Frazier, Charles 1950-
FRAZIER, Charles 1950-
PERSONAL: Born November 4, 1950, in Asheville, NC; son of Charles O. (a high school principal) and Betty (a school librarian and administrator) Frazier; married, c. 1976; wife's name Katherine (an accounting professor); children: Annie. Education: University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, B.A., 1973, University of South Carolina, Ph.D., 1976; graduate study at Appalachian State University.
ADDRESSES: Home—A farm near Raleigh, NC. Agent—Amanda Urban, International Creative Management, Inc., 40 West 57th St., New York, NY 10019.
CAREER: Writer, university professor, and horse breeder. University of Colorado, Boulder, instructor in early American literature; taught literature at a college in North Carolina, prior to 1990; freelance writer, 1990—. Raises horses on farm near Raleigh, North Carolina.
AWARDS, HONORS: National Book Award for fiction, from the National Book Foundation, 1997, for Cold Mountain.
(With Donald Secreast) Adventuring in the Andes: The Sierra Club Travel Guide to Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, the Amazon Basin, and the Galapagos Islands (nonfiction), Sierra Club Books (San Francisco, CA), 1985.
Cold Mountain (novel), Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 1997.
Also author of the introduction to a paperback edition of The Book of Job.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Another novel, about a one hundred-year-old white man who grew up with the Cherokees in North Carolina, and who was found in a North Carolina psychiatric hospital near the turn of the century.
SIDELIGHTS: Before publishing his award-winning first novel, Cold Mountain, in 1997, Charles Frazier taught early American literature, first at the University of Colorado and later in his native North Carolina. He also traveled extensively in South America, his experiences becoming the basis for a book written in collaboration with Donald Secreast that appeared in 1985, Adventuring in the Andes: The Sierra Club Travel Guide to Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, the Amazon Basin, and the Galapagos Islands. Around 1990, he left academic life to focus on the story that would become Cold Mountain. Frazier's first novel brought him considerable critical acclaim, winning a National Book Award and reaching the top of the New York Times bestseller list.
Adventuring in the Andes contains a variety of knowledge useful to anyone planning a vacation near the South American mountain range—from people who want strenuous hiking to those who merely want a comfortable hotel stay in an exotic location. The volume discusses one hundred hiking trails, including the Inca trail to Machu Picchu; it also describes the cuisine available in each region. In addition, Frazier and his coauthor warn readers of the various types of disease and other medical complications they might encounter during their travels in South America. John Brosnahan noted in Booklist that "The book supplies a generous amount of . . . information." A Kliatt reviewer called Adventuring in the Andes "excellent" and "invaluable," while Harold M. Otness in the Library Journal summed it up as "a fine choice for travel collections."
Frazier has also hiked extensively in the North Carolina mountains, not coincidentally the setting of Cold Mountain. He got the idea for the novel from the life of one of his ancestors, a great-great uncle named W. P. Inman who, after being wounded, deserted from the Confederate Army during the War between the States. Frazier tells the story of Inman's three-hundred-mile-long journey home to the woman and the mountain he loves, evading troops from the North as well as Southern Home Guard patrols bent on capturing and executing deserters as he winds his way through the mountains. Frazier alternates Inman's chapters with others written from the viewpoint of Inman's sweetheart Ada, a genteel Southern woman from Charleston whose life has been changed drastically by the war and by her father's death. Another interesting character featured in Ada's chapters is Ruby, a more practical woman who helps Ada homestead a farm. More importantly, perhaps, Ruby teaches Ada how to be self-sufficient, and steeps her in the old Appalachian folklore that guides her in her interactions with the natural world surrounding Cold Mountain.
Critics have been as quick to praise Cold Mountain as readers have been in sending it to the bestseller list. Mel Gussow in the New York Times asserted that the novel "is filled with flavorful details: language (tools like maul and froe, spurtle, fleam and snath), crops, food, books and Cherokee legends," and went on to note that "Mr. Frazier is a stickler for authenticity." The difference, Gussow noted, between this and other popular novels about the Civil War is that in this one, "the war is in the background." Frazier told Gussow that he was aiming at "an Odyssey rather than an Iliad." Civil War historian Shelby Foote read the book and liked it, in part, according to Gussow, because Frazier "did not presume to step inside historical characters." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly lauded Cold Mountain as "rich in evocative physical detail and timeless human insight." Likewise, David A. Berona in the Library Journal proclaimed it both "a remarkable effort" and a "monumental novel." Malcolm Jones, Jr. in Newsweek cited Frazier's acknowledgment in which he apologizes for not being completely true to the facts of his ancestor's life and to "the geography surrounding Cold Mountain," and concluded: "One must assume that he is merely being polite. This writer owes apologies to no one." One of the few voices of dissent came from Greil Marcus, reviewing the novel in Esquire. "I was halfway through Cold Mountain ... when I realized it was only going to get worse," the critic remarked. Marcus went on to maintain that "Cold Mountain is a ridiculous book. Not for its story, which is merely picaresque when it's Inman's and uplifting when it's Ada's, but for its language: denatured, tangled, squeamish."
