David Joy rose from the ashes to complete his first novel, and has two more on the way


A perilous momentum toward destruction haunts the lives of the central characters in the novels penned by David Joy ’07 MA ’09. The protagonist Joy created for “Where All Light Tends To Go,” his first novel, is the son of a meth-making father and drug addict mother who is trying to break away from the chains of his family’s violent legacy. Joy’s second novel, “The Weight Of This World,” is finished and will be published in 2016. It tells the story of a veteran of the war in Afghanistan and his associates as they witness the accidental death of their drug dealer and attempt to climb their way out of the abyss.


David Joy ’07 MA ’09 is earning rave reviews for his debut novel, “Where All Light Tends To Go.”

Joy says the depravity faced by his fictional characters is a far cry from his own experience as the son of loving and law-abiding parents. But as a writer, he has looked destruction in the eye, and survived. During the writing of “Where All Light Tends To Go,” published last March by G.P. Putnam & Sons, Joy was faced at one point with the realization that he “had gotten the narrator’s voice wrong.” So he set fire to about 200 pages of his work. “I can remember as I stared at that pile of ashes feeling as lonely as I’ve ever felt in my life,” he wrote later on his blog. Then, in his eighth month of working on “The Weight Of This World,” Joy again was compelled to destroy his creation – this time 100 pages. “Any writer who has spent a great deal of time with a story has reached a place where a mistake has been made and there’s just no way to fix it,” he said. “I do that a lot because I’m just not a quick study. The reality is that while I’m just not talented enough to get it right the first time, I’ve never been scared of work.”

Regardless of his literary self-assessment, the publication of “Where All Light Tends To Go” prompted a series of rosy reviews from critics nationwide who hailed it as a top-notch work. A reviewer for The New York Times Book Review called it a “remarkable first novel.” The Huffington Post said it is a “savagely moving novel that will likely become an important addition to the great body of Southern literature.”

A Charlotte native, Joy moved to Western North Carolina when he was 18 and earned his bachelor’s degree in English literature and his master’s in professional writing at Western Carolina University. Ron Rash, Pamela Duncan and Deidre Elliott were his mentors in the university’s English department. Elliott, now retired, coached him in producing nonfiction, a process that resulted in Joy’s first book, the 2011 memoir “Growing Gills: A Fly Fisherman’s Journey.” “David continues to hone his craft, he reads a lot of work by successful authors, and he has landed a terrific agent,” Elliott said. “He continues to challenge himself to write the truth about life in the modern South.”

As spring rolled into summer, Joy, who lives along the banks of the Tuckaseigee River a few miles downstream from WCU, learned that Putnam has agreed to publish his third novel, a work in progress tentatively titled “The Line That Held Us.”