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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Interview with Clyde Edgerton, Author and Southern Raconteur

I'm not one for holding on to books. I usually read them and then donate them to the library. However, I do have a few favorites that I will not give away. One of them is a novel entitled Walking Across Egypt. It's a novel that is full of southern charm and the joy of home cooking. If you haven't read it, you need to pick it up. My interview today is with the author of that book, as well as nine others. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow and five of his novels have been New York Times Notable Books. He is a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers and teaches creative writing at UNC Wilmington.

Let’s go back to your earliest novel, Walking Across Egypt, which is one of my favorite books. It was first published in 1988 and was then re-released in 1997. How much did the movie increase sales?
I'm glad you liked that book. It's sold better than any of the others. I'm not sure if the movie increased sales. Because the movie never went to theaters I'm thinking maybe not. But I've not been able to track sales figures in any precise way.

Tell me about the process of what it took to go from a book to the screen.Who initiated the quest? How much input did you have in the movie script? What surprised you most the process? How did the process change with your other novels being made into movies?
A filmmaker from Nashville, Madeline Bell, approached me, and worked for four years on getting the film made. It was finally made, thought in order for that to happen Madeline lost much of the control. I was asked to look at the script for minor problems with speech, etc. I was not surprised by much during the process. It was exciting to think about the story appearing on screen. I only saw about 40 minutes of Raney. I never had an opportunity to see that one. Killer Diller was great fun because I knew the director and scriptwriter, Tricia Brock. She let me critique the script and play a bit part. I think it's the best of the three.

You’ve also had stage adaptations made from your books. Which results do you like better the plays or the movies?
I like the plays better. They are flexible and change with each production. The plays have been great fun, especially my working on the musical Lunch at the Piccadilly with musician Mike Craver. We went back and forth for two years on email writing that thing--2004, I think--and have had great fun with it since. Steve Umberger is working on setting up a tour which I hope happens in the future.

You’ve now published 10 novels and had movies and stage adaptations done of those books. What keeps you still teaching creative writing?
I teach to make a living--and I'm lucky that I enjoy it. I made a living from 1988 to 1998 as writer only, but I needed the added security of a steady job that paid health insurance etc. as my oldest daughter prepared to go to college, so I went back to teaching.

What do you tell your students who want to be famous writers? What is one of the most rewarding moments you’ve had as a professor with your students?
I tell my writing students to follow no advice that doesn't make sense to them and to try to understand what the story they are writing is about so that they can better revise. One of the most rewarding moments I've had as a professor was seeing a book by one of my less talented(but very hard working)students published.

What have you learned from your own writing experiences that you have incorporated in your teaching as tips for aspiring writers?
I think my answer above--take no advice that doesn't make sense to you and know what your novel is about(this may change during revisions)--are two lessons I've incorporated into my teaching. There are many mini-lessons: help the reader see the action by picking just the right details; get two people into the story as soon as possible(since much literary fiction is about relationships between characters); minimize flashbacks; minimize adverbs and adjectives; realize that you have three main tools in getting plot and theme: your experience, your observation (of the experience of others); your imagination. When one tool isn't working all that well, try either of the other two.

Do you remember the first piece you had published? Can you tell me about it? At that point did you really think you would go on to publishing books?
My first publication was a story published in my high school newspaper. It was about an adventure that two other students and I had when during biology class when we released a tadpole into a creek down in the woods (We begged the teacher to let us do this) and then "lost our way" back to school. We missed about an hour of class wandering in the woods.

I thought we'd get punished when we returned to school, but rather, my English teacher asked me to write about the experience for the school newspaper. When I saw the story in print and realized that it was funny as I'd hoped it would be, I was smitten. At that point I didn't know what I wanted to do in the future.

Later when I stumbled onto Flannery O'Connor's and Eudora Welty's stories, I realized I had plenty of experience as an only child with twenty-three aunts and uncles to make up stories from. When I later saw that the stories could be molded into novels, I thought I might have a chance at publishing a book.

Your new book is entitled, The Night Train, which is about musicians. When I read the trailer, it made me think of the movie, The Commitments (an Irish band who plays the blues like James Brown). What inspired you to write this book?

I never saw the Commitments, but I will now. I was partly inspired to write the book as a consequence of joining a band in 1963 (I was nineteen). The lead singer (white, as were all of us) wanted to be James Brown. When I joined the band (The Seven Keys) the band was learning Live at the Apollo, Brown's famous 1963 album that was played as a single song (there were no breaks between the eleven songs). My experiences in this band and another rock and roll band I was in prior to this one helped inspire the novel.

What type of music do you play?
I play piano and harmonica on the vimeo trailer--that gives a hint. I play some blues piano, a tinkering of jazz, some bluegrass banjo and I sing some original folk-country songs.

Here's the link to that trailer If you would like to learn more about Clyde Edgerton's writing go to And if you're in the Wilmington, North Carolina area you might consider taking one of his classes.

1 comment:

  1. This was a very interesting review and very helpful for all of us who would like to be published one day.