‘Salvation’ brings Summer Reading Challenge to a close

  • Posted: Friday, September 27, 2013 1:17 a.m.
Dr. Kurt Corriher
Dr. Kurt Corriher

SALISBURY — Dr. Kurt Corriher provided a fitting end to the ninth annual Summer Reading Challenge when he quoted C.S. Lewis: “We read to know that we are not alone.”

Speaking about his book, “Salvation: A Story of Survival,” Corriher told the audience at Trinity Oaks Retirement Center, “Through literature, we find people who have that secret life we all have. … Literature is very comforting to us. … It lets us live richer, deeper lives. That’s what the arts are for.”


Corriher first read from his book, choosing the first chapter narrated by Chess Taggert, who’s sent on a mission for his family to revenge the death of his brother Paul. Paul, the mean one, Chess tells us, has died at the hands of neighbor Junie. Junie has motive. Paul nailed his door shut and set Junie’s house on fire, with his crippled son inside.

The story of “Salvation” follows Junie as he runs with his boy just ahead of Chess, who decides he has to do this thing he doesn’t want to do if he’s going to be called a man. The novel explores salvation itself — and Corriher said the actions of his characters, the results of the novel, provide salvation through sacrifice for many of the other characters.

But how did he get to that point?

“All creative process is a blend of two things: craft, and you can learn that, you can study it” and “the divine … that comes from I don’t know where.” Everyone needs inspiration. “Sometimes we need to work like hell to get it. … That’s the beauty of writing, you don’t know entirely what’s going to come,” Corriher said.

The characters become very real to a writer, sometimes they do what you don’t want them to do. “That’s where craft comes in. You can bring them back. … The trick is finding balance, polishing it,” he said. Too much craft can lead to wooden, flat writing, “it doesn’t live or breathe.”

On the other hand, Corriher said, “You can’t completely let it go. It would be a pile of garbage no one could follow.”

Corriher writes in a spiral notebook, and he has a talk with himself. “I could have this and this … Well, what if I did this?” That process goes on for a year or two or three until bit by bit, he knows what he’s got.

“I’m not sure any novel I’ve written has ever ended the way I anticipated,” he added. “But you’ve got to know where the story is going … It’s OK to have a great idea in the middle of the process and revise, frequently one of your characters tells you.” But then it’s up to you to decide to listen or steer that character back to his original path.

Corriher started “Salvation” with a narrative structure. He wanted “an odyssey, a walk across North Carolina. I wanted to be outside again.” Corriher grew up on a farm outside China Grove.

The river in “Salvation” is symbolic, as was the river in “Once Upon a River,” another book in the Summer Reading Challenge. “I can’t tell you exactly what it symbolizes — that’s why I had to write the book. We write to capture concepts. We can use concepts to explain something we can’t say directly. The river is fundamental, for life, for time, for history, eternity. It’s dynamic, it moves all the time.” Junie and his new friend Henry can’t stop the river, and they can’t escape without it.”

Corriher has done a rough draft of a commercial mystery this summer. He says it’s not what he wants to write, but he’s trying to appeal to the current publishing world. “I may use a pseudonym. I’m not sure I want my name associated with that. But that’s a rant for a different day.

The other book in the challenge was “The Next Time You See Me,” by Holly Goddard Jones. Barbara Setzer, Catawba’s Dr. Forrest Anderson and Deal Safrit chose this year’s books. The theme that emerged echoes some of what Corriher said. We’re all lost somewhere, somehow, and we need to find our way back.

Sponsors for the Summer Reading Challenge are Trinity Oaks Retirement Community, the Salisbury Post, Catawba College, Livingstone College, F&M Bank, Dr. Sheila Brownlow and Deal Safrit, Barbara and David Setzer, Darlene L. Ball, J.C. Ritchie and a friend. Look for new challenges next summer.

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