Q&A with local author Nora Gaskin
Chapel Hill native and UNC alumna Nora Gaskin will read from her first novel, “Until Proven: A Mystery in 2 Parts,” today at Bull’s Head Bookshop.
Staff writer Elizabeth Baker spoke with Gaskin about the book’s inspiration, her time at UNC and her writing career.
Daily Tar Heel: How did you decide to become an author?
Nora Gaskin: I started making up stories when I was very young and I continued my whole life in one way or another.
Storytelling is how we understand the world around us and remember things. It’s been a lifelong fascination of mine — storytelling and reading and, gradually, writing.
DTH: How did you get the inspiration for your book?
NG: “Until Proven” was really inspired by the true murder story that I tell in the other publication, “Time of Death.” The murder that I wrote about in “Time of Death” happened in Chapel Hill when I was 12 years old.
I grew up in Chapel Hill, and my father was a friend of the man who was accused in that murder case. He supported him through the whole process, so it became a part of our family life.
The short version of what happened is that a man named Frank Rinaldi was accused of killing his wife Lucille. He, in my opinion, did not do it and could not have done it. If nothing else, there is a lot of reasonable doubt.
But still, he was tried and convicted and spent almost a year in prison in Raleigh. He got a new trial — the Court of Appeals overturned the verdict — and he was acquitted.
To me, at ages 12 through 14, it was pretty stunning to think that someone who did not commit a crime could even be charged with it — much less convicted.
It became a story that I always thought I wanted to tell in some fashion.
DTH: What are the major themes you hope people get from it?
NG: Number one, I hope it’s a good story that people will enjoy reading.
Beyond that, I hope people will think about how justice can go so wrong and whether it can be set right once it gets off track. Can we rectify those mistakes?
I hope people will question and realize that even though we appreciate the safeguards that our legal system does have, we also have to question it and push to be sure that as a society we are being served in the best way possible.
DTH: How does living in Chapel Hill inspire you as an author?
NG: I’ve lived in this area all my life except for two years in my mid-20s when I lived in Seattle.
I’m sitting here now in my family room looking out the window into the woods — we live on a wooded lot — and watching spring come in.
The land where we live is typical of piedmont land around here in that it is hilly, and you can’t always see around the corner — you can’t always see over the hill.
There’s a little bit of mystery involved with it. I have to think my lifelong exposure to this landscape creeps into my writing. It’s where I set my stories, and my characters are influenced by it. There’s definitely a connection to where I’ve lived and what I write.
DTH: How did your time at UNC affect your career as an author?
NG: I was an English major. I studied writing with Max Steele, who unfortunately is no longer living. I also studied with Louis Rubin, who is a retired English professor now. I am still using things that I learned working with those two teachers.
DTH: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors at UNC?
NG: Keep writing. Even in some years when I was not purposefully writing with the idea of publication, I tried to keep my hand in and keep my ideas flowing.
Keep writing and keep thinking about stories and eavesdrop a lot.
Listen to conversations around you — listen to how people express themselves.
Practice writing dialogue — how people talk to each other. In writing, it has to be a little different from the way they talk to each other in real life, and yet it has to be as natural as real conversation.
Practice those skills and look for good stories to tell.
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