Manuel is the author of The Canoeist, a memoir, and a novel, Hope Valley, set here in Durham.

You recently had a launch for your new book, Solitario—The Lonely One, and incorporated music into the event. How has music informed your work?

The reason I chose that format is because, in the process of writing fiction, I’ll occasionally have these songs come into my head. Sometimes I go back and actually really listen to the song and the lyrics and compare it to the scene I’ve written. And often I’ve found that the song has more emotional depth than my writing. In some cases, I actually go back and rewrite the scene to try and achieve that depth.

How long have you been writing?

You know, I’ve written since I was a kid, but I didn’t get serious about it until about 1990. I went into freelance writing mostly on environmental and environmental health issues. And then around 2006, I started getting serious about fiction.

You write about rivers often. How has your relationship with local rivers, in particular, informed your creative process?

When I first came down here in the mid-’70s, the area was very undeveloped and I felt claustrophobic with such dense woods. And then I suddenly discovered the Haw River, and it was like, wow, look at these spectacular views and these beautiful rocks. And then I started discovering, you know, New Hope Creek, and I thought, wow, this is where the real beauty is, this is where you have all these beautiful rock formations and stuff. And so my first writing was nonfiction articles for the state wildlife magazine on the Eno and Haw. And then I started working rivers into my fiction writing.

I’ve found that rivers are like a moving stage on which a story can play out. Not only is the scenery constantly changing as you come onto rapids and stuff—your mood changes. And I found, especially when I was canoeing with other people, that the river was evoking a sense of principality.

And what are your relationships with each of these rivers like?

Each of our rivers here in the Triangle has its own personality. The Haw is big and boisterous, with long views and big, beautiful rocks. It’s where the real excitement is in terms of wildlife (ospreys, eagles, cormorants) and canoeing. It can be quite scary to run when the water is high.

The Eno is more intimate, more approachable. It’s easily explored from the banks, thanks to the trails along the sides. It invites a real sense of community—families with children wading in the shallows at Fews Ford, bigger groups swimming in the deep water at Sennett’s Hole (above West Point), and sunbathing on the rocks. It’s only navigable by canoe a few weeks out of the year, but that makes its exploration all the more special.

New Hope Creek is more intimate still. Through Duke Forest, it’s almost like a mountain stream with tumbling rapids and banks lined with mountain laurel. The pools are clear enough that you can see fish and turtles and snakes. It’s less heavily traveled than the Eno, so I find a real sense of peace there. 

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