John Corey Whaley: Where Things Come Back Release Day Q&A

Posted May 3, 2011 by Sara | Novel Novice 1 Comment


When you go to the book store today to check out today’s new releases, make sure you snatch up a copy of Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley — in stores today. We absolutely ADORE this book. It’s an incredibly well-written, contemporary novel about second chances — with bits about zombies and angels, too. It’s the kind of book that’s perfect for both teens and adults; guys and girls. Really, anyone can pick up this book, read it and love it.

We love this book so much, in fact, that we’re dedicating this entire week to it! And today, in honor of the book’s release, we have an exclusive Q&A with author John Corey Whaley!

There are so many elements at work in WHERE THINGS COME BACK … what came first? What was the original “spark” that inspired the book?

I was driving home from college one weekend and I heard an NPR story about a town in Arkansas (Brinkley) where the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker had been spotted.  I was instantly intrigued by the idea of a small, poverty-stricken town in the middle of nowhere suddenly being flooded with people and gaining celebrity over such a ridiculous event.

I love all the “book titles” that Cullen comes up with throughout WHERE THINGS COME BACK. Would you ever write any of them yourself? Is this a habit you do yourself?

That’s a funny story, actually.  Most of the book titles that Cullen uses in the novel are taken from actual title ideas that I’ve come up with over the years.  Some of them I’ve started to write, and others I just keep in a list, very similar to Cullen.

What does the idea of the Lazarus woodpecker mean to you?

I named it the Lazarus (replacing “Ivory-billed ) to suggest that maybe, just maybe there are second chances, even in the most unlikely of circumstances.  The bird represents that—second chances and the hope that they exist.

There’s so much readers can take away from WHERE THINGS COME BACK. But above all else, what is the one thing you hope readers get from reading the book?

I really hope that readers take away some sense that even in the most ridiculous and heartbreaking of situations, things can and sometimes do get better.  I hope readers will be instilled with some renewed sense of hope about how impossible it seems to exists in this world sometimes.

We like to focus on incorporating new YA books into education whenever possible, so we love that you’re also a teacher. What are some ways you could use WHERE THINGS COME BACK in the classroom?

Although I myself would never teach my own book (mostly because it has a few moments that are too autobiographical), I could see several directions that a teacher could go with using WTCB in the classroom.  One thing I would focus on is the religious symbolism and the use of first and third person narration.  I think WTCB would be a good way to introduce students to the idea that fiction can be told in many different ways.

What are some of your favorite books to teach?

Some of my favorite books to teach are Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, To Kill A Mockingbird, and Animal Farm.  I also love teaching Shakespeare-most especially Macbeth.  I like to teach works that are multilayered and always end up surprising my students with their hidden meanings, etc.  Also-these are just really great, character-driven works written with expert skill.  I also often teach stories by Flannery O’Connor and Shirley Jackson.

If you met someone in a bookstore, and they were thinking about buying your book, what would you say to convince them?

I think, at first, I’d pretend that I hadn’t written the book and try to recommend it as a fellow reader.  I’d tell them that this book has a magical way of simultaneously making one laugh and also breaking one’s heart.  I’d say that it’s a great story about the bond between brothers.  And, lastly, I’d tell them that they won’t find any other books with zombies, angels, and talking woodpeckers.

What question do you always wish someone would ask you during an interview?

Do you believe in second chances?

Now answer that question.

I do.  Two years ago I was ready to settle for a life I knew I wasn’t supposed to lead and now I’m about to travel around the country and share my story and meet tons of new people.

If they made a John Corey Whaley candle, what would it smell like?

It would definitely smell like a mix of patchouli and honeysuckles…if you can imagine such.

Favorite cartoon?

Classic Looney Tunes.  No contest. I used to think Bugs Bunny was real…an actor living in Hollywood.

Chocolate or vanilla?

Chocolate.  Always chocolate.

Your personal theme song?

It’s a tie: “Wild World” by Cat Stevens OR “Chicago” by Sufjan Stevens (no relation)

You’re on a deserted island and have to read one book for the rest of your life. What is it?

Another tie between Slaughter-House Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. and The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

Favorite book as a child?

The Lorax by Dr. Seuss

Secret talent?

I am a world-famous-quality whistler.  I can also play the bongos.

Thanks once again to Corey for answering all our questions, and to S&S for helping us arrange this Q&A and all of this week’s features!

Sara | Novel Novice
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