WC: It’s a much more expansive novel. It’s a political novel, it’s a cultural novel, it’s a historical novel and it covers a much larger span of time. My first two novels had these tightly compressed stories and a relatively limited cast of characters. “The Last Ballad” is a much bigger book; it’s a much more ambitious book.
DTH: How did living in North Carolina influence your sense of place writing the novel, which is set in the foothills of the state?
WC: This is the first book I’ve written while I was living again in North Carolina. My first book was in Louisiana and my second book was written in West Virginia. So I think I had a much closer connection to North Carolina, and plus, it was much easier for me to travel to the places I was writing about. I think that made the story and the characters and the situation in the novel feel that much more real.
DTH: You're the writer in residence at UNC-Asheville. What do you do as a writer in residence?
WC: I am in some ways the literary ambassador for the university, for the community and the state. I teach creative writing classes there, I teach fiction writing and I teach a literature course. I sometimes teach Southern lit or maybe another American lit class. I mentor students and help students choose graduate programs, and writing if they choose to, and read student work. I build literary relationships with students on campus there.
DTH: What do enjoy most about teaching literature and creative writing?
WC: What I enjoy most about it is how refreshing it is to be around people who care about writing and not publishing. Undergraduates at UNC-Asheville really care about becoming better writers. People at this point in their career, where I am, care about being better published, but when you’re working with undergraduates they want to be better writers.
DTH: Were you surprised by the success of your novel, "A Land More Kind Than Home"? Do you expect "The Last Ballad" to achieve the same kind of success?
WC: I don’t know that I was surprised, but I’d never published a book before, so I thought anything was possible. The most impossible thing seemed to be getting a book out in the world and once that happened, I thought, ‘oh my gosh’, you know, 'what can’t happen?' And I don’t know whether “The Last Ballad” will be as successful as that book was. You just hope that when you write a book that it can find a home with readers. With “The Last Ballad,” it seems that the sales have been higher than they might have been, but I don't know. You kind of just do the work and try not to even think about what comes next.