SEVEN QUESTIONS FOR THE WORKING WRITER: JILL McCORKLE / by Jenna Leigh Evans

Jill McCorkle. PHOTO CREDIT: Tom Rankin

Jill McCorkle. PHOTO CREDIT: Tom Rankin

Jill McCorkle is the author of the books July 7, Final Vinyl Days, Creatures of Habit, The Cheerleader, Going Away Shoes, Ferris Beach, Carolina Moon, Crash Diet, Tending to Virginia, and most recently, Life After Life, five of which were named New York Times Notable Books. Her short stories have appeared in The Atlantic, Ploughshares, The Oxford American, The Southern Review, and Narrative Magazine, among others; other places her work has appeared includes The Washington Post, Boston Globe, Southern Living, Allure and Real Simple. She has received a New England Booksellers Award, a Dos Passos Prize for Excellence in Literature, and the North Carolina Award for Literature.  The musical Good Ol’ Girls was based on stories by McCorkle and Lee Smith.

Jill McCorkle! Do you ever publish your work without compensation or for a nominal fee? If so, why, and how do you feel about doing it?

I occasionally publish for free or a small amount when it's something for a good cause or on a topic of interest.  I also have done quite a bit of judging and readings for school or library functions that support the literary community. I feel that this is a way that I can give back, and so I’ve often given of my time and writing to those communities that have given so much to me — particularly, my hometown of Lumberton, North Carolina and the UNC-Chapel Hill community.  Even though I lived away from my home state for almost twenty years, I have always been included in North Carolina events and publications, and proudly so.  It's important to me that I feel connected.

Does your craft alone provide you with a livelihood?

No — I have always taught in addition to being a writer.

If you have to hold a day job to supplement your income, or just make a living at all, does it leave you enough time to write?

Finding time to write is a constant challenge, but this is where an academic job does provide natural breaks — summer, holidays — and these blocks of time have been when I have gotten a lot of work done.

How do you know for sure when something in your work still needs another revision?

I try to get a piece to my own level of satisfaction and then it has to go through the scrutiny of trusted readers and/or an editor.  I always tell my students that if you have three readers whose opinions you trust, and any two have the same problem or stumble in the same place, then it's worth going back in to fix it.  The fresh eyes of a reader/editor is very important.

When revising something in your work, how do you know for sure when it’s truly time to stop?

I stop revising when I can read through it and not feel the urge to reach for a pen.

Do you feel that being a writer was a choice or a calling for you?

I think being a writer is first a calling and then a choice.  It is something I have always loved to do, and have felt compelled to do.  The choice comes in deciding to devote yourself to the many trials and errors and time necessary to bring a piece full term.

BONUS ROUND FOR PURE PLEASURE: What book did you probably read too young and it therefore haunted you forever after?

I tried to read Frankenstein way too young, seeking only the scary thrill the movie had provided! Obviously there is so much more going on.