||Jan 13, 2013
The Books by Mark Raney
A sprawling novel that covers generations from the soil of Georgia to the seas of North Carolina See their struggles, embrace their strength and courage as they unfold to you thier lives.
Mark Raney is a unique writer with his own free style of writing. Not edited or changed from his way of thinking.
See complete review by Beth Alston on facebook page of Mark Raney.
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Reader Reviews for "To Labor Is To Pray"
|Reviewed by Mark Raney
To read is to ponder
BOOK REVIEW By BETH ALSTON - Columnist
AMERICUS — I had a former employee say to me one day, dripping with sarcasm, “It must be nice to read books and get paid for it.”
I quickly reminded this person that I read and review books on my own time, not the newspaper’s. I read and write about the books I read because I wish to; it is not a requirement. It is a pleasure. It is a privilege. It is a joy.
I found “To Labor is to Pray” advertised in the Times-Recorder several months ago and was immediately interested. The title lured me and the book cover pulled me on in. The author sent a copy. This promised to be an interesting read.
The author’s writing style caught me unawares. It gallops along at top speed at times and then slows to a trickle. Its characters rage and rave and rant and love and work and pray. Raney uses lots of local color. As I read, I couldn’t decide if the author was a genius or completely out of touch with reality.
Raney’s website says he’s been writing for 25 years and graduated from North Carolina State University in 1960. After a decade as an industrial engineer and plant manager in the garment industry, he decided to write fiction. He has written several “fishing novels” that are available on his website www.MarkRaney.com
“Labor,” as Raney refers to his latest book, relates the lengthy tale of his mother’s fictional commercial fishing family in coastal North Carolina. He says it also tells the long history of his father’s fictional farm family in South Georgia. Since it’s impossible to tell the stories of people without context, it is also the story of the times, and so uses the language of the times.
Raney said he worked on this book “off and on for 40 years.”
He told me in an interview, “I was reading a history of eastern North Carolina, and saw an editorial in the Raleigh Observer .... ”
That editorial, dated Sept. 7, 1869, reads, “She, the South, must get power, and to get power she must acquire wealth; and to acquire wealth she must secure a full development of her resources varied they may be and are. Thus, after all, the answer to our question is in a nutshell. The aspirations of the Southern heart are to be realized by WORK. Out of Southern soil, out of Southern metals, out of Southern wood, out of Southern fabric, brought out by intelligence, zeal and activity must come the scepter of our restored power. With us, to labor is to pray.”
Raney said “as soon as I saw the ‘To Labor Is To Pray,’ I knew it was the perfect title of a huge southern novel. But I knew I would have to mature as a writer before I could write it.”
That was in the late '70s. He says in the late '80s he penned the first chapter.
“After that,” he says, “I would write shorter novels or short stories, then ‘Labor,’ then a shorter novel or short stories, then ‘Labor.’”
When asked if he had an editor for any of his books, he said no.
“I have never had an editor,” he says, “and never thought I needed one. I decided early that I would write my books, my way. And the readers would decide whether they had value.”
Raney’s prose reads like poetry at times, stream of consciousness at others. He also uses a fair share of hyperbole but it’s not out of place as he paints his strong characters in bold strokes. The book has a strong voice.
Because he starts at the beginning, he also employs regional dialect and words considered politically incorrect today. As a writer, I can understand why he used it. Freedom of speech has not yet fallen on the altar of PC. If you take a look at modern literature and film, there’s plenty of it there, so Raney’s not alone by any means. I asked what sort of reaction he’s gotten.
“I've known from the start that I would get negative reactions,” he says, “but I have had more than expected. Just as I have had negative reactions about telling the South’s side. Again, my books, my way.”
Raney is a self-taught writer, as many others are. He early on identified his muse and listened to it, at least for a while.
“In all the early years of writing,” he says, “I felt I had a voice in my head that only stepped in when I began to stumble, and say, ‘no not that way, this way.’ But in these later years, I haven't needed him.”
Raney’s a self-admitted private sort. He says when he was younger, he was “a people person, always in front of a crowd,” but in his early years of developing his craft of writing, he decided he wanted to be a “hermit writer.”
“I shy away from signings,” he says, “because I no longer do well in front of crowds. I sent copies of ‘Labor’ to all the major newspapers in Georgia and North Carolina in hope of reviews ... ”
As a self-proclaimed, “hermit writer,” Raney says he lives in rural McIntosh County about 15 miles morth of Darien in an old, one-room school house, “sturdy but drafty,” on an acre of old oaks draped by Spanish moss.
“Perfect for a solitary writer,” says, adding that he’s been doing yard work for the wealthy on St. Simons Island several days a week.
Raney says sales of “Labor” have been “a trickle” though he’s been busy promoting it. But he still looks ahead to other projects, pondering writing a “good story about the commercial fishermen” in the Florida Keys.
“But I'll never top ‘Labor,’” he says.
As a writer, I often wonder what that feels like, to be content with a book you have birthed and know deep inside it’s your life’s best work.
As far as figuring out if Mark Raney is a genius or completely out of touch with reality, I’ve decided that’s not important. I read his book; I liked his book and I look forward to seeing more from this regional writer. And who knows? He might need an editor some day.
Beth Alston, an award-winning journalist, is executive editor, Americus Times-Recorder. Contact her at 229-924-2751, ext. 1529 or beth.alston.gaflnews.com