Writer Wiley Cash is three years shy of 40, looks younger and once was mistaken for Justin Timberlake - a silly bit people won't let the handsome author forget.
A room full of struggling writers might find it easy to hate Wiley
, begrudge his
"luck" and early success.
Except that is impossible.
polite, thoughtful, hilarious and deserving.
As young as he
has known rejection and persevered.
writes about his
beloved home state of North Carolina with a sensitivity not even expected in his
"Reads as if Cormac McCarthy decided to rewrite Harper Lee's 'To Kill a Mockingbird,'" one reviewer said of his
first New York Times bestseller, "A Land More Kind than Home.
latest, "This Dark Road to Mercy," a critic said: "Harper Lee by way of Elmore Leonard."
is headliner at this Louisiana book fair in the beautiful burg of St. Francisville.
could - some would - give this small-town date the better-than-thou treatment.
attends all the obligatory functions, arrives on time in a dress jacket, mingles with the natives and, I suspect, will write thank-you notes.
is the literary Lancelot in the room, Gaines is King Arthur.
has learned at the feet of a master and seems to have taken a lesson in graciousness as well as fiction.
Wiley went to the University of Louisiana in Lafayette for his Ph.D. specifically because he wanted to study under its writer-in-residence Gaines, whom he believed was the South's greatest living writer.
Louisiana's wonderful but alien atmosphere made Wiley
own "postage stamp of land," to quote another master, Faulkner.
loved Louisiana but missed his
Gaines' example helped Wiley
realize that he
could have both places - the Mardi Gras and Abita beer, mountains and pork barbecue.
"did the work," as he
found an agent, but she
had no luck selling Wiley's first.
It would take several years and another agent to find a publisher with a two-book deal for the fiction writer.
Wiley asked the new agent if there might be a publisher with a three-book deal, "but he told me not to press my luck."
There are snake-handlers and shiftless fathers and abandoned children and all sorts of dark places in both of his
never condescends or condemns or exploits his
region, but in print understands it.
"From my desk in Louisiana," Wiley
wrote, "I pondered the silence of snow-covered fields ...