author of A Land More Kind Than Home
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born in North Carolina, and I was raised in Gastonia, a little textile city about thirty minutes west of Charlotte in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I received both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in English from universities in North Carolina, and I received a Ph.D. in English from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, which is right smack in the middle of Cajun Country: Mardi Gras, gumbo, and zydeco music.
When I was 12 I harbored a desperate dream to play basketball in the NBA. I think most boys have a similar dream concerning sports at that age. If it wasn’t basketball it was probably baseball or some other sport.
By the time I turned 18 I knew I wanted to be a writer, but I really didn’t know what that meant. I spent junior high and high school writing these incredibly doomy, self-centered poems, and I was pretty sure that I was a hell of a poet. But then I enrolled in creative writing classes in college and discovered that I was actually a pretty miserable poet. I stopped writing poems, but I figured that if I was so compelled to write then I should give fiction a shot.
At 30 I was already a couple of years into writing my first novel, A Land More Kind Than Home.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
At 18 I assumed that writing was something you did at the moment of inspiration; I assumed it was effortless and took very little work to refine. Once I began what turned out to be the very hard work of writing I discovered that writing is a job just like any other. If we’re being honest, there’s very little that’s romantic about it and there are very few moments of divine inspiration. Most of the time it’s just you and the page and the hope that it will all work out.
Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon made a huge impression on me when I first read it at 19. She created a world and a group of people that I truly cared about, and I felt compelled to do the same thing. Around the same time I heard Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, and I was enthralled by the intensity of its mood. I’ve also been really affected by atmospheric Southern films like Billy Bob Thornton’s Slingblade and Robert Duvall’s The Apostle.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
When I was a kid, telling stories was a source of confidence for me. I wasn’t the best athlete on the court and I wasn’t the smartest student in the classroom, but I could tell good stories that people would ask me to tell over and over. It took me awhile to figure out how to translate that to the page, but I found it incredibly rewarding when it worked. I still do.
Right now I’m working on a novel set in my hometown of Gastonia, North Carolina. It’s about a washed-up minor league baseball player who kidnaps his two daughters from a foster home.
(BBGuru: Publisher’s blurb of A Land More Kind Than Home–
An extraordinary family story with a delicious dark seam running through it, it has echoes of Harper Lee, Kathryn Stockett and John Irving. It is a novel readers will love to talk about.
In the opening pages of A Land More Kind Than Home, two young boys go to church one Sunday morning only to witness something they never should have seen. What follows is an unimaginable violence that must be untangled by a local sheriff with his own tragic past. Part literary thriller, part police mystery, part family drama, A Land More Kind Than Home is a devastating portrait of faith, betrayal, and deliverance in North Carolina.)
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I’d like people to understand that I’m a writer who cares very deeply about the people and culture of North Carolina, and I struggle to represent that place and those people with clarity, honesty, and love.
Lately, with all the writing deadlines I have, I’ve given a lot of thought to how much I admire my creative writing students, both the undergraduates I teach at Bethany College and the graduate students I teach in the low-residency MFA at Southern New Hampshire University. I’ll say, “Write a story,” and the next week they’ll turn in an incredibly impressive first draft without breaking a sweat. I’m a little too insecure to expect that kind of output with my own writing. I’ve been overwhelmed just trying to answer these “Ten Terrifying Questions.” I probably have students who have cranked out ten pages of prose while I’ve been doing this.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
My goals are to work hard at my craft and never take my good fortune for granted.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Cultivate a habit and love for reading before you attempt to cultivate a habit and love for writing. Trying to write without reading is like trying to drive a car with no gas in it; it won’t get you anywhere. When you read a lot you realize that every story has been told, but reading helps you discover new ways to tell the same stories over and over.
Wiley, thank you for playing.
About the Contributor
While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.