Jill McCorkle can pack a room. I had the pleasure of attending her reading last night, at her alma mater UNC Chapel Hill, where the fans turned out like it was a literary home game. I actually felt a little out of place without a copy of Going Away Shoes on my lap. The woman next to me was obviously suspicious that I might be less-than-devoted to the event, she kept checking to make sure I was laughing at the appropriate moments. I was.
McCorkle gave a wonderful reading. A good author does not always a good speaker make, but she’s engaging and warm and immediately puts the audience at ease–like maybe we’re old friends. She read the story Magic Words, which is one of my favorites. It’s told from four points of view, which have been melted together in a meditation on what it truly means to say “please” and “thank you”. McCorkle described the format of the story as a compressed “landscape of a novel”; packing the punch of 200 words into 25. (Now, I’m going to link you to the full text of this story, but I recommend going out and getting the book, because the stories work together quite nicely and, if you like this, I guarantee there’s more in the collection you’ll want to read. Magic Words.)
Afterwards, she took the time to field a few questions. I was most interested in her advice to young writers, seeing as she’d done her first-ever reading on that same campus about thirty years earlier. “The more you write, the more you write,” she said. It’s not about waiting for the perfect story to spring from your head, fully formed, it’s about putting in the time, each and every day, and developing a craft. Sounds like a lot of work, but the post-reading queue of people waiting to have books signed is a testament to the fact that the woman obviously knows what she’s talking about.