- An Appalachian Heritage InterviewDavid Joy
David Joy is only thirty-one, but come March, this North Carolina writer will see his first novel, Where All the Light Tends to Go, published by Putnam. The book, a gritty tale of “a young man seeking redemption,” is highly anticipated and has garnered advance praise from the likes of bestselling novelists Ron Rash, Daniel Woodrell, and Silas House. Rash, one of Joy’s mentors [End Page 51] from his days as an undergraduate in the literature program at Western Carolina University, has hailed the book as “a fine addition to the country noir vein of Southern literature.”
In this interview with Appalachian Heritage editor Jason Howard, Joy discusses preparing for the novel’s release, confounding stereotypes about Appalachian literature, and why writing is like digging clay.
Your debut novel, Where All the Light Tends To Go, will be out very soon. How have you been preparing for its release and book tour?
Until this past year, I’d never been out of the South, never really been out of North Carolina, and certainly never been on an airplane. Some folks like traveling, but as soon as I get on flat land I start getting anxious. I found my place on this earth and I’d be just fine sitting here until I die. All of this to say, I’m doing everything I can do not to think about it. The book coming out is exciting and there are a whole lot of great things happening and I’m incredibly thankful. I couldn’t have wound up in better hands. I have a wonderful agent who stuck by me and found the right editor. The team at Putnam is the best in the business, but, more than that, they’re all genuinely kind people. I trust them and I’ve put myself in their hands. But having a book come out on that type of stage leaves you very exposed. The truth of it is that I’m absolutely scared to death.
The book is set in North Carolina, and one of the characters runs a meth ring while another turns to violence. As you know, Appalachia is often stereotyped [End Page 52] as a violent, drug-ravaged, poverty-stricken region. Did you worry about falling prey to this image of the region in creating these characters and dealing with these issues? How did you walk this tightrope?
This is a big question...There is a drug epidemic in Appalachia, just as there is educational issues and vocational limitations and a host of other systemic problems that have existed for a long time. To the rest of America, this is the only thing they see reported about this region. They see it on the news and they watch reality television shows like Moonshiners or Appalachian Outlaws or a documentary like The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia and that becomes Appalachia. That’s where the stereotype is rooted. The reality is that while these problems exist, they don’t define us, and I think that’s why we get so defensive. At the same time, I think dismissing these things is just as problematic as using that stereotype to encapsulate an entire region and a people. At the very least we need to take these opportunities to initiate conversation.
I think it’s dangerous to ever talk in universalities. I can walk out my front door in the heart of Jackson County and take you to visit a man who still digs ramps and branch lettuce, a man who predicts the weather based on how the fat rises and sinks in a jar of bear meat. I can take you just over the mountain from there to a place where addicts are trading stolen goods for methamphetamine and oxycontin, or show you a house where a man was tortured to death. Then there’s a woman in town who left the mountains and got a law degree, a daughter of farmers who got an education and came back to open a law firm. There are kids at the southern end...