John Corey Whaley grew up in the small town of Springhill, Louisiana, where he learned to be sarcastic and to tell stories. He has a B.A. in English from Louisiana Tech University, as well as an M.A in Secondary English Education. He started writing stories about aliens and underwater civilizations when he was around ten or eleven, but now writes realistic YA fiction (which sometimes includes zombies…). He taught public school for five years and spent much of that time daydreaming about being a full-time writer … and dodging his students’ crafty projectiles. He is terrible at most sports, but is an avid kayaker and bongo player. He is obsessed with movies, music, and traveling to new places. He is an incredibly picky eater and has never been punched in the face, though he has come quite close. His favorite word is defenestration, which is the inspiration for his second book. Where Things Come Back is his first novel.
I had the pleasure of meeting Whaley at an event for debut authors at ALA Annual in New Orleans. His shy smile and humble description of his first book immediately won over the librarians in the room. I knew I had to read his book, Where Things Come Back, which was described as a story about a small town overtaken by enthusiasm from the discovery of a long lost bird, and one teenager trying to survive. Now that Where Things Come Back has been named a Morris Award Finalist, it is all time that we know John Corey Whaley a little better.
One of my favorite things about Where Things Come Back is how real the characters and Lily, Arkansas felt. I have heard you say that some of the characters, especially Cullen and Gabriel, each have pieces of your teenage self, and that Lily is based on your own small town. What was 17-year-old John Corey Whaley like? Could he imagine being a famous writer?
Seventeen-year-old Corey Whaley was pretty cynical and definitely had a lot of issues with his small town. I was funny, though, and I used my humor to survive the boredomâ€”putting on skits in school talent shows with my best friends and taking frequent road trips to Shreveport (an hour away) to see movies and eat at decent restaurants. Could I imagine being a famous writer at 17? I remember wanting it so badly and knowing, somehow, that I’d eventually finish writing a novel and do whatever I could to get it out there. I never expected it all to happen the way it has though, to suddenly have people respecting my work and saying such nice, thoughtful things about it. It’s been too awesome to describe, really.