How did author Wiley Cash sell millions of books? You’ll understand when you read his best-seller, “A Land More Kind Than Home.”
By Hope Katz Gibbs
Publisher, Be Inkandescent
This article was originally published in The Costco
Is it true that you can’t go home again? That’s the question award-wining author Wiley Cash asked himself when he left his native North Carolina in 2006 to study for his PhD in English at the University of Louisiana–Lafayette.
Cash says he was drawn there to work under the tutelage of author Ernest J. Gaines, a literary hero whose stunning writing about life as an African-American illustrated that it just might take leaving the place you come from to truly see it — and appreciate it — for what it is. Gaines was born on a Louisiana plantation and for the last 30 years has spent half of every year in Louisiana.
“In writing about home, I could recreate that place no matter where I lived,” Cash told The Costco Connection. “Writing about North Carolina while living in Louisiana allowed me to reside in two places at once, and it was wonderful.”
From that insight came Cash’s debut novel, “A Land More Kind Than Home,” a breakout best-seller that the New York Times named an Editor’s Choice and a Notable Book of 2012. And it won both the 2013 SIBA Book Award for Fiction from the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance and the John Creasey New Blood Dagger Award from the UK’s Crime Writers’ Association.
The book was also a finalist for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize and the American Booksellers Association’s 2013 Adult Debut Honor Award.
Why did Cash choose the title, “A Land More Kind Than Home?”
“It is taken from the closing lines of Thomas Wolfe’s final novel, ‘You Can’t Go Home Again,’ and choosing it was actually my editor’s idea,” says Cash. “Once I read what Wolfe had written, I knew it was the perfect title.”
Indeed. Wolfe writes: “Something has spoken to me in the night … and told me I shall die, I know not where. Saying: “Death is to lose the earth you know, for greater knowing; to lose the life you have, for greater life; to leave the friends you loved, for greater loving; to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth.”
And that sentiment comes across proudly in Cash’s book — a haunting coming-of-age drama Cash effectively tells through the point of view of three characters:
- A curious boy named Jess Hall, who is intensely attached to his mute, autistic older brother, Christopher, whom everyone calls Stump. One day the boys return early from catching salamanders by the creek and climb up on the rain barrel beside their house — something their mother repeatedly has told them not to do. That’s when Stump catches a glimpse of something in the window he shouldn’t see. Catastrophe strikes soon after, and the entire town is thrown into coming to terms with a gothic mix of religious faith and human frailty.
- The town’s midwife, Adelaide Lyle, who had witnessed a questionable act in the town’s church a decade before. She has kept her vow never to set foot there again — until tragedy strikes Jess and Stump.
- Sheriff Clem Barefield, a man who must face his own dramatic past in order to get to the heart of what’s happened to Jess’ family.
Cash says he identifies most with the character of Clem.
“I like the sheriff, as I am guided only by what I can perceive of this world, and am hesitant to get lost in following those who claim to be led by a spirit of the next.”
It is that belief, Cash says, that grounds his passion to write great fiction, which he works at for about 10 hours every day.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be as happy about what I have accomplished as an author as I was when my agent called to tell me I sold ‘A Land More Kind Than Home,’” he recalls. “It was around 6 p.m., and I immediately called my wife, Mallory — whose support has made this all possible — to thank her. We acknowledged right then and there that what would happen next was out of our control. But this moment of celebration, we’d have forever.”
His newest book, “This Dark Road to Mercy,” is a novel of love and atonement, blood and vengeance, set in western North Carolina, involving two young sisters, a wayward father, and an enemy determined to see him pay for his sins.
After their mother’s unexpected death, 12-year-old Easter and her 6-year-old sister Ruby are adjusting to life in foster care when their errant father, Wade, suddenly appears. Since Wade signed away his legal rights as a parent, the only way he can get his daughters back is to steal them away in the night.
Brady Weller, the girls’ court-appointed guardian, begins looking for Wade, and he quickly turns up unsettling information linking Wade to a recent armored-car heist, one with a whopping $14.5 million missing. But Brady Weller isn’t the only one hunting the desperate father. Robert Pruitt, a shady and mercurial man nursing a years-old vendetta, is also determined to find Wade and claim his due.
Narrated by a trio of alternating voices, this story — about the indelible power of family and the primal desire to outrun a past that refuses to let go — is another page-turner, which shortly after its release became an Amazon Best Book of the Month in February 2014. Learn more about Cash at wileycash.com.
And don’t miss this month’s Tips for Entrepreneurs column, where you’ll find ideas from 25 writers who offer their expertise on how to become a best-selling author.