In “Amidst This Fading Light,” Rebecca Davis uses a famous Stokes County murder as the springboard for a larger tale about life in the Piedmont during the Great Depression.
Davis, 29, grew up in Germanton, graduated from North Forsyth High School in 2008 and studied English, writing and history at Salem College. She has also received advanced degrees in writing from Wake Forest University and UNC Greensboro.
“Amidst This Fading Light,” her debut novel, is loosely based on the 1929 Christmas Day massacre of the Lawson family. Charlie Lawson, a Germanton farmer, killed six of his seven children then killed himself, a story that is known widely among an older generation of Stokes County residents.
Davis spent time researching the murders, using some of the facts to jump off into a fictional story that pays homage to her love of Southern Gothic literature.
The book won a contest from SFK Press, an independent publisher based in Atlanta, Ga., resulting in its publication. Now a writing instructor at Salem College, Davis is giving readings around the area, including one on Jan. 11 at 1 p.m. at Salem College’s Gramley Library.
“Promoting myself has been interesting,” Davis said. “I sort of thought that you write a book and you’re done.”
The book has generated several positive reviews. Writer Michael Parker raved: “This is such a generous and carefully told book that it’s difficult to believe it’s the author’s first.”
“Amidst This Fading Light” is available at Scuppernong Books at Greensboro and can be ordered at Bookmarks and Barnes & Noble.
How would you describe your art?
My first novel, “Amidst This Fading Light,” is something like Southern Gothic but for a contemporary audience. I strive to write detailed prose that shows something about what it means to be human. I also want to write something that is interesting and a good read.
How have you evolved as an artist?
I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since I was a kid, so I have definitely grown from the stories I used to write for my friends in elementary school. I think that I most see myself evolving in the amount of care that I give to my worlds and characters, as I try to be more sensitive to the truths that I’m trying to explore.
Who has influenced your art?
My style is influenced by Southern Gothic writers, like William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor. When it comes to characters and subjects, I’m inspired by my friends and family, as well as history and places that I see. One of the things that makes a writer a writer is her ability to see the little details that create our world and render them in prose.
What is your biggest challenge?
Right now, time is my biggest challenge. My novel was my MFA thesis, so I was crunched for time then. Now, the demands of daily life can detract from my time to write.
What does art do for you?
I think that I couldn’t live without writing — and I don’t mean to sound over-dramatic. Writing is something that I am compelled to do. I think it helps me to be a better person and also to communicate with others.
Any advice for other artists?
The biggest thing, to me, is to just do your art. A lot of time, younger writers and artists don’t want to create because they are afraid of failure or not being good enough. But, the more you write and do — even if it’s bad — the better you will become. Writing is discovery … so you have to take the journey in order to be a writer.