30 Women Novelists You Should Know – #18 Jill McCorkle

Some of the novelists I’ve been writing about in this blog are well known. Some are not as well known as they deserve to be. But not one is so famous her name can be the answer to a question on the TV show Jeopardy.

Until now.

Jeopardy - McCorkle

In addition to the two novels and one short story collection cited on Jeopardy, Jill McCorkle has written four novels and three short story collections. Much of this she drafted in bits and pieces during the shards of free time available to her during the busy years of teaching and raising her children. Picture a woman frantically scribbling in a notebook as she waits to pick up a child after school, and you are envisioning many women writers, including Jill McCorkle.

Something very odd happened

McCorkle’s most recent novel is Life After Life. When it was published in 2013, something very odd happened – another novel called Life After Life was published at the same time. That novel, written by Kate Atkinson, received tremendous acclaim, and deservedly so. But I think the shared title is a shame, because the clamor about Atkinson’s book seemed to eclipse the quiet power and beauty of McCorkle’s novel, and the book did not get the attention it should have.

Her Life After Life takes place in a retirement community in her home state of North Carolina. In McCorkle’s distinctive way the novel creates a world in which loss and laughter jostle each other in the characters’ lives and the reader’s emotions.

She makes it look easy.

Jill McCorkle’s books go down easy. They are so smooth to read, so filled with human warmth and insight, so glinting with humor that you’re taken by surprise when the books wallop you with their emotional power. That kind of writing doesn’t get noticed as much as the look-at-me virtuosity of other novelists. But in my opinion it is much more difficult to achieve.

Do you enjoy characters that are a little larger than life, and some so down-to-earth they might live next door? Do you appreciate sharp-eyed commentary about the impact of race, class and gender on our lives and relationships? Then you should read Life After Life.

Aging, loving, losing, longing – these experiences are familiar to most of us. “Most everything worth saying has already been said so the trick is to make it sound new,” McCorkle writes in Life After Life. She does.

I wish

If you’ve seen my novel Her Own Vietnam, you may have noticed a wonderful endorsement (aka blurb) from Jill McCorkle on the back cover. That may have led you to believe that we’re friends, hanging out on the porch with a bottle of wine, coming over for morning coffee in our sweatpants and fuzzy slippers.

I wish.

But I was lucky enough to meet her and share a few laughs at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference in 2002. And on the basis of that slight acquaintance so many years ago, she was generous enough to read my manuscript and provide a quote that, I believe, has opened some doors for my book. (For some insight into the blurb process, see my post Let’s Talk Blurbs.)

The human endeavor

Jill McCorkle wrote, “I think we all are like those old antenna contraptions that used to perch on rooftops, turning and turning to pick up signals in hopes of making a connection and finding clarity.” I don’t know that I’ve ever see a better description of the human endeavor.

If you too want to be charmed by her, start by reading this essay called “Cuss Time.” And then read a book by Jill McCorkle – any of her books. You’ll want to read them all.

Jill McCorkle

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