WNC writer returns to his roots

Wiley Cash to read from new book at Blue Ridge Books
By Jessi Stone Guide editor | Jan 22, 2014

New York Times best-selling author Wiley Cash writes about what he knows. In his latest book, he writes about the small western North Carolina town where he was raised, and his characters could have easily been your neighbor, your cousin or your father. Through the powerful voice of a young girl, Cash walks the reader through her difficult journey.

“I like writing in first person because it brings a heat to the book that might not be there from a distance,” Cash said. “I want the reader to think ‘Is this character telling me everything or holding something back?’”

Cash will be making a stop in Haywood County at noon Friday, Jan. 31 at Blue Ridge Books to read from his second novel, “This Dark Road to Mercy.”

The new novel is about two sisters growing up in Gastonia. Their mother dies unexpectedly and their wayward father comes back to town to take them from the foster home.

“The story is about a washed up minor league baseball player who takes his little girls, but of course it’s too late emotionally and legally,” Cash said.

He had the idea for his second book while still trying to get his first book, “A Land More Kind Than Home,” published. He said two sisters that attended his church in Gastonia inspired him to write the story. Two older men they were dating murdered the girls and disposed of their bodies.

“The story of those little girls stuck with me for a long time,” Cash said. “They never really had a chance to make it because of the conditions they were born in to.”

Cash said he always wanted to be a writer. He attended University of North Carolina — Asheville for his undergrad literature degree and UNC — Greensboro for his master’s in English. But it wasn’t until he went to school in Louisiana for his doctorate work that he knew he wanted to write about the South.

“I wanted to go to the Deep South. I’d never lived outside of North Carolina and I thought ‘this will be different from anything I’ve ever done,’” he said. “But I missed (North Carolina) so much I started sitting down to write about it. It helped me immerse myself in it.”

He stayed in Louisiana for five years before moving to West Virginia to teach. He and his wife recently moved back to North Carolina and are currently residing in Wilmington. He teaches a Low-Residency MFA program in fiction and nonfiction writing through the Southern New Hampshire University.

Unlike his characters Easter and Ruby, Cash has fond memories of his childhood in Gastonia, including a great deal of freedom that comes with living in a small town as well as his parents encouragement of reading.

“I got my library card when I turned 6 and I grew up around a lot of great storytellers and thought ‘I wish I could try that,’” he said. Like a Toni Morrison novel, “I wanted to create a world you could step in and out of so in tenth grade I set my sights on UNC — Asheville because I wanted to write.”

He said Western North Carolina writers like Ron Rash and Gail Godwin had paved a path for him to do what he does and he also looks up to writers like Flannery O’Connor, Tom Franklin and Bobbie Ann Mason.

Though Cash said he faced a lot of rejection in getting his first novel published, it would go on to win the Southern Independent Bookseller Alliances' Book Award for Fiction of the Year, the John Creasey New Blood Dagger Award from the UK's Crime Writers' Association and it was a finalist for the PEN/​Robert W. Bingham Prize and the American Booksellers' Association's Debut Fiction Prize.

Blue Ridge Books will hold a luncheon catered by Kanini’s while Cash discusses the book. Seating is limited. Purchase your ticket in advance, which includes a copy of the book and lunch.

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