Behind the Book
Where Things Come Back
By John Corey Whaley
Where Things Come Back is a novel about second chances. So it makes sense that it would be inspired heavily by the reemergence of a thought-to-be-extinct woodpecker in Arkansas, right? But it isn’t just about a bird. Actually, it has very little to do with the Lazarus Woodpecker. What the novel is really about is a teenage boy who just so happens to have been raised in a place he can’t stand with a town full of people he’d rather not know. While I’ll admit that much of the story reflects my own teenage years in a small southern town, the general idea behind Cullen Witter’s story came to me by accident. I’d heard a radio story about a singer, Sufjan Stevens, writing a song based on interviews about a small Arkansas town wherein, low and behold, a woodpecker that had been declared extinct sixty years prior had allegedly made its impossible journey back to life.
This got me thinking about my own small town, which was in Louisiana, and how impossible I thought it was to exist and grow up in a place like that. I’ve always been interested in (some may say obsessed with) coming-of-age stories, and I thought that, for the first time, I had a story idea that wasn’t just my own retelling of the typical teenage struggle to figure out life. I had an unspoken motto during my writing of the first draft: How does one grow up in an impossible world?
When the town Cullen despises is flooded with strangers who are desperately searching for a lost species of woodpecker, Cullen’s world, which he barely understands in the first place, reaches its pinnacle of madness. And Cullen is supposed to decide what to do with the rest of his life under these ridiculous circumstances? Now toss in a recently deceased cousin and a close younger brother whose sudden disappearance throws the lives of Cullen and his family into utter chaos. With this novel, I set out to write a story not only about the possibility of second chances but about the people who crave them the most.