Jim Minick Interview

From blueberries to ravens, local author Jim Minick celebrates nature and community.

Fire Is Your Water by Jim Minick. Swallow Press. pp. 352. $26.95.

Konstantin Rega: So when did you move to Virginia from Pennsylvania? 

Jim Minick: In 1989. I was attending grad school at Radford in the New River Valley and stayed on afterwards, teaching. Since my wife and I moved to Virginia, we’d wanted to live in the country and grow as much of our own food as possible. We’d really wanted to pursue other interests other than teaching: me with my writing and her with her art. So we found an old abandoned farm in Floyd County. As they say, there’s one stop light there. But we decided to live in the old, drafty house attached to the grounds.

And that’s the source behind your first work, a memoir called The Blueberry Years, right?

Yes. We did some research and decided on blueberries as a farm crop. So the memoir is about what happens to a young couple chasing this “blueberry dream.” We cleared the field and planted 1,000 bushes on one acre and had one of the first certified-organic, pick-your-own blueberry farms in the Mid-Atlantic. 

A lot of fun and a hell of a lot of work. We lived at that place for about 12 years. That one acre was great but not enough for us to quit our day jobs. And so the blueberry dream started to fade. When we planted ourselves and the blueberries on the farm we thought we’d be there for the rest of our lives. But things change. We found another farm about 75 miles further west and moved there, where we currently live. 

So where did the story in your debut novel Fire as Your Water come from?

I’d been working on this project for at least three years and had several family stories that involved fire. First, our family barn burned before I was born in the 1950s; my great-grandmother was a folk/faith-healer in the Pennsylvania/Dutch tradition and could take the fire out of burns; and thirdly, I was burned while pumping gas. So I had these three and couldn’t figure out how to make it into a cohesive nonfiction work, and then I realized fiction would really open the door, giving me a lot more freedom.

And your main character, Ada: how would you describe her?

She is a young woman trying to find her way. The question was: how does a healer heal herself through community and questioning of faith? She goes into the barn fire and something changes in her, pushing the narrative. 

And it started out as Ada’s story. I grew up in a very religious family. And she kind of represents that, but I’ve grown away from that. I knew that I needed another character. That’s Will. And then Cicero the raven who had his own quirks, myths, and hopes. The bird wanted to take over. So that was a fun struggle.

So what were your inspirations?

Birds really. The idea of a talking bird. I did all kinds of research on them, and it was fascinating how much we do know and don’t know about them. It was a hell of a lot of fun to have a talking bird, too. 

I wanted to find other novels that had a strong female and male character, balanced. Cold Mountain is one of my favorite books that I returned to and took apart during that time. In terms of Cicero, the sheriff in Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, was a model of sorts. 

What was the end-goal of the story?

Well: what does healing and health look like in our world? What does a faith healer do when she’s lost her faith, her gift to heal? A lot of that, I think, goes back to approaching everything in terms of love. In terms of community.

Any other projects?

Well, I’ve retired from teaching and just sent in a draft of another nonfiction book to a publisher. It’s about tornados. I’ve been working on it for about 11 years. Oral histories collected about survivors and newspapers. And I have a book of poetry I’ve just finished and trying to find a home for.

And so what do you want readers to take from your books?

I think we all have a (creative) connection to the larger world that is within us and is extremely valuable and worth nurturing. And that beauty and health is all around us. And if we recognize that beauty and wholeness around us as well as in us and work towards health we would have a better world. 

Buy 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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