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Summer 2018 Wofford Today
Thomas Pierce header

About 'The Afterlives' and Thomas Pierce '06

Debut novel gets rave reviews in The New York Times

Editor’s note: If you need a reason to read “The Afterlives” by Thomas Pierce ’06, Daryl Gregory of The New York Times will give you several in his review from Feb. 1, 2018. I read the novel because Pierce is a Terrier, I’m a Terrier, and it’s just what we do. I left obligation on page one, however, and leapt to interest, admiration and lingering thought. John Lane ’77, Wofford professor and one of Pierce’s mentors, asked Pierce a few questions, and he, in turn, gave a few answers that also may entice you to pick up a copy. You won’t regret it.

 

If this novel was a screenplay how would you describe in one sentence?

“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” meets “Tree of Life," maybe.

How did you start writing this?

I was working on an altogether different novel when my wife and I had our first child, and a train in my brain clicked over to another track. This book began as a series of fragments, all narrated by a spiritual seeker-type who eventually became my protagonist, Jim Byrd, an affable bank loan officer with a heart condition. Around that same time, we were renovating a chimney and found a bunch of old letters — due bills, collection notices — hidden behind a brick, all from the 1920s. The notes suggested the people who'd lived in the house back then had been having some financial difficulties, but we didn't know much else about them. I enjoyed imagining what their lives might have been like, who they were and so forth, and I loved the idea of trying to tell two different stories that take place in the same space but across time. The novel, really, is about time, love and memory. 

Do you believe in ghosts?

Yes. Maybe. Sometimes. The word “ghost," I suspect, is often just shorthand for an event or a feeling we can't explain or understand. Maybe one day we'll figure how to flip off the time switch in our heads and experience the eternal present, so-called. Then, possibly, we'll know what ghosts are.

What are you working on now?

I'm finishing up a new collection of short stories, some of which have been published in various magazines over the past two years. I've got another novel under way. And I've been working on some screenplays recently, too.