Author Terry Roberts speaks on crafting first novel


It’s 1917. At a luxurious resort in the North Carolina mountains, local townspeople watch over imprisoned Germans while the hotel manager falls in love with a married woman from New York City.

This is the plot of Terry Roberts’ first novel, “A Short Time to Stay Here,” which was the focus of Roberts’ campus visit and book reading on Nov. 15.

“We invited Terry Roberts to come because we love supporting local and regional authors,” said Visiting Assistant Professor of English Mylène Dressler.

Roberts was born in Asheville, N.C., and raised near Weaverville. He currently lives in Chapel Hill.

Roberts spent four years crafting this novel that depicts a little-known piece of history. In 1917 when Congress declared war on Germany, the U.S. government put German citizens who were on American soil into internment camps.

One of these camps was in Hot Springs, N.C. at the Mountain Park Hotel, which housed over 2,300 Germans and employed local townspeople to guard them.

“You had this collision with these sophisticated Germans and these locals who had never been out of the county,” said Roberts.

Roberts drew inspiration from this culture clash, modeling some of his characters after real people. However, his protagonists are his own creations, and Roberts uses these characters to his advantage.

“The book felt like it was grounded in history and grounded in reality, but it was free to explore whatever I wanted with these characters,” said Roberts.

That exploration took on some deep questions.

“I’m really interested in how people come to understand the human condition and themselves over the course of their lives, and I think that comes out in this book,” said Roberts. “The man and woman are trying desperately to understand what it’s all about.”

While on campus, Roberts visited Dressler’s Introduction to Fiction class, where he answered a variety of questions regarding inspiration, research and setting.

At the reading, Roberts read three excerpts from his book and also took questions. One attendee asked if he enjoyed writing and publishing a novel.

“As long as you don’t care about this end result,” he said, holding up a copy of his book, “it’s a pleasure.”

Roberts’ visit was just one of the many events planned for National Novel Writing Month.

Every Wednesday, fiction-writing workshops have been held in Duke 103 from 3:30–4:30 p.m. On Thursday nights from 7:00–9:00 p.m. students enjoyed quiet writing time in the Hut. On Nov. 30, there will be an open mic night in the Greenleaf at 7:00 p.m., to which the English department has invited anyone who would like to share their creative writing.

During National Novel Writing Month, writers attempt to pen a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. Some Guilford students are participating this year, including juniors Amber Swan and Carissa Dulchinos.

Writers across the nation participate for a variety of reasons.

“I have written a novel before, but I’m participating in NaNoWriMo to challenge myself not to rest on my laurels,” said first-time participant Swan in an email interview.

“The constraints of NaNoWriMo ensure that I don’t have time to revise or plan,” said second-time participant Dulchinos via email. “It’s really about just creating something. That, coupled with the fact that no one ever has to read it, releases a lot of the pressure to create something good.”

Whether it’s a novel written in 30 days or a work that takes four years, Dulchinos echoes a sentiment that stretches across all boundaries of writing and entices many authors.

“You never really know what you’ll end up with,” she said. “I think that’s part of the fun, though.”

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