Interview with Robert Gwaltney


What is a current project you are working on?

Currently, I am in the process of finalizing revisions to my novel, The Cicada Tree.
A work of southern fiction set in 1956, the story takes place in the fictitious town of
Providence, Georgia. Protagonist, Analeise Newell, looks back upon her eleventh
year: the summer she killed her daddy with a prayer, when she came to know a good
kind of hurt, when she first tasted music. The summer the cicadas descended upon the
place like a plague, unearthing secrets long since buried.

I anticipate and look forward to beginning the publication query process by the
conclusion of April 2019.

What is the one piece of writing advice, good or even bad, that you have received that has impacted you the most?

Write what you know; write what you love to read. Only then do you stand the
chance of writing well.

What are some of the greatest influences upon your writing, whether other
writers or outside influences?

As a boy, I was obsessed with Charlotte Brontë’s, Jane Eyre. Charles Dickens’, Miss
Havisham, is one of my all-time favorite characters. And of course, I hold a great
love for Truman Capote’s, Other Voices, Other Rooms. Anything by Tennessee
Williams sets me on fire. On occasion, for a boost of inspiration, I obsessively re-read
the prologue to Michael Cunninham’s, The Hours. The opening sentence of Robert
Goolrick’s, A Reliable Wife, often ticks through my head like an incantation: “It was
bitter cold, the air electric with all that had not happened yet.” Flannery O’Conner: I
hold her near. Yes, I know, my head is a jumble, but it works for me.

Outside of literature, I find inspiration in classical music, opera, and art. I simply
would give up writing altogether if forbidden from writing female protagonists. My
world would surely end.

Do you have a favorite place to write, or are there any habits, inspirations, or
rituals that help you?

Dark roast coffee is the underpinning of all creative genius. As such, you will
frequently find me writing at coffee shops and bookstores. I have a beautifully
decorated, well-appointed office in my home; an altogether heinous place where,
sadly, inspiration seldom dwells.

Without my critique group (Jef Blocker, Marissa McNamara, and Mickey Dubrow), I
would be lost. We meet every two weeks. They keep me grounded and accountable.

How do you find inspiration for your work, particularly this piece?

“The Deep Down” is a revised excerpt from my current project, a novel entitled, The
Cicada Tree. This work is inspired by childhood memory, specifically a summer the
cicadas visited my hometown of Cairo, Georgia. Throughout the telling of this story, I
draw upon my childhood insecurities, my obsessions, early loss, and my boyhood
quest to find magic in the world.

When drafting the first pass of my novel, I was musically influenced by Beethoven’s
“Moonlight Sonata” (Piano Sonata No. 14), and the stunning voice of African-
American coloratura soprano, Mattiwilda Dobbs, the first black singer to perform at
La Scala Italy. And I draw aesthetic inspiration from the 1950’s fashion designs of
Christian Dior.

You called your piece, “The Deep Down,” a piece of “Southern fiction with
Gothic tendencies.” What is it about Southern literature that inspires you? What
parts of Southern and Gothic fiction draws you to them?

Growing up in the South I was exposed to its unique, “oratorical aesthetic” of
storytelling, where delivery and content share equal importance. This is the
foundation of my love of and inspiration from Southern literature. In the realm of
Southern Gothic, I am drawn to the dark elements of life and grotesque themes found
within the genre. Deeply flawed and delusional characters are oddly a joy. But what I
love best is the element of the supernatural. When embarking upon my own work I consider these elements, but find it essential to thread through my own views of, and
interest in, beauty and extraordinary abilities. In the end, I always cling to hope.