Last Saturday our beloved author, Jill McCorkle, read at McIntyre’s Fine Books, just one of nearly 40 stops on her current book tour. McIntyre’s is located in Fearrington Village — a cool little community built on farmland dating back to the 1700s. It was the perfect fall morning for a cup of joe from The Belted Goat and some top-rate story-telling. Apparently I wasn’t the only one with that notion! The store turned out a full house and the audience listened and laughed as Jill read “Midnight Clear” — a story about a newly divorced mother who gets a new outlook on life while spending Christmas Eve with a cheerful septic system repairman — from her latest book, Going Away Shoes.
Going Away Shoes has been getting a ton of national buzz including, a 4-star review in People and rave reviews in the New York Times Book Review, Entertainment Weekly, and Elle, among others. Scroll down for event photos and an Algonquin Q&A with Jill!
You simultaneously published your first two novels at age 26 (wow!); what’s changed about the way you approach writing now?
The only real difference in the way I approach writing is that as a student and young single person, I had a lot more time on my hands and therefore had very definite ideas about the conditions I needed for writing. I don’t think I actually realized how MUCH time I had in fact. The years of work and raising children quickly snapped me out of all those beliefs that the world had to be just so in order to sit down and write. In an ideal world I would wake early and work until early afternoon and then take a long walk. BUT life is such that I write when and wherever I can and save up for nice big blocks of time when I can spread it all out and dive in to stay for awhile. I do have to make the bed in the morning and know that there is a certain amount of domestic order, everyone is fed and okay, but beyond that I am as likely to be writing on a paper towel in a parking lot as anywhere else.
If you had to pick a favorite story from this new collection, which would it be?
My favorite story would probably be “Intervention,” just because it signaled to me a shift in my writing that was really necessary in order to get where I needed to be to write many of the others, and particularly to write the novel I am currently writing.
Are these characters based on people you know, or who you have met?
My characters are almost always composites of people I have witnessed or I begin with a “type” of person in mind, knowing that if I allow them enough time and respect, they will grow beyond the mold. I look for a part I can identify with because then it’s not so easy to cast judgment or easily dismiss them. Even if it turns out that I don’t love or admire a character, I want to understand them.
What did you want to be when you grew up? Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
I always knew I loved to write and that it was something I would always do. I had no idea that you could grow up and do something you love. My dream job while growing up was to have a little dance school and teach ballet. I imagined conducting the spring recitals and living in leotards and sweats. In fact, I was a PE major at UNC and still taking dance classes when I stumbled into my first creative writing class and totally switched gears.
You teach Creative Writing at NC State; what’s been your favorite assignment to give?
I often ask students to write what comes to mind with the word “home” – I love how so often it comes down to a childhood bed or a kitchen table. It is important and significant to locate that early sense of home and therefore, that early sense of yourself. We have great discussions around these settings and what they mean.
Do you keep a journal or diary?
I take tons of notes — everywhere — scraps and pieces of paper that at the end of the day I stuff in a bag or box. There’s a novel bag and a future stories box and a place where I keep ideas for essays and poems and things I have no idea what they might be. And I go through notebooks often and periodically have to go in and separate the parts accordingly.
What have you been reading lately?
I have been rereading Grace Paley’s wonderful stories and those of Andres Dubus and Richard Yates because they are writers I have recently assigned to my students. Most of my reading during the actual semester is limited to short stories since so much time goes to reading student work. I did however just buy Pete Dexter’s latest novel, Spooner. I heard him speak at a recent luncheon and he was wonderful. I also am reading a biography of Edgar Allan Poe by Kenneth Silverman. It is often easier for me to enter and exit non-fiction and poetry while teaching and trying to write myself.
What are you working on next?
I am working on a novel that I have been working on for some time. It’s in a really good place right now and so out of superstition (knocking wood) that’s all I want to say.