Monday, February 6, 2012

June Hall McCash in the Murfreesboro Post--by Deb Simpson

Local author June Hall McCash is well known to many in the Murfreesboro community.

As a former MTSU professor, with many published works, including eight books, McCash has attracted a solid following of readers and friends.

But, few know of the inspirational force that drives her writing and life.

“I believe in the resilience of the human heart and the power of love,” McCash said.

And it is this belief that echoes throughout her words and carries the reader on a journey that imbues her characters’ lives with her beliefs. These ideas are echoed in the reviews of her three most recent works, Almost to Eden, Plum Orchard and, the soon-to-be released, A Titanic Love Story: Ida and Isidor Straus.

McCash said she has traveled extensively and finds that her experiences often creep into her work.

“In Almost to Eden, my character Hector Deliyannis was from Smyrna, Turkey (now Izmir),” she explained. “Hector was a real person, a waiter at the Jekyll Island Club, who is buried in the little cemetery at the north end of the island. I had the good fortune to visit his hometown during a trip to Turkey shortly before the book was published. It certainly helped to know the terrain.”

People who know McCash, or her work, often say they aren’t surprised to learn that Jekyll Island, Ga., is a place that both inspires and invigorates her.

“Most of my writing I do at my desk, although much of it I do at Jekyll Island, where there are fewer interruptions and where I feel surrounded by history and great stories I want to tell,” she said. “But, I write almost anywhere if need be – on my porch, waiting in line, while I’m traveling, whenever there is time and I happen to have a pen and paper.”

For those who don’t know McCash, she is better known for her nonfiction books documenting the history of Jekyll Island, Ga., the place where the rich and famous vacationed 100 years ago.

McCash doesn’t just document history with words, she also does it with a collection of vintage photos, one of which graces the cover of Almost To Eden.

“When you look at a vintage photo, you are looking into someone else’s life,” she explained. “You are looking backward through time and into an era that no longer exists, nor will exist ever again. ... I’ve collected vintage photos for perhaps 15 or 20 years. I recall passing up a tintype of a Civil War soldier, which was being sold for $15. I’ve regretted it ever since. Most of my photos are cabinet cards, though I also have tintypes and ambrotypes. I probably have 50 to 75 good photos, maybe more – mostly of women and children or family groups. Every one of those faces and poses tells a story. Each one represents a life that could be discovered and written about – so many stories to tell, so little time.”

Knowing this, it is not surprising that much of her work focuses on the past, both in her nonfiction works and in her recent novels. 

“Most critics consider a sense of place to be a quintessential element of the Southern novel,” she said, “and Jekyll Island is one of the places in the South that has inspired me most, perhaps because it has been a special home to people from both (the) North and South.”

She added her most recent novels also deal with the relationship between the North and South.

“For example, Almost to Eden is set on Jekyll and in New York City, (and) Plum Orchard is set on Cumberland Island and in Groton, Conn.,” she said. “Even the Strauses, owners of Macy’s Department Store, have a connection to Georgia, for Isidor grew up in the little town of Talbotton, Ga., where his father was a merchant.”

Her up-coming novel, A Titanic Love Story, follows the Strauses, who chose to die together when the ship sinks.

“McCash offers us a lucid portrait of two prominent and wealthy Americans who led a noble life, and who chose a courageous death,” said Paul A. Kurzman, great-grandson of the Strauses and chairman of the Board of Directors of The Straus Historical Society. “With an ever observant eye for poignant detail, the author has penned a biography that will have both interdisciplinary relevance for the scholar and a very strong popular appeal. It is such a powerful American story.”

McCash has been looking for that American story since she was 6 years old.

“I once heard an author say she wrote because she couldn’t do anything else,” she said. “What she meant was that it was in her blood, that she was unable to refrain from writing. I think that describes me. If I never published another book I would still write.”

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