Most painfully, I had to leave out several, including Thomas Hart Benton and Tecumseh, and three chapters I had already written about women of the frontier: Sacagawea, Narcissa Whitman and Susan McGoffin.
VD: How long did you spend researching/writing the book?
RM: I spent about four years working on Lions of the West. But used a lot of material from my earlier research on the biography of Daniel Boone, especially research on Native Americans. I spent about a year researching Mexican history and historians. I did some archival work on Jefferson and Trist in Virginia and North Carolina, and visited many sites in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Colorado (Bent's Old Fort), Taos, Santa Fe, San Antonio, San Jacinto. Also Johnny Appleseed's Ohio and Indiana. I wanted to get a feel for the land and spaces I was writing about.
VD: What are you working on now?
RM: I am working on new poems and a novel. I'm also thinking about another nonfiction book.
VD: You spent 10 years just writing poetry. What prompted you to switch back to short stories and eventually to novels and biographies?
RM: I returned to fiction writing in the 1980s because I wanted to tell some of the stories I'd heard as a child about the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, stories of panthers, bears, snakes, maddogs, family stories, frontier stories, stories about the Cherokees. And I wanted to write in voices other than my own, which I had not been able to do in poetry.
VD: Tell me about the last poem you wrote, and what inspired it?
RM: The last poem I wrote is called "Love Sleep." It's about the period of quiet late at night in late summer when the raging katydids stop their love calls and love making and there's a floating drifting interlude of deep sleep "through dark, before the rapture sun." It was written two weeks ago when I visited my old home in North Carolina.