James K. Dill Interview

A Richmond author finds inspiration in the idea of home and runs with it.

Malone Ridge by James K. Dill. Little Star. pp.364. $17.99

Konstantin Rega: What inspired this work?

James K. Dill: I wanted to write a story about coming home and exploring what home really means. I began writing a story about two very different brothers. As it went to paper, I found I didn’t really like or care about either one. There was, however, this remarkable young lady in the story that both brothers were attracted to, a young woman with a troubled past. Maybe 100 pages in, I ditched the two brothers and took the young woman back to her home in West Virginia. The story wrote itself after that.

I like YA and coming-of-age stories such as Carol Rifka Brunt’s Tell the Wolves I’m Home (2013), Brendan Jones’s The Alaskan Laundry (2016), Carrie Fountain’s I’m Not Missing (2018), and Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing (2019). In each of these, a young woman sets out on an amazing adventure, often motivated by pain or personal loss.

My wife and I enjoy visiting Charleston and the drive along the Kanawha River. It seemed like a wonderful setting for the novel. Eve, the protagonist, lives in Nitro, a small town halfway between Huntington and Charleston on the turnpike.

The loss of a family friend due to the opioid crisis was something that affected me at a deep level, too. The young lady, a friend of my daughter, was featured in Dope Sick by Beth Macy. This issue gave the story profound stakes.

As I began writing, I tried to pull together this beautiful setting of the Allegheny mountains, the tragedy of the opioid crisis in that region, and a spunky young woman I’d come to care about and her journey trying to make her way in the world.

What does writing mean to you & when did you start?

I’ve loved writing and reading literature since high school. Creative Writing was my favorite class, and I was inspired by those teachers. Other priorities took over in college and as an adult, I had no time or inclination to write creatively. In 2016, however, I was looking for a creative outlet and took a class with James River Writers. David Robbins was teaching a master course in fiction writing. It was a wonderful lab experience for the five of us in that class. It was also terrifying, putting pen (keyboard) to paper and discussing our work each week. David was a wonderful and encouraging teacher and is a good friend to this day. 

Racing Shadows, my first novel, was published by Apprentice House Press in 2019. It’s is semi-autobiographical and a story I always wanted to tell about competing as a marathon runner: the training, the comradery, victory, and loss. The book was also somewhat historical with one of the featured characters, so I learned about doing research and creating a good setting.

As I mentioned, I was a competitive marathon runner in the 1970s and ’80s after college. Now retired from the sport, I walk most days, but I really miss the daily discipline of training. I found writing offers the same application, a daily discipline similar to logging the miles. Having a writing circle put teammates back in my life, and David became my coach. So, writing means a great deal to me in terms of my being able to express myself and having a creative outlet, structure, and challenge. The reward comes that instant you see the written words expressed on the page, a writer’s podium.

What do you want readers to get out of your work?

In a review, Jay Strafford very astutely said, “Malone Ridge is an endearing story of home and family—those into which we are born and those we create for ourselves.” The journey of creating a family was my North Star while writing Malone Ridge. Eve loses everything to the point of homelessness. She recreates a life but is drawn home by this tragic yet wonderful place where she grew up. In the end, she is able to create a completely new family and home.

There is also resilience. Eve is resilient if nothing else. She bends but doesn’t break despite tremendous loss. I also gave Eve the chance to express herself as a long-distance runner. Although running is only a small part of the book, it’s a powerful vehicle by which Eve expresses herself.

What sort of books interest/influence you?

I enjoy YA, but I also like modern fiction like Jonathan Franzen’s, Freedom (2010), a wonderful free-ranging book about a family that loses its way. I’m also a big The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and Game of Thrones fan. I love epic fantasy and world-building.

I don’t read much in the sports genre, but Once a Runner by John L. Parker, Jr. was an inspiration for my first book, Racing Shadows (2019).

What’s the importance of books in today’s society?

New studies show that reading for pleasure daily is a key factor in keeping a strong mind as we age. Books encourage us to learn new things, to sort and process places, times, and to create an image in our mind of the characters the author has created. Think about The Hobbit and Bilbo’s small world and the larger one he enters. The availability and access to great works is really a thrill. In my neighborhood (The Fan) there must be twenty little free libraries. Every time you open the door, there is something new and the possibility of finding your next favorite book.

Books also help us process what is happening or has happened in our life. In my next book, I hope to capture 2020 and what was going on around us here in Richmond, the social unrest, statue removal, the pandemic, and the recession. A good novel can capture this time and these events and present it from an interesting point of view for future generations who may not believe that it all really happened. It did happen, and I am happy to try and tell the tale.

Get a copy at The Bookshop.

Konstantin Rega
A graduate of East Anglia’s renowned Creative Writing MA, Konstantin’s been published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Poetry Salzburg Review, www.jonimitchell.com, the Republic of Consciousness Prize (etc.). He contributes to Publisher Weekly and Treblezine.
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