by Heather Newton, finalist of the 2019 W.S. Porter Prize for McMullen Circle
Every work of fiction starts with a question, and often that question is “what if?”
I grew up in Raleigh, spent time in Pittsburgh and Boston, but have lived in Asheville since 1992. Western North Carolina is the first place that ever truly felt like home. When I drive I-40 West after visiting my family in Raleigh and round that one bend where the mountains come into view, my heart leaps up.
I bookended my McMullen Circle story collection with two short pieces from the point of view of a mountain. The “what if” of those pieces is what if the places we love love us back? What if, when my car rounds that bend on I-40, the mountain sees me and its heart leaps up?
Humans’ attachment to place is a mysterious thing. There’s no predicting what locale will take hold in a person’s heart. It might be where we came from, where we fled to, or a town or city or country that we stumbled upon on our way to somewhere else. Maybe a place where light hits water in a way that makes us ache. Maybe where we experienced comfort from people who loved us, or discovered who we were, or briefly became our best selves.
As a writer, I find that no matter what story I want to tell, I need to set it in a place I love (even if my characters don’t love it). I have to know what plants bloom in what season, how the locals speak, the color of the dirt. Sometimes that place exists only in memory, and the very act of remembering changes it.
McMullen Circle is set in North Georgia, an area I have come to love because my husband loves it. There, like Asheville, the Appalachian Mountains lift my mood and calm my stress. I am deeply grateful to Regal House Publishing for creating a home for these stories so that I can share them with you.
The mountain feels them walking on its surface. Their feet are part of its wearing down. Feet and wind and freeze and thaw and streams that carry its dust to the sea.
What place has your heart?
Heather’s short story collection McMullen Circle was a finalist for RHP’s 2019 W.S. Porter Prize. Her novel Under The Mercy Trees (HarperCollins 2011) won the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Literary Award, was chosen by the Women’s National Book Association as a Great Group Reads Selection and by the Southern Independent Bookstore Alliance as an Okra Pick (“great southern fiction fresh off the vine”), and was long-listed for the 2012 SIBA Book Award and the American Library Association’s Over The Rainbow project. Her short prose has appeared in Enchanted Conversation Magazine, The Drum, Dirty Spoon and elsewhere.