Frazier discussed with Gussow his feelings about the ways Cold Mountain compares with other novels about the Civil War. "When you grow up in the South," he told the reporter, "you get this concept of the war as this noble, tragic thing, and when I think about my own family's experience, it doesn't seem so noble in any direction." He added, "These people were sort of duped by a kind of war-fever hysteria. To go off and fight for a cause they had not much relation to: that's the part I see as tragic." Speaking of Civil War novels such as Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage and Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels, Frazier told Gussow: "I felt those battle books had been done and in many cases done well. What I was interested in was the old lost culture of the southern Appalachians." To Jones, Frazier asserted what is perhaps his answer to Marcus's criticism. "I want the diction of the book to make people understand this is a different world," he stated.
Frazier worked for approximately seven years on Cold Mountain before it was ready for publication, and has frequently acknowledged the roles that family members and friends played in its creation. His daughter read drafts of the novel aloud for him, and Frazier told Michelle Green in People that "it really helped to hear it in somebody else's voice and to see if she was getting the rhythm of the sentences." The author also revealed his gratitude to his wife Katherine to Green, saying "I don't know many wives who would have said to a forty-year-old man, 'Sure, honey, quit your job. Write that novel.'" Also, one of the members of the Fraziers' parental car pool who took turns driving the neighborhood children to activities turned out to be novelist Kaye Gibbons. Frazier showed a draft of Cold Mountain to Gibbons, who in turn encouraged him to show it to agents and publishers.
Though Frazier's accomplishment of selling Cold Mountain to Atlantic Monthly Press for a six-figure advance on the basis of the first one hundred pages of his draft is impressive, he has since sold his follow-up book for over eight million dollars on the basis of a one-page outline. Several sources have reported that the subject of Frazier's next novel comes "from research he had come across while writing Cold Mountain," as an article about the author in Newsmakers put it. "Around 1900," the piece continued, "a North Carolina state psychiatric hospital housed a 100-year-old man who sometimes refused to speak any language but Cherokee. He was not a Native American, but rather had grown up among the Cherokee in North Carolina, and represented them in Washington for a time." Frazier has already sold the film rights to the story. Cold Mountain, on the other hand, has been made into a film directed by Anthony Minghella and starring Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, and Renee Zellweger. Zellweger's performance earned her an Oscar in 2004 for best actress in a supporting role.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Volume 34, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2000.
Contemporary Southern Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Newsmakers, Issue 2, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2003.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, April 5, 1998, Bo Emerson, "Author Deals with a Mountain of Success," p. M1; September 27, 1998, Greg Changnon, "The Reading Room," p. L11.
Booklist, September 1, 1985, p. 23.
Entertainment Weekly, September 26, 1997, pp. 46-47.
Esquire, November, 1998, Greil Marcus, "The Maiden Takes Her Easement," pp. 70-72.
Guardian (London), April 9, 1998, Roger Clarke, "American Odyssey," p. 16.
Kliatt, fall, 1985, p. 57.
Library Journal, June 1, 1985, p. 127; May 15, 1997, p. 100.
Mississippi Quarterly, spring, 1999, Bill McCarron and Paul Knoke, "Images of War and Peace: Parallelism and Antithesis in the Beginning and Ending of Cold Mountain," p. 273; winter, 2001, Terry Gifford, "Terrain, Character, and Text: Is Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier a Post-Pastoral Novel?," pp. 87-96.
New Statesman, April 29, 2002, Jason Cowley, "Books Diary," p. 53.
Newsweek, June 23, 1997, p. 73; July 28, 1997, Malcom Jones, Jr., interview with Charles Frazier, pp. 64-65; April 15, 2002, Malcom Jones, "Publishing: King of the Mountain," p. 54.
New York Times, August 27, 1997, pp. B1, B7.
People, February 23, 1998, Michelle Green, interview with Charles Frazier, p. 107.
Publishers Weekly, May 5, 1997, pp. 196-197.
San Francisco Chronicle, October 6, 1998, Jon Carrol, "Five Thoughts on Cold Mountain," p. B10.
Variety, April 8, 2002, Jonathan Ding, "'Mountain' Man Books $11 Mil for Next Novel," pp. 1-2.
Cold Mountain Official Web site,http://www.miramax.com/cold_mountain/ (November 8, 2003).*