Writer Comes to Bookshop
"My dad loved to sit and look at the ocean," says North Carolina author Jill McCorkle. "But if he just sat there and stared and my mother saw, she would start nagging him: 'What are you doing just sitting there? Go and do something.' 'This is why I fish,' he told me. 'The trick is that if they ever start biting too much, you stop baiting the hook.'"
Like her dad, McCorkle loves quiet thinking time, but "it's hard to justify to the world, especially to your family, why you're just going to sit in a chair and stare like a zombie."
So when the award-winning novelist needs to "think and let stories grow," she heads out to her garden at her home in Hillsborough, where for the last few years she's been thinking a lot about shoes.
"Seeing a lone shoe by the side of the road has always grabbed my attention," she says. "What is that story? Which, of course, brings to mind the other one -- the lost mate. I think of the very intimate connection of foot to sole and of every step taken. As a writer, I am drawn to and driven by the steps leading from one point to another."
That seed of an idea blossomed into "Going Away Shoes," McCorkle's first short story collection in eight years, which the author will present at The Country Bookshop on Broad Street in Southern Pines Thursday, Oct. 15, at 4 p.m. She will also discuss her classic coming-of-age novel, "Ferris Beach," which was reissued last month.
"The stories in Jill McCorkle's 'Going Away Shoes' provide what brilliant fiction always provides -- insight, felt life, voices of others, fascination -- but more than anything else, they give pleasure. They make me laugh and then cry by turns, and in short they make me feel my own life more vividly," author Richard Bausch wrote.
Jayne Anne Phillips, author of the novel "Lark and Termite," thinks these are McCorkle's best stories ever, "laugh-out-loud funny, full of sharp, incisive humor that explains us to ourselves."
Two of the 11 stories in the collection -- "Intervention" and "Magic Words" -- have been selected for the Best American Short Stories series. The epistolary story, "P.S." was published in the Atlantic Monthly's annual fiction issue in August.
"We feel so honored Jill is coming here," says Beth Carpenter, book club coordinator for The Country Bookshop. "I just heard her at the Southern Independent Booksellers Association (SIBA) annual convention, and she is a fabulous speaker, and very, very funny -- she is simply not to be missed!"
"I've been told that I'm funny," McCorkle says. "I love to be funny, and I'm disappointed when I'm not. I think as a child it was wonderful to discover that I had this power to make myself laugh or cry, and of course that grew into wanting to have the effect on others.
"Often what I see or hear in the world strikes me as funny. I start with something that's making me laugh, and yet I'm enough of a realist that I never believe it's that simple; then I start looking for what's under the funny.
"The funniest things in life are very often tied to something quite heavy and dark. The juxtaposition of the two is what fascinates me as a writer and as a person because you are really perched on the fence.
"Do I want to laugh? Do I want to cry? You really want to do both, but of course, the sadness of the situation is the real weight. It's a challenge to see how far I can push without falling too far on one side or the other.
"For me, a happy ending is not everything works out just right and there is a big bow, it's more coming to a place where a person has a clear vision of his or her own life in a way that enables them to kind of throw down their crutches and walk. To deal with what's there in a way that enables them to keep moving forward."
Jill McCorkle was an aspiring 26-year-old short story writer when she made publishing history in 1984 when her first two novels, "The Cheerleader" and "July 7th," were published on the same day by Algonquin in Chapel Hill. Both books landed together on the cover of The New York Times' Sunday Book Review. Of her eight works of fiction, five novels and three short story collections, five were The New York Times Notable Books.
"What goes into a story is every bit as rich and full and complicated as what goes into a novel," McCorkle says. "If a novel is a whole developed world, maybe a story collection is a whole solar system, with individual parts spinning around some central light casting theme."
Jill McCorkle was born in Lumberton, and graduated from Lumberton High School in 1976. She received her bachelor's degree in creative writing in 1980 from UNC-Chapel Hill, and the university's most prestigious writing award.
In 1981 she earned a master's of fine arts in writing from Hollins College, and went on to teach at Duke, Tufts, UNC, Brandeis, and the Sewanee Summer Writers Program. She was chair of the creative writing program at Harvard and one of the original core faculty members of the MFA program at Bennington College.
She won the New England Booksellers' Association Award for her body of work in fiction, the John Dos Passos Prize for Excellence in Literature, and the North Carolina Award for Literature. In 1996, she was included in Granta magazine's celebration of Best of Young American Novelists, and in 2003 was inducted into the Fellowship of Southern Writers. Her stories have been published in virtually every major literary journal and magazine.
McCorkle is currently a professor in the master's in fine arts in creative writing program at N.C. State. She is the mother of two and lives in Hillsborough with her husband.
For information and reservations to this Meet the Author event, call The Country Bookshop at (910) 692-3211.
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