We chatted with Wiley Cash, the best-selling North Carolina-based author of the thriller A Land More Kind Than Home, about his love for Asheville, his favorite bookstores, and how he takes his ‘cue. Look for his second novel, This Dark Road to Mercy, when it hits shelves January 28.
Where did you get your love of reading and writing?
I grew up in a family that valued reading so when I turned 6, I got my own library card. I remember thinking as long as I read, I will never be bored.
How did you come up with the plot for This Dark Road to Mercy?
The idea came from a story my wife told me. She grew up playing softball and practicing sliding with her dad. I thought what if a girl was to slide into third base, dust herself off, see her absent father in the stands, and think ‘Why has he tried to come back into my life?’ This novel explores the ties of family and whether people can make right the things they’ve done wrong in the past. I’m really interested in families that don’t always work.”
What artist do you play on heavy rotation?
Malcolm Holcombe is the Bob Dylan of western North Carolina. I listen to his music constantly to put me back in the mountains.
What’s the best thing about your home state?
North Carolina has got everything: the mountains, the coast, and the rolling hills. After moving from West Virginia to Wilmington, I got the outline of the state tattooed on the inside of my arm. I love the feel of Asheville because as it gets colder, the city gets warmer. There’s no place in the world where I wake up in the morning and feel more at home.
What classic Southern novel should we read next?
Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe is set in a fictional Asheville, and I read it again and again to feel close to the city I lived in for so long. I love its breadth and boldness, its characters, and its sense of place.”
What’s your favorite Southern comfort food?
I lived in Louisiana for five years and it changed my palette forever. Chicken and sausage gumbo is an amazing, comforting dish. I also love hot pinto beans with coleslaw, cornbread, and diced onions mixed in.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
I studied under [author] Ernest [J.] Gaines in graduate school in Louisiana and he’s my greatest literary influence. He stressed two things: Read more than you write and treat writing as work.
Who are some of your favorite contemporary Southern authors?
Author Ron Rash is going to be a Robert Frost-type of national treasure. I’m always rooting for him and writers like T. Geronimo Johnson who has a new novel coming out. The South is always turning out great stuff.
How do you take your ‘cue?
In Asheville, I have hickory-smoked tomato-based sauce, but now I live in the eastern part of North Carolina, so it’s pork barbecue with spicy vinegar sauce. But I like both kinds and eat whatever looks good.
Where do go to find your next good read?
Independent bookstores like Malaprop’s in Asheville and now Two Sisters Bookery and Pomegranate Books in my new home of Wilmington, North Carolina, drive our collective tastes as readers and tell us what’s good.