Devil’s Lake


Interview with Wiley Cash

Q: I read somewhere that A Land More Kind Than Homebegan as a short story. Can you talk about the impetus for the story and the process of developing it into a novel?

In the fall of 2003, I was taking a course in African American literature, and my professor, Reggie Scott Young, brought in a news story about an autistic African American boy who’d recently been smothered during a healing service at a storefront church on Chicago’s South Side. I was shocked by this tragedy, but I felt compelled to write about it. But I’d never been to Chicago, and I certainly couldn’t speak for the South Side’s African American community. A few months later, I imagined how the same story would unfold if it had taken place in the mountains of North Carolina. Once I did that I was able to do two things: I realized that I could tell this story, and in writing this story I could “go home.”

The first thing I wrote was a short story about a man standing in his tobacco fields on a Sunday morning, watching the sheriff’s car drive slowly toward his house. The sheriff tells the man that his son was killed that morning at church and that his wife won’t utter a word about what happened. I tinkered with that story for months, but it never worked for me. I realized that the voice of the father was too distant, too measured. I began experimenting with other voices, and I realized that this story belonged to the community, not to a single individual. These three narrators rose up out of that community as the individuals best-suited to explain the story to the reader.

I began experimenting with other voices, and I realized that this story belonged to the community, not to a single individual.

Q: The novel is told through three distinct voices: church matriarch Adelaide Lyle, Sheriff Clem Barefield, and nine-year-old Jess Hall. How did you come to this decision, and what difficulties did you face writing in multiple points of view?

It was never a struggle to hear the voices and recognize the ways in which they were distinct from one another. Each of these characters is very different, and they each approach this tragedy in very different ways. Each of them also possesses a certain knowledge of the event and its actors that the other narrators do not. The hardest thing about writing from multiple perspectives was tracking the comtemporaneous knowledge of each character at particular points in the story. This novel takes place over six days, and toward the end of the revision process I spent a lot of time making and filling out calenders that traced the evolution of the story over those six days. Sometimes it was a struggle to write a novel with a plot that was dependent upon narration, meaning that the plot is driven by the characters themselves, not by me. Eventually, I was able to align both the characters’ knowledge of events and the arc of the plot, but I can tell you that it was a struggle to get there.

Q: I’ impressed by how gracefully you handled issues of faith and religion in the novel, and especially by your portrayal of Pastor Carson Chambliss. You’ve said that you were raised in an evangelical church. How has this influenced your writing?

Being raised in an evangelical church hasn’t influenced my overall approach to writing, but I think it really influenced my approach to writing about faith, especially in A Land More Kind Than Home. I grew up in a Southern Baptist church where people took their faith seriously and often literally. I wanted the congregation in the novel, as strange as their practices may seem to the reader, to have that same serious approach to their faith. Of course this group of believers in the novel is extreme in both its beliefs and its practices, and that’s not the kind of environment that I was raised in.

Q: A Land More Kind Than Home takes place in your home state of North Carolina, and yet you began writing the novel while studying in Louisiana. What were the challenges of writing about home from afar, and how did you reconcile the distance?

I started writing about North Carolina primarily because I missed it so much. I moved to Southwest Louisiana for graduate school at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in 2003; up until that time I’d never lived outside of North Carolina. I found myself in a place very different from home. The accents were strange, the food was strange, the weather and the landscape were strange. I clamored for anything that reminded me of the North Carolina mountains, and I started to reread the work of writers like Fred Chappell, Thomas Wolfe, Ron Rash, and Wilma Dykeman, and I started to relisten to music by North Carolina musicians like Malcolm Holcombe and the Biscuit Burners. These things really took me back and made it easier for me to inhabit the landscape of the novel.

WILEY CASH is is from North Carolina, which is the setting for most of his fiction. His first novel, A Land More Kind Than Home (William Morrow/HarperCollins) was released in April 2012 and debuted on The New York Times bestsellers list for hardcover fiction. His second novel is scheduled to be released by Morrow in the summer of 2013. He and his wife currently live in West Virginia, and he teaches fiction in the low-residency MFA program at Southern New Hampshire University.