A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

Join The New York Times best-selling author and North Carolina native Wiley Cash as he highlights great writers across the state and their work each month. Listen in on conversations

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

Join The New York Times best-selling author and North Carolina native Wiley Cash as he highlights great writers across the state and their work each month. Listen in on conversations

Our State Book Club With Wiley CashJoin The New York Times best-selling author and North Carolina native Wiley Cash as he highlights great writers across the state and their work each month. Listen in on conversations between Cash and his author friends as they discuss how North Carolina inspires them on the Our State Book Club podcast.


Born in Lumberton, novelist and short story writer Jill McCorkle grew up listening to older relatives question one another’s stories.

“My grandmother was always quick to give people the benefit of the doubt,” McCorkle says. “Her sister was quick to throw them under the bus.”

They would question characters and even the very nature of storytelling.

“There could be several adults in the room,” she says, “adults that I took seriously and respected and trusted, and yet they couldn’t agree about what actually happened in a story.”

While McCorkle listened, her eyes were busy cataloging the spaces and artifacts of the lives around her, including her own. These observations left her with a well of material that she now draws from in her fiction.

“Our subconscious is always several steps in front of us, looking for the logic,” she says. “And so, a lot of times, I think when something just blows into our minds — like a room or an object from our own memory — it’s wrong to discard it because chances are it’s tied to the emotion you’re trying to lasso in your writing.”

McCorkle published two books on the same day in 1984 while still in her mid-20s. The novels, The Cheer Leader and July 7th, were released by the newly launched, Algonquin Books, a publisher cofounded by Louis D. Rubin Jr., one of several literary icons under whom McCorkle studied at UNC Chapel Hill. Other professors included Max Steele and her now longtime friend Lee Smith.

McCorkle remembers when Steele brought a reel-to-reel tape recorder into class and played a recording of Eudora Welty reading her story “Why I Live at the P.O.” Welty’s voice placed McCorkle back in those Lumberton rooms where relatives told stories.

“It felt so familiar,” she says. “I suddenly thought, Maybe I can do this.

After her simultaneous debuts in 1984, five story collections and five novels followed. Her most recent novel, Hieroglyphics, and her new story collection, Old Crimes: and Other Stories, focus on characters who excavate their memories in an attempt to make sense of their lives, something that McCorkle often explores herself.

“I find myself drawn back to early places in childhood or places that don’t even exist or are vastly different now,” she says. Her memory continually returns to three houses: her childhood home, her grandmother’s house, and the Massachusetts house where she lived with her children just before returning to North Carolina.

“My childhood home is the only one still there,” she says.

If she can’t sleep, McCorkle’s mind wanders the rooms of that house.

“I like to remember where the furniture was. The chair where my father always sat, the dog that always slept behind that chair.”

For writers like McCorkle, who set out to uncover life like an archaeologist, there’s magic in everyday objects and mystery waiting to be discovered in the voices that once whispered in the long-ago rooms of our childhoods. It’s all there in our memories, ready to be uncovered by anyone who’s willing to dig.


Pieces of the Past

Old Crimes and Other Stories by Jill McCorkle book cover

photograph by Anna Routh Barzin

Jill McCorkle’s new story collection opens with an epigraph from an Arthur Miller play: “Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets.” The stories in Old Crimes: and Other Stories are full of regret — regret for not living fully in the moment; regret for talking too openly; regret for putting faith and trust in the wrong person.

In the title story, a woman looks back on a college trip she took with an older boyfriend who was not willing to commit to a future together. In “Filling Station,” a man returns to the rural home where he spent time with his grandparents, a house that has been converted into a gas station where both his past and another family’s uncertain future lurk. In “Confessional,” a young couple buys a confessional booth at a secondhand furniture store and makes a dangerous game of disclosing past indiscretions.

Like all of McCorkle’s work, the stories veer between funny and fraught, revealing that our pasts and their attendant regrets are never far behind.


More to Explore: Catch Jill McCorkle in conversation with Wiley Cash. New podcast episodes will be released on June 4 and 18. Find out where to listen at ourstate.com/podcast.

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This story was published on May 14, 2024

Wiley Cash

Wiley Cash is the author of three books, most recently the novel The Last Ballad